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SF forces Airbnb to purge website of illegal listings

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A women rolls a suitcase down Fifth Street in San Francisco, Calif. on Wednesday January 17, 2018. (Emma Marie Chiang/Special to the S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco has succeeded in purging thousands of illegal short-term rental listings from Airbnb’s website, a long sought-after crackdown by those who blame the company for exacerbating the housing crisis.

The purge was the result of a 2016 law adopted by the Board of Supervisors to require websites to only allow short-term rentals from those registered to do so with The City, or face penalties.

Airbnb and Homeaway sued The City in federal court to strike down the law, but eventually reached a settlement agreement in May 2017 where illegal listings would ultimately be removed.

SEE RELATED: SF reaches settlement with Airbnb over short-term rental rules

Those who wish to rent out their homes for shorter than 30 days on sites like Airbnb must register with The City. But when short-term rentals were legalized in February 2015 few were registering and enforcement was a challenge without cooperation from the companies.

But under the settlement agreement, Airbnb agreed to kick off the site those not registered and deactivate those illegally listed when city officials notify them.

The big purge came Tuesday, when people using Airbnb had until midnight to legalize their listings by obtaining city approval or applying for it. Notification of the deadline helped boost application rates but there was a big push in the final days.

Kevin Guy, head of the six-member strong Office of Short Term Rentals and who’s charged with registering and enforcing the regulation of the industry, said Wednesday that Airbnb took down 2,080 listings late Tuesday — and prior to then an additional 2,680 listings — for a total of 4,760 since the settlement. The data is for short-term rental listings only, not listings for hotels or stays longer than 30-days, which also occur on the site.

Guy said the number of listings on Airbnb’s site should be about 4,140, down from the 8,700 listings in December 2016.

Guy reported data of the crackdown during a hearing Wednesday called by Supervisor Aaron Peskin before the Board of Supervisors Government Audit and Oversight Committee.

The number of people who placed listings on the Airbnb site, otherwise known as hosts, totaled 4,625 as of December 2017, which doesn’t factor in the listings removed Tuesday, Guy said. Multiple listings per host are permissible. It was unknown the number of hosts using the site as of Wednesday.

Currently there are 2,170 city-approved hosts, Guy said, with about 1,000 applications under review.

Applications averaged two per day, then increased to seven to 20 per day as the deadline approached. On Monday the office received 88 applications and 86 on Tuesday.

Now that the illegal listings have been purged, Guy said that Airbnb will monthly send him registration numbers corresponding to each listing, which he will then verify to look for fraud or duplicates.

“One huge advantage of the settlement agreement is that these platforms are obligated to deactivate any ineligible listings and cancel and rebook guests of those listings within six business days after notification from the office of short term rentals,” Guy said.

Those who rent out their homes on a short-term basis must live on the premises at least 275 nights a year and can allow short-term rentals for 90 days a year when they aren’t present, but an unlimited number of days when present.

Supervisor Jane Kim praised the results at Wednesday’s hearing. “It really is an incredible thing to know that many illegal listings are no longer being provided online,” Kim said.

Peskin said, “It’s been a long road and we still have a ways to go but I am delighted to see the progress and we will continue these check-ins from time to time.”

Dale Carlson, a leader of the Share Better SF coalition, also praised the results. He said for years they have fought for “platform accountability,” including trying to pass Proposition F in November 2015 to tighten regulations. Airbnb spent more than $9 million to successfully defeat that measure.

Mattie Zazueta, an Airbnb spokesperson, said in a statement, “We are proud to have worked with lawmakers in our hometown to create clear, fair home-sharing rules that ensure every listing on the Airbnb platform is in full compliance with local regulations.”

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