Airbnb Vows to Work With San Francisco’s Rental Law

By MARIA DINZEO

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – Airbnb has announced plans to work with the city of San Francisco “to help enforce sensible rules” on short-term rentals.

In an opinion column published in the San Francisco Chronicle, Airbnb’s global head of policy and public affairs Chris Lehane said the San Francisco-based home-sharing company is willing to share the contact information and addresses of its hosts, as well as the number of nights guests book, to ensure compliance with the city’s 90-day rental limit.

“With a simplified, mandatory registration system in place, we can work directly with city government to prevent bad actors from abusing the Ellis Act and be more proactive in helping ensure hosts don’t exceed the 90-day cap on rentals intended to prevent entire homes from being converted into illegal hotels,” Lehane wrote, noting that the system would be similar to one developed with the city of Chicago earlier this year.

“We recognize that the city is hard-pressed to enforce these rules without the cooperation of platforms like ours, and as a result of the platforms’ unwillingness to cooperate, the rules are more complicated for hosts than necessary,” Lehane said.

An Airbnb representative said Tuesday the company has no further comment beyond Lehane’s column.

The $30 billion company is currently waging several legal battles with major cities throughout the country, including New York, which authorizes $7,500 fines for properties rented through Airbnb for more than 30 days, and Santa Monica, California, which punishes home-sharing platforms for listings that do not comply with its restrictions.

Lehane’s announcement signals a shift in the way Airbnb deals with city officials looking to regulate shrinking affordable housing stock. In another compromise last month, the company  announced that beginning Nov. 1, hosts will only be allowed to list one property on its site.

But its latest move also comes as city supervisors are poised to vote on even stricter regulations at their meeting Tuesday that would shrink the number of days hosts can rent their homes on Airbnb from 90 to 60.

It also follows a crushing ruling from U.S. District Judge James Donato in Airbnb’s federal lawsuit against the city over the ever-evolving short-term rental law. The most recent iteration of the ordinance punishes any company that collect fees from unregistered short-term rentals in the city with fines of $1,000 per day for every unregistered booking.

Airbnb challenged the law under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a provision that protects those who republish or provide an online platform for information or speech. It raised a similar argument in its lawsuit against Santa Monica.

Donato ruled that the San Francisco law does not unconstitutionally restrict free speech, but asked for further briefing on how the city plans to enforce it.

“Plaintiffs have understandably expressed concerns about the lack of a functional verification system while they face potential criminal sanctions under the ordinance,” Donato wrote.

On the op-ed, John Cote, a spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera, said, “We’re encouraged that Airbnb appears to be taking steps to meet their requirements under the law, and we look forward to them coming into full compliance.”