(Natasha Dangond/Special to S.F. Examiner file photo)

SF still struggling to enforce short-term rentals

As San Francisco awaits a federal court ruling on tougher regulations for short-term rentals, The City continues to struggle with enforcement to curtail illegal activity.

Since The City in 2014 legalized short-term rentals, considered rooms or homes that are rented for less than 30 days, some 2,250 applications for certificates to use online sites like Airbnb to rent out housing were submitted.

Today, there 1,682 registered short-term rental hosts in San Francisco, though thousands are believed to engage in the practice. That’s nearly double the 900 registered hosts as of last January.

Those are the latest numbers provided Thursday during the Board of Supervisors Government Audit and Oversight Committee hearing on an enforcement update by Kevin Guy, the head of San Francisco’s short-term rental office, which opened in July 2015.

San Francisco has remained in a sustained debate over short-term rentals and the best way to regulate the practice as critics argue precious housing units are being kept off the market for short-term rentals by those who are violating the regulations, which includes having to register with The City.

Dale Carlson, head of Share Better SF, a group calling for greater regulations, said, “Airbnb claims it has half the market in San Francisco and more than 7,000 hosts in San Francisco. That means there’s 12,000 or 14,000 people running around doing short-term rentals and we haven’t registered more than 15 percent of them.”

Guy said that The City has opened 856 total enforcement cases, of which 417 enforcement cases have been resolved, and another 151 are pending closure. Of those cases, The City issued notices of violation to 349 dwelling units.

In those cases, $870,000 in penalties were assessed, of which The City collected $350,000

Guy noted that the registration process has improved, and takes a person between three and four weeks. A common complaint by hosts was that The City’s registration was challenging and time consuming.

There were 76 certificates canceled for various reasons, such as the landlord opposed the practice or a host failed to submit the required quarterly reports of stays to The City.

Concerned about enforcement, the Board of Supervisors in June approved legislation that requires short-term rental companies list on their websites only legal housing listings or face fines of up to $1,000 per day. That law requires short-term rental websites to post registration numbers on listings or e-mail the number and name of the host to The City’s Office of Short-Term Rentals.

Airbnb has sued The City over the law and a decision is expected any day.

Meanwhile, Board of Supervisors President London Breed, with the support of Supervisor Aaron Peskin, introduced last month legislation that would place a hard cap of 60 days for the total number of stays annually.

The City has requested short-term rental companies to voluntarily share data to aid with enforcement, but companies have denied the request.

“Trying to manage this whole situation from a city’s perspective is definitely challenging without the cooperation of these hosting platforms,” Breed said. “It’s quite frustrating because it would eliminate challenges I know [Guy’s] office is dealing with in terms of enforcement.”

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