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SF reaches settlement with Airbnb over short-term rental rules

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Supervisor David Campos (center) speaks during a news conference held at San Francisco’s City Hall Monday, May 1, 2017. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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Airbnb and HomeAway have agreed to register all hosts listed in San Francisco under a settlement agreement reached Monday in the federal court case against The City, representing a victory for critics of short-term rentals.

The agreement will create a streamlined registration process for hosts to sign up with companies like Airbnb and hand over their information to San Francisco at the same time, discouraging scofflaw landlords from impacting The City’s housing stock by flouting short-term rental requirements.

SEE RELATED: Mayor Lee’s promised Airbnb regulation working group never set up

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Airbnb has been widely blamed for contributing to the housing crisis in San Francisco at a time when rents have continued to skyrocket and families have been displaced from The City.

“Our rules are modest, common sense and fair,” City Attorney Dennis Herrera told reporters at a news conference Monday. “They’re designed to strike a balance. Unfortunately, what we have seen is many people are not following the law.”

There are more than 8,000 listings on Airbnb in San Francisco and just 2,100 registered short-term rental hosts in The City across all listing platforms, according to Herrera.

The agreement stems from a lawsuit Airbnb filed in federal court last June after the Board of Supervisors passed regulations holding Airbnb liable for online postings from unregistered hosts.

“If these companies fail to police the listings on their platform, they themselves will be directly and financially liable for their failure in addition to their hosts,” Herrera said.

The agreement is meant to give teeth to San Francisco’s enforcement efforts while increasing transparency.

Companies like Airbnb will also be required to give The City monthly lists of host information to “prevent hosts from gaming the system” and ditch unregistered hosts, Herrera said. All hosts will have to use a registration number.

“This agreement puts in place the systems and tools needed to help ensure our community is able to continue to share their homes,” reads a statement from Airbnb, which is headquartered in San Francisco.

The Board of Supervisors first began to regulate short-term rentals in 2014, requiring hosts to register with The City and rent out their units for up to 90 days a year if they are not present. The law was criticized as being unenforceable.

“While The City’s laws were well intentioned, it did include a really onerous registration system which made it really hard and challenging for hosts to be able to comply,” Chris Lehane, a spokesperson for Airbnb, told reporters in a conference call Monday.

An amendment to the ordinance in June 2016 from then-Supervisor David Campos added fines of up to $1,000 a day for each unregistered host, prompting the short-term rental companies to sue San Francisco.

The agreement Monday dismisses the legal challenge filed by Airbnb and HomeAway against San Francisco in U.S. District Court. The companies argued that The City defied federal law protecting internet freedoms by levying fines.

“Thank God for the [court] system which protected not only the housing stock in San Francisco but the people that are being kicked out of this city in neighborhoods like the Mission,” Campos said at a news conference Monday.

Campos also called on the Board of Supervisors and Mayor Ed Lee to boost resources for the Office of Short-Term Rentals, which will be charged with facilitating the new registration system.

“We believe a streamlined registration process should be available for our hosts and see this agreement as providing that,” Lehane said, noting that there are similar registration systems in cities like Chicago and New Orleans.

Share Better SF co-founder Doug Engmann called on other cities to hold Airbnb accountable for listing unlawful hosts. The group placed a measure on the November 2015 ballot to strengthen restrictions on Airbnb, but it failed.

“Venture capitalists, private equity funds and institutional investors should be having second thoughts about an enterprise with a business model that ignores local laws, deprives working families of needed housing, and disrupts the lives of tenants, property owners and neighbors,” Engmann said in a statement.

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