Airbnb, Lee eager to fix tax issues 

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As tech startup Airbnb announced plans to add hundreds of local jobs at its new San Francisco headquarters, Mayor Ed Lee said the issue of whether the company must pay The City’s 14 percent hotel tax remains a topic for discussion.

The online service — which connects people around the world who have spare rooms with travelers looking for short-term places to stay — said it would move its headquarters next
year from its current 35,000-square-foot office space at 99 Rhode Island St. to a 169,000-square-foot space a few blocks away at 888 Brannan St.

The company has signed a 10-year lease and says the space will allow it to grow from 125 employees to more than 1,000.

Lee considers Airbnb, which was founded in San Francisco in 2008, to be a model of the “sharing economy” and another example of his effort to solidify The City’s role as a technology hub.

However, the mayor expressed concern with a recent decision by city Treasurer Jose Cisneros stating companies such as Airbnb must pay taxes like hotels.

“We just want him to be sensitive to that,” Lee said. “Obviously, he’s got his legal responsibility to do, and we’ll respect that.”

“The treasurer looks forward to discussing these issues in the Sharing Economy Working Group,” Cisneros spokesman Greg Kato said.

An Airbnb spokeswoman also quarreled with the policy.

“We don’t shy away from any tax obligations, but we think it’s important to point out that renting a spare bedroom is different than operating a hotel,” spokeswoman Kim Rubey said.

The mayor said he has convened a working group of city officials for a dialogue with business leaders about the sharing economy.

“What we’re trying to do is create the right conditions for a dialogue on the policy level so that if we need to change the law, to welcome in a shared-economy industry, we’ll have that dialogue with the Board of Supervisors to do that,” Lee said.

aburack@sfexaminer.com

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