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San Francisco Seeks Court Order Against Short-Term Rental Site HomeAway

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS) -- San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera this week moved to force short-term rental site to hand over information about hosts and transactions in San Francisco to city tax collectors.

A petition filed by the City Attorney's Office in San Francisco Superior Court seeks a court order compelling to provide the information to City Treasurer Jose Cisneros, so that he can make sure hosts are properly registered and paying hotel taxes as required by city law.

Cisneros has previously filed two subpoenas against the company, in October and April, but has so far refused to comply, according to the petition. The tax collector has the legal authority to issue subpoenas to anyone with information relevant to enforcing compliance with business and tax regulations, the petition notes.

"This action is an important step in our efforts to collect transient occupancy taxes from short-term rentals operating in San Francisco," Cisneros said in a statement. "Businesses in San Francisco can't ignore our laws.

Cisneros said the action should "put on strong notice" any short-term rental hosts who have not yet registered as a business and collected and paid taxes as required.

Short-term rentals have been a contentious topic in the city, due to concerns that they can take thousands of housing units off the market for use as unlicensed hotel rooms. While the city has passed regulations requiring hosts to register and pay hotel taxes, recent city reports indicate as few as 25 percent of all short-term rental hosts have done so.

"This action is fundamentally about fairness: businesses that follow the law shouldn't have to compete against law-breakers," Herrera said in a statement. "That principle applies equally to short-term rental hosts who don't collect taxes, and to the online platforms determined to shield them."

Airbnb, the best known of the short-term rental sites, has been designated by the city as a Qualified Website Company -- meaning that it collects and remits hotel taxes from hosts when it processes payments through its web site.

Recently passed regulations would require sites to confirm a host is legally registered with the city before posting a listing, a requirement that Airbnb has opposed in the past. It remains uncertain whether Airbnb or other sites will file a legal challenge to those regulations before they take effect in July.

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