Overview of Airbnb Law in San Francisco

What landlords, tenants, and homeowners need to know about short-term rentals such as Airbnb.

By , J.D. · USC Gould School of Law

San Francisco enacted an ordinance effective February 1, 2015 legalizing short-term rentals in the city. Before this, San Francisco banned residential rentals of less than 30 days in multi-unit buildings—a ban that effectively made most Airbnb-type rentals illegal (although the law was rarely enforced). However, the 2015 law imposes a number of restrictions on short-term rentals. You can read San Francisco's short-term rental ordinance online, and the city created a Short-Term Residential Rental Starter Kit with detailed guidance. San Francisco also established an Office of Short-Term Rentals to enforce the law.

Eligibility Requirements to be a Short-Term Host in San Francisco

Property owners or tenants who wish to host short-term rentals in San Francisco must meet all the following eligibility requirements. These requirements apply to all buildings containing one or more residential units, including single-family homes. If you don't meet these requirements, you may not be a short-term host and rental platforms like Airbnb are not allowed to list your unit.

Permanent San Francisco Residents Only

Only permanent residents of San Francisco are allowed to be short-term hosts. To be a permanent resident, you must reside in your unit for at least 275 nights per year. Absentee owners who live in San Francisco less than 275 days per year are not eligible to engage in short-term rentals.

Permanent residents are allowed to rent out their primary residences, but not locations in which they don't live, or second or vacation homes.

An owner of a multi-unit building may only register and rent the specific residential unit in which he or she resides. However, bedrooms in the same unit may be rented and listed separately.

Insurance Requirement

Hosts are required to be covered by liability insurance with at least $500,000 in coverage. Alternatively, they may offer their units for rent through a hosting service that offers at least this much coverage. Airbnb, for example, automatically provides hosts with $1 million in coverage.

Building Code Compliance

Your unit may not have any unresolved building, housing, or planning code complaints. You can check this by searching for your property on the San Francisco Property Information Map. Hosts are also required to post a clearly printed sign inside the front door of the unit showing the location of all fire extinguishers in the unit and building, gas shut off valves, fire exits, and pull fire alarms.

Special Concerns for Tenants

Any tenant who wants to become a host should read his or her lease carefully to determine whether it bars subletting the unit without the landlord's permission--such restrictions are common. If permission is required, the tenant should obtain it before registering the unit. If a tenant registers his or her rental unit with the Office of Short-Term Rentals, the Office will send the landlord a letter notifying the landlord of the tenant's intention to be a host. San Francisco's short-term rental law does not affect lease restrictions against subletting. A landlord may evict a tenant who violates such a lease restriction. However, a tenant must be given 30 days' notice to cure a first violation before an eviction is allowed.

Registration Requirements

Hosts must register with both the San Francisco Treasurer & Tax Collector and Office of Short-Term Rentals.

Register with Treasurer & Tax Collector

All hosts must register with the San Francisco Treasurer and Tax Collector and obtain a business registration number, also called a Business Account Number or BAN. Such registration is free.

Register with Office of Short-Term Rentals

Hosts are also required to register with the Office of Short-Term Rentals and pay a $250 fee. Such registration may be done online, by mail, or in person. You must have your BAN number to complete this registration. If your application is approved, the Office of Short-Term Rentals will issue a short-term rental certificate by postal mail. The certificate is good for two years.

Your short-term rental will be listed and tracked by the city in a registry. The registry listings are available to the public, with the permanent resident names redacted.

Ongoing Compliance

Once you become a registered short-term rental host, you must perform ongoing compliance tasks.

Comply with 90-Day Rental Limit

San Francisco's short-term rental law limits rentals where the host is not present in the unit to a maximum of 90 days per year. Violators who continue to rent out their apartments beyond the 90 days are subject to a daily fine of $484 for first offenders and up to $968 for repeat offenders.

"Hosted rentals"--rentals where the host is present in the unit--are not subject to this limit.

File Quarterly Reports

The law does not require hosting websites such as Airbnb to track how many days a year a unit listed on its website is rented or attempt to enforce the 90-day rule through booking restrictions. Instead, individual hosts are required to keep track themselves and self-report the number of days a unit is rented as a short-term rental. You are required to file such a report with the Office of Short Term Rentals each calendar quarter.

Comply with Rent Control Laws

Hosts who are tenants in rent controlled units are not allowed to charge their guests more rent in any month than they are paying to their landlord. Tenants who violate this provision may be fined up to $1,000 per day and could have their units de-listed.

Pay Hotel Taxes

The 14% San Francisco hotel tax--called the "Transient Occupancy Tax"--must be collected from renters and paid to the city. Hosts who list their rental through a "qualified website company" need not collect or remit the hotel tax themselves--the rental platform can do it for them. Currently, Airbnb is the only qualified website company that collects and pays such taxes for its hosts. Hosts that don't rent through a qualified website company must collect and remit the hotel tax themselves. Any such host who earns more than $40,000 per year must obtain a certificate of authority to collect taxes from the Treasurer & Tax Collector and pay the tax monthly; others may pay the tax annually.

File and Pay Business Personal Property Tax

Hosts are required to report an inventory of their business personal property and potentially pay a tax on that property annually. Hosts are required to submit Form 571-STR with the City of San Francisco Assessors Office. If you have previously submitted Form 571-STR for your hosting services and your personal property was valued at less than $50,000, you may not need to re-submit again. Visit the Assessors website to learn more about this exclusion.

Renew Business Certificate Annually

You must renew your business registration certificate every year with the Treasurer & Tax Collector. Renewals are due every May 31st and can be submitted online.

Renew OSTR Certificate Biannually

You must renew your certificate issued by the Office of Short-Term Rentals every two years and pay a $250 renewal fee.

Talk to a Lawyer

Need a lawyer? Start here.

How it Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you
Get Professional Help

Talk to a Real Estate attorney.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you