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San Francisco complains it can't enforce its own Airbnb law

San Francisco City Hall
San Francisco City Hall

(City of San Francisco)San Francisco City Hall.

In early February, the city of San Francisco passed what's known as the Airbnb law, a way of regulating the controversial home rental service that would give it some loose restrictions in exchange for an officially legal status.

Now, the city is finding this law unenforceable.

“It’s a mess and now we are going to have to clean it up,” San Francisco Supervisor David Campos, a long-time critic of Airbnb, as quoted in a San Francisco Chronicle report.

The Airbnb law says that guests can only stay for 90 days if the owner is not currently in the residence, and requires prospective room renters to register at City Hall with a $50 fee.

An official memo circulating today says that San Francisco ultimately has no way to make sure people play by the rules, with the potential for basically unlimited abuse to run rampant.

That memo, presented by San Francisco Planning Department Communications Manager Gina Simi to a Board of Supervisors meeting, lays out all the ways the Airbnb law can be flouted:

  • Without Airbnb giving up its data to city officials, city regulators can't be sure that every renter on the site is registered and paid up.

  • They can't prove that somebody was or wasn't in the house for 90 days.

  • The $50 registration fee isn't enough to cover the cost of administering the law.

In light of this memo, city politicians are scrambling to figure out a better solution that relies less on self-policing. But they also don't want to be seen trying to requisition too much personal data from a startup, especially not a popular one like Airbnb.

When the Airbnb law first passed, it was seen by many as a token move to placate San Francisco's voting public — many of whom value the ability to use the service to barter out their unused space in order to better afford their ridiculous city rents, but who also don't want to see Airbnb's power run unchecked.

For its part, Airbnb says that's it's worked hard to be a good partner with San Francisco, and doesn't appreciate the backpedaling on a law passing regulations it welcomed with open arms.

A"Just months ago the planning commission supported this law, the Board of Supervisors approved this law and the mayor signed it. Now bureaucrats are busily throwing up roadblocks, including some that aren't in the law and others that were rejected by the Board of Supervisors. We are focused on making this law work for all people in San Francisco, and we urge government agencies to do the same," an Airbnb spokesperson emailed us.

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