Fixing the Registration Process in San Francisco

The Board of Supervisors agrees that San Francisco’s home sharing registration process is broken. The City’s complex short term rental registration and compliance rules are incredibly difficult for regular people to follow. Instead of fixing the broken registration system, the Board approved a new law requiring platforms like Airbnb to simply kick off any hosts who can’t navigate the ever-changing maze of City requirements. Many experts believe this new proposal violates an important federal law protecting free speech and innovation on the internet.

Challenges to Registration

After the City’s first home sharing law was passed by the Board of Supervisors in late 2014, the Planning Department imposed a series of additional requirements – many of which are not part of the original law – that made following the rules difficult for many Airbnb hosts. These rules applied even if a resident wanted to rent out their space for just a single weekend when a big event like the Super Bowl comes to town.

In order to share a home for even a weekend, a San Francisco resident must:

  • Obtain a separate short term rental business license.
  • Compile multiple original documents to provide proof of residency.
  • Schedule an in-person appointment at the Office of Short Term Rentals.
  • Register in-person at the Office of Short Term Rentals and pay fees.
  • File quarterly reports documenting the dates and length of every stay and demonstrating the number of nights a host slept in their own home.
  • File an annual inventory of all property in their home used in any way as part of a short term rental in order to be taxed on items like their sheets, blankets, pots and pans. As assistance, hosts are given an 90+ page manual intended for big businesses and instructed to inventory any belongings used by guests, right down to forks, knives, sheets and shampoo.

How We Can Work Together to Fix It

We all agree that the process is too complicated and creates huge barriers to compliance. This is particularly true for occasional hosts who rent out their entire home fewer than 2 weeks each year and make up almost a third of Airbnb’s hosts in 2015. There are some simple steps the City can take to make the process easier and more efficient. We’ve already shared feedback from hosts who navigated the complex rules, and will continue working with City government on simple solutions like:

  • Creating a one-stop, online permit application process
  • Creating a grace period for new hosts to get registered
  • Creating flexibility for hosts who rent out their space fewer than 14 nights a year
  • Removing the business registration requirement for hosts who use Qualified Website Companies like Airbnb to list their space
  • Exempting hosts from the Assessor’s overly confusing business property tax inventory process (requiring a 90+ page manual for hosts to figure out how to comply). This is the same exemption provided to other small properties in San Francisco

Home sharing is an economic lifeline for many San Francisco residents – in fact an estimated 1,200 San Franciscans have been saved from eviction or foreclosure by hosting on Airbnb. Platforms like Airbnb have a responsibility to work with City officials on simplifying and improving the registration process for hosts, and addressing the City’s big concerns. Despite the Board’s misguided action today, we remain ready and willing to work with the City on real solutions that don’t needlessly harm middle income San Franciscans or violate important federal laws.