San Francisco wants Airbnb to help enforce rental law

A proposed law would hold sites like Airbnb responsible for illegal listings and threaten steep fines for violations.

Carrie Mihalcik Former Managing Editor / News
Carrie was a managing editor at CNET focused on breaking and trending news. She'd been reporting and editing for more than a decade, including at the National Journal and Current TV.
Expertise Breaking News, Technology Credentials
  • Carrie has lived on both coasts and can definitively say that Chesapeake Bay blue crabs are the best.
Carrie Mihalcik
2 min read

Airbnb lets people list, find and rent short-term lodging.

Screenshot by CNET

Airbnb could be held responsible for policing San Francisco listings that violate the city's short-term rental law.

San Francisco Supervisors David Campos and Aaron Peskin plan to introduce legislation on Tuesday that will hold sites like Airbnb responsible for verifying that hosts are following the city's law. Current law requires hosts to register, carry liability insurance, pay transient occupancy taxes and uphold a 90-day cap on unhosted rentals, among other things.

The supervisors are proposing that any hosting site that doesn't follow the mandate would face fines of up to $1,000 per day per unregistered, aka illegal, listing.

"The legislation I am introducing tomorrow with Supervisor Peskin will ensure that Web platforms are supporting -- and not hindering -- the enforcement of our short term rental law in San Francisco," said Campos in a statement. "This is not about changing the current law, it's about enforcing the current law."

This legislation highlights growing pains that are spreading across the on-demand and sharing economy, which create peer-to-peer marketplaces via online services and apps. Uber, an app that pairs passengers with drivers, settled two class action lawsuits on Thursday that will let its drivers remain classified as independent contractors. Several other on-demand startups are facing similar lawsuits and some, such as house-cleaning startup Homejoy, have shut down.

Airbnb, which operates in nearly 200 countries, connects homeowners with people looking for rentals. The proposed law would not change requirements for hosts in San Francisco. However, over 75 percent of the more than 7,000 Airbnb hosts in San Francisco are not registered, as required, and continue to list on the site, according to a release from Campos.

"While the legal enforceability of this proposal is questionable, Airbnb will continue working with our community to simplify the process and get hosts registered," a company spokeswoman said. "We look forward to engaging with all stakeholders to find real solutions that accomplish our shared goals of protecting housing."

San Francisco officially legalized peer-to-peer home sharing back in 2014, but some city officials and residents have since tried to tighten the rules. Critics have accused Airbnb of contributing to tighter housing markets, with landlords taking rental units off the market to capitalize on short-term rentals instead. In November, voters in San Francisco rejected a proposition that would have imposed restrictions on how many days homeowners could rent their homes. Campos also previously introduced an amendment, which failed to pass, that aimed to put a 75-day limit on short-term rentals per calendar year.

Airbnb has promised to do its own crackdown of illegal listings. In April, the company said it was investigating hosts in San Francisco with multiple listings and plans to give "unwelcome commercial operators" the boot.