Airbnb sues San Francisco over new rules for short-term rentals

(Courtesy www.airbnb.com)

(Courtesy www.airbnb.com)

Airbnb sued San Francisco on Monday over a new regulation requiring short-term rental companies to list on their websites only legal housing listings.

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, argues that the legislations runs afoul of federal law – the 1996 Communications Decency Act – protecting internet freedom by placing “content-based restrictions on speech by imposing civil and criminal penalties on Airbnb as a result of the publication of content.”

The law, introduced by Supervisor David Campos with the support of Supervisor Aaron Peskin, was approved unanimously by the Board of Supervisors on June 14. Mayor Ed Lee did not sign the legislation. Illegal short-term rentals are widely blamed for exacerbating the housing crisis.

The law, which takes effect next month, requires short-term rental websites to post registration numbers on listings or email the number and name of the host to The City’s Office of Short-Term Rentals. Fines are up to $1,000 per day.

“It’s disappointing but not surprising,” said Supervisor David Campos. “We’re confident in the end we will prevail.”

The lawsuit also claims the law would impair business operations. “Given the substantial criminal and civil penalties for non-compliance, and the burdensome verification process, hosting platforms like Airbnb likely would over-remove or not publish lawful and registered listings,” the lawsuit states.

Airbnb announced the lawsuit on its company blog Monday. “While we have attempted to work with The City on sensible, lawful alternatives to this flawed new ordinance, we regret that we are forced to now ask a federal court to intervene in this matter.”

Campos, however, said the company’s willingness to cooperate is “just talk.”

“Airbnb doesn’t really want to work with The City,” Campos said. “It’s view of the world is ‘our way or the highway.’”

A hearing is scheduled for Aug. 1 for federal judge to render a decision on whether to issue an injunction of the law while the lawsuit proceeds.

City Attorney Office’s spokesperson Matt Dorsey said The City law is “not regulating user content at all – it’s regulating the business activity of the hosting platform itself.”

Dorsey likened the law to online businesses selling alcohol or cigarettes having to verify the legal age of their customers.
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