Prop F aims to place expanded restrictions on short-term rentals

Bay City News
Monday, October 26, 2015
Airbnb launched a barrage of TV and online ads attacking Proposition F, the San Francisco ballot initiative that seeks to curb short-term rentals.
Airbnb launched a barrage of TV and online ads attacking Proposition F, the San Francisco ballot initiative that seeks to curb short-term rentals.

SAN FRANCISCO -- A measure on San Francisco's ballot in next week's election will decide whether there needs to be stricter enforcement and limits on short-term rentals of residential units in the city.

Proposition F on the Nov. 3 ballot, if approved by a majority of voters, would add restrictions to short-term rentals, including limiting them to 75 days per year for a unit, regardless of whether the rental is hosted or unhosted.

Among the loudest and fiercest opponents to Proposition F is Airbnb, a San Francisco-based company which has made a business, valued at more than $25 billion, by connecting people with homes to people looking for short-term rentals around the world.

Proponents of the proposition argue that renting out apartments or rooms on a short-term basis removes units from the long-term housing stock, thus raising the price of rents in the city.

Opponents say that decision should be left up to the homeowner to decide.

Last month, members of ShareBetter SF, the coalition supporting Proposition F, said that the city has as many as 10,000 short-term rentals listed on sites such as Airbnb, but fewer than 700 people had registered with the city since regulations requiring it were introduced in February.

"That means that 94 percent of people doing short-term rentals in San Francisco are breaking the law," Measure F supporter Supervisor David Campos said.

Hosting platforms, such as Airbnb and VRBO, would have to stop listing a unit for short-term rental once that unit has been rented on a short-term basis for more than 75 days in a calendar year.

Under current city law, there is no limit to how many days a person can host a short-term renter. However, the current law states that unhosted rentals, where the host is not present, are capped at 90 days per year.

Among the most notable changes that would be enacted via the proposition is that it would make it a misdemeanor offense for a hosting platform to unlawfully list a unit as a short-term rental.

Under current law, it is a misdemeanor for a tenant or owner to unlawfully rent a unit as a short-term rental.

Right now, anyone who wants to offer a unit for short-term rental must register the unit with the city's newly created Office of Short-Term Residential Rental Administration and Enforcement.

The ballot measure proposes that the city go a step further and post a notice on the building stating that a unit has been approved for use as a short-term rental.

The proposition also bans the short-term rental of in-law units.

Airbnb has reportedly spent around $8 million in its fight against the proposition.

In a recent marketing email to its users, Airbnb urged voting "No" on Proposition F, arguing that the regulations would "require hosts to report where they sleep every single night of the year."

However, an ill-timed marketing campaign by Airbnb that was launched in the city last week and then quickly taken down could have a negative impact on voters' perception of the company and their efforts to oppose it.

The ads, which drew swift backlash on social media and elsewhere, gave suggestions to San Francisco city agencies on how to best spend the millions in tax dollars it gets from Airbnb.

Last month, Kevin Guy, director of the Short-Term Rental Administration and Enforcement Office, appointed by Mayor Ed Lee, said the city has not only registered less than 700 hosts, but has also rejected another 190 and is reviewing others.

Guy noted that the number of rentals listed tends to fluctuate and some properties are listed multiple times across different sites, making the figure of 10,000 listings cited by Measure F proponents difficult to confirm.

Since Feb. 1, when city regulations requiring short-term rental hosts to register with the city and pay hotel taxes took effect, the city has received 177 complaints about illegal rental activity and the office has assessed almost $155,000 in penalties, according to Guy.

"Our priority for enforcement is primarily going after egregious violators, those folks who have multiple units listed across the city," Guy said, adding that "at the same time we want to make it clear that no one is above the law."

Campos has called the current regulations "unenforceable" and said that Proposition F would be key to enforcement because hosting sites would be required to check if hosts are properly registered and in compliance with city rules.

Opponents of the measure say the regulations could pit neighbors against neighbors since it would allow them to sue one another if they are violating city law.

Mayor Lee, who opposes Proposition F, has said that the current regulations are working and should be given more time.