San Francisco Mayor Vetoes Bill That Would Limit Airbnb Rentals

Signs showing support for Proposition F, which restricted short-term rentals in the city, are posted on a shop window in San Francisco on Nov. 2, 2015.

Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images

Airbnb Inc. scored another legislative victory late Thursday when San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee vetoed a bill that would have barred hosts from renting their homes out for more than 60 days a year, down from the current 90-day limit. “This legislation will make registration and enforcement of our short-term rental regulations less effective and risks driving even more people to illegally rent units instead of complying with current regulations,” the mayor said in a statement Thursday. The attempted regulation comes amid criticisms by housing activists that the San Francisco–based home-sharing service is aggravating the housing crisis in the most expensive city in the country, by encouraging landlords to offer short-term rentals to vacationers rather than longer leases to San Francisco residents.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the legislation had the support of the seven members of the board of supervisors, one vote short from the eight needed to override a mayoral veto. London Breed, the president of the board of supervisors who had initially proposed the bill, said that they would create a working group that would make recommendations for “regulations and long-term solutions” by the end of February. David Owen, a public policy manager for Airbnb, wrote in a statement to Slate that he hopes Airbnb will be included in the working group.

According to the Chronicle, just 1,700 of San Francisco’s 8,000 to 10,000 hosts are registered with the city, making it nearly impossible to enforce the city’s current 90-day rental limit.

The win for Airbnb follows its successful negotiation with city officials from New Orleans earlier this week. Airbnb agreed to limit rentals to 90 days and that all of its hosts will operate with a permit. Under the new deal in New Orleans, hosts will be automatically registered with a permit when they sign up on Airbnb, the New York Times reported. This is a significant easing of the process in New Orleans, given that in San Francisco, hosts must register in person and be a permanent resident of the unit they rent out, as Slate’s Henry Grabar has explained.

Now, Airbnb and its home city are still not exactly on the best of terms. Airbnb sued San Francisco in federal court in June, claiming that the penalties imposed on Airbnb for its unregistered hosts violated the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which held that companies are not liable for third-party postings on their websites. San Francisco’s board of supervisors had passed a bill earlier that month that required Airbnb only post the listings of hosts who are registered or face daily fines of up to $1,000.

And San Francisco is far from the only city attempting to regulate the service. In New York City, Airbnb recently dropped a lawsuit against the city over a law that fined hosts in multiunit buildings up to $7,500 for listing rentals of under 30 days, and the company agreed to impose rental limits in London and Amsterdam, as well. Maybe the company’s compromise in New Orleans will foreshadow its new attitude toward dealing with cities aiming to combat housing shortages.