Judge ques­tions Airbnb in fight over San Fran­cisco law

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

SAN FRAN­CISCO:

A fed­eral judge ex­pressed skep­ti­cism Thurs­day that a San Fran­cisco or­di­nance set­ting fines for short-term rental web­sites that process book­ings for un­reg­is­tered units vi­o­lates fed­eral law.

The or­di­nance does not pre­vent com­pa­nies such as Airbnb from list­ing ads for units that are not regis­tered with the city, US District Court Judge James Donato said. He said it only pe­nal­izes the book­ing of those places through the com­pa­nies.

Donato made the com­ments dur­ing a hear­ing on Airbnb’s re­quest for an in­junc­tion block­ing en­force­ment of the law. He did not im­me­di­ately is­sue a rul­ing.

San Fran­cisco-based Airbnb is the world’s largest short-stay on­line rental com­pany. Crit­ics have long com­plained that its business model en­cour­ages land­lords to take al­ready scarce rentals off the market.

Airbnb sup­port­ers say they couldn’t con­tinue to live in San Fran­cisco with­out the ex­tra money they make rent­ing out space. The or­di­nance passed ear­lier this year car­ries fines up to $1,000 per vi­o­la­tion and pos­si­ble crim­i­nal pros­e­cu­tion. San Fran­cisco al­lows short­term rentals but re­quires hosts to regis­ter with the city and limit the length of stays.

The city says the vast ma­jor­ity of San Fran­cisco listings on Airbnb are un­reg­is­tered. Airbnb lawyer Jonathan Blavin said the or­di­nance would force Airbnb to screen and re­move listings be­cause the com­pany would not want listings for units that could not legally be booked.

Airbnb has ar­gued that role would vi­o­late a 1996 fed­eral law that pro­hibits in­ter­net com­pa­nies from be­ing held re­spon­si­ble for con­tent posted by users. “The prac­ti­cal ef­fect of the or­di­nance is that it will re­quire Airbnb to screen and re­move listings, in­clud­ing ones that are po­ten­tially law­ful,” Blavin said.

Donato also ques­tioned how the city could en­sure Airbnb and sim­i­lar sites could quickly check whether a unit was regis­tered be­fore pro­cess­ing the book­ing. “You hold all the in­for­ma­tion about who is legally regis­tered,” he told an at­tor­ney for the city. “What are you go­ing to do to make that to­tally trans­par­ent for these com­pa­nies, so they don’t get crim­i­nally pros­e­cuted.”—AP

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