Airbnb escapes crackdown in San Francisco referendum

The sharing economy has won its latest legal battle but there are plenty more where that came from.

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 04 Nov 2015

The ‘home-sharing’ company Airbnb has narrowly escaped a regulatory crackdown after voters in San Francisco sided with it in a local referendum.  Proposition F would have limited the number of days the city’s residents could let out their home to 75 and made it easier for neighbours to sue Airbnb hosts. It was rejected by about 55% of the 133,000 voters who turned out.

Defeat in its home city would have been a pretty big embarrassment for the company, which spent $8m on the campaign - if the tech-savvy people in San Francisco won't back it then things really are dire. Airbnb and other ‘sharing economy’ companies like the taxi app Uber have faced massive regulatory hurdles as they have grown rapidly across the world. While some countries and cities have embraced their new ways of doing business, others have expressed concern about their impact on existing industries and workers. 

This particular effort was purportedly about San Francisco’s increasingly pricey housing market, which has been a point of contention between hard-pressed locals and the city’s expanding army of well-paid tech workers. Its backers said sites like Airbnb were exacerbating the problem by taking houses off the market, Airbnb argued it made it easier for homeowners to afford to stay put.

Read more: Airbnb - the upstart that's here to stay

‘In this election, the Airbnb San Francisco home sharing community became a movement, showing up at the polls in large numbers and voting overwhelmingly against an effort designed by the hotel industry that targeted the right of the middle class to use home sharing as an economic lifeline,’ the company’s head of public affairs Chris Lehane wrote in a blog post.

Lehane is a former aide to President Clinton, hired to help steer the company through choppy regulatory waters. With a forthcoming legal fight in New York and regulators the world over sharpening their knives, he’s sure to be an important asset.

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