Are you worried about the San Francisco housing crisis? The city’s new law has your back. Are you worried SF’s new law might hurt your Airbnb profits? Airbnb has your back. The rental company is suing its hometown for passing a law requiring renters to register with the city, though Airbnb helped draft that very law. Ah, how money changes people.
A couple years ago, SF and Airbnb together wrote a law that capped short-term rentals at 90 days in addition to requiring renters to register. This would supposedly help the housing crisis by preventing people from turning affordable apartments into permanent rental residences.
The law sounded good enough then, but this is now and maybe it sounds too good...for people who aren’t Airbnb users. Now, only 20% of people who rent out using Airbnb have registered (the registration costs $50 and requires paperwork), and the company does not want to pay the $1,000-per-day fee fine for every unlisted user and it does not want to wipe out the listings of people not obeying the law.
So Airbnb says the law is “not working” and, not only that, that it is a free speech violation. Airbnb claims the new law—whose fines go into effect in July—violates the federal Communications Decency Act, which prevents websites from being punished for content that is published on them. This, by the way, is the same act that is protecting social media sites from being sued for helping ISIS and that protects sites like YouTube from being repeatedly sued over hosting pirated material. It’s also been used to protect Craigslist from being sued for hosting ads that supported sex trafficking.
Given that Airbnb’s complications with city regulation has been enough of a headache that mayors of 10 cities are banding together to try to figure things out, it’ll be interesting to see how this plays out. Housing crisis versus billionaire start-up? Grab the popcorn.