Airbnb Seeks Best Government Money Can Buy in San Francisco Election

Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Airbnb
Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Airbnb
Newport Beach, CA

With San Francisco’s local election day approaching, Airbnb and friends have raised more than $8 million to fight tougher restrictions on short-term “vacation rentals.”

San Francisco campaign finance reports for the period from July 1 through September 19 reveal that record amounts of cash are pouring in from both sides in the fight over Proposition F, which would tighten the rules for turning homes and apartments into transient hotels.

Proposition F would impose restrictions on private, short-term housing rentals, often referred to a “vacation rentals.” It would restrict all such private rentals to only 75 nights per year and impose provisions designed to ensure that such private rentals are paying 14 percent hotel tax and following all city codes. It would also require detailed guest and revenue reports from rental hosts and “hosting platforms,” such as Airbnb. Proposition F would further prohibit the use of “in-law” units for short-term rentals and enact regulations concerning privacy, peace, and quiet.

Perhaps the most threatening to companies like Internet-based Airbnb, HomeAway, 9Flats, and Windu, Proposition F would allow open-ended “private action lawsuits” by interested parties–defined as anyone living within 100 feet–against those suspected of violating the law by renting the unit or providing a booking service for the rental.

The fines proposed for websites featuring illegal posts range from $250 to $1,000 per day for each non-compliant post. Ballot measure estimates show the fines for a website such as Airbnb, HomeAway, 9Flats, and Windu could add up to millions of dollars unless a way was found to keep listings in accordance with city law, according to BallotPedia.

Under the banner of SF for Everyone, the Internet bookers have raised more than $8 million to buy time on every radio, TV, and social media outlet to rail away at the proponents of Prop. F as selfish and small minded. Airbnb has contributed about $3.6 million.

The coalition in favor of Prop F, called Share Better SF, includes landlords, housing activists, unions, and neighborhood groups. But they have only raised $200,117.04 by September 19. Their biggest donor is the Unite Here union, which gave $50,000 during the most recent finance reporting period. The union represents hotel workers whose jobs are threatened by what they call “gypsy” short-term rentals in the city.

The San Francisco Apartment Association also contributed more than $20,000 to Share Better SF. Landlords are upset because tenants in their buildings are sometimes making “vacation rentals” through Airbnb to cram groups of individuals into rentals and provide hookers and drug dealers locations for the quick turnover of their business.

Housing has become the most important political issue in San Francisco. Gabriel Metcalf, president and CEO of public policy research company SPUR, told BallotPedia, “It’s the No. 1 issue in every poll.” There are five separate propositions on the ballot dealing with housing and urban development.

Voters will decide housing-related propositions that address affordable housing bonds, restrictions on short-term rentals, a moratorium on market rate construction in the city’s Mission District, housing developments on surplus public lands, and a waterfront development.

With five weeks to go before San Franciscans go to the polls on November 3, 2015, there is plenty of time for record spending on Proposition F to increase much higher.