San Francisco considers revising Airbnb law to help enforcement 

click to enlarge David Campos and the other members of the Board of Supervisors heard testimony Wednesday from the Planning Department and hosts regarding the new short-term rental law. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/The S.F. Examiner
  • David Campos and the other members of the Board of Supervisors heard testimony Wednesday from the Planning Department and hosts regarding the new short-term rental law.

One month after San Francisco's short-term rental ordinance took effect, city officials are already discussing possible amendments to improve enforcement of the so-called Airbnb law.

Supervisor Mark Farrell, who chairs the Board of Supervisors budget committee, requested Wednesday's hearing to discuss adding money to the Planning Department's budget to better enforce the law that legalizes short-term rentals in The City.

But high-ranking city planning officials said there are loopholes in the current law that no amount of resources could fix.

"Manpower is only part of the problem. The legislation is the other half," said Planning Department Zoning Administrator Scott Sanchez. "There are legislative changes that could be made to the ordinance that would make it certainly easier to enforce. I would be hesitant to say lets keep adding staffing until we can enforce this."

Ann Marie Rogers, the Planning Department's senior policy adviser who argued that the loopholes may be diminishing housing resources, recommended solutions such as requiring the hosting platforms such as Airbnb to share booking data or to prevent anyone without a registration number to list a unit on the site.

"If platforms stop allowing listings that were not city-certified, that would immediately curtail thousands of listings that really should still be accessible as housing for San Franciscans," Rogers said.

The department said that without cooperation from the host platforms, it can't enforce the requirement that there be 90 days of unhosted stays — those where the resident is not at the rented unit — when there is no cap on hosted stays. There has also been concern about the low number of short-term hosts who have taken steps to register under the law. Sixty residents successfully applied and received registration numbers, which are required to be included in the host's listings on websites like Airbnb. But there are an estimated thousands of other listings that remain illegal. The department has so far received 159 applications and scheduled 254 appointments.

Sanchez said the department is "frustrated" that hundreds turned out to support the law's adoption but there hasn't been the same turnout to comply with it.

Those seeking to register have complained that the process is cumbersome and onerous, such as having to show up in person and supply numerous documents.

Peter Kwan, organizer of a pro-Airbnb group with 1,600 members, said the Wednesday hearing gave the wrong impression that hosts "aren't eager to register."

"A lot of us really want to come out of shadows, comply with the law, get registered, but as you heard today, the process is not easy," Kwan said. "There are a lot of hurdles. We think that this law could be made a lot more streamlined."

The hearing comes as a group calling itself Share Better San Francisco plans to begin collecting signatures next month to place on the November ballot a measure that would impose much stricter regulations on short-term rentals.

Dale Carlson, spokesman for the ballot measure effort, said short-term rental sites "have no incentive to stop condoning and promoting illegal rentals" and added it was a "glaring omission" to not include penalties in the law for both hosts and short-term rental platforms who offer listings without registration.

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