Photo by Natasha Dangond/Special to the SF ExaminerHousing Rights Committee of San Francisco member

Planning Department prepares for registrations after short-term rental law takes effect

After a controversial law regulating Airbnb and similar short-term residential rental platforms in The City took effect Sunday, the Planning Department knows little of what results may come other than it is not expecting an influx of hosts in its offices today waiting to be approved.

“We're not taking drop-in appointments or dropped-off applications, so we aren't expecting a huge wave of people to show up on Monday,” said Gina Simi, spokeswoman for the Planning Department, which oversees enforcement of the legislation.

The department has been preparing to regulate and enforce the ordinance legalizing short-term residential rentals ever since the Board of Supervisors approved the law in October.

Under the legislation, permanent residents may rent space for periods of less than 30 days under specific circumstances. Starting today, Property owners and tenants can apply to put their permanent residence on a short-term residential rental registry. Those who are granted registration numbers are allowed to rent part of their unit while they are not present for a maximum of 90 days per year and rent a portion of their unit while at home for an unlimited number of nights.

A description of the new rules was posted on the department's website on Jan. 16. Registry hopefuls must go through a 30- to 40-minute in-person appointment at the department's fifth floor office at 1660 Mission St. Today may not bring long lines because applicants can only make an appointment by calling (415) 575-9179 in advance.

“I think we have things very well under control,” Simi said of the application process.

Since the phone lines opened last Monday, the department has received about 250 calls and scheduled 130 appointments between today and April. Two dedicated staff members together can serve up to 16 applicants per day and there are still slots open this month and next month.

“People are calling and they realize they don't have the information that they need to complete the application so we're currently scheduling appointments far enough in advance and we're working with their schedules,” Simi said.

Short-term rentals have long been banned in The City but little to no enforcement occurred. Along with the two staff members dealing with applications, the department has hired two enforcement officers assigned to the new law and is looking to hire one more. The $50 application fee for two years covers staffing costs.

It remains unknown how many people are participating in short-term rentals in San Francisco and whether the staffing level is sufficient.

“So from the [Planning] Commission's point of view, we are asking the department to come to us in about a month after the registration starts to give us an update about how it's going and if people are registering and so on,” commission President Cindy Wu said.

One of the biggest fears for Supervisor David Campos, who voted against the legislation calling it “poorly thought-out,” is that there won't be proper enforcement due to “pretty minimal” staffing.

“It's going to be very difficult for the Planning Department to police that,” he said. “And in the middle of a housing crisis, less housing will be available to the residents that need it.”

Campos added he would not be surprised if “a number of lawsuits” come out against the new law.

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