Coalition of Residents Plan to Draft Initiative to Limit Home-Sharing Platforms

A crowd of people gathered outside Airbnb headquarters in San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood this morning to announce their plans to draft an initiative that would require the home-sharing platform to pay alleged back-taxes owed to the city and create regulations limiting the number of nights a residence can be offered as a short-term rental.

A coalition comprised of citizens and community groups stood outside the Airbnb offices this morning armed with signs with slogans such as “rent-controlled apartments for residents not tourists.”

The members of the coalition yelled into the megaphone, demanding the company, which matches people looking for a place to crash to those with an extra room or extra house, to pay the more than $25 million in back taxes allegedly owed to the city of San Francisco dating back to 2012.

The coalition, whose members maintain that they are fighting for affordable housing in the city, also proposed additional regulations for short-term residential rentals, which it plans to submit to voters in the November 2015 election.

Today’s announcement of the draft ballot initiative comes less than a month after San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee signed the Board of Supervisors-approved Short-Term Residential Rentals Ordinance.

The ordinance created procedures for users of home-sharing platforms such as Airbnb and Vacation Rentals By Owner, also known as VRBO, to use a registry administered by the Planning Department to track short-term residential rentals and to pay an application fee for the registry.

San Francisco Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, the chief sponsor of the ordinance, said the legislation “protects our housing from hotel conversion” while still allowing residents who live in their homes for at least three-quarters of the year and have liability insurance to rent out property on a limited basis to help supplement their housing costs.

Mayor Lee said the ordinance would allow San Francisco residents to share their homes and allow the city to “enforce against bad actors.”

The legislation requires the resident to pay transient occupancy taxes, report the duration of short-term stays annually, and abide by rent control laws.

With the adoption of the ordinance, a 90-day cap was placed on short-term rentals per year, not counting those stays where the resident is home during the guests’ visit.

Any host who is found in violation of the new ordinance will be fined $1,000 per day with that fine increasing for future offenses.

But members of the coalition who are drafting the new initiative said today that the ordinance passed last month doesn’t do enough to protect San Franciscans who are struggling to afford the city’s high cost of living.

Douglas Engmann, former member of the San Francisco Planning Commission and the current president of Engmann Options Inc., a San Francisco private investment, securities consulting and real estate firm, is among the members of the coalition who said that enforcement of the new ordinance is near-impossible because the San Francisco Planning Department wasn’t given the resources to enforce the legislation.

Engmann, a Pacific Heights resident and a self-proclaimed housing affordability advocate, said he wants to see the city treasurer collect any unpaid transient occupancy taxes owed to the city by Airbnb.

He said Airbnb’s failure to pay its back taxes in a timely manner gives off the appearance that the company is unwilling to work with the city to enforce regulations on themselves or their hosts.

San Francisco Treasurer José Cisneros said in a statement prior to the creation of the Short-Term Residential Rentals Ordinance that “both website companies and hosts are jointly and severally responsible for the payment of the full amount” of transient occupancy taxes and that no law can alter those obligations, “including the obligation to pay any unpaid taxes.”

While taxpayer confidentiality laws prevent Cisneros from commenting on specific tax collection and enforcement efforts, Nick Papas, Airbnb’s director of public affairs, released a statement via email today on the company’s behalf following the coalitions’ rally outside the company’s

“We are collecting and remitting taxes in San Francisco on behalf of our hosts, we are already engaged in a formal process with the Treasurer’s office regarding back taxes and we are eager to discuss a resolution. We look forward to resolving this matter in the spirit of this balanced new law,” Papas said.

Hannah Albarazi, Bay City News

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