Chiu’s proposed Airbnb regulations clear Planning Commission

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Board President David Chiu’s proposed legislation regulating short-term rentals facilitated by tech companies Airbnb and VRBO won approval from the San Francisco Planning Commission on Aug. 7.

At the start of a public hearing, Chiu gave an overview, explaining that it would allow permanent residents – defined as San Franciscans dwelling in the city for at least nine months out of the year – to legally post their residences for short-term rent up to 90 days out of the year, legitimizing a practice that is technically prohibited under a city law prohibiting rentals of less than 30 days.

Under the proposed regulations, hosts would be required to register with the city, pay all associated taxes and sign up for liability insurance.

Anyone in violation, for example by posting a unit on Airbnb.com without registering, could be subjected to fines. While Chiu noted that he thought short-term rentals ought to be regulated to limit the threat Airbnb rentals pose to affordable housing in pricey San Francisco, he sought to strike a balance, saying, “Home sharing has allowed struggling residents to live in our expensive city."

Public comment on the measure lasted for several hours. A host of speakers came out to share stories about how short-term rentals had helped them earn supplementary income and remain in San Francisco (as the Guardian previously reported, Airbnb sought to line up supporters via an online campaign effort called Fair to Share).

Yet opponents of the measure raised concerns that the new rule legitimizing short-term rentals via Airbnb could exacerbate San Francisco’s tremendous affordability crisis, by allowing residential spaces to be further commodified.

“There’s no hope we’re going to be able to control the adverse impacts of this legislation," said Doug Engmann, a former planning commissioner. "This ill-conceived way of rezoning the city … causes all sorts of problems about how you’re going to be able to regulate this going forward."

Ian Lewis, of hotel workers’ union Unite Here Local 2, warned of the impact on those employed by the city’s hotel industry.

"This legislation in one fell swoop is a green-light to legalizing short-term rentals," said Lewis. "No one is more affected by this than hotel workers."

Land use attorney Sue Hestor warned that Mayor Ed Lee’s proposal to construct 30,000 housing units "will be a farce ... without a requirement that they really be rented or occupied as housing," and suggested prohibiting the new units envisioned under this plan from being listed as short-term rentals on Airbnb.

Others raised concerns about the regulation’s lack of enforceability, and were critical of the provision allowing for 90 days of short-term rentals (many believed it was too permissive, but advocates who came out expressing support for Airbnb said it should be increased to 180 days).

The Board of Supervisors will take up the legislation in September after returning from August recess.

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