Despite Airbnb overture, SF expected to approve 60-day cap on short-term rentals

San Francisco’s patience with short-term rentals has apparently run out as city legislators are expected to vote Tuesday on legislation to impose a hard cap of 60 days on such homes.

From housing advocates to hotel union worker organizers, the calls for tougher regulations have never let up since short-term rentals – those rentals of housing units under 30 days – were made legal in San Francisco in 2014.

SEE RELATED: Judge declines to issue preliminary injunction against SF’s tighter new rules for Airbnb

But two years later, the regulatory scheme is widely acknowledged as not working, with only 1,700 short-term rentals registered with The City as required but an estimate of more than 7,000 hosts alone list properties to rent on Airbnb.

The Board of Supervisors is expected to vote Tuesday to approve the legislation, after it was voted out of the board’s Government Audit and Oversight Committee following a three-hour hearing Monday.

SEE RELATED: San Francisco proposes 60-day hard cap on Airbnb rentals

While the board is expected to approve the legislation, it’s unclear if the proposal will receive the at least eight of the 11 votes needed to prevent a mayoral veto if Mayor Ed Lee opposes the legislation.

During Monday’s hearing, Airbnb hosts attempted to convince Board of Supervisors President London Breed to drop her legislation to impose a hard cap of 60 days on short-term rentals, calling it “too extreme” or inadequate to help pay bills.

SEE RELATED: SF still struggling to enforce short-term rentals

Before the hearing, the company, valued at $30 billion, announced a willingness to work collaboratively with The City on a new registration system.

But Breed and Supervisor Aaron Peskin, both of whom sit on the committee, voted to send the legislation to the full board, questioning the sincerity of the company, which still has a lawsuit filed against The City over a separate regulation the board adopted earlier this year.

Breed said that when short-term rentals were legalized “we were hoping for a better relationship” with Airbnb. She added that short-term rentals do “contribute to the changes in our communities and we need to make sure it’s managed better,” and defended the 60-day limit.

“It should not be more lucrative to offer an empty unit as a short-term rental than to rent it as permanent housing,” Breed said.

The hard cap would help enforcement. Under the current rules, registered hosts can, without limit, rent out homes as short-term rentals if they remain on-site but only for 90 days annually if they are not present on-site as hosts. Some board members have said it was nearly impossible to determine whether someone was living on site.

The proposal rewards good behavior by grandfathering in those registered as of Tuesday.
In a statement following the hearing, Airbnb said the 60-day cap would “needlessly harm” those listing rentals and “does nothing to fix The City’s broken registration system.”

“We remain hopeful The City will return to the table and work with all sides on real solutions that simplify the registration process, protect housing and enable middle class San Franciscans to share their homes,” the statement reads.

Earlier this month, Kevin Guy, head of The City’s Short-Term Rental Office, told members of the board that the registration process has improved and takes three to four weeks and also that he was the planning to create an online registration process.
Despite Airbnb’s overture, city officials said the company’s collaborative tune only changes when tougher regulations are proposed.

Peskin said Airbnb has been “very reticent to work with The City” and that if it wasn’t for the 60-day proposal, Airbnb “would not come forward with their promise they would not have one individual listing multiple units.”

He added, “Airbnb could have blocked those bad players now for years. They have not exactly been the most upstanding corporate citizen.”

Emblematic of hearings involving short-term rentals, Airbnb hosts filled the meeting room and testified.

Some called the 60-day cap “too extreme.” Others objected to The City telling them how long they can rent out their guest room.

Filmmaker Carl Jaeger, who lives in District 5, said while he was grandfathered in under the existing rules he wanted to speak up for the impact on others. “This city needs artists. By capping people at 60 days, what you will do is say to all of those people who want to pursue their art instead of working at a corporate job, you will effectively ask them to leave this city because it is an expensive place,” Jaeger said.

But Mike Casey, a leader of hotel workers union Unite Here local 2, supports the hard cap.

“Our union suffers a loss of jobs, [but] that’s not our main focus. Our main focus is about the housing crisis in this city and Airbnb unregulated as it is has really contributed to many of our members being forced out of town,” Casey said.

The 60-day hard cap proposal comes five months after Airbnb and other short-term rental companies sued in federal court over legislation passed unanimously by the board requiring short-term rental websites to only list sites with a valid registration number. Airbnb argued the regulation violated federal law protecting online content, but a federal court judge ruling last week hinted The City would ultimately prevail in that case.

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