A working group to propose improved Airbnb regulations that Mayor Lee promised to set up by the end of February 2017 when he vetoed the 60-day rental cap is nowhere to be found, the Examiner reports. That's more fodder for critics of Lee's seemingly moderate attitude toward the company, in which his pal Ron Conway is a major investor, and for which SF progressives want further, stricter regulations.
In the contentious relationship between Airbnb and its host city, the gloves really came off last June when the vacation rental platform sued the city over a Board of Supervisors-approved fine to charge Airbnb, not just hosts, for breaking the city's short term rental listing laws. Then, last November, the Board of Supervisors approved a measure for a 60-day cap on rentals for Airbnb hosts who hadn't yet registered with the city, though older hosts were grandfathered in for more days.
That 60-day cap passed with a 7-3 vote from the Supervisors, one-vote shy of being veto-proof. And, what do you know, Mayor Lee did indeed veto that cap in December, vowing to set up a working group on the subject. Quoth the mayor: “I along with Supervisor Breed will convene all stakeholder groups early next year to examine strategic and thoughtful regulations to further streamline compliance, registration and enforcement of our short-term rental regulations and propose potential improvements to our existing regulations by February 28, 2017.”
“I’m disappointed, but the mayor has finally agreed to work with me and stakeholders to look at regulations and long term solutions,” Breed told the Examiner at the time. “We will develop a working group and make recommendations by the end of February 2017 to address some of the most challenging issues with this industry.” Outlining the central debate, “It should not be more lucrative to offer an empty unit as a short-term rental than to rent it as permanent housing,” Breed said. According to SF's Budget Analyst, 1,900 or more residences in the city are kept off the rental market by short-term hosts.
**Checks calendar** Well, now that it's March, the Ex is circling back, learning from the powers that be that no such working group exists. Deirdre Hussey, Mayor Lee’s spokesperson, tells the paper that "After the court ordered the city, Airbnb and Homeaway (another short-term rental company) to participate in mediation regarding the lawsuit that Airbnb and HomeAway brought against the city, the City Attorney’s Office advised that it was preferable to give deference to the court-mandated process before convening the working group."
A spokesperson with the City Attorney's office, John Cote, couldn't tell the Ex any more on that: “Legal advice we provide to our clients," in this case the City of San Francisco, "is protected by attorney-client privilege, so we can’t disclose any guidance we may or may not have provided,” Cote told the paper.
Supervisor Peskin, a veteran progressive who has framed Airbnb as a major player in the city's housing crisis, doesn't see the logic there. “The city convening a task force to discuss what the right fix is doesn’t have any impact on the lawsuit,” Peskin tells the Examiner. “The existence of the lawsuit and working on policy reforms aren’t mutually exclusive.”
That said, Peskin and Breed are at work on new legislation, reportedly to be introduced next week, that might mend bridges and perhaps wrap this all up for good. That would ask "hosting platforms to exercise reasonable care in verifying that a residential unit is on the City Registry prior to accepting a fee for booking a short-term rental transaction." If they do their due diligence, hosting platforms would be off the hook for fraudulent or illegal listings, the new legislation is said to propose. Also down the road is the possible creation of an online process for registration — the current process for regulating this all-online company is, laughably, on paper. A city spending plan shows the creation of such an online process would cost $400,000.
In the meantime, the city's short-term rental office counts 1,865 active hosts, according to officer director Kevin Guy — a fraction of the 9,600 listings in San Francisco that appear on Airbnb itself. Applications are still rolling in, he says, and to date, the office of short-term rentals has issued $1.2 million in fines relating to 482 housing units.