Proponents of a ballot measure intended to increase the regulation of short-term rentals and home sharing today questioned the effectiveness of existing city regulations that took effect earlier this year.
Members of ShareBetter SF, the coalition supporting Measure F, today said the city had as many as 10,000 short-term rentals listed on sites such as Airbnb, but fewer than 700 people had registered with the city since regulations requiring it were introduced in February.
“That means that 94 percent of people doing short term rentals in San Francisco are breaking the law,” Measure F supporter Supervisor David Campos said.
In a hearing today on the success of the city’s efforts to enforce short-term rental regulations and collect taxes from hosts, Campos closely questioned Kevin Guy, the director of the Short-Term Rental Administration and Enforcement Office. The office was created this summer to manage the registration and enforcement process that took effect in February and Guy was appointed by Mayor Ed Lee as director earlier this month.
Guy, a former city planner, said the city has registered 667 hosts, rejected another 190 and is still reviewing others. He noted that the number of rentals listed tends to fluctuate and some properties are listed multiple times across different sites, making the figure of 10,000 listings cited by Measure F proponents difficult to confirm.
Since Feb. 1, when city regulations requiring home-sharing hosts to register with the city and pay hotel taxes took effect, the city has received 177 complaints about illegal homesharing activity, Guy said. Fifty of those complaints have been resolved in that no violation was found or the property was brought into compliance and nine notices of decision finding violations have been issued, he said. The office has assessed almost $155,000 in penalties.
“Our priority for enforcement is primarily going after egregious violators, those folks who have multiple units listed across the city,” Guy said, adding that “at the same time we want to make it clear that no one is above the law.”
Campos called current regulations, which place the onus for registering and complying with city laws on individual hosts rather than on hosting sites such as Airbnb, “unenforceable.” Given the large number of listings, he noted that the odds of enforcement were low for unregistered hosts.
Measure F, which Airbnb opposes, would put some of the burden of enforcement on hosting sites by requiring them to check if hosts are properly registered and in compliance with city rules.
Home-sharing supporters and opponents of Measure F today argued that the current city rules, which are backed by Mayor Ed Lee, are working and should be given more time.
“This registration process only started in February, this office was only created a few months ago and you only started a few weeks ago,” Supervisor Mark Farrell said to Guy at today’s hearing. “I find it ludicrous to grill people and criticise so shortly after it was created.”
A number of registered short-term rental hosts spoke at today’s hearing, saying that renting out a room had allowed them to hang on to their homes or pay college tuition for their children. Some expressed concerns about privacy if reporting requirements were increased.
“In this climate of fear and intimidation and finger pointing, a lot of our members would prefer to stay in the shadows until the dust has settled,” said Peter Kwan, founder of Home Sharers of San Francisco. “We are in favor of enforcement, we are in favor of giving the office of short-term rentals the resources it needs to make sure this law works.”
Amanda Fried, speaking for the city treasurer’s office at today’s hearing, said her office has taken steps to simplify the business registration and tax payment process for short-term rental hosts. A web site, businessportal.sfgov.org, includes links and information for short-term rental hosts.
In addition, the city has reached an agreement with Airbnb for it to collect the hotel tax on bookings and now allows hosts making less than $40,000 a year to register as small operators, meaning they only have to file and pay taxes once a year instead of every month.
Sara Gaiser, Bay City News