Airbnb takes San Francisco to federal court over short-term rental law

Taryn Phaneuf Jun. 30, 2016, 8:48pm

SAN FRANCISCO – Airbnb has sued the city and county of San Francisco over a law that puts companies like it on the hook if they promote short-term housing rentals by a host that hasn’t registered with the city and county.

“As the ordinance’s own sponsors have described it, the ordinance holds ‘hosting platforms accountable for the hundreds of units (rented by) unscrupulous individuals’ posting listings on their websites,” the court complaint reads. “As such, the ordinance unquestionably treats online platforms such as Airbnb as the publisher or speaker of third-party content and is completely preempted by the CDA.”

In 2014, San Francisco began requiring residents who rent rooms or entire homes to tourists through websites like Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway to register. But enforcement has been an issue: Only about 1,400 of an estimated 7,000 hosts had registered more than a year later. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed an amendment June 14 requiring websites to vet local listings and only post those whose hosts are registered. It fines companies if they don’t comply with the law.

Airbnb opposed the addition to the law and now has officially challenged it through a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, claiming it violates Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which protects online services that publish third-party content from being held liable for the speech and actions of others.

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