Airbnb challenges San Francisco over rental law

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Image caption Airbnb now has more than two million properties listed

Accommodation website Airbnb has launched legal action against San Francisco over a new law that would require it to delist hosts who have not registered their living spaces.

The website faces fines of up to $1,000 (£750) for unregistered hosts.

But it says the registration process is too cumbersome and the city should be held responsible for illegal listings.

San Francisco says the law, due to come into effect in August, is necessary to protect the affordable rental market.

Airbnb said in a blog post: "This is an unprecedented step... and one we do not take lightly, but we believe it's the best way to protect our community of hosts and guests."

"We believe that creative approaches are still possible and hope that the city will reconsider its current path and work with us towards building a new system that is legal, workable, and fair to everyone involved."

It said that the real issue was a "broken, ever-changing and confusing" registration process.

"The 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."

Airbnb laid out its proposals for improving the registration system, including:

  • creating a one-stop online permit
  • offering greater flexibility to hosts who rent out their space for less than 14 nights a year
  • ending requirements that hosts pay taxes on household items such as bedding

It said the new law violated both the Communications Decency Act, which, among other things, prevents the operators of websites being held legally liable for the third parties who use their services, and the Stored Communications Act, which offers privacy protections for user information shared on websites.

In response, city attorney spokesman Matt Dorsey told technology news website Tech Crunch: "Nothing in San Francisco's pending ordinance punishes hosting platforms for their users' content.

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

"It's simply a duty to verify information that's already required of a regulated business activity."

It is not just in San Francisco that Airbnb faces opposition.

In May, lawmakers in Berlin made it illegal to rent out entire homes or apartments in the German capital.

Airbnb was founded in San Francisco in 2008 and now lists more than two million properties in 191 countries.

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