Airbnb purges thousands of San Francisco listings overnight

As a new law goes into effect, the short-term rental site is required to deactivate all hosts who didn't register with the city.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
3 min read

Airbnb deactivated thousands of San Francisco hosts to be in accordance with new legislation.

Screenshot by Dara Kerr/CNET

If you were hoping to rent out a room on Airbnb in San Francisco, the pickings just got a lot slimmer.

New legislation went into effect on Wednesday requiring all Airbnb hosts to register with the city. As a consequence, nearly half of Airbnb's listings in the city disappeared practically overnight.

Earlier this year, Airbnb says, it listed about 11,000 rentals in San Francisco and by Wednesday that number dropped by more than 4,500 rentals.

"The data is fresh and we are still analyzing it, but it appears that at least 6,000 short-term rental listings were removed through this process," said Kevin Guy, director of San Francisco's Office of Short-Term Rentals, which does registrations for people renting through sites like Airbnb, HomeAway and FlipKey. "For Airbnb alone, around 4,760 listings were removed."

Airbnb and San Francisco have a long history. The home rental site first launched its service in San Francisco in 2008 and the company still maintains its headquarters there. San Francisco was also one of the first cities in the world to work with Airbnb to make short-term rentals legal.

It passed a law in 2014 that's gone through several iterations. Ultimately, the law dictates that people can rent rooms or their entire home for up to 90 days a year when they aren't around. Hosts present during homestays are allowed to lease rooms year-round.

But, according to a settlement deal reached between Airbnb and San Francisco last May, all hosts must be registered with the city. The deadline to register was Tuesday at midnight. After that, Airbnb was required to purge all unregistered listings.

"We are proud to have worked with lawmakers in our hometown to create clear, fair home sharing rules that ensure every listing on the Airbnb platform is in full compliance with local regulations and protect our business over the long term," said Airbnb spokeswoman Mattie Zazueta.

San Francisco lawmakers said the registration component is important because it creates a way for the city to enforce its law. The city's ultimate goal is to prevent people from turning rentable homes into makeshift hotels, especially when San Francisco is going through a housing shortage.

Other short-term rental companies, like HomeAway and FlipKey, also saw a drop in listings this week, according to CBS local affiliate KPIX. For instance, FlipKey went from 555 listings to about 57 on Wednesday.

Airbnb says the majority of listings removed from its website were basically inactive. For example, 35 percent of Airbnb's San Francisco listings had no activity for the last six months.

As for those hosts who were active but didn't register, Airbnb believes there are a couple of possible explanations. It's possible tenants didn't want to ask their landlords for permission to sublet on Airbnb or people didn't want to pay the required registration fees of $340 to the city.

Of all of Airbnb's listings, about 2,650 are exempt from registration, Airbnb says. That's because those listings are only for rentals longer than 30 days or are traditional B&B's or boutique hotels.

San Francisco's Office of Short-Term Rentals said there's been an uptick of registration applications over the past few months. This week alone, the office received nearly 200 applications. Guy said about 1,000 applications are still under review. 

"Some of these applications will be denied," he said. And "additional listings should be removed in the coming months."    

First published Jan. 18, 2:05 p.m. PT.
Update, 4:54 p.m.:
 Adds information and comment from Kevin Guy, director of San Francisco's Office of Short-Term Rentals.

Batteries Not Included: The CNET team reminds us why tech is cool.

CNET MagazineCheck out a sample of the stories in CNET's newsstand edition.