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'No way of enforcing’ Airbnb law, S.F. planning memo says


What does everyone think of this? It seems to me that if enforcement is hard to do then there’s isn’t much of an incentive for hosts to even but upfront about it in the first place.

San Francisco’s highly touted Airbnb law — aimed at regulating short-term tourist rentals in private homes and apartments — is unworkable, according to the city department charged with enforcing it.

The basic problem, according to a Planning Department memo recently presented at a Board of Supervisors committee meeting, is that “hosting platforms” like Airbnb aren’t required to supply the city with the names of those renting out their homes.

So, “we have no way of enforcing” the new law, said Planning Department communications Manager Gina Simi.

What the law needs, according to the Planning Department, is:

•Booking data from the online services, so the department can cross-check to see that rentals being offered are registered with the city.

•A straight cap on the number of days any unit can be rented out per year. The new law sets a limit of 90 days on renting out a unit if the owner isn’t home — something that’s “virtually impossible” to prove.

•A way to cover the actual cost of administering the law, which the two-year, $50 registration fee doesn’t come close to doing.

“It’s a mess and now we are going to have to clean it up,” said Supervisor David Campos, a vocal critic of the law when it was being debated. Campos wanted the Planning Department’s suggestions included.

Privately, advocates on both sides of the issue say the law’s enforcement mechanism was flawed from the get-go — and that the idea of “self-policing” hosts voluntarily signing up and following the rules has little chance of working.

The Planning Department outlined its concerns before the supervisors approved the ordinance in October. But the truth is, the Airbnb law was more about politics than policy.

The politics were twofold: first, the fear that unless City Hall did something, critics would go to the ballot asking voters for even stricter controls.

And second, the desire to defuse the issue in a way that wouldn’t hurt the Airbnb bill’s lead negotiator — Supervisor David Chiu, who was in a neck-and-neck race with Campos for the Assembly.

Chiu won, in part thanks to more than $500,000 in independent spending on his behalf by Airbnb backers.

But the fear of a renewed ballot fight by housing advocates — one that might influence the 2015 city elections — has the supervisors trying to work out a second deal.

And “if changes need to be made, the mayor is open for that,” said Christine Falvey, spokeswoman for Mayor Ed Lee.

As for Airbnb: “Just months ago, the Planning Commission supported this law,” said spokesman Nick Papas. “Now bureaucrats are busily throwing up roadblocks, including some that aren’t in the law and others that were rejected by the Board of Supervisors.”


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