Airbnb clear to operate in San Francisco after compromise, but more fights loom

The issue of short-term vacation rentals continues to roil California cities large and small, but a major compromise in San Francisco agreed to by Airbnb and HomeAway has ended for now the fighting in the city that has the third most home-sharing in the Golden State.

As of Jan. 16, all such rentals in San Francisco had to be registered with the city, with permits paid for and transient occupancy taxes regularly paid. Online rental platforms that didn’t sign the settlement will face criminal penalties as well as fines up to $1,000 day if they rent out homes, condos or apartments which didn’t comply with the standards accepted by Airbnb and HomeAway.

Hotels, timeshares, bed-and-breakfasts and homes rented for 30 days or more are not affected.

At least temporarily, the compromise has put a dent in Airbnb business in San Francisco, city officials told the Chronicle. Given that the city is rejecting more than a quarter of applications for various reasons, Airbnb might never have as many listings as its peak number in the unregulated era. Homeowners who only rent infrequently may consider the $250 registration fee too high and the bureaucratic hassles too many.

The compromise was finalized last year after a long court battle that began when the home-share companies sued in U.S. District Court over a restrictive city law that was eventually upheld.

Giant apartment chain loses suit over Airbnb rentals

Airbnb – which was founded in San Francisco in 2008 and remains headquartered there – faces further battles across California.

Recently, it won another federal court case, this time in Los Angeles. It involved a lawsuit filed by Aimco, one of America’s biggest landlords, which owns apartment buildings in 24 California communities from the Bay Area to San Diego, as well as throughout the U.S.

Aimco wanted Airbnb to take responsibility for making sure its tenants didn’t use Airbnb, which is a violation of Aimco’s standard lease. On Dec. 29, the U.S. District Court ruled for Airbnb.

Aimco, a Denver-based corporation, denounced the ruling as a violation of its privacy rights. But it has not yet made clear whether it will appeal the ruling.

Stalemate over rental regulations continues in Los Angeles

While Airbnb has secured a deal in San Francisco, officials in the two largest markets  – Los Angeles and San Diego – have been trying to come up with a consensus for years. Both cities have laws on the books that essentially forbid short-term rentals in most neighborhoods but have only rarely been enforced.

The Los Angeles City Council in October held a public hearing on a proposal to impose relatively strict limits on its 23,000 short-term rentals – in particular a requirement that only the home’s primary owner could list a home, not investors who have proliferated in recent years because of Airbnb and similar companies. But a council committee decided to continue looking at the issue after complaints the rules were either too strong or too weak. There was also criticism of a provision to ban renters of rent-controlled apartments from using platforms like Airbnb.

The San Diego City Council in December couldn’t find a fifth vote on the nine-member board for either a tough ordinance that Airbnb homeowners depicted as potentially devastating or a measure that would have added some limits and used ramped-up city enforcement to target “party houses” that disrupt beach neighborhoods. The city has an estimated 9,000 short-term rentals.

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Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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