FAQ – San Francisco Ordinance for Short-Term Rentals

Last modified: January 22, 2015

In 2014, San Francisco passed legislation regulating short-term vacation rentals in the City and County of San Francisco. This new law is scheduled to take effect as of February 1, 2015. The regulation of short-term rentals is set forth in San Francisco Administrative Code Chapters 37 and 41A, which can be found at http://www.sf-planning.org/index.aspx?page=4004.

In order to help homeowners get in compliance with this new law, we have provided answers to frequently asked questions regarding the law and how it may apply to your rental property.

1. What kinds of rentals are covered by the new law?
A: The new law applies to the rental of all residential dwellings, including single-family residences, condominiums and apartments, for less than 30 days. 

2. Who can offer short-term vacation rentals?
A: Permanent residents may rent their property on a short-term basis. 

3. What if I am a business that owns and rents property in San Francisco?
A: A corporation, partnership or other legal entity that is not a natural person may not rent property in San Francisco on a short-term basis. 

4. I do not own the property, but am the permanent resident and am legally allowed to rent it out. Am I eligible to register the property?
A: Yes, a permanent resident may be an owner or a tenant. 

5. Can I rent a room or other portion of my property when I am present?
A: Yes, you still need to register your property as a short-term rental, but you may rent the unit for an unlimited number of nights per year while you are present.

6. Who regulates short-term rentals in San Francisco?
A: The San Francisco Planning Department has been charged with managing short-term rentals in San Francisco. The Director of the San Francisco Planning Department has the authority to enforce the law. 

7. What do I need to do prior to offering my property as a short-term rental?
A: You must register your property with the San Francisco Planning Department prior to offering or listing your Property for short-term rental. 

8. How do I register my property for short-term rentals?
A: You may find the registration application online at the Planning Information Center.

To register your property, the permanent resident will need to make an appointment with the San Francisco Planning Department to submit the application in person. 

9. What will I need to show on my application for short-term rental?
A: You will need to establish that you are the permanent resident of the property by providing residency records, and that the property is your primary residence by providing at least two forms of identification among: motor vehicle registration, a driver’s license, voter registration, tax documents showing the residence for the purposes of a homeowner’s tax exemption, or a utility bill, in each case issued at least 60 days prior to the date of the application. You will also need a Business Registration Certificate from the San Francisco Treasurer and Tax Collector’s Office, and proof of liability insurance. 

10. How long does registration with the San Francisco Planning Department take?
A: The law does not specify how long it will take to register your property. The San Francisco Planning Department has indicated that completed applications will be reviewed within fifteen (15) business days. If approved, you will receive a registration number by mail. You may not offer your property for short-term rental without receiving a registration number from the San Francisco Planning Department. 

11. Is there an application fee?
A: Yes, there is an application fee of $50 for fiscal year 2014-2015. This fee may be adjusted by the San Francisco Planning Department.

12. How long does my registration last?
A: Registration currently lasts for 2 years; however, if you are found in violation the city could take away your right to rent for a year. After the initial registration period, you may make a renewal application to extend your registration. 

13. May I use a hosting platform such as Airbnb, VRBO or Home Away? 
A: Yes, you may advertise your registered property on any and all hosting platforms under the condition that you list your registration number at the top of all listings’ descriptions.

14. What is the difference between a hosting platform and a business entity that is involved in renting out my home? 
A: There is no difference. The permanent resident must maintain a valid registration for the property, but there are no restrictions on how the property is marketed.

15. What do I need to know about taxes? 
A: You are required to comply with the San Francisco Business and Tax Regulations Code, including the collection and remission of all required Transient Occupancy Taxes.

You may also be subject to other taxes and fees, such as income tax and business license fees. 

16. Do I need to have insurance or special insurance for my property?
A: Yes, an owner or tenant offering property on a short-term basis must carry at least $500,000 in liability insurance that specifically covers losses arising from short-term rental activities, unless equivalent insurance is provided by the hosting platform through which the rental is arranged.  

17. Do I need to register to operate a rental property in San Francisco?
A: Yes, in order to receive a registration number from the San Francisco Planning Department for your property, you must obtain a San Francisco Business Registration Certificate from the San Francisco Treasurer and Tax Collector’s Office.

18. Do I need to comply with any other laws?
A: Yes, you may not rent illegal residential units or un-permitted spaces associated with your property. Additionally, your property must not have any outstanding planning, building, housing, fire, health, policy or other applicable San Francisco code violations.

19.What happens if I’m found in violation of the short-term rental ordinance?
A: If you are discovered to be illegally offering a short-term rental, you will have thirty days to correct your violation. 

20. How will I know that I am in violation of the short-term rental ordinance?
A: You will get a notice from the San Francisco Planning Department requiring you to stop short-term rental by a certain date.

21. What if my property is rent controlled, are there any restrictions that apply to the short-term rental of rent controlled properties? 
A:Yes, you must obtain your landlord’s consent, comply with the initial rent limitation for subtenants and charge no more rent than they are allowed to charge subtenants under the San Francisco Rent Control Law.

22. What records am I responsible for keeping on file?
A: In addition to keeping records establishing your permanent residency, you are responsible for keeping records of the collection of the transient occupancy tax, and the number of nights you have rented out your home. These can be in the form of receipts from a hosting platform or other service provider.

23. How long do I have to keep these records?
A: You must keep the records for two years; they are subject to audit by the San Francisco Planning Department during this time.


Additional Resources:

1. Airbnb's Host Help Article

2. Short-Term Rental Registration Help 

3. Registration Application 

4. SF Planning Department's FAQ

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