After years of refusing to help San Francisco craft a mandatory registration system for hosts, Airbnb told the San Francisco Chronicle this week that it will work with the city to do so.
San Francisco has attempted to limit the number of days a year property owners can host guests through the platform, as part of a bid to discourage people from buying up apartments solely for the purpose of using them as short-term rentals. But just a month after the law’s implementation last year, the city’s planning department admitted it was basically impossible to enforce. Only about 1,700 of an estimated 8,000 hosts have registered since last February, and without access to Airbnb’s booking data, the city’s hands are tied.
Now the company says it is willing to provide hosts’ names, addresses and guest stays as part of a mandatory registration system. This will allow Airbnb to cut off listings once a host reaches the city’s annual cap on number of nights rented, and to make sure units where tenants were evicted under the Ellis Act are not turned into short-term rentals.
Airbnb’s willingness to play nice comes as new regulations loom. Currently, San Francisco allows rooms to be rented 365 days a year and entire homes for only 90 days. But the Board of Supervisors is expected to impose strict new limits Tuesday that will restrict short-term rentals to no more than 60 days a year.
And last week, a federal judge indicated he will likely rule against Airbnb in a lawsuit about last year’s San Francisco registration law. When the city struggled to enforce the law due to the low registration rates, it passed an amendment that would hold Airbnb and similar companies liable for fines and criminal penalties if they allow bookings in unregistered listings. Airbnb sued, but appears poised to lose.
City officials seem hopeful about the company’s change of heart. “We’re encouraged that Airbnb appears to be taking steps to meet their requirements under the law, and we look forward to them coming into full compliance,” says John Coté, a spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera.
Airbnb acknowledged it played a role in the failure of the original registration system by not cooperating, and said it will help build a registration system similar to one it will soon roll out in Chicago. The city will receive information on every host with the understanding that hosts’ privacy will be protected.
Airbnb has also said it’s open to discussing other features, like requiring hosts to upload documents proving that they live in their units. The company has already built in tools to reject San Francisco hosts with multiple listings, a sure sign that users are not only renting their own home.
“This is a serious proposal to once and for all address the core issues that exist in San Francisco,” said Chris Lehane, Airbnb’s global policy chief, in a meeting with the Chronicle. “We can sit across the table from the city and address the issues in a win-win scenario.”
“At the core of (our proposal) is let’s make this registration system work,” he continued. “Once it works, it will have a cascade effect, helping to solve a bunch of other issues.” Among them: If universal regulation works, Airbnb can avoid fines for booking unregistered properties.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The original headline of this article misrepresented Airbnb’s position. The company will only address registration issues if the city partners with them to do so.
Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. She is currently a student of radio production at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. See her work at jakinney.com.