San Francisco Apartment


Bernard Spragg

The Office of Short-Term Rentals has worked hard with technology platforms like Airbnb to comply with the rules.

This January, Airbnb removed thousands of illegal short-term rental listings in San Francisco.

In February 2015, the short-term rental program went into effect in San Francisco. Requirements for hosts include business registration, proof of residency and certification. Airbnb hosts are required to register with the City through the Office of Short-Term Rentals.

In a statement, Airbnb representatives said: “We are proud to have worked with lawmakers in our hometown to create clear, fair home sharing rules that ensure every listing on the Airbnb platform is in full compliance with local regulations. We look forward to building our business in San Francisco with a strong foundation of dedicated hosts, clear rules and a streamlined registration process that supports compliance.”

The issue stretches beyond just Airbnb. Dozens of similar companies have formed in the last 2 decades, such as Homeaway and VRBO. When discussing hosts applying with different rental platforms, Kevin Guy, the Director of the Office of Short-Term Rentals, said, “The platforms themselves didn’t have a role to play, so it was up to the hosts themselves.”

A settlement agreement was reached in which the platforms would be liable for illegal short-term rental listings.

Guy said the registration of hosts was a big hurdle, in addition to time constraints associated with the submission of applications. He added that the Office has drawn “a line in the sand” with the application deadline.

“There was certainly a lot of pressure on this issue,” he said.

Guy hopes the long-term outcome is to make sure hosts are on good behavior. He said the Office seeks “to help people through the process and vet and approve applications,” and “make sure we’re maintaining the residential character of neighborhoods.”

Airbnb spokesperson Mattie Zazueta said that as part of the deactivation process, they removed 4,780 listings. Nearly 70 percent of them were not booked in the six months prior to PTR (pass-through registration) implementation. At the end of January, there were 6,300 active listings on the Airbnb platform, which included more than 2,600 exempt listings.

Under the full implementation of PTR, all Airbnb short-term rental hosts are registered and in compliance with the City’s laws. The long-term effect of the registration system is that it will provide “current and future hosts with the certainty and clarity to do short-term rentals in San Francisco.”

“This agreement is similar to other agreements we’ve established with cities all around the world, to put in place the systems and tools needed to help ensure our host community is able to continue to share their homes,” Zazueta said.

She added that Airbnb “(remains) committed to working with the City to ensure PTR continues to be a success, and that the Office of Short-Term Rentals has all the necessary tools to enforce STR laws.”

In the summer of 2016, there were around 87,000 listings on Airbnb. Now, the amount of listings are down to 44,000. Guy added that in addition, there is a monthly dialogue with the platforms to make sure they are all in compliance with the rules.

The Office of Short-Term Rentals would normally receive one to two submitted applications per day. On Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the day before the registration deadline, the Office received only 88 applications.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that HomeAway and VRBO were Airbnb imitators formed off of Airbnb's success. That was an editorial mistake, both companies were formed independently of Airbnb. We regret the error.  

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