SAN FRANCISCO – A controversial amendment to San Francisco’s short-term rental housing law passed the Board of Supervisors.
The board office told the Northern California Record that the measure passed unanimously with 10 "ayes" at a June 14 meeting, according to draft minutes from the meeting. Supervisor Mark Farrell excused himself from the vote.
The vote amends a law passed in 2014 that requires residents who rent rooms or entire homes to tourists through websites like Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway to register with local government. It's aimed at enforcing the law because a little more than a year after it took effect, only a small percentage of owners have actually registered – fewer than 1,400 of an estimated 7,000. The amendment would require websites to ensure hosts of San Francisco listings are registered with the city. Companies could face fines of $1,000 per day for not complying.
Airbnb opposed the rule, saying it shouldn’t be held liable for user content. During the board’s hearing on the amendment, Supervisors David Campos and Aaron Peskin, who spearheaded the amendment, acknowledged comments by Airbnb hosts who said the registration process is too difficult and should be improved. Hosts suggested creating an online application process and allowing a grace period for new hosts to register, among other suggestions – none of which were included in the amendment that passed.
“Instead of fixing the broken registration process, the board approved a proposal that experts say violates federal law that protects free speech and innovation on the internet,” Airbnb Spokeswoman Alison Schumer told the Northern California Record.
The federal law the company’s referring to is Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. It says online services that publish third-party content are protected from being held responsible for the speech and action of others. It’s considered the foundational freedom on which sites like Facebook or Craigslist operate.
Airbnb says a February survey found 18 percent of hosts in San Francisco reported that the added income helped them keep their house rather than lose it to foreclosure or eviction. The city has said the short-term rental regulations are necessary to address the affordable housing crisis.
In addition to registering, regulations require short-term rental hosts to live in the home they’re renting and limit guests to 90 days per year while the resident isn’t home. They’re also limited to renting out only one property.
“We remain ready and willing to work with city officials on better rules that don’t hurt middle class residents or violate federal law, and we're considering all options to stand up for our community,” Schumer said.