Airbnb, Inc. v. City of San Francisco

By Jennifer Felten

 Airbnb, Inc. runs an online platform where people can list properties for short term rentals.  Airbnb, Inc. filed lawsuit in the U.S. District court for the Northern District of California on last month seeking to enjoin the recently enacted amendments to the city’s so called “Airbnb law” claiming the law is a form of prior restraint, prohibiting persons wishing to list their properties for rent on Airbnb and other such platforms without the platform company first contacting the city’s office of Short-term Residential Rental Administration and Enforcement to verify that the unit is property registered with the city.  The suit seeks to strike down the law as violative of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the Stored Communications Act and the first Amendment.

The San Francisco law, initially going into effect on February 1, 2015, legalizing short-term rentals in the City upon certain, specific conditions.  Before this, San Francisco banned residential rentals of less than 30 days in multi-unit building as rentals.  San Francisco’s short term rental law applies to all buildings containing one or more residential units that are owned or rented by individuals who are permanent residents of San Francisco.  This includes owners or renters of single-family dwellings (the initial version of the law excluded single family homes, but this was later changed).

Under the law, all such individuals must reside in their units for at least 275 days per year, register and obtain a permit from the Office of Short Term Rental, and pay a $50 fee every two years.  Such registration must be done in person.  Persons wishing to do short term rentals will also need to obtain a city business license, and are required to be covered by liability insurance with at least $500,000 in coverage.  Anyone caught violating the law is subject to fines of $484.00 for the first violation and $968.00 for repeat offenders.

Historically in many circumstances, the courts have relieved web platforms of liability for the actions of those posting on their sites.  It will be interesting to see if the court will relieve Airbnb and their cohorts of such requirements under this San Francisco law.



Jennifer Felten

Jennifer Felten, Esq., Relaw Ms. Felten specializes in representing both individuals and legal entities, providing representation and guidance on a variety of real estate related matters.  Relaw APC 699 Hampshire Road, Suite 105 Westlake Village, CA  91361 US Phone: (805) 265-1031 or email her at:

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One Response to Airbnb, Inc. v. City of San Francisco

  1. William "Bill" Hicks August 4, 2016 at 7:20 am

    A harbinger of what could happen with a defacto registration of all firearms.


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