SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) – San Francisco's battle to impose regulations on the short-term rental industry intensified this week with the introduction of legislation that would impose tougher time limits and a call for a federal probe into the industry.
Board of Supervisors President London Breed and Supervisor Aaron Peskin on Wednesday introduced legislation that would impose a 60-night annual cap on short-term rentals, regardless of whether the host is on-site or not, a sharp reduction from the current 90-night limit for un-hosted rentals and 365-night limit for hosted rentals.
In a nod to those who have complied with current city regulations, the legislation would grandfather in hosts who have already registered with the city and allow them to continue operating under the old time limits.
The legislation would also simplify the process for finding a property in violation of city regulations and allow nonprofits to file suit against alleged violators, expanding the possible avenues for enforcement.
Breed said too many hosts are choosing not to register with the city and ignoring the annual rental caps. A city report released earlier this year found that only around 25 percent of all hosts had registered as required by city law and more than 25 percent of properties listing an entire unhosted home were being rented for more than the 90 days allowed by the city.
"This takes critical housing units off the market, rendering them unavailable to all those struggling to find a permanent, affordable place to live," Breed said. "It should not be more lucrative to offer an empty unit on Airbnb than to rent it as permanent housing for a San Francisco family."
Peskin said the legislation was needed because "our current regulatory scheme is not working."
"These common-sense amendments are based on independent analysis in an attempt to weed out the bad actors who are exacerbating the City's housing crisis, while letting mom and pop hosts make ends meet," Peskin said.
Airbnb officials today said in a statement that rather than "fixing the broken registration system, we are concerned this proposal will add one more barrier to compliance for hosts."
Also on Wednesday, a group of more than two-dozen elected officials, ten cities and seventeen community groups sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission calling for the agency to assess the number and nature of short-term rentals, as well as the revenue they generate.
Supervisor David Campos, who was among the letter's signers, said the FTC could help cities better understand the industry's impact on housing costs. While cities including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle and Portland have considered or passed short-term rental regulations, the industry has resisted sharing data on hosts with government officials that would allow effective enforcement.
"We know that short-term rentals can exacerbate housing shortages, but we often lack the data we need to address this problem while encouraging business innovation," Campos said.
The letter follows one sent in July by U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren, Dianne Feinstein and Brian Schatz calling for the Commission to clarify what portion of the short-term rental market consists of people or firms operating what amount to illegal commercial hotels.
Airbnb officials have attributed the push to get the FTC involved to lobbying from hotels concerned that short-term rentals were limiting the rates they could charge.
The increased pressure on short-term rental companies comes as San Francisco awaits a ruling in a federal lawsuit filed by Airbnb in June. The company sued to block legislation requiring that it and other short-term rental companies verify that hosts are legally registered with the city before allowing them to list properties.
The city has since amended that legislation in response to the lawsuit so that, rather than fining platforms for allowing unregistered hosts to list properties, it would instead fine them for accepting booking fees from them.
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