POSTED BY Joseph Rinaldi
HomeAway, a vacation rental site, recently filed a lawsuit against the city of San Francisco in the hope of blocking the so-called “Airbnb law,” which officially legalized short-term home rentals in the city. Passed by the Board of Supervisors in October, the Airbnb law permits property owners and tenants to use websites to rent out their homes, apartments and rooms on a temporary basis. The lawsuit, filed with the United States District Court for Northern California, claims the recently signed ordinance violates the United States Constitution’s interstate commerce clause by discriminating against homeowners who are not permanent San Francisco residents. The lawsuit seeks an injunction against enacting the law, which goes into effect in February.
HomeAway argues that the law, which limits rentals to ninety days out of the calendar year, is unfair because it allows only permanent residents to offer short-term rentals. Even before HomeAway’s lawsuit, however, the Airbnb law garnered a lot of controversy. Before the ordinance’s approval, the housing advocate community voiced their concern that the legislation wasn’t strict enough and argued that it should better protect affordable housing, residential zoning and landlords. Former San Francisco mayor, United States Senator Dianne Feinstein, also wrote that legalizing short-term rentals could negatively impact the integrity of zoning throughout San Francisco.
United States Senator Feinstein’s skeptical comments regarding the Airbnb law seem appropriate when one considers the likely implications of this law going into effect. Since under existing San Francisco law, short-term rentals of fewer than thirty days are barred, this law will allow commercial and hotel use in residential areas throughout the city. The new Airbnb law seems to lessen the protection for renters from landlords who might otherwise force tenants out in an attempt to turn the rental property into vacation stays. The new Airbnb law seems to deviate from safeguarding residentially zoned locations in favor of promoting short-term rentals and commercial business.
The danger in not preserving residential zoning is that commercial businesses will have a greater opportunity to take hold and decrease housing stock in an already tight market. As Feinstein noted, this legislation will likely encourage property owners and renters to leave their units and rent them out to others, further increasing the cost of living. Although Airbnb has stated that short-term rentals boost the economy for cities, the Airbnb law seems to grant too much power to short-term residential rental companies and a more compromising solution seems to be most fair.
Joseph Rinaldi is a Staff Member of the Journal of High Technology Law. Joseph is currently a second-year day student and President of Suffolk University Law School’s Intellectual Property Law Student Association. He holds a B.A. in English/Creative Writing from the College of the Holy Cross.