FRANCISCO – A federal court judge has denied a motion filed by Airbnb
Inc. of San Francisco that seeks to have a local ordinance overturned on the
grounds it violates the company’s rights to certain First Amendment
U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California Judge
James Donato’s decision effectively allows a law to stand that required the
rapidly rising home-rental company to block or remove any host from its listings
that haven’t previously registered with the city. It carries a fine of up to
$1,000 per day for those found to be still offering bookings on short-term
rentals after it is slated to officially go into effect in December.
The judge set
Nov. 17 for the next hearing on the matter, further instructing city officials
to hold off on enforcing any part of his order until that juncture. Meanwhile,
he added all other challenges to the law slated to be heard before then will be
allowed to move forward unabated.
“The thing is, two
years ago Airbnb worked on the details that required registration,” David
Campos, the state supervisor who introduced legislation back in June with the
support of fellow Supervisor Aaron Peskin, told the Northern California Record. “Two years later, what we
found is that is not what’s been happening and there were no consequences.”
Along with Homeaway.com
Inc., Airbnb filed suit against the city earlier this year alleging that the
new regulations violate free speech protections outlined by the Communications
Decency Act, part of which safeguards internet companies from being liable for
most user-generated content.
Throughout the proceedings, lawyers for the two
plaintiffs insisted that information found in rental listings comes solely
from third-party users, thus completely absolving their clients of any responsibility.
In rendering his verdict, Donato countered that the
San Francisco law only "regulates plaintiffs' own conduct as booking
service providers and cares not a whit about what is or is not featured on
Offering an array of listings centered on lodging and
transportation accommodations, Airbnb now boasts a database of more than 2
million listings in more than 200 countries, all of which were amassed over
just the last eight years.
As recently as in March, only 25 percent of the city’s
roughly 7,000 Airbnb hosts were registered with the state. Lawmakers from
across the country are thought to be paying close attention to the ongoing litigation
in San Francisco, hoping it offers some platform for how to best regulate the
“More than anything else we want to provide more
oversight and make sure whoever is doing this is on the up and up,” Campos said. “In San Francisco, the law assures the protection of housing stock.
Thousands of units are now being lost to Airbnb with many renting entire units
that should be going to people who want to live in the city.”
California lawmakers passed a law in 2014 making Airbnb a legal entity, but
since then a growing number of city officials have sought to gain greater
control of an enterprise they contend has made for a tighter housing market by
making the world of short-term rentals so pervasive.
In 2015, state officials began capping the number of days residents could
rent out their homes over the course of a calendar year.
In the past, Airbnb officials have expressed a willingness to work with
city officials in arriving at a compromise solution, though Campos seems to
question the sincerity of the offer.
“That’s easy to say,” he said. “If they (are) really serious about that, they
would drop their lawsuit against the city.”