Airbnbs in SF: The Saga Moves to the Ballot

Map  of SF vacation rentals, courtesy of

Map of SF vacation rentals, courtesy of

Things have been heating up in San Francisco with regards to short term rentals. Part of the new “sharing economy,” sites like Airbnb and Vacation Rental By Owner (VRBO) have been in use for years now and have allowed residents to rent out either a room or an entire unit to short term renters (usually quick vacation stays). The idea is pretty simple, people who have extra space in their house can quickly place it online for rent helping them earn a little extra cash, while renters are provided with a different, often cheaper experience than a standard hotel. The practice has surged into a full fledged business for a number of die-hard hosts within San Francisco, causing many to worry about its impact on the already extremely expensive and strained housing market.

Beyond the impact on housing, many representatives of the hospitality industry have aptly pointed out that sites like Airbnb and VRBO allow hosts to circumvent regulations and taxes. Most of the Airbnbs within San Francisco are unregistered, and until recently, after the City forced Airbnb’s hand, they didn’t pay the night Transient Occupancy Tax, otherwise known as the hotel tax.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors recently passed regulations to more effectively govern short term rentals and limit their use/impact on the local housing market. According to one report, 23% of all vacant rental housing units in SF were being used as a short term rentals instead of turning over into permanent rental housing, which struck a chord with many on the Board. So last week the City officially passed an ordinance than would require all short term rental hosts to register with the newly created Office of Short Term Rentals, something that may be unenforceable unless Airbnb takes punitive measures against hosts that don’t comply. The City also decided to place a limit of 90 days per year on short term rental units where the owner is not present, and cap the total number of days a unit can be rented out on short term basis at 265 days if the owner is present onsite.

Beyond these new regulations, a group of San Francisco housing activists referring to themselves as ShareBetterSF submitted a petition to the County Clerk of Elections seeking to place a measure further regulating Airbnb on the San Francisco ballot. If accepted, the measure would do four things:

  1. Further limit the number of days that all short term rentals can be used to just 75 per year, per unit.
  2. Fine Airbnb and VRBO $1,000 dollars a day, per unit, for allowing unregistered units to post and use their app.
  3. Require quarterly reporting from all hosts operating within the City.
  4. Force the City to notify surrounding neighbors and neighborhoods of any potential short term rentals, potentially allowing for appeals.

Airbnb and their hosts have already started to protest the matter, stating that the forced reporting has the potential to violate the privacy of individual hosts. They also state that since they already created a mechanism by which the city can collect taxes on rooms, and because hosts are already required to register with the City that the other additional regulations would be overly burdensome and detrimental to a sharing economy that many people now depend on.

What do you think about ShareBetterSF’s ballot measure? Does it go too far? What are appropriate limitations on short term rentals? This issue will no doubt spread into other jurisdictions, and is already being closely watched by the State legislature. Vote and comment below.

ShareBetterSF Petition to Further Regulate Short Rentals in San FranciscoThis petition calls for a yearly cap of 75 nights on all short term rentals within the city. It also requires quarterly reporting by both hosts and hosting platforms of the number of nights the host rented the premises for short term rentals. It would force the city to provide notification to neighbors and neighborhood organizations when a host registers a unit for short term rental, allowing for appeals. It would also hold hosting platforms responsible for listing illegal or unregistered short term tourist rental listings, and enact fines to the platform of up to $1,000 a day for violations.


  1. Sally L says:

    So sick of the government sticking their noses in everyone’s business. Short-term rentals are helping people make ends meet, as well as spurring home sales from people who find they are able to buy rather than rent because they can share part of their home, or can rent it out for most of the year on a short-term basis while being able to make use of it for their families and get the tax benefits. Short-term rentals also spur travel by people who otherwise couldn’t afford it, enhancing local economies.

    Every time a good idea pops up organically the government has a way of stomping on it. The occupancy tax should be enough. Leave it be, SF!!

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