Short-term rental websites will have to play by a much tougher set of rules in San Francisco under legislation approved by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
The legislation, introduced by Supervisor David Campos with the support of Supervisor Aaron Peskin, was approved in a 10-0 vote. It requires short-term rental websites like Airbnb to only post rental listings by residents registered with The City, or face daily fines of up to $1,000.
Supervisor Mark Farrell recused himself from the vote, citing business interests he has with the short-term rental industry.
The approval by 10 supervisors ensures Mayor Ed Lee cannot veto the legislation.
Leading up to the vote, it was unclear how several supervisors would vote on the contentious issue amid a tense election year.
Board President London Breed, for instance, is up for re-election, vying against the more progressive tenants rights advocate Dean Preston, while Supervisor Scott Wiener, considered a more moderate politician, is facing off against the progressive Supervisor Jane Kim for the state Senate District 11 seat.
Adding to the political drama was that Airbnb had contributed more than $200,000 to more moderate candidates and ballot measures ahead of Tuesday’s election, after Campos’ proposal became known earlier this year. That move drew some criticism that the company was attempting to buy influence.
Campos emphasized the legislation is needed to enforce the current law.
The legislation adds “corporate responsibility” to the enforcement of the law to protect San Francisco’s housing stock, Campos said. Short-term rentals have been widely blamed for exacerbating The City’s housing crisis.
Last week, Breed announced she was supporting the law during a board committee hearing, adding a key seventh vote to the progressive majority.
“We’ve got to have a stronger system in place that goes after people who have entire units off the market for this purpose. That is definitely a huge problem in The City,” Breed said last week.
That left, Katy Tang, Scott Wiener and Malia Cohen as yet to take a position heading into the board meeting Tuesday.
In supporting the law, Wiener said during the meeting that “we need improved enforcement.”
The legislation was opposed by Airbnb and other internet advocacy groups like CALinnovates and Internet Association, which raised legal issues about the proposal, arguing it violates the federal law protecting internet freedom, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act in 1996.
But the City Attorney’s Office has argued the law doesn’t regulate internet content, but instead business activities.
In the 18 months since short-term rentals were legalized in San Francisco, 1,324 hosts have registered with The City, as was already required. That’s far shy of the thousands who are engaged in short-term rentals.
Mayor Ed Lee didn’t directly take a position on the law following the vote, but said he wants to improve the registration process for hosts.
“The mayor continues to be concerned about how this new law will stand up to a legal challenge, however, he supports streamlining the process to make it easier for hosts to register and comply with the law,” said mayoral spokesperson Christine Falvey.
To ensure the law is followed, the legislation requires The City’s Office of Short-Term Rentals to provide quarterly reports on its implementation. The new law also requires short-term rental websites to post registration numbers on listings or email the number and name of the host to the Office of Short-Term Rentals.
The tougher rules will take effect within approximately 30 days.
Following the vote, Airbnb released a statement further questioning the legality of the new rules.
“An estimated 1,200 San Franciscans avoided foreclosure or eviction by hosting on Airbnb, and this legally-questionable proposal puts their housing at risk without offering any real solutions to fix the complex process,” the statement reads.
“The board acknowledged that the registration system is broken and, in order to help people to be able to stay in their homes, The City needs to fix it. We hope the board will act to fix this broken registration system, and we are considering all options to stand up for our community and keep fighting for real reform.”
Those options could include a lawsuit or a ballot measure.
It wouldn’t be the first time there was a ballot fight over Airbnb. Last year, voters defeated Proposition F that would have strengthened short-term rental regulations after Airbnb spent more than $9 million to defeat the measure.