SF Planning Commission recommends limiting Airbnb rentals, other changes to law

File photoCommissioner Dennis Richards

After hours of public testimony and debate Thursday, The City’s Planning Commission recommended capping hosting short-term rentals to 120 nights, making it easier for nonprofits to sue over abuse and not requiring hosting platforms to report data to city officials.

The proposed amendments mark the first time The City would limit hosted stays, which under the current law is unlimited, although unhosted stays are limited to 90 days per the current law.

The hearing marked the second time the commission discussed the law after City Hall officials agreed the legislation, which went into effect Feb. 1, was unenforceable. Proposed changes put before the commission included proposals from supervisors Jane Kim, David Campos and Mark Farrell and Mayor Ed Lee.

The recommendations will ultimately be forwarded to the Board of Supervisors.

The commission recommended not to require hosting platforms only post registered listings, after initially leaning in favor of such a requirement. The commission also recommended adding a “permanent resident or owner residing within 100 feet” to the definition of an interested party, and a provision that would direct the mayor to set up a short-term rental office that would be staffed by the Planning Department, the Department of Building Inspection and the Tax Collector’s Office.

Notifications to residents, owners, home owners associations and requesters, when a person is added to short-term rental registry, was added by the commission as a recommendation.

The commission also recommended to not require hosting platforms to report bookings for short-term rentals, which Planning Department staff had said raised privacy concerns and could lead to inconsistent data because not all hosting platforms collect such data.

Commissioner Dennis Richards said he agreed a key goal is to create enforceablity, but not requiring platforms to report data could make that difficult.

“There’s a doubt in my mind we would still have an enforcement issue without something like this,” Richards said.

Dozens of residents pleaded their cases before the commission Thursday afternoon and into the evening, sharing stories about how renting an extra room in their homes has allowed them to subsidize rent, while others contended that short-term rentals lead to the hemorrhaging of rent-control units and transform entire blocks into short-term rentals.

“At this time when more and more long-term renters are losing their homes … 5,000 units are being taken off the market for the purpose of short-term rentals,” said Sara Shortt, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee who advocated for stronger regulations of platforms such as Airbnb.

But Jim Lazarus, senior vice president of public policy for the Chamber of Commerce, noted that short-term rental companies like Airbnb draw tourists to neighborhoods in The City they might not visit otherwise, giving more businesses a chance to benefit from tourism.

“Seventy-two percent of Airbnb listings are off the beaten path, outside traditional tourist areas, so visitors are more likely to visit a restaurant in Cole Valley, shop in the Mission or [go to] the beach out by the ocean,” Lazarus said.

The legislation may ultimately go to voters in November, as plans are being discussed to place a related measure on the ballot.

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