Airbnb Offers to Give a Little in NY, SF Tussles

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Airbnb recently proposed changes to its listing policies for short-term rental property owners in New York City and San Francisco, possibly in response to threats of aggressive action from state and local lawmakers.

With respect to New York operations, Airbnb on Wednesday proposed a set of five changes in a New York Post article penned by Chris Lehane, the company's global head of public policy:

Airbnb supports a three-strikes policy that would bar landlords from offering short-term rentals if they repeatedly broke the rules.

The company reportedly made a similar proposal to the City of San Francisco.

However, it's "too little, too late," said San Francisco Supervisor David Campos, one of the leaders in the fight for affordable housing and an outspoken critic of the company.

The proposed exceptions "create a loophole you could drive a truck through," he told the E-Commerce Times.

Airbnb alrealdy has banned hosts with multiple listings in New York and San Francisco, according to reports.

The company did not respond to our request to provide further details.

Lawmakers in New York and San Francisco recently have been squaring off with Airbnb.

Governor Mario Cuomo is poised to sign a bill that would ban Airbnb users from listing some short-term rentals.

In San Francisco, a proposal to limit vacation rentals in private homes to 60 days a year last week was presented to the Board of Supervisors.

However, the 1,650 hosts who have registered with the city in compliance with the law would keep their existing cap of 90 days a year for unhosted rentals of entire houses, and unlimited rentals when a host is present, such as the rental of a room in a home, for example.

There are an estimated 10,000 short-term rental property owners in San Francisco.

Meanwhile, Airbnb has filed suit against the City and County of San Francisco in federal court, opposing the requirement that short-term rental hosts register with the city.

The offer "is a defensive move," said Peter Cohen, a codirector of the Council of Community Housing Organizations.

"It's great to hear them say the right things, but this is a corporation that demonstrated last fall with Prop F how much they're willing to spend, and how much energy they're willing to commit to manipulate the public's view of the issue," he told the E-Commerce Times.

Airbnb last year spent a considerable sum to defeat Proposition F, also known as the "Airbnb Initiative," a November ballot proposal that sought to restrict short-term private rentals to 75 days a year.

"Given [Airbnb's] behavior up to this point, I think we have to see what substantive action they'll take," Cohen said.

The shortage of rental properties in San Francisco is reaching crisis proportions, and has driven up rental prices to the point where the Federal Home Loan Bank of San Francisco offers a housing assistance program for home buyers earning up to US$103,000 to purchase a home within commuting distance of the city.

Still, "it's not as though Airbnb and short-term rentals are singlehandedly the problem," Cohen noted. "It's another manifestation of real estate speculation."

You have to add second homes, blocks of apartments companies rent for staff, and investment properties to short-term rentals, Cohen said. "Airbnb is one critical piece of the puzzle."

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

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