Second effort to regulate Airbnb in SF advances for a June 9 showdown 

click to enlarge Coalition members called for city officials to immediately begin efforts to collect more than $25 million in past due taxes owed by Airbnb at a press conference Nov. 24 at the global headquarters of Airbnb in San Francisco. - GABRIELLE LURIE/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Gabrielle Lurie/Special to The S.F. Examiner
  • Coalition members called for city officials to immediately begin efforts to collect more than $25 million in past due taxes owed by Airbnb at a press conference Nov. 24 at the global headquarters of Airbnb in San Francisco.
San Francisco’s second attempt to regulate short-term rentals is once again igniting heated debate, as the proposed changes wend their way through the Board of Supervisors.

The board’s Land Use and Economic Development Committee hearing Monday on the amendments to the law lasted for six hours. The hearing closed with the committee sending two competing proposals to change the law to the full board for a vote on June 9.

The ultimate decision may be left up to the voters with a proposed November ballot measure.

Lengthy debates on the topic have become the norm at City Hall, illustrating how significant and politically sensitive short-term rentals have become in San Francisco.

While the law went into effect on Feb. 1, it has since been deemed to have failed.

Supervisor David Campos wants a 60-day cap on the number of stays a host can book per year. Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisor Mark Farrell want a 120-day cap.

But that’s hardly the end of the debate. Campos argues the only way to enforce a cap of any size, is to require hosting platforms like Airbnb to only allow listings on their sites with a valid city registration number — or face penalties. And he wants those websites to provide quarterly booking data.

During the hearing, Campos pressed Planning Director John Rahaim on how the law can be enforced without the two provisions he suggested. The listing requirement provision would have been recommended by the Planning Commission during its April 23 meeting, but one commissioner changed her vote after receiving a text message from a mayoral staffer, as reported this week by the San Francisco Examiner.

Rahaim acknowledged that the data would help with enforcement, but he said in-lieu of that the department will rely other methods “whether it’s talking to neighbors, whether it’s talking to the owners of the units, whether it’s talking to residents and tenants.”

“It takes more time clearly,” Rahaim added. “There is a more intensive effort involved.”

Supervisor Scott Wiener agreed “there are many different ways of doing enforcement beyond taking the draconian step of requiring an Internet company to provide private data about its users.” Wiener also said the 60-day cap “goes too far.”

How best to regulate the short-term rental industry is debated, along with level of impact it’s having on the ongoing housing crisis.

Monday’s hearing delved into two recent city reports. One report from the budget analyst concluded up to 2,000 entire housing units are removed from the housing market by Airbnb hosts.

But City economist Ted Egan, in his separate report, said there’s no data available to ascertain how many units are actually being removed from the housing market. Egan’s report did note that loss of a housing unit would result in an economic toll of about $300,000 per year, which exceeds the benefit of revenue from a short term rental.

Egan’s report also found a host would have to rent out the unit between 123 and 241 days, before realizing in booking charges what they could net in rent money. Just as they had in previous meetings, Airbnb hosts showed up in droves Monday. Homeowner Doug Nielson said he uses Airbnb to help make mortgage payments, and without the revenue “we will be forced to move.”

“If we went with a 60-day rental limit it would make 25 percent of what I’m making now,” Nielson said.

Katherine Howard, a longtime resident, had a different view, noting concerns about the use of vacant units for short-term rentals instead of actual long-term rentals. “I want real people as neighbors not a series of strangers just passing through that have no commitment to the city or to its people. Make the requirements and enforcement as stringent as possible,” Howard said.

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