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Friday, July 30, 2021

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UncategorizedSupes duck regulations, give Airbnb another month

Supes duck regulations, give Airbnb another month

Mayor and his allies scramble to make sure that real regulations don’t pass — but now it’s even more likely this will be on the ballot

Mayor Ed Lee tells reporters that a new agency will be able to enforce a law that existing agencies say is unenforcable
Mayor Ed Lee tells reporters that a new agency will be able to enforce a law that existing agencies say is unenforceable

By Tim Redmond

JUNE 9, 2015 – About an hour before the San Francisco supervisors voted with Airbnb and delayed any new regulations of the short-term rental industry, Mayor Ed Lee spoke briefly with reporters — and said that the best way to enforce the rules against illegal hotel rooms was to create a new agency that wouldn’t have any more data than the existing agencies, which have been unable to enforce the law.

Lee then signaled the plan that was clearly in the works: Force a one-month continuance of a measure by Sup. David Campos that would have required Airbnb to work with the city to block unregistered listings and to make sure that the limits on the number of days a unit could be rented out to tourists were followed.

I asked the mayor how he could possibly see his legislation working if Airbnb didn’t cooperate and share data. “My feeling is that we need multiple agencies” working on enforcement, he said. He said that he expected the supervisors to delay both his legislation and the Campos bill to try to work out more details.

Then the supes voted 7-4 to put the issue off for a month – possibly because Airbnb and the mayor didn’t have the six votes to block the Campos measure.

“They went into the meeting thinking they had the votes, but something happened,” Campos told me. “So they had to find a way to postpone it.”

In the process, several members of the board suggested that over the next month, they could work out a compromise – but it’s hard to see how that could happen without a violation of the Brown Act, which requires the supervisors to meet and discuss legislation in public.

In fact, if Sups. Mark Farrell and Julie Christensen, who both argued for a delay to find “a middle ground,” wanted to change the Campos legislation, they could have proposed amendments. That’s how the process is supposed to work: A measure is heard in committee, where some amendments are offered. Then it goes to the full board, where there are often more amendments.

The process, under state and local law, is supposed to be public.

“In the next 30 days, we are supposed to miraculously find middle ground without violating the Brown Act,” Campos said. “I don’t know how that is going to work.”

The law forbids what are known as “serial” meetings, where one supervisor meets with another, who then meets with another to pass the word along. If a majority of the board is involved in the discussion, it has to take place in public.

Also: Airbnb and its allies have refused to compromise on the essential point of the Campos bill. The hosting platform won’t do the two things that the city needs – it won’t ban listings that lack a city registration number, and it won’t tell the city how many nights a place has been on the short-term rental market.

The rest of the debate is pretty unimportant. Campos wants to limit the number of allowable short-term rental nights to 60; the mayor wants twice that. I’m sure there’s a compromise somewhere in the middle.

But the idea that the city will somehow have to monitor every one of the 5,000 or more listings to see if any of them lack permits, and use some unexplained process to figure out whether anyone is violating the limit on the number of nights, is and will remain the sticking point.

Airbnb’s business model doesn’t work, and doesn’t make as much money, if everyone follows the rules – even weak rules. That’s why the company doesn’t want to make credible enforcement possible.

In his opening remarks on the issue, Farrell said he wanted to avoid taking the matter to the ballot. It’s a complicated question, he said; the board needs the flexibility to change the law as the market evolves.

True enough. But his move to delay this a month pretty much guarantees that Share Better SF will gather enough signatures to qualify a ballot initiative. So if he really wanted to keep this off the ballot, he did exactly the opposite.

Farrell moved that both his measure and the Campos measure be continued a month. That’s a bit unusual – normally the board doesn’t force one of its members to accept a continuance against his or her wishes.

Campos asked Farrell to back off, and allow a yes-or-no vote on the measure; Farrell refused.

Sup. Jane Kim got to the heart of the issue when she noted that Airbnb is trying to avoid taking any responsibility for enforcing the city’s laws.

Small businesses all over town, including restaurants and liquor stores, have to share responsibility for enforcing the laws against the sale of alcohol to minors, she noted. “We ask our small businesses to do this all the time.”

Christensen said she “understand the problem” after seeing apartments in North Beach turned into hotel rooms. And she said that new rules are needed. “But I don’t think we’ve found a way to do it yet,” she said.

