Guide to Laws for Airbnbs and Other Short Term Rentals in the San Francisco Bay Area

What is a “short term rental” or “vacation rental”?

“Short-term rental” (sometimes abbreviated as “STR”) or “short term lease” generally means renting a unit, like an apartment or house, for a relatively short period of time. The specific time period varies by city or other governing body (such as a Homeowners Association), but is usually defined as less than 30 or 31 days, but can be as long as 3 months or even 6 months.

Any rental for longer than the short-term rental period is a standard or long-term rental.

People often rent short term for vacations or business trips. The most popular sites for advertising short term rentals include AirBnB and VRBO/HomeAway. Many people often simply refer to short term rentals as “an Airbnb rental.”

Can I list my place on AirBnB?

The legal situation for short term rentals is changing rapidly, and we intend to keep this page as up to date as possible.

Many cities restrict or even completely ban short-term rentals. Of those that allow them, most require you to register your unit and also to collect a “hotel tax” (Airbnb and VRBO have agreements with many cities to do this automatically). Some cities only allow STRs in “owner-occupied” properties or units, banning “whole-home” listings. Others allow STRs only in certain neighborhoods such as commercial zones and not residential zones.

Cities may also consider “hosting” a short-term rental as a business so you would likely need to get a “business license” with the city.

Also, depending on if you are a renter or a homeowner, there may be additional restrictions, which you can find towards the bottom of the page.

Here are some specific rules and regulations for various cities in California.

Note: If you can’t find your city here, it may actually be a neighborhood within one of these cities – see What City Am I in? Also check out our page for other cities around the country and other cities in California.

  • San Francisco – You can rent short term a portion or your entire unit while you are also present for an unlimited number of nights per year. You can rent a portion or your entire unit while you are not present for a maximum of 90 total nights per year. But you must register your unit and pay $250 fee (can also be done directly through Airbnb). Violators are subject to fines of up to $1,000/day, and Airbnb is now removing non compliant listings.
  • Berkeley – Short term rentals are allowed only in your primary residence, but not in a rent controlled unit, and not in certain “accessory dwelling units.” See city of Berkeley website for more.
  • Oakland – No clear laws on short term rentals, so it is probably not illegal.
  • Sausalito – Complete ban on short term rentals
  • Santa Rosa – Treats short term rentals as “hotels,” and owners must collect the hotel taxes. See more here.

Are there any additional restrictions for homeowners?

If you own a property within a Homeowners Association (HOA) or Co-op, you are subject to the HOA or Co-op rules as well, which often restrict short term rentals. HOA rules are often more restrictive than city rules, for example, sometimes banning rentals of less than 90 days. If the city laws conflict with HOA rules, in general, the more restrictive rules apply. So, if the city says no rentals of less than 30 days, and the HOA says no rentals of less than 90 days, then the 90 day rule applies.

Check with your HOA Board for rules, often called the CC&Rs (covenants, conditions, and restrictions).

I rent an apartment or house. Can I legally put it on AirBnB?

Probably not, but check your lease. In addition to the above laws and rules, if you are renting a unit, your lease most likely has a restriction on any and all “subletting.” Some leases say you can sublet if you get approval from your landlord (but they almost definitely will not allow you to AirBnB the place). However, if by chance your lease says nothing about subletting or “assignment” of the unit, and if it wouldn’t violate any of the above laws, then you probably do have the legal right to AirBnB it.

Is it illegal to put a camera inside an AirBnB?

In California, it is generally illegal to record guests inside an AirBnB without their consent. But recording anything on the exterior of a house is generally OK. See more at our Guide to Privacy Rights.

Resources

Find options for getting legal help in the San Francisco area.

Related Pages

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