Tech Industry

Sen. Feinstein urges San Francisco not to pass 'Airbnb law'

The California senator pushes for city legislators to reject a law that would legalize short-term rentals and pave the way for apartment-sharing sites.

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Thousands of rooms in San Francisco are offered on Airbnb on any given day. Screenshot by Dara Kerr/CNET

San Francisco's Board of Supervisors may support Airbnb, but one of California's senators does not.

Dianne Feinstein, California's senior senator and a former mayor of San Francisco, has penned an opinion piece urging lawmakers not to legalize short-term rentals and effectively make services like Airbnb and VRBO legal.

The new rules -- due for a second vote Tuesday -- are "shortsighted," Feinstein said in Monday's San Francisco Chronicle, and the law will "destroy the integrity of zoning throughout San Francisco, allowing commercial and hotel use in residential areas throughout the city." Earlier this month, San Francisco's Board of Supervisors held a first meeting to discuss the bill and approved it by a 7-to-4 vote.

The senator is one of the most powerful voices to join the chorus speaking out against the new rules proposed by San Francisco's legislators in an effort to respond to the growing popularity of various apps that help users rent out their apartments and homes. Those sorts of "short-term" rentals are illegal in most cities throughout the US, but that hasn't stopped people from listing their home on sites like Airbnb and VRBO and from visitors staying in these places.

Under current San Francisco housing law, most residential rentals less than 30 days are banned. Until recently, San Francisco stood firm on its rules, which it said were meant to protect renters from landlords who might otherwise force tenants out in an attempt to turn their rental properties into vacation stays. Short-term rentals are also considered commercial businesses, which aren't allowed in residentially zoned locations. The intent is to safeguard these areas for housing.

Now, with this proposed law, San Francisco is opening the door to allowing for hosts to temporarily rent out their apartments with certain conditions. Over the past couple of years, opponents of the legislation have attempted to introduce several amendments they said would make the law more strict to better protect affordable housing, residential zoning and landlords. Among them was a requirement that Airbnb pay back taxes and a limit of rentals to 90 days even when the host is present. The board rejected several of these amendments.

Feinstein, who was the mayor of San Francisco for nine years and also a member of the Board of Supervisors for nine years, said residential zoning needs to be preserved so that commercial businesses don't take over and decrease housing stock in an alright tight market.

"The legislation approved by the board will encourage property owners and renters to vacate their units and rent them out to hotel users, further increasing the cost of living," Feinstein said. "Simply put, this bill will further increase already sky-high rental costs."

Airbnb says short-term rentals boost the economy for cities. Not only do these rental services attract tourists to neighborhoods not normally visited, Airbnb says, but also they also help "home sharers" make ends meet or pay off their mortgages. Airbnb didn't respond to CNET's request for comment.

If the Board of Supervisors votes to pass the legislation with its second vote on Tuesday, the bill will go to the desk of Mayor Ed Lee, who has the option of signing or vetoing the law. The mayor's office didn't respond to CNET's request for comment.

In her opinion piece, Feinstein said that if the board passes the bill, Lee should veto it and ask the board to re-examine the proposed law and the rejected amendments.

"I believe there is a compromise solution, but it does not involve handing over the key to the city to Airbnb and other short-term residential rental companies," Feinstein said. "The board should re-examine this legislation and take another shot at getting it right."