San Francisco Supervisors Postpone Action on Airbnb Law
Protesters display signs supporting Airbnb at a 2014 rally for short-term rentals in front of San Francisco City Hall. (Mark Andrew Boyer/KQED)
Update Tuesday 6:20 p.m.
A majority of San Francisco supervisors voted to postpone action on two competing measures aimed at strengthening short-term rental regulation in the city -- but an unhappy minority forced some debate before the continuance passed.
"A vote for a continuance is a vote for Airbnb," Supervisor John Avalos said about an hour into the debate, as it became increasingly clear that most supervisors supported moving the issue to the Board's July 15 meeting.
Avalos co-sponsored David Campos' proposal that contained stronger enforcement mechanisms and a shorter, 60-day cap on how many days a unit can legally be rented on the "sharing economy."
But supervisors either behind Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisor Mark Farrell's competing ordinance, or ones who thought there might be common ground between the two measures, outnumbered Campos' supporters.
"I would welcome these additional conversations on this complicated topic," Farrell said. "From my perspective, we passed a framework last year, now let’s take the time to get it right."
Farrell's ordinance would impose a 120-day cap and doesn't require the company to report data to the city, a provision officials with the city's planning department have called a "lynchpin" in their ability to enforce any limit on Airbnb rentals.
"Campos’ legislation goes too far and is not the appropriate response," Supervisor Scott Wiener said, adding that many people in his district are clinging to their homes through money they're making on short-term rentals. "Sixty days is not going to meet these needs."
Campos criticized a law that took effect Feb. 1, and Airbnb's role in crafting it.
"The reason that we are in this mess is because we have as a city decided to roll over for a $20 billion corporation and let that corporation write the laws that should be written by the elected legislators," Campos said. "The last thing that we need in this building is to give the lobbyists of Airbnb more time to do what they have been doing in this building for the last couple of years."
Farrell's motion for a continuance passed 7-4, with supervisors Katy Tang, Norman Yee, London Breed, Julie Christensen, Malia Cohen, Wiener and Farrell in favor. Eric Mar, Jane Kim, Avalos and Kim opposed the delay.
Less than a year after a messy, drawn-out debate over how to regulate short-term rentals like those found on Airbnb, San Francisco's Board of Supervisors will take up the issue again.
The board will vote Tuesday on two plans to change the current ordinance governing how city residents can rent out their homes on a short-term basis.
Most supervisors are in agreement that the law (which took effect in February) is not working, particularly in cracking down on hosts who rent out their entire homes for more than the currently allowed 90 days a year.
The dueling plans, one from Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisor Mark Farrell, the other from Supervisor David Campos, would both set a hard cap on the length of all rentals, which are currently unlimited if the host stays in the home while renting out a room.
The plan from Lee and Farrell would give the city more resources to register residents and enforce the law by creating a new office staffed through other city agencies to handle short-term rentals.
"The city has to be the primary enforcement agency here," says Farrell. "It's a law that we're creating and that we should be tasked with enforcing."
Supervisor David Campos wants to give more enforcement power to neighbors and nonprofits, who under his plan would be able to institute civil proceedings against hosts, even if a violation has not been determined by the city.
"The fact that short-term rentals are taking housing off the market in the middle of this brutal housing crisis is simply unacceptable," Campos said at a Land Use and Transportation Committee meeting last month.
Airbnb disputes Campos' assertion that short-term rentals are tied to the city's housing crunch. The company released data in advance of the vote showing that residents in nearly all San Francisco neighborhoods would have to rent out homes for over 200 nights a year on Airbnb to equal the money they would get from a normal rental.
Instead, the report concludes that the extra income residents make by renting out their homes is "the one thing making it possible for thousands of middle-class families to stay in the city they love."
No one expects Tuesday's vote to end San Francisco's short-term rental debate. The group ShareBetter SF has filed a measure for the November ballot that would enact many provisions found in Campos' bill. Campos has said he will support that measure if he can't achieve his goals at the board.
ShareBetter SF released a poll on Monday, conducted by Goodwin-Simon Strategic Research, showing strong support for two key pieces of Campos' plan: a provision that would bar Airbnb from listing properties that aren't registered with the city, and another giving neighbors a private right-of-action against hosts who violate the law.