Supervisor David Campos said that Airbnb, the online service for renting rooms, apartment or whole houses to travelers, made it clear at a recent meeting that they will not be turning over any records to the city.
And on Thursday, the San Francisco Planning Commission decided not to force them. In a 4-3 decision, Commissioners Fong, Antonini, Hills and Johnson voted against requiring Airbnb to give the city the number of nights a host rents out a residential unit.
Without those records, any enforcement of the city’s new regulations on short term rentals is unenforceable, Campos said.
“Sad,” he tweeted after the vote last night.
The city’s new law on vacation rentals, in effect since Feb. 1, requires hosts to register with the city, but a month after the law took effect, only a fraction – little more than 200– of the thousands of rentals listed on Airbnb have done so, according to the Planning Department.
The city has no way of fining transgressors because only Airbnb has a list of addresses and hosts. Although forced to make adjustments to its policy by New York, Airbnb – citing privacy – has long refused to share that list with San Francisco.
Campos said in an interview that he will draft a proposal requiring Airbnb to hand over its records to the city, but added that support from the Board of Supervisors is far from a done deal because of the political influence that Airbnb has in San Francisco.
“I’ll be honest – I’m not sure if enforcement will happen,” said Campos. “Airbnb has had so much political power at the Board of Supervisors and at the Mayor’s office, that City Hall hasn’t really acted.”
After several attempts by New York’s Attorney General to subpoena information on hosts, Airbnb agreed last May to hand over “anonymized data about our hosts in New York,” Airbnb announced at the time. “This data will not include names, apartment numbers, or other personally-identifiable information.”
While Airbnb offered no names, it has allowed New York officials a year to monitor rentals by address to determine if hosts are violating local laws. If New York sees a problem, Airbnb will presumably identify the hosts.
A similar agreement in San Francisco could immediately tell the city the addresses being offered for rent that have not yet registered with the city.
Monitored over a year, city officials could also determine when hosts violate the recently prescribed limitations, including that the host must be a permanent San Francisco resident.
Supervisors Campos, Avalos, and Mar proposed changes last night that would include a 60-day cap on rentals, penalties of up to $1,000 a day on hosting platforms that allow unregistered hosts to post units, and requiring hosting sites to give the city booking information on hosts.
Mayor Lee and Supervisor O’Farrell have proposed a 120-day hard cap on rentals and a creation of an office of enforcement. Their proposal, however, does not require online hosting sites to provide information about their hosts.
Critics say that none of the proposed changes would be effective without enforcement capability. The latter requres more cooperation from a reluctant Airbnb.
“My hope is if the impasse continues, the City Attorney would subpoena records,” Campos added.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s office said they have no plans to issue a subpoena to Airbnb to get those records, and have only been using the power of a subpoena for Airbnb records in individual cases of short-term rental abuses.
Campos said the people of San Francisco need to send a clear message to Airbnb.
“Just because you have money, just because you’re a major corporation that has political power, doesn’t mean you don’t follow the rules,” the supervisor said.
Campos is not alone in advocating for tighter controls.
Another group, ShareBetter SF, is working on an initiative for the November 2015 ballot that would tighten regulations on short-term rentals to tourists.
“We expect to file our initiative next week and begin gathering signatures early in May,” said Dale Carlson, a former Planning Commissioner who is part of the group.
State Senator Mike McGuire proposed SB593, a bill that would require quarterly reports from operators of hosting platforms like Airbnb to provide information on the addresses of, nights of use at, and revenues obtained through online hosting platforms, as well as prohibiting hosting platforms from listing rentals that are prohibited by law. The bill has been referred to the Housing Committee.