A reward for turning in Airbnb users? New SF proposal is harshest yet

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Proponents of short-term rental services are fond of touting the “sharing economy,” but it’s doubtful they had this in mind: A group of civil leaders in San Francisco is proposing to let city residents who report illegal rentals share in the fines and taxes the city collects.

As the San Francisco Chronicle reports, civic leaders are pushing a ballot measure that would severely limit people’s ability to rent out rooms or houses through popular services like Airbnb.

The proposal also includes a measure that would allow private citizens to sue Airbnb landlords and “receive 30 percent of any fines and back taxes that result, along with all their attorney fees.”

The initiative’s backers, who include housing activists and a former planning commissioner, say that short-term rentals are exploding and that the rentals make it harder for residents to find places to live and drive up prices. The backers are still in the process of gathering signatures for a vote this fall.

The San Francisco proposal is just the latest flashpoint in a bitter legal and public relations battle between Airbnb, which has already agreed to collect hotel tax, and officials in San Francisco and New York.

Airbnb touts its service as a way for residents to make extra income as part of a “sharing economy,” and claims that it is standing up to the entrenched interests of the hotel industry. Skeptics note that there is little upside for the neighbors of Airbnb hosts, who must live next to a de facto hotel. One report this week notes how a bartender in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg was making $45,000 before New York’s Attorney General began asking questions.

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