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Airbnb gives in to San Francisco’s registration demands

Popular Smart Phone Apps Of 2016 Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images

Airbnb says it is ready to provide the city of San Francisco with details of its hosts, lodgings, and guests, as part of a registration system it would set up with its hometown — despite earlier claims that such a system would be unworkable.

San Francisco passed a law in February 2015 that forced all Airbnb hosts to register with the city, but more than a year later, and only around 1,700 of between 8,000 and 10,000 hosts in the area have registered so far. The new system would mean all hosts are automatically entered into the city’s database, allowing it to ensure that Airbnb complies with other laws designed to restrict its activities in a city in the midst of an affordable housing crisis.

Those laws may be getting even stricter soon. Currently, hosts in the city are only allowed to rent their whole home out for 90 days a year at most, while people offering single rooms can do so all year round. But under new rules, proposed by San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors in October, all Airbnb hosts would only be able to offer their space — either whole apartments or individual rooms — for a maximum of 60 days in a year.

The proposed law would reward the minority of Airbnb hosts who have already registered with the city, allowing them to keep the 90-day limit on whole-home rentals, and to rent out specific rooms all year round, but those that tried to avoid regulation would be subject to much more stringent guidelines. London Breed, the Board of Supervisors’ president, said that even after the rules were introduced, too many hosts were not registering with the city. “This takes critical housing units off the market, rendering them unavailable to all those struggling to find a permanent, affordable place to live,” Breed said.

Airbnb’s about-face in its hometown also comes as it seems likely to lose a court case about unregistered hosts. The company appealed a new law in June that would see it face a $1,000 fine for every unregistered San Francisco listing on its site, claiming that such a rule impinged on its free-speech rights, and violated the Communications Decency Act. But US district judge James Donato, in charge of the case, has slapped down Airbnb’s arguments in hearings, indicating he may clear the way for the city to begin fining the company.

A new registration system would allow Airbnb to dodge these fines, as well as simplify an existing governmental registration procedure that the company itself has identified as overly complex and arduous. Airbnb’s head of policy strategy, David Owen, said his company’s change of tune should make it a lot easier for hosts to sign up and make their listings legal. “A big part of why the host requirements for registration are so complicated is that we were unwilling to help the city,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle.

The company has also indicated it’s willing to make similar deals in other cities around the world that have railed against the practice of private rentals. “We’re working with cities throughout the world on smart, creative solutions to address their specific issues,” Airbnb policy chief David Lehane told the SF Chronicle, but the company has its work cut out with existing bans in New York and Berlin, as well as crackdowns against unlicensed rentals across Europe and Asia.