Northern California Record

Sunday, October 20, 2019

San Francisco supervisors are ready for a challenge to amended short-term rental law

By Taryn Phaneuf | Jun 22, 2016

SAN FRANCISCO – The San Francisco Board of Supervisors' amendment to the short-term rental law, putting companies like Airbnb on the hook for ensuring listed hosts are registered with the city and county, has caught the attention of other local governments.

“We know there has been an interest from other jurisdictions about what we’re doing,” Supervisor David Campos, who sponsored the amendment, told the Northern California Record. “Clearly, it’s one of those things that people are interested in.”

The amendment that passed June 14 is aimed at enforcing a law that went into effect a year ago, Campos said. In 2014, San Francisco began requiring residents who rent rooms or entire homes to tourists through websites like Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway to register. A little more than a year after the law took effect, only a small percentage of owners have registered – about 1,400 of an estimated 7,000. The amendment would require websites to vet San Francisco listings and only post those whose hosts are registered. It subjects companies to fines if they don’t comply with the law.

“This is not about changing the existing law. It’s about making sure the existing law is enforced. That enforcement and that implementation are not happening,” Campos said. “We believe that based on the evidence we’ve seen – based on what staff has said – that the best way to ensure implementation is to inject into enforcement … the notion of corporate responsibility. That‘s not a part of the existing law.”

Airbnb opposed the addition to the law, saying it violates Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which protects online services that publish third-party content from being held liable for the speech and actions of others. The San Francisco-based company said supervisors should have focused instead on making the registration process simpler.

Campos said the board anticipated the argument as it crafted the amendment and is ready for a legal challenge.

“It’s not focused on the content of anyone’s speech. It’s focused on the conduct of these companies. If you go into this type of business, there are certain things you have to do to,” he said, likening the short-term rental online services to car rental companies that require proof of a valid license before renting a car. “It’s the same idea here. We expect a legal challenge from Airbnb. We know in the end … we’re going to survive it and prevail.”

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