Airbnb Sues Hometown San Francisco Over Rental Regulation

San Francisco wants people who rent out their homes through Airbnb and other online platforms to follow some rules, and it wants the platforms to advertise only those rule-abiding listings -- or face steep fines.

That means Airbnb and others must stick to advertising San Francisco hosts who have registered with the city and haven't exceeded the number of nights they're allowed to rent. The penalty? Platforms can be fined up to $1,000 a day per violation.

Now, Airbnb is suing its hometown, arguing that it's not responsible for making sure hosts follow city rules and that San Francisco, the place that birthed some of the world's most innovative startups, is undermining a bedrock principle that allowed those companies to flourish in the first place.

In its federal lawsuit filed in June, Airbnb states San Francisco's ordinance violates a federal law that has long shielded websites such as Facebook and YouTube from responsibility for information posted by users. In this case, it's the legality of vacation listings.

Legal experts say Airbnb has a good shot at prevailing in court, but that government also has a legitimate interest in regulating health and safety, which includes housing in a city that's among the most expensive in the country.

"This is going to be the first of many kinds of legal battles around the platform economy. I'm sure that other companies are going to mount similar kinds of defenses when they're in regulatory crosshairs," said Vivek Krishnamurthy, assistant director of the Cyberlaw Clinic at Harvard Law School's Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society.

"At some point," he said, "governments are going to have to be able to regulate these things."

Airbnb faces challenges elsewhere, including New York where legislators last month approved a bill making it illegal to advertise online entire homes for less than 30 days. Last month,...

Comments are closed.