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Monday, May 23, 2016

Airbnb Still Refusing to Help S.F. Enforce Airbnb Regulations

Posted By on Mon, May 23, 2016 at 11:48 AM

click to enlarge "Bunk bed 1" (of many) available at "Sunnyside Travel House," available to you on Airbnb. - AIRBNB
  • Airbnb
  • "Bunk bed 1" (of many) available at "Sunnyside Travel House," available to you on Airbnb.
San Francisco has regulated short-term rentals like those for offer via Airbnb for over a year, but the city's rules have done almost nothing to change the habits of the companies facilitating the rentals and those who host the properties. As in, the laws do not appear to be working.

Airbnb and other similar services were the subject of a pair of scathing investigative reports from NBC Bay Area last week in which it was revealed that Airbnb is more interested in making money than following rules and the city itself is ill equipped to handle its own regulations.

Of the 7,046 hosts in San Francisco, who have offered nearly 9,500 listings, only 1,281 have acquired the "required" registration. Worse than that is the notion that 2,000 of these units are in rent-controlled apartments, removing them from a rental market in the worst housing crisis of our lives.

Last year, San Francisco updated a longstanding city law banning short-term rentals to accommodate Airbnb and others by making it so hosts use their rental property as their primary residence, host guests without being present for a maximum of 90 days a year, and can only rent out one property.

Very little of this now appears to be enforced. 

“I think there’s still work to be done, and it’s important for us to get the word out about the need to register,” Kevin Guy, director of the city’s Office of Short-Term Rentals, told NBC.

Guy — who has a six-person staff to deal with the thousands of rentals — said his office reached out to Airbnb, Craigslist, FlipKey, and VRBO some four months ago asking them to include a host’s registration number in their listing.

Not one company complied.

Airbnb, of course, maintains that its business model is sound and actually helps people earn extra income, which is certainly true in some cases. One host profiled by NBC said she plays by the rules, is registered, and the service has improved her life.

But NBC also spoke with a couple whose neighbor turned their home and garage into a sort of bunk bed-laden hostel that could accommodate 20 people at a time, at $33 a night.

Chris Lehane, the former political hatchet man for Bill Clinton and Al Gore who is now "director of global affairs" for Airbnb, told NBC the company is committed to removing bad players, and has taken down nearly 200 properties this year.

But the simple fact remains that some 82 percent of hosts in San Francisco are not complying with the regulations.

“These are incredibly powerful players,” Supervisor Aaron Peskin said of Airbnb. “When Supervisor Campos and I introduced legislation, the next day Airbnb made over a quarter of a million in political campaign contributions to individuals who will support their efforts and thwart our laws.”

Peskin and Campos put forth new legislation in April that could put a vice grip on Airbnb and others: The companies would be required to verify whether a host is registered with the city before their property could be listed. Penalties for listing unregistered hosts could reach $1,000 a day per property.

Meanwhile on Friday, Airbnb released to all its users a new set of rules in which hosts are informed of their right to arbitration in disputes with the company, but not class-action lawsuit status.

Hosts also must agree to background and/or sex-offender registration checks at Airbnb’s discretion. The company has prohibited class-action lawsuits for some time, according to the Chronicle, but now it’s making it more clear to users. As far as background or sex-offender registration checks, anyone is allowed to do that to someone with or without their consent.
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