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San Francisco voters side with Airbnb

A ballot initiative to limit the number of days residents could rent out their homes did not pass in San Francisco on Tuesday.
A billboard funded by Airbnb shows opposition to Proposition F in downtown San Francisco, Calif., on Nov. 3, 2015. (Photo by Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty)
A billboard funded by Airbnb shows opposition to Proposition F in downtown San Francisco, Calif., on Nov. 3, 2015. 

Voters in San Francisco struck down a restriction on short-term housing rentals on Tuesday, giving a win to companies such as Airbnb.

The ballot initiative Proposition F would have limited the number of days hosts on Airbnb or other sites could rent out their homes from 90 days a year to 75 days a year. That 75 days would include rentals whether the host is home or not, but the 90 days only limits the number of rentals when the host is not home.

The proposition was defeated 55% to 45%, with about 130,000 people voting.

Leading up to the vote, there was an expensive fight between Airbnb and supporters of the measure. Airbnb raised over $8 million to oppose the proposition, and supports of it, including San Francisco Tenants and Families for Affordable Housing and ShareBetter SF, raised about $800,000.

Protesters in support of the measure demonstrated at the headquarters of Airbnb the day before the vote. They argue that the majority of hosts do not follow the current laws and short-term rentals take much-needed housing off the market.

Airbnb and other opponents of the measure say short-term rentals help residents pay the increasingly expensive rent in the city.

Separate from the $8 million campaign, Airbnb also launched a series of ads to promote the $12 million it contributes in city hotel taxes. The billboards are written as letters to public workers and facilities, encouraging them to use some of that money.

“Dear Public Library System, We hope you use some of the $12 million in hotel taxes to keep the library open later,” one billboard read.

“Dear SF Tax Collector, You know the $12 million in hotel taxes? Don’t spend it all in one place,” another said.

The ads, however, offended some San Francisco residents, including one resident who pointed out that only 1.4% of that tax money goes to the public libraries, which does not provide enough to pay workers to stay extra hours.

“Had you donated that $8 million you spent fighting Proposition F directly to the public libraries you love so much, that could have made a bigger difference,” she wrote in a Facebook post.

The company has since said it will take the ads down.

Since Proposition F was a ballot initiative, it can only be amended through another ballot initiative. The law likely won’t change for a year, but some proponents say they will have another version on the ballot next election day, so the fight against short-term rentals is far from over. Airbnb has faced similar battles with other cities, including New York, in the past year.