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Airbnb supporters rally for legalization in San Francisco

A group of "home sharers" hold court out front of City Hall to call on the Board of Supervisors to pass legislation that would legalize short-term rentals in certain situations.

Home Sharers of San Francisco founder Peter Kwan speaks at a press conference in front of City Hall. Dara Kerr/CNET

The legalization of Airbnb short-term rentals could be on the horizon in San Francisco. The city's Board of Supervisors is having its first hearing on Tuesday afternoon to discuss whether to amend city law and allow for short-term rentals in certain situations.

In anticipation of the meeting, a group of about 75 self-described "home sharers" gathered in front of San Francisco City Hall to say they want a "fair" and "reasonable" bill in place as soon as possible. They wore purple stickers on their shirts that said "Fair to Share" and held posters with slogans like "Helping families stay local" and "San Francisco wins when guests come in!"

"We are here to say loudly and clearly to the supervisors that they need to get it right and they need to do it now," said Peter Kwan, founder of Home Sharers of San Francisco.

The legislation to regulate Airbnb was proposed by David Chiu, president of San Francisco Board of Supervisors. The legislation's specifics include creating a host registry, letting people sublet their homes on a short-term basis for up to 90 days per calendar year and other provisions.

Currently, under San Francisco housing law, most residential rentals of less than 30 days are illegal -- meaning the vast majority of Airbnb listings are banned. This is meant to protect renters, so that slumlords don't force them out to make a quick buck on 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.

For the most part, Airbnb and the Home Sharers of San Francisco support Supervisor Chiu's legislation. However, there are a few elements of the bill that they doesn't agree with, such as the 90-day cap on rentals and one proposal that would allow for private parties to prosecute hosts allegedly in violation of the law.

"The overwhelming majority of home sharers in San Francisco are regular residents who share the home in which they live," Airbnb spokesman Nick Papas told CNET. "While we're concerned about some proposals before the board that would arbitrarily restrict sharing and incentive neighbors to sue one another in court, we're confident the Board will produce fair legislation without delay."

The legislation has opponents within the housing advocate community, however. They believe Chiu's legislation isn't strict enough and believe it should better protect affordable housing, residential zoning and landlords.

"We need to enforce the laws that are currently in the books," Janan New, executive director of the San Francisco Apartment Association, which represents landlords, told CNET in August. "If they change the rent law, they need to understand that impacts the whole rental system."