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SF mayor proposes revisions to city's 'Airbnb law'

Proposed amendments would put a 120-day cap on the number of days per year residents can rent out their homes or rooms in the city.

San Francisco's mayor proposes amendments to the so-called Airbnb law, which he signed last year. Airbnb

San Francisco's mayor is proposing amendments to the city's so-called Airbnb law in an effort to ease community concerns over the controversial law governing short-term rentals.

Amendments introduced Tuesday by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisor Mark Farrell would impose a 120-day limit on the number of days per year that residents can rent out their homes or rooms. The amendments come six months after city leaders approved the law, which legalized short-term rentals of private residences and cleared the way for online hosting platforms such as Airbnb and VRBO to be used legally within the city. Both services connect people who want to sublet their rooms or entire homes to other people.

Lee and Farrell said the revisions were designed to address the concerns of home sharers, housing and tenant advocates, and the city's Planning Department.

"Many San Franciscans rent their homes on a short-term basis to earn extra income and get by in our city, but our current homesharing laws must be more clear and easier to enforce," Lee said in a statement. "This legislation will help keep our city more affordable for homesharers, preserve rental housing for San Franciscans, protect neighborhood character and streamline permitting and enforcement under a fair set of regulations."

In October, Lee signed the "Airbnb law" and officially legalized peer-to-peer home sharing in the city. The law legitimized a practice that was already widespread in San Francisco but rarely prosecuted. The original version of this law differentiated between "hosted" and "unhosted" rentals. It said "unhosted" rentals -- when hosts aren't present -- must be capped at 90 days per calendar year. But "hosted" rentals, when hosts are present during guest stays, could happen 365 days a year. The new 120-day cap would apply to both hosted and unhosted rentals.

In a letter to San Francisco Board of Supervisors President London Breed, Airbnb said the 120-day cap raises "significant concerns" for some of those people who do hosted rentals.

"This kind of proposal would adversely impact San Franciscans like Kevin and Esther who share their guest room and use the money they earn to pay medical bills associated with Kevin's Parkinson's disease," the letter reads.

In addition to the 120-day rental cap, the new amendments would create a new Office of Short-Term Rental Administration and Enforcement that would enforce the law as well as serve a place where residents could apply for the city's short-term rental registry.

The road to get the original law passed was long. Legislators held countless meetings and forums over the previous two years to hammer out the bill, which faced opposition from a range of players, including hotel owners, affordable housing advocates and landlords.

To legalize Airbnb, San Francisco had to amend its city-wide zoning laws to allow for short-term rentals. Under the old law, temporary rentals were seen as a commercial business and therefore not allowed in neighborhoods or buildings zoned for residential use.

Airbnb proponents say that short-term rentals bring many benefits to San Francisco residents and tourists. Not only do they help "home sharers" make ends meet or pay off their mortgages, they also bring more visitors who might not be able to afford the city's high-cost hotels. The average daily rate for a San Francisco hotel room is about $230 a night, according to an August study by hotel research firm STR Global.

Prior to the law's approval, opponents within the housing advocate community voiced concern that the legislation wasn't strict enough and said it should better protect affordable housing, residential zoning and landlords.

US Senator Dianne Feinstein, a former San Francisco mayor, also voiced skepticism about legalizing short-term rentals, penning an opinion piece that called the law "shortsighted" and said it could "destroy the integrity of zoning throughout San Francisco."

Updated April 15 at 5:15 p.m. PT with additional information from Airbnb's letter to San Francisco Board of Supervisors President London Breed and clarification on the laws' caps on "hosted" and "unhosted" rentals.