The popular home-sharing website Airbnb announced new enforcement measures on Thursday for some of its European users, which could impact consumers in the U.S., including those in the Bay Area.
Airbnb promised to institute tighter restrictions that would limit how often users can rent out their homes in London and Amsterdam, but it's unclear whether the company is willing to do the same in its hometown of San Francisco.
The policy changes come in the wake of complaints that the fast-growing home-sharing industry has led to a decrease in full-time housing since homeowners can potentially make more money by renting out their properties to short-term visitors instead of long-term tenants.
In May, the NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit exposed how thousands of people across San Francisco are renting out their homes illegally, with few facing penalties. Now, Airbnb is tightening up enforcement abroad. The home-sharing company will now ban hosts in London and Amsterdam from renting out their homes for more days than their cities allow, unless hosts can prove they obtained the necessary permits to rent out their homes more frequently.
Airbnb said it will use "new and automated limits” on its website to restrict London users to just 90 days of hosting per year by spring 2017. Amsterdam users will be limited to only 60 days of hosting per year beginning Jan. 1.
“We want to be good partners,” Airbnb said in a statement posted on its website as part of the announcement. “[We] continue to lead our industry on this matter, and ensure home sharing grows responsibly and sustainably.”
As the Investigative Unit reported earlier this week, San Francisco is now among the list of cities that passed laws limiting how often people can rent out their homes on a short-term basis. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors, in a 7-3 vote, set a 60-day-a-year cap for anyone wanting to rent out their home to visitors for less than 30 days at a time.
Airbnb declined to comment to the Investigative Unit on whether it is now willing to institute automated limits on its website for San Francisco rentals, similar to those that will soon be imposed on users in London and Amsterdam.
Individuals wanting to rent out their San Francisco home on a short-term basis must remain the primary resident of that home. Unlike London or Amsterdam, San Francisco requires hosts to also obtain a permit regardless of how infrequently the home is rented. Hosts must register with the city’s Office of Short-Term Rentals, which requires a $250 fee every two years.
"We look forward to working with San Francisco on solutions and have been able to do so in other cities," said Alex Kotran, press secretary for Airbnb. "The current 60-day proposal in San Francisco merely doubles down on a system that everybody agrees is broken, and harms real people without fixing the process."
While Mayor Ed Lee has until next week to decide whether to veto the bill, the Board of Supervisors is one vote shy of the super-majority needed to override the mayor’s veto.
Meanwhile, San Francisco and Airbnb are still entangled in a bitter, months-long lawsuit involving even more regulations for the home-sharing industry. Airbnb sued the city in June to block the new legislation that would have made home-sharing companies, including Airbnb, vulnerable to hefty fines and misdemeanor penalties if they allow their users to post and book rentals that do not comply with San Francisco’s rules and regulations.
The new penalties remain on hold, by order of a federal judge, as the city and Airbnb attempt to work out specifics of the enforcement process. Airbnb has repeatedly voiced concerns that it could unfairly face criminal sanctions because of the city’s lack of a “functional verification system” that can provide home-sharing companies real-time information as to which rental listings comply with the city’s laws, and which need to be removed.
Both sides are expected to meet privately for a second round of mediation talks on Jan. 23.