As the city makes strides in streamlining the process of legalizing short-term rentals for casual home-sharers, its enforcement against bad actors remains focused on individual hosts.
Supervisor David Campos grilled the director of the city’s new Office of Short Term Rentals on enforcement at this morning’s Budget and Finance Committee’s meeting. Since its creation four months ago, the office has received 876 applications from hosts wishing to register their rentals, has approved 660 of those and rejected 190, according to its director, Kevin Guy.
The office has also received 177 complaints from neighbors and residents about possible short term rental violations and it has investigated and closed 50 of the cases. In nine of those 50 cases, the office levied fines – a total of $155,000, not all of which has yet been paid.
Just yesterday, Airbnb became the nation’s, and indeed perhaps the world’s, first Qualified Website Company in San Francisco, according to an announced Amanda Fried from the city’s tax collector’s office.
That title reflects a new cooperation between Airbnb and the city’s tax collector wherein the hosting platform shares specific data about hosts, the number of nights they share their home and the amount of money collected. This allows the city’s treasurer to accurately calculate its taxes owed and to verify that individual hosts have already paid the taxes through Airbnb.
“It’s confusing to have a website company say, well, we paid the taxes and then for us to go to the host and say well, can you prove it,” Fried said at the hearing. “As of yesterday we can say with certainty that we have that agreement and we’re really excited moving forward.”
Hosts who share their home through Airbnb, therefore, will no longer receive notices from the city reminding them to file their hotel taxes monthly – a burden many casual home-sharers have faced since the city’s new short term rental regulations went into effect in February.
The current legislation, however, gives the enforcement office no authority to require hosting platforms to drop hosts who violate the rules.
Those hosts who use platforms other than Airbnb still need to file their taxes independently, but the tax collector’s office made this somewhat easier by launching a new category of short-term rental hosts known as the “Small Operator.” These include any short-term rental host – not on Airbnb – who earns less than $40,000 a year from home sharing. Small Operators now only need to pay their taxes once a year and all short-term rental operators may now do so online.
At the hearing, Campos pressed Guy on the size of his staff – three former Planning Department staff members have been loaned to the Office of Short Term Rentals and three permanent support staff members have been hired.
“How can you realistically go after the thousands of unregistered hosts that you have out there?” Campos asked.
Guy said he found his staff and resources adequate for the task assigned.
Some members of the public and advocates for Proposition F, which would tighten regulations on short-term rental platforms, also worried about the short term rental office’s efficacy.
“[Guy] talks about complaints since February 1st. There were hundreds of complaints filed in 2014,” said Dale Carlson after his public comment. “How are you possibly going to get a handle on that backlog with only three people?”
Campos also questioned Guy on the specific goals and success metrics for the office, which Guy said he hadn’t been provided with.
“I wasn’t mandated a specific metric or number,” he said. “The mission of the office is two pronged: Registration for those who want to follow the rules, and enforcement against those who don’t.”
Supervisor Mark Farrell argued that the short-term rental enforcement office had been so recently formed that the current numbers of successfully registered renters is no indication of the office’s ability to do its job.
“The Office of Short Term Rentals was created after February, so it was further down the line, just a few months ago, that this office was even created. When did you come on the job?” Farrell asked Guy.
“Two and a half weeks ago,” he answered.
Campos also pushed Guy to say whether the short term rental office would be able to do its job without being able to hold hosting platforms accountable. Under the current regulations, the office goes after individual hosts.
“If there’s changes to those capabilities and procedures in the future, we’ll incorporate those in our process,” Guy said.
Calvin Welch, a Proposition F supporter and longtime housing rights organizer, aligned more with Campos’ view that real enforcement capability would require authority over hosting platforms, namely the ability to require hosting platforms to list only registered, compliant rentals.
“Just like when you drive a car without a license,” he said at the press conference.
Ivan Abeshaus, a resident of 19th and Valencia streets who frequently rents a guest bedroom in his home, echoed Farrell’s concern that the new legislation and office simply had not been given enough time to prove its effectiveness. He said the provision prohibiting Ellis acted units from being used as short term rentals and the requirement that hosts live in their rentals were already good starts. Bad actors, he said, are beginning to be punished.
“People are getting busted. The slope is definitely in the right direction,” Abeshaus said. “The one thing I’ve learned is that it is very slow to get stuff done here.”