Campos told me after the meeting that he “has not heard a peep out of Sup. Christensen on this issue.”

There was an interesting moment when Sup. Malia Cohen said that Campos had just asked for a “pause” in development in the Mission – and now was opposing a “pause” in the Airbnb legislation.

Kim noted that there’s actually a huge difference between asking for interim zoning controls and continuing a bill, but never mind: Campos had an answer.

“I think I would be in a different place if the vote last week had gone differently,” he said. “People are asking for 30 days for Airbnb, but wouldn’t give 45 days to the Mission.”

And, he said, Airbnb continues to violate the law and cause evictions – “if Airbnb were willing to pause the illegal listings of thousands of units, I might not have this sense of urgency.”

As for taking time to make the legislation better, Campos said he would consider that “if I thought there might be some middle ground.” But on the basic question – should Airbnb have a share of the responsibility for enforcing the city laws – there seems to be no middle ground at all.

So we shall see: The Airbnb lobbyists will continue to put on pressure, and I don’t see how the supervisors can legally get together to find common ground before the July 14 meeting – and in the meantime, the ballot measure is going to qualify.

The vote to delay the measure was 7-4, with only Campos, John Avalos, Kim, and Eric Mar dissenting.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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31 COMMENTS

  1. The real problem is enforcement. Nobody has solved that problem yet. The ballot measure attempts to extend the enforcement arm to the neighbors of short term rentals by allowing those within 100 feet of alleged short term rental units to file complaints and private rights of actions.

  2. Actually, Airbnb is the biggest example but the city can simply bar anyone from listing unregistered short-term rentals. And it’s way, way easier for an enforcement officer to go on the web and look than to measure the number of nights someone is staying someplace. So this isn’t just about Airbnb. But Jon has a good point — there are lots of illegal STRs and the city should crack down on them all, now.

  3. We registered and it was a nightmarish long process. Funny how city and planning can have only 1 dedicated rep taking intake applications while there was at least 40 other people around the room helping contractors (kind of shows where the priorities are with the city – building permits and $$$$ not registering airbnb units (and then whiners complaining that not enough has registered). It is a wonder why people are trying to register when the city makes it almost impossible to get the damn certificate. When you do get your appt….you gotta wait another 6 weeks (yes that is 6 weeks folks). Utterly lame.

  4. Absolutely
    true. Thanks for finally shining some light on this issue.

    The real crux of the matter is: What can help alleviate San
    Francisco’s housing shortage? This would probably require a radical shift in economic policy and social priorities in our city. But we can certainly determine what WON’T work.

    For one thing, limiting short-term rentals to 60 (or 120) days
    will contribute nothing whatsoever. Property owners who violate the law by offering regular rental units to temporary visitors will not turn around and rent them to long-term tenants because of that restriction: They’ll just rent them through other online channels that are much harder than Airbnb to monitor.
    And most people who rent out a spare space in their home (some of whom are renting themselves!) cannot accommodate long-term tenants. Those restrictions will simply penalize them without solving the housing crisis in the least.

    Then, there’s the question of making it illegal to rent out spaces without a short-term residential certificate. Anybody try to obtain one of those recently? Talk about visiting City Hall offices at least twice; waiting in line for hours; scheduling an in-person visit with representatives of the Planning Department; paying money for the business license as well as the permit; and then waiting … and waiting … and waiting … How is it
    fair, or even logical, to require people to obtain documentation when the City makes it nearly impossible to do that!?

  5. Exactly how is that supposed to work? If someone hosts on Airbnb for 50 nights then we don’t need to do any further checking on them? Because they didn’t go over the limit on Airbnb alone?

    Only a few very naive ‘bad actor’ hosts would exceed the limit on Airbnb. Most would scatter to sites that will be hard to find and track. Many would avoid Airbnb entirely due to the scrutiny.

    What you guys refuse to understand is that it doesn’t matter how often a listing appears on any one platform. What matters is how many nights the unit is rented. They will use the craigslist model if necessary, where the website has no idea what actually happened. These landlords aren’t lazy.

    Your minds are so poisoned by the fear of Ron Conway that you can’t see straight.

