Advisory committee cites safety concerns with proposed Airbnb legislation 

click to enlarge Members of Home Sharers of San Francisco as well as Fair to Share San Francisco show their support for businesses like Airbnb in Civic Center Plaza. A proposed ordinance that would regulate short-term rental services was rejected by an advisory committee Wednesday. - NATHANIEL Y. DOWNES/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Nathaniel Y. Downes/Special to The S.F. Examiner
  • Members of Home Sharers of San Francisco as well as Fair to Share San Francisco show their support for businesses like Airbnb in Civic Center Plaza. A proposed ordinance that would regulate short-term rental services was rejected by an advisory committee Wednesday.

As city leaders are poised to consider an ordinance to legalize and regulate short-term rentals arranged through online services like Airbnb in San Francisco, a building code advisory committee rejected the proposal Wednesday, citing safety and other issues.

Members of the Department of Building Inspection's Code Advisory Committee argued that the legislation fails to address fire-safety, life-safety, accessibility and occupancy issues. Additionally, members said the department should not become the record-keeping administrative agent for short-term rentals under such a law.

"When you start collecting taxes then there's a kind of obligation that you're providing some level of oversight for those tax dollars," said Ned Fennie, architect and committee chair. Among other measures, the legislation would assess The City's 14 percent hotel tax on the short-term says.

The proposed ordinance has come as companies like Airbnb, VRBO or Flipkey have exploded in cities around the world, igniting debates about the impact on housing costs and the need for regulations and enforcement of short-term stays. In San Francisco, where the practice is currently illegal, about 5,000 units are estimated being advertised for short-term rentals at any given time.

Under the proposal, the Department of Building Inspection would have to operate a registry for hosts using the short-term rental platforms like Airbnb. The registry fee proposed is $50.

"The ordinance is placing another requirement on the Building Department, which they are not very good at and that is information management," said Jerry Cunningham, a Fire Protection engineer and committee member."DBI I think is still struggling with the permit tracking system."

The committee also said the proposal had gaps related to code enforcement. Whereas hotels, hospices, day cares and other specialized uses must meet certain building code guidelines, they noted that the proposed legislation doesn't add safety codes to the short-term rentals beyond what currently exist for the residential units. Committee members also suggested there should be code compliance checks for issues like smoke detectors or unblocked exits before allowing the practice.

Cunningham suggested a task force should be assembled to figure out the proper "additional requirements."

The Code Advisory Committee made its recommendation in time for the expected vote on the legislation next week by the Building Inspection Commission, which appoints the code advisory group.

The legislation that would legalize short-term rentals in San Francisco -- currently rentals of less than 30 days are prohibited -- was approved last week by the Planning Commission after a six-hour meeting.

Ultimately, the legislation, introduced by Supervisor David Chiu, would require approval by the Board of Supervisors, which is expected to hold hearings beginning in September after returning from August legislative recess.

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