Airbnb Is Ready to Work with S.F. In Fight Over Illegal Home Rentals

Berlin will from Sunday, May 1, 2016, restrict private property rentals through Airbnb and similar online platforms, threatening hefty fines in a controversial move meant to keep housing affordable for locals. / AFP / John MACDOUGALL (Photo credit should read JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)
Photograph by JOHN MACDOUGALL AFP/Getty Images

Airbnb says it’s now willing to cooperate with its hometown and work with the city’s effort to crack down on illegal hosts.

The home-sharing company says it’s open to working with San Francisco’s government to create a registration system to share information with officials about its local hosts including names, addresses, and length of stays by guests, Airbnb’s global head of policy and public affairs Chris Lehane said in an op-ed in Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle. Under such a system, Airbnb would be required to cut off hosts who reach the limit for nightly rentals of their homes and apartments in San Francisco, as well as make sure that those hosts follow other regulations.

Until now, Airbnb had cited privacy concerns for refusing to share such information with San Francisco officials who want to make sure that hosts using the service are registered. City officials have long wanted to access to Airbnb’s data to make sure that landlords aren’t evicting tenants in order to turn their buildings into de-facto hotels amid an ongoing housing shortage.

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Airbnb filed a lawsuit against the city in June after San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors passed a new law that would impose steep fines on home sharing services that list illegal short-term rentals. However, a federal judge ruled last week against Airbnb’s request to block the new law, rejecting the company’s argument that the rule violates a federal law that protects Internet companies from being liable for content published on their sites by users.

On Tuesday, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors will consider a proposal for even stricter limits on short-term rentals.

Airbnb is using the same legal argument in a lawsuit in New York after Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that makes it illegal to advertise short-term rentals that violate New York City’s rules. Specifically, Airbnb argues that the law’s vague language could mean that online home-sharing services could be fined as well.

However, the company may be on its way to resolve the matter in New York after a judge canceled a court hearing scheduled for Oct. 31, instead directing the parties work out their resolution and provide an update. This delay has now been extended twice, with an expected update on Nov. 18.

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With its latest declaration that it’s willing to work with officials in San Francisco, Airbnb may be more likely to seek a similar resolution in New York.

The home-sharing company already has some rules in place to curb illegal use of its service, such as its “one host, one home” policy that limits hosts to only one listing at a time. Though it’s been its policy in San Francisco and New York for several months, the company said last month that its system would automatically bar hosts from having more than one listing starting on Nov. 1.

The company created a similar system with Chicago city officials earlier this year, although a group of hosts sued the city last week over sharing of information with Airbnb, arguing that it violates privacy and property laws.

Correction, Nov. 15, 2016: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Airbnb had agreed to work with San Francisco officials on curbing illegal rentals. In fact, Airbnb has only expressed a willingness to work on a solution, and no agreement is in place. The story has been updated to reflect this

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