The hometown of accommodation-sharing website Airbnb has come to a tentative resolution in a long fight over how often people can rent out their houses and apartments online.
After multiple rounds of debate over 60-day, 75-day and even 120-day caps on rentals, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to keep the current 90-day cap in place when the host is not present and allow unlimited days when the host is present.
The fight is far from over, however, with one supervisor even calling the vote “somewhat moot.” Earlier this week, a measure qualified for the November ballot that would cap both hosted and unhosted rentals at 75 days per year. The initiative would also require platforms to list only hosts who have registered with the city, a tenet of the current law that has been largely ignored by local hosts. The measure has been labeled as “anti-Airbnb.”
The debate is not just a local skirmish. Airbnb has faced concerns from lawmakers in New York as well, while cities across the country have debated limitations and even bans on companies like Uber, a ride-sharing app, as local governments struggle to update long-standing regulations in light of new technology.
The new San Francisco ordinance, which passed in a 6-5 vote, will create what supporters call a “one-stop-shop” office to handle issues related to short-term rentals, whether that’s getting through the registration process or handling neighbor complaints.
While investors love Airbnb, the reaction in its own backyard has been mixed.
The city is in the midst of a housing crisis. While some locals have been evicted from their homes by landlords hoping to rent them out on Airbnb full-time, others have testified that they’ve only been able to stay in their homes because of the extra income home-sharing has afforded them. An extensive report on the issue by the San Francisco Chronicle found that more than 150 homes seemed to be rented full-time on the platform, suggesting that might be stock taken out of the strapped rental market.
During the meeting, supervisors debated when private companies should be asked to share data and when participation in new economic opportunities turns an activity like driving or sharing an apartment into a business. “I do believe that home-sharing is here to stay, and we should support appropriate and responsible home-sharing in San Francisco,” said Supervisor Mark Farrell, who sponsored the new ordinance with San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee. “But we must protect our city from turning into a city solely of short-term rentals.”
Farrell, and other city lawmakers, cautioned against deciding this issue by ballot, because after a law is put in place that way, officials must return to voters in order to make any changes to it. He said that the economy and business models are changing too rapidly to put such a high bar in place for updating related laws. “We’re in the top of the first inning here,” he said.
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