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Airbnb sues San Francisco to avoid thousands of dollars in fines

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Airbnb is suing the city of San Francisco in an attempt to block a new law that could see it face hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines. Under the law, which was unanimously voted in by San Francisco's Board of Supervisors earlier in June, platforms like Airbnb would have to remove listings from any unregistered host or pay $1,000 in fines for each one. The company filed the complaint against its hometown in federal court on Monday, claiming that the law impinged on its free-speech rights, and violated the Communications Decency Act.

Airbnb compares itself to YouTube and Twitter

Airbnb says the registration process is too difficult and complicated for its users. "This legislation ignores the reality that the system is not working," the company said, arguing that the new law will "harm thousands of everyday San Francisco residents who depend on Airbnb." But San Francisco supervisor David Campos called the law "very modest regulations", telling the San Francisco Chronicle that it was simply keeping Airbnb in line with other rental companies. "If you are a rental car agency, you have to make sure the person that you rent that vehicle to has a license before you rent them a car. That is exactly what we are asking the short-term platforms to do here."

Rather than car rental companies, Airbnb's argument hinges on comparing itself to platforms hosting user-generated content like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. It says San Francisco's new law violates section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, a passage that states internet companies can't be held responsible for what their users post on their platforms. "While we have attempted to work with the city on sensible, lawful alternatives to this flawed new ordinance, we regret that we are forced to now ask a federal court to intervene in this matter," Airbnb said in a statement, calling the move an "unprecedented step" that it had to take to protect its hosts and guests.

This is the first time Airbnb has sued a city directly

The home-rental platform has had difficulties in cities around the world — including BerlinParis, and Barcelona —but this is the first time it has sued a city directly. It's not the first time Airbnb has tried to influence San Francisco politics, however. The company spent $230,000 earlier this year supporting pro-Airbnb politicians in June elections, after dropping more than $8 million in a successful bid to defeat Proposition F — a ballot measure that would have placed tough restrictions on landlords offering short-term rentals.

San Francisco may be Airbnb's hometown, but as with many of its multi-million dollar startups, the company has had a somewhat fractious relationship with the city and its populace at a time when rental prices are skyrocketing. It was criticized for tone-deaf ads placed during the campaign to defeat Proposition F that crowed about the private company's tax contributions, and advised public services to build more bike lanes, keep libraries open later, and "keep art in schools."