Supervisors Campos and Peskin hold a press conference announcing their new legislation. Photo by Laura Wenus

Some of the most progressive members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors are firing another shot in their ongoing battle with short term rentals, introducing legislation that would require homesharing platforms to verify whether hosts are registered with the city as local law requiresand charging hosting platforms fines of up to $1,000 per day per violation.

A 2015 Budget and Legislative Analyst’s report indicated that such rentals may be responsible for between 925 and 1,960 units rent controlled units being removed from the market – but legislators are still divided on whether existing laws are working to curb that effect.

“The law that was passed a couple of years ago is not working, and what we are doing today is recognizing that this law, after a couple of years of having had an opportunity to see if it works, it’s proven not to have worked,” said District 9 Supervisor David Campos at a press conference announcing the introduction of the legislation.

At a Land Use and Transportation Committee hearing, District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener disagreed.

“There were people declaring it a failure even though there was really no way of knowing, only a month after the effective date, whether it was succeeding or failing,” Wiener said.

Kevin Guy, who heads the city’s Office of Short Term Rentals, reported at the hearing that the number of registered short term rental hosts in the city has increased from about 879 in January of 2016 to about 1,200. The number of cases still under review has dropped from 269 in January to 112, even though the number of applicants for registration jumped by more than 300.

Airbnb’s self-reported data, Guy said, indicates there are more than 7,000 unique hosts in San Francisco.

In its enforcement efforts, the Office of Short Term Rentals has collected some $160,000 out of $700,000 in fines assessed to date. Most of the fines were assessed on hosts who failed to register their rentals with the city.

Of the remaining assessed, $247,000 has yet to be collected and a big portion of that – $193,000 –  is tied up in a case that is headed to court, according to Guy.  

Another $340,000 in fines has been referred to the Bureau of Delinquent Revenue for future collection.

“I think we are moving in a good direction,” Wiener said. “We also know that we have work to do in terms of registration but as the data presented today shows, we are headed in a continuous positive direction…Let’s just let this law work.”

Guy said his office is hoping to refocus its efforts on pro-active enforcement against the most egregious scofflaws – hosts who list multiple different properties, for example, which indicates that they cannot possibly be complying with a San Francisco law requiring that short term rentals only occur in a host’s primary residence.

“That category of short term rental listing is problematic, clearly,” Guy said. “They’re taking long term rental stock off of the market.”

Homesharing giant Airbnb told the San Francisco Chronicle and the Office of Short Term Rentals at the beginning of the month that they, too, plan a crackdown on those egregious scofflaws – though neither Guy nor Campos indicated that this would have significant results.

“They chose a very small sliver of noncompliance as a way of saying, ‘we are actually doing our part to ensure that the law is being followed’,” Campos said. “Well, nothing is more important in terms of ensuring that the law is followed than actually verifying registration.”

Unlike the current enforcement system, Campos’ proposal would fine platforms, not hosts, putting the onus on Airbnb and other companies to verify registrations rather than on hosts to obtain them.

“We believe that some 2,000 units of housing have been permanently taken off the market,” said Supervisor Aaron Peskin at the press conference. “The only way to bring those thousands of units back to the market is by holding the platforms accountable.”

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