A New Path For Home Sharing

By Peter Kwan and Laura Thompson

Today, on May Day 2017, Airbnb, HomeAway and the City and County of San Francisco settled their lawsuit before the U.S. District Court. This represents a new level of cooperation between the platforms and the City.

The agreement puts into place meaningful systems that, in time, will both remove illegal listings from platforms and bring many more hosts into compliance.

The streamlined registration system and regulatory framework will provide clarity and stability for San Franciscans who share their home. When fully implemented, all hosts on both platforms will be registered with the city.

This has been a long time coming. The Short-term Rental Ordinance was passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in October 2014 to allow short-term rentals to operate legally, provided that hosts obtain a business license, a permit from the City, pay the “hotel tax” and comply with restrictions imposed to ensure the preservation of affordable housing.

Since then, the registration process has been complicated and confusing, (although much improved recently due to the earnest efforts of Director Kevin Guy and the Office of Short Term Rental) causing many hosts to resist applying for a permit.

The issue of home sharing has been fraught and often used as a political hot potato, with the relationship between City Hall, prominent platforms like Airbnb and HomeAway, hosts and housing advocates often boiling over into unpleasant conflict.

None of this has been good for San Franciscans, especially for struggling citizens and families who depend on the earnings from home sharing to help cover vital housing and living expenses.

The settlement announced today ushers in a new era of cooperation between the platforms and the City. Under the terms of the settlement, Airbnb and HomeAway will develop a system in which all hosts can register online, and after the system is fully implemented after 8 months to take down any listings that are not registered with the city. In return, with the enhanced tools, the City will assume responsibility for all verification and enforcement.

In the meantime, I and other hosts hope that Supervisors will set aside their eagerness to punish platforms and the city residents who have come to rely upon as well as enjoy home sharing and resist appeasing big hotel lobbyists who simply want to make home sharing as difficult as possible.

Legislation like the recently vetoed bill that would have imposed a strict cap of 60 nights a year on all new hosts (a lower cap than one already rejected by voters) would have only hurt vulnerable hosts and their families which is why the mayor rightfully vetoed it. It would have done nothing to improve registration rates.

We sincerely hope that our Supervisors embrace this significant step forward and give this agreement and the new system it creates a chance to work. If they do, I believe we can bring an end to the rancor of the past and show how new innovative businesses, City officials and the residents of San Francisco can work together, allowing the spirit of sharing to flourish for the benefit of all San Franciscans.

— -Peter Kwan and Laura Thompson, Co-chairs, Home Sharers Democratic Club.