  6. Airbnb’s business model represents market failure as it privatizes profits and socializes losses while gaining more and more market share and eliminating competition. There is nothing new or special about the Airbnb one per-centers. Using Grandma’s happy face and Grandma’s spurious privacy and income concerns (business is business) serves only temporarily to hide the true nature of the Airbnb corporate face. Airbnb appears to be openly flaunting legal and sound business and housing regulations in S.F. and should be reigned in.

  7. The reason why there are few registered lies with City Hall not dedicating enough resources to the registration process. I went through it. There was 1 person helping….now with 1 person taking in the paperwork with an appt, just how many do you think would be registered today? People want to register, it is just they can not even get an appt. And they have to wait 6 weeks or more for an actual appt. The process is terrible. THEN when you do actually register, the city sends you letters in the mail saying you need to remit the TOT taxes (which are actually being collected from airbnb and paid to the city (I see it)…..but somehow the city does not and sends nasty threatening letters (I presume from Campos camp to try and get our data….sorry not playing that game).

  8. If forced you will see (and was reported in other supes mtgs) that users were migrating to other platforms to hide their data, which no one has a right to.

  9. Sure Airbnb is being picked on. Is it the only site that does homesharing? NO. This is all a power grab and hotel lobbyists behind all this neanderthall fear baiting language. First we heard ” oh we don’t know the mystery people in the hood and what they will do”, then we heard “oh the exessive parties” (you must mean those warrior or giants parties. when will people realize this is about progress that is good for the local economy that it also provides tourism to the city at an affordable cost to some people whom would not come here? Airbnb is not the end all fault for rentals being taken off the market. I know plenty of people that would never rent out their home long term because they want the flexibility to say who stays and for how long because they want family and friends to come visit.

    Also this does nothing to resolve affordable housing, if you force the caps, then you will see people renting at MARKET RATES, which does nothing to solve affordable housing. How about focusing on maybe removing rent control etc.?

  10. Exactly. No other company or agency wants to share information with any govt entity….but under these people on this blog it all of the sudden becomes an issue. Funny that.

  11. Some years ago I started handing out commuter checks due to the cities commuter check law. After a couple of years I sent an e-mail to the city about a certain aspect of the law, the department that is responsible for the law never gave me an understandable answer to my question, but the person who responded to me did say that I was required to register and fill out the cities questionaire on the subject. I never bothered with the filling out the cities non sense since I could never get an answer.

    What part of all these laws is just perpetuating the new class.

  12. Is almost like they want a delay to form a plan they should have formed ages ago that will probably not work anyway. Where have I heard that before…oh the Moratorium.

  13. It’s funny how the same progressives who hate NSA spying on citizens and demand that privacy be respected can suddenly love spying and hate privacy it is suits their agenda

  14. >”Apart from proprietary data that could give competitors an unfair advantage, there is no legal justification for withholding information from government”

    Whoa…….do you mind if I copy your internet and email service providers on that one? I’m sure that they’ll want to know that they should give the government whatever information they have on you.

  15. If Airbnb agrees to hand over private data then Guests will use a different service less susceptible to pressure from the city

  16. Handful? There are about 5,000 Airbnb listings in SF alone, and very few of them are registered.

    Civil disobedience against unjust laws has a long and proud tradition in this city

  17. The difference is that Airbnb is based in SF, so the city can apply more pressure to them

    A competitor site based in Switzerland isn’t going to care much what the city demands.

  18. Also, if airbnb gives the data, it will be easy to enforce their thousands of listings allowing more resources to catch those violating the law using other sites

  19. No, Tim and Campos are right, as demonstrated by NY. The data are needed for enforcement and also, to ensure that AirBnB isn’t cheating on the tax revenue they are passing along to SF.

    Apart from proprietary data that could give competitors an unfair advantage, there is no legal justification for withholding information from government, unless AirBnB is trying to hide something.

  20. I don’t think that anyone is saying that ‘we shouldn’t bother with this’, but Tim and Campos are going around saying that enforcement is impossible if Airbnb doesn’t turn over customer data to the government. Even Jane Kim had problems with that today.

    But as you point out, Tim and Campos are wrong about the necessity of Airbnb data ; “Most will comply with laws, especially if we make an example of a few who are caught breaking the law. Those who refuse to comply with the law will eventually be caught”.

  21. The handful of maladjusted miscreants like you who obsess over ‘the government’, and refuse to pay their fair share will foolishly work to evade the law. But you all are a minority among landlords.

    Most apartment owners recognize that keeping their rentals off the market because of ideology is, financially, a stupid thing to do.

    And most of you will who evade the law will eventually be caught.

  22. Of course, if our politicians we not owned by AirBnB investors, they may actually demand the data, as they did in New York. Guess what they found there?

    “The top five New York Airbnb hosts by number of listings rented out 80, 35, 31, 29 and 28, units on Airbnb, the attorney general’s office found. Almost half of Airbnb’s $1.45 million in 2010 revenue in New York City came not from grandmas renting out spare rooms, but Airbnb entrepreneurs who had more than three listings on the site.”

    http://www.sfexaminer.com/sanfrancisco/on-guard-airbnb-regulatory-process-rigged-from-the-start/Content?oid=2932672

    The excuse that we shouldn’t bother with this – that regulating illegal vacation/short-term rentals will push the landlords ‘underground’ and to sites other than AirBnB is ridiculous. Most will comply with laws, especially if we make an example of a few who are caught breaking the law. Those who refuse to comply with the law will eventually be caught.

  23. People use Airbnb generically, like Kleenex for tissue, or Uber for alternative livery service, or Google for search.

  24. >”Where has Campos (or Redmond) been misleading? ”

    Well, just in this article Tim writes that the legislation “required Airbnb to work with the city to block unregistered listings and to make sure that the limits on the number of days a unit could be rented out to tourists were followed.”

    Which is obviously not true.

    Airbnb could turn over every bit of data it has and in no way would it “make sure that the limits on the number of days a unit could be rented out to tourists were followed”.

    Look at how many times Tim mentions Airbnb and listen to Campos. It leads people to believe that if Airbnb opened its books then the city would have all the information it needs, which just isn’t true.

    And again, I fault Campos. Tim is a blogger who is well known for publishing misleading material but Campos gets paid to deal with the people in an honest fashion.

  25. If you’re renting a place for 30 days or more, it’s not a short-term rental.

    Where has Campos (or Redmond) been misleading? Farrell thinks Airbnb is being ‘picked on.’ That’s clearly not true. There are scores of sites that have the same data on rental nights Airbnb has and that would be subject to the Campos reporting requirements.

  26. Yes, I have stopped using Airbnb because it is now too high profile, and too vulnerable to local politicized scrutiny and pressure. Plenty of other options including good old fashioned CraigsList.

    Or use a site based in Europe where many of the guests are from anyway. Many ways to skin this cat.

  27. I didn’t notice that, sorry. I just quickly googled ‘vacation rental san francisco’ and picked one at random. But even with a 30 day minimum it is an example of an Airbnb alternative for landlords.

    But http://casalunasf.com/ is a good example. So is http://www.casabuenavistarentals.com/ , as you mentioned. http://sanfranciscovacationhomes.com/ has a 7 day minimum.

    http://shorttermrentalsf.com/ is another…and I’m only listing sites that specialize in San Francisco.

    Look, it’s perfectly harmless for Tim Redmond to go around saying that Airbnb can give the city all the information it needs. He’s Tim Redmond after all. But when Campos, an elected official, misleads people it’s not harmless fun, it’s just plain wrong.

  28. Did you check the properties on your link, because they all carry a 30-night minimum (at least). That puts them in a different category than Airbnb. Or VRBO. Or Flipkey. Or HomeAway. Or Casa Buena Vista. etc.

  29. Christensen made a good point, noting that the ‘worst actors’ in her district weren’t even on Airbnb, they simply have their own website. For example, here is a good one:

    http://www.home2sanfrancisco.com/vacation-rentals-homes.asp

    I think that Tim honestly believes that Airbnb actually knows how often a given unit is rented to tourists.

    Savvy landlords looking to maximize their profit couldleave Airbnb completely out of the loop. Certainly they would switch to other platforms once they got close to the limit on Airbnb. If you are serious about keeping your unit off the rent control market then Airbnb is probably one of your worst options.

    Its really telling that Tim and Campos always refer to Airbnb as if it is the only option for landlords who want to do short term rentals. I know that they are spooked by Ron Conway which probably is why. Meanwhile it seems like the grownups are in control anyway, which is good.

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