S.F. Planners Back Chiu's 'Airbnb' Proposal But Make It Tougher

Kathryn Blum rents a spare guest room in her home to visitors. "It's my property -- I want to be able to do with it as I choose," she said at a rally in April. (Mark Andrew Boyer/KQED)
Kathryn Blum rents a spare guest room in her home to visitors. "It's my property -- I want to be able to do with it as I choose," she said at a rally in April. (Mark Andrew Boyer/KQED)

The San Francisco Planning Commission approved a plan by Supervisor David Chiu to legalize and regulate home rental services following a marathon meeting that began Thursday afternoon and ended 6½ hours later.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is expected to take up the legislation in September.

Under Chiu's proposal, San Franciscans whose homes are their primary residences for nine months of the year could legally rent out their units for up to 90 days.

Residents would have to apply for a permit from the city. To qualify, San Franciscans would need to meet several requirements:

  • be able to prove that they live in the unit for at least 275 days a year
  • hosts who live in units with rent control could not charge short-term visitors more than they are paying to their landlord
  • pay San Francisco’s 14 percent hotel tax
  • and maintain rental or homeowners insurance for at least $150,000 worth of property damage.

Violators who continue to rent out their apartments beyond the 90 days would be subject to a $416-a-day fine for the first offense and $1,000 a day thereafter. The planning department pushed Chiu to extend the 90-day cap to single homes as well multi-unit dwellings.


Planning department officials stressed that only addresses -- and not names -- would be made public under the registry. They also want to publish the frequency of rentals and display the information on a map.

San Francisco's Housing Landscape

Five companies account for 80 percent of current short-term rentals: VRBO, Airbnb, HomeAway, Craigslist and FlipKey, according to a commission report. In most cases property owners either manage the listings or employ an agent to manage their property as a short-term rental.

The planning commission found that 4,000 to 5,000 entire housing units have been removed from San Francisco housing stock and are being advertised online as short-term rentals. This number accounts for 1.3 percent of all housing units in the City.

A San Francisco Chronicle report found that close to 5,000 San Francisco homes, apartments and private or shared rooms were for rent via Airbnb alone and two-thirds were entire houses or apartments.

In comparison, 2,669 units were converted into condos between 2009 and 2013.

Opposing Views on Home Rentals' Impact on the Housing Crisis

At the hearing, a number of people who rent rooms in their homes testified about how it has helped them make ends meet and send tourism dollars to businesses in their neighborhoods.

"Most of our friends find it impossible to stay in the city once they have kids, and most if not all of my colleagues find it impossible to live as artists in San Francisco. Home sharing has made it possible for me to do both," said Julie, an artist who lives with her family in a house in Noe Valley.

Some felt the legislation was too stringent.

"I would be severely hurt economically by the 90 cap and I disagree with the public registration for privacy reasons," said Sondra, who said offering a short-term rental has helped provide money for her son's college tuition.

Airbnb recently turned against Chiu's legislation and urged its hosts and users to protest at the meeting. Last week the company launched Fair to Share, a coalition to support "home sharing." The organization wants to increase the legislation's 90-day limit to 180.

But several people, including some tenant activists, called on the commission to take a harder look at the issue and redraft the legislation.

"The legislation before you will only exacerbate the problems by rezoning the entire city so that every permanent resident can rent out to tourists for 275 days a year and for 90 days when they're not there," said Douglas Engmann, representing San Franciscans for Neighborhoods, Affordable Housing and Jobs.

Bob Planthold, a disabled rights activist, was concerned the rentals don't comply with the American with Disabilities Act. He also urged the commission to study the issue further.

"Nobody has yet said, what about the disabled? Why aren't they able to participate and why aren't they included, and why isn't there any analysis about this constituency?" Planthold said.

Planning Director John Rahaim said the city does not have the ability to enforce the ADA because it is a federal law.

Who Would Regulate the Rentals?

The planning department said it's trying to legalize home rentals without making the tight rental market worse.

These days, it can take up to 12 weeks to cite violators, Rahaim said.

"We are recommending that we get citation authority. So, for example, if someone is already at 90 days and they advertise for their unit for 10 more days we would be able to cite them immediately," Rahaim said.

Chiu said he agreed with a recommendation that the planning department be the primary enforcement agency, but several speakers, including former Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, urged officials to strengthen enforcement. The original legislation calls for the Department of Building Inspection to enforce the measure should it become law.

Commissioners Hisashi Sugaya and Kathrin Moore opposed the plan.

Commissioner Rich Hillis asked that the Board of Supervisors extend the 90-day cap, exclude SROs and notify and give landlords 30 days to object, and that planning staff check units for code violations.

San Francisco Planning Commission on AirBnB by KQED News

KQED's Bryan Goebel contributed to this report.