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​Airbnb settles lawsuit with SF -- big changes are afoot

If you have listed a San Francisco place on the home rental site, you're now required to register with the city or be booted from the platform.

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Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky (center) meets with San Francisco hosts in March.

Airbnb

After nearly a year of legal tussles, Airbnb and the city of San Francisco have made nice.

The home rental company settled its lawsuit against the city on Monday, agreeing to register all hosts with the city.

"We believe a streamlined registration process should be available to our hosts," Chris Lehane, Airbnb's head of global policy, said during a conference call with reporters on Monday. "What we're able to do here is reduce, if not eliminate, the historic friction that existed."

Airbnb and San Francisco have had their differences. After the city passed legislation last year requiring all hosts to register with the city, Airbnb sued it, saying the legislation violated federal law. A federal judge rejected Airbnb's attempt to block the legislation. After months of negotiations, Airbnb finally came to an agreement with the city.

"This agreement helps protect the city's precious housing supply by obligating these companies to ensure that all their listings are legal and properly registered," San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement. "This is a game changer."

Airbnb was founded in 2008 and has gone from catering to couch surfers to having a massive online presence. It now has more than 3 million listings in almost every country on Earth. It hasn't necessarily been an easy ride, however. The company has haggled with cities worldwide, including New York, Los Angeles and Barcelona.

But Airbnb has started to change course. Rather than fighting critics that accuse the company of contributing to rising rents and tighter housing markets, Airbnb has begun to make deals with cities. It settled its lawsuit against New York and has worked with London and Amsterdam to limit the number of days people can rent out their homes per calendar year. Airbnb has also agreed to register hosts in Chicago, New Orleans and Denver.

Host registrations in San Francisco are streamlined through what's called a "pass-through registration system." How it works is information for every person who lists their home on Airbnb is automatically sent to the city for registration approval. The information Airbnb sends includes the host's name, address and ZIP code.

Once approved, the host will get a registration symbol on their Airbnb listing. Those hosts already on the platform but not yet registered will have eight months to register. If they don't abide, Airbnb will kick them off the platform. Airbnb will also deactivate listings that the city says have invalid registrations.

"This is a turning point when it comes to enforcement," Herrera said. "This will help prevent our precious housing stock from being illegally turned into de facto hotels as we work hard to turn the tide on San Francisco's housing crisis."

Airbnb has more than 8,000 listings in the city, according to Herrera, but only 2,100 of those are currently registered.

While Airbnb came to a settlement with Herrera, the agreement still has to be approved by San Francisco's mayor and board of supervisors.

Despite Airbnb making concessions, Lehane said he's pleased with the deal.

"We live in a world that's no longer the horse and buggy world and we need new laws for a new thing," Lehane said. "We just want to make sure it's being done in a way that's consistent with the way people live."

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