Why Airbnb is taking San Francisco to court

The rental website is facing major fines next month...

Why Airbnb is taking San Francisco to court


Airbnb is taking on the city of San Francisco as it seeks to avoid thousands of dollars in fines due to a law the company itself helped bring about.

The accommodation website is suing its hometown in an attempt block an ordinance requiring rentals to be issued with a valid registration number.

The new law is set to come into effect in late July and would require all Airbnb hosts to register with the city.

If they fail to do so, Airbnb faces fines of up to $1,000 per day for every listing. The onus would be on Airbnb to ensure its listing were legal.

Airbnb contends that the new rule violates the First Amendment, Communications Decency Act and the Stored Communications Act.

In a blog post Monday, it also argued that it would deter renters – registration itself costs $50 and includes – and potentially put San Franciscans at the risk of eviction or foreclosure:

"This legislation ignores the reality that the system is not working and this new approach will harm thousands of everyday San Francisco residents who depend on Airbnb. It also violates federal law...

An estimated 1,200 San Franciscans avoided foreclosure or eviction by hosting on Airbnb. These hosts have been asked to register with the City, but the ever-changing and confusing process simply doesn’t work for many residents, particularly senior citizens, people who occasionally share their space, work several jobs, and have limited time for repeated in-person application meetings."

Gizmodo reports that a couple of years ago, Airbnb helped the city write a law capping short-term rentals at 90s and requiring renters to register.

Now, however, only 20% of Airbnb hosts have registered, meaning substantial fines would be on the horizon.

Responding to Airbnb's claims, Matt Dorsey, a spokesman for the San Francisco city attorney's office, told Reuters that nothing in the ordinance punishes Airbnb for their hosts' content. It was intended instead to facilitate tax collection:

"In fact, it's not regulating user content at all – it's regulating the business activity of the hosting platform itself."