Business Licensing in San Francisco
This page is here to help give you a starting point to find out about some of the obligations that may apply to you if you decide to host Trips or Experiences on Airbnb. It’s for your information only and includes summaries of some of the rules that may apply to different sorts of activities, and contain links to official resources that you may find helpful.
Please understand that these information pages are not comprehensive, and are not legal advice. If you are unsure about how local laws or this information may apply to you or your Trip or Experience, we encourage you to check with official sources or seek legal advice.
Please note that we don’t update this information in real time, so you should confirm that the law has not changed recently.*
Could I be considered a business in the eyes of the law? What should I be thinking about if I am considered a business?I’m hosting Experiences or a Trip in San Francisco, am I operating a “business”?
If you do the following for 7 days or more (or for a part of each day for 7 days or more) in a calendar year, then yes:
- Solicit business
- Perform work or provide services in San Francisco for money or other benefit, advantage or gain (for example, to benefit a non-profit), or
- Drive a motor vehicle on City streets for business purposes
If you plan to advertise or host Experiences in San Francisco for any part of 7 days this calendar year, then the City will probably consider you to be operating a business and require you to register as a business. For more information, see San Francisco Business and Tax Regulations Code (Article 6, Section 6.2-12).
If you host a Trip or Experience for less than 7 days, the City will probably still consider you to be operating a business (and to have to register as a business) if your Trip or Experience involves renting personal or real property (for example, whether you’re a home host or a trip host who rents a yoga studio to host your Experience or rents an item like a bike, a boat, or a karaoke machine).Are there registration requirements for San Francisco businesses?
Yes. If San Francisco considers you to be operating a business, you are required to register with the City.How can I register as a business in San Francisco?
If you meet the definition of a “business”, you need to register as a business in San Francisco within 15 days of when you first run your Trip or Experience within the City.
Here are the steps to register. This list is by no means exhaustive, so please check out the San Francisco Business Portal and contact the City of San Francisco or speak to a lawyer to make sure you’ve met all of the requirements.
Step 1: Choose your business structure. First, you’ll need to choose your preferred business structure: a Sole Proprietorship, Partnership, Corporation, or a Limited Liability Company. Go here to learn more about what these different types of business structures mean.
Sole Proprietorships are the simplest way to start a new business if you’re the only business owner and person responsible for your business’s assets and liabilities. Unlike the other business structures, Sole Proprietorships have less paperwork (you don’t need to file anything with the state), and there is no minimum tax imposed by the California Franchise Tax Board (other structures have to pay an annual minimum tax of $800).
Step 2: Choose your business name. You’ll also need to name your new business. You won’t need to fill out any additional forms if you plan to use your own name (such as “John Smith”); just fill your name on the city registration applications. Since Trip Hosts on Airbnb typically use their own name on their Listings, this option should generally work for Hosts.
If you don’t want to use your own legal name for your business, you must register a fictitious business name (FBN). To do this, first make sure that the name you want is available using the City’s FBN search. Then register your business with the SF Treasurer and Tax Collector (discussed below, in step 4). Once you’re registered, file an FBN Statement, along with a filing fee of $50 with the County Clerk within 40 days of starting your business (or hosting your first Experience or Trip). In addition you’ll need to advertise your business name in one of the newspapers listed here for four weeks within 30 days from filing the FBN statement.
Step 3: Choose your business location. To register with the City, you’ll need to include the address where you run your business (i.e., a business address, shared workspace, or at home). If you run a business out of your home and you live in a Residential or Neighborhood Commercial zone, the San Francisco Planning Department requires you to use your home predominantly as a place to live, not as a place of business. This means:
- You shouldn’t run a business office open to the general public out of your home;
- No more than one-third of the total floor area of the home can be used for business purposes;
- No advertising can be added to the home;
- You can’t physically change the home in a way that makes it non-residential; and
- No employees who do not already live in the home may come to the home for business purposes. There’s one exception if you run a Cottage Food Operation, which allows you to have one employee that doesn’t live with you in the home.
For more details, check out the San Francisco Planning Code. You should also check with the City or speak to a lawyer before conducting an Experience out of your home.
Step 4: Register with the SF Treasurer and Tax Collector. Within 15 days of when you first run your Trip or Experience within the City, you’ll need to register with the SF Treasurer and Tax Collector for a SF Business Tax Registration Certificate online. You’ll be asked to describe your business structure, business name, applicable third party taxes, and Business Activities (like “Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation”).
Step 5: Pay your City Registration fee. You’ll need to pay a registration fee based on the total amount of money you expect to earn from your Experiences or Trips during the calendar year. For most Trip Hosts, an application fee will be around $91 (which covers Hosts who earