What Would Airbnb-Free SF Look Like?

Airbnb is sometimes a punching bag in San Francisco, whether warranted or not. The hotel alternative platform is very popular here — and everywhere else — but not in certain circles.

For some, Airbnb is the problem, the villain, the poster child of deregulated capitalism run amok and a chief driver of the housing crisis — to the point of no return. Shit, Airbnb can't even be made to follow the rules!

Or can it? San Francisco's Board of Supervisors just voted to hold Airbnb accountable for law-breaking listings on its website — in a financial way.  

In a surprising 10-0 vote, supervisors approved fines of up to $1,000 per day for listing rentals that are not registered with the city under a weak-kneed previous legislative effort that did not really do much to regulate Airbnb and others.

[jump] The new law is so dramatic, in fact, that it could force Airbnb’s hand. In what way remains to be seen. But the company could, like Uber and Lyft did in Texas, just stop doing business in San Francisco. That seems unlikely, considering this is where the company was founded. It would certainly be a stain on the business, and perhaps the city, and would raise the specter of Airbnb moving its headquarters somewhere else as well (we hear Oakland is popular with tech 2.0). 

What would an Airbnb-free San Francisco look like? Hard to say. The rose-colored view is that suddenly thousands of homes would open up to renters, lowering prices and stopping displacement. The company maintains that the majority of its hosts are, ironically, saved from eviction or displacement because they can rent out their spare space. Regardless, there’s no denying that the city’s registration process just isn’t working and needs an injection of some kind. And since apparently voters were not going to do anything about it, elected leaders had to step in. They’ve done it before.

But the problem with David Chiu’s legislation, which was his final act on the board before joining the state Assembly, was that it required a buy-in from Airbnb and the like. And if you’ve ever asked a mugger to give you back your money, you probably know it’s a tough sell. The law took effect in February 2015, which means that some 18 months later as much as 80 percent of Airbnb’s nearly 10,000 listings were potentially violating it. That’s called apathy, folks.

It will be fascinating to see what comes of this new law. The clock is ticking.

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