San Francisco Housing Activists File Petition to Regulate Short-Term Rentals

Housing activists collected 16,000 signatures for a proposed ballot measure that would regulate San Francisco's short-term rental market. (Susan Cohen/KQED)

On Monday afternoon, housing activists delivered two boxes of signatures on a petition to San Francisco's Department of Elections, supporting a ballot measure that would place restrictions on the city's burgeoning short-term rental market.

The petition, which got almost 16,000 signatures, was sponsored by ShareBetter SF, a coalition concerned with the "wholesale conversion of housing units into illegal hotel accommodations," according to its website. It was delivered by Dale Carlson, co-founder of ShareBetter, and long-time housing activist Calvin Welch.

In October, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors attempted to regulate the rapidly growing short-term rental market, popularized by sites like AirBnb. It passed an ordinance allowing home sharers to offer their rentals for 90 days a year without being present, or 265 days a year if they are, and established a registration system for hosts.

But activists like Carlson don’t believe the board has adequately addressed the problem.

"Our forefathers gave us the right to go to the ballot when our elected officials were [held] captive by a special interest," he said. "That’s the case we have here, and that’s why we’re going to the ballot."

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Within months of the ordinance's implementation, Share Better filed its petition. It requests that the City and County of San Francisco amend its short-term rental policies, limiting rentals to 75 nights per year and fining companies like Airbnb and VRBO for listing unregistered units.

It also calls for regular reporting from rentals, which Carlson said is an important key to enforcing the law. Home sharers worry that the collection of such data could lead to an invasion of privacy, but Carlson disagrees.

“We require all kinds of businesses to report all kinds of data on all kinds of activities,” he said. “There’s nothing new here.”

Meanwhile, petition opponents gathered outside City Hall to protest the ballot measure, including members of SF for Everyone, a pro-home sharing coalition.

Western Addition resident Rodolfo Cancino rents out the modest room recently vacated by his son. He uses the extra income to fund his dental care and other needs; in exchange, he provides guests with coffee and tea, a small refrigerator and recommendations for restaurants on nearby Divisadero Street. He worries about what would happen to home sharers like him if the ballot measure passes.

"Ballot measures are written in stone," he said.

But Calvin Welch said Cancino and others like him aren’t the targets of the proposed measure — it’s the people renting out multiple full units, “which used to be housing for real people.”

“That’s what our measure will stop,” Welch said. “If you’re renting a room, you have nothing to fear from this measure."

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San Francisco voters will have the chance to weigh in on the debate when the measure appears on the ballot in November.

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