Should Airbnb Be Forced To Make Sure Hosts Comply With Local Laws?

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Laws, taxes, and regulations governing short-term rentals and hotels vary from location to location, and home-sharing platforms like Airbnb remind their users that they are obligated to comply with all relevant restrictions in their area. But when it’s clear that many users are not following the rules, should the company be held responsible?

That’s a question that may soon come before the city leaders of San Francisco, where Airbnb is not only headquartered, but where it is regularly criticized for its hands-off approach to its users’ business practices.

In 2015, San Francisco began requiring Airbnb hosts to register with the city. Airbnb hosts (and other users of short-term rental platforms) must also now demonstrate that the property being rented is their primary place of residence, meaning they must live in that property for at least 275 days out of the year.

The city even created the Short-Term Rental Administration to oversee this burgeoning industry, but it looks like many of the city’s sorta-landlords are not following the rules.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that — between Airbnb, HomeAway/VRBO, and FlipKey — there are at least 9,500 hosts in the city, but as of March 2016, fewer than 1,650 had registered.

Which is why some city supervisors are introducing legislation that would hold these companies accountable for making sure that their users comply.

Rather than forcing Airbnb to go knocking on doors or making phone calls to its San Francisco users to see if they are in compliance, the proposed bill would require Airbnb, et al, to check that a listing has a valid city registration number before allowing it to go on the site.

That might get the listings registered, but it doesn’t stop an Airbnb host from breaking the rules regarding over-renting a property or letting out a property that isn’t their primary residence.

To combat those, the bill proposes a system wherein the city flags potential rule violators then gives the rental platform a full business day to investigate and provide details to the city. Failure to comply here could result in significant fines.

So far, Airbnb’s biggest concession to a crackdown on abusive hosts is to agree to send reminder emails and letters to those who haven’t registered.

While the company says “we look forward to engaging with all stakeholders to find real solutions that accomplish our shared goals of protecting housing,” Airbnb has a history of digging deep to fight restrictive laws.

Last year, the company spent a reported $8 million — some of it on ads they had to apologize for — to defeat Proposition F, which would have further limited the number of days per year a space could be rented to 75 and created stricter penalties for hosts who disrupt their neighbors’ lives.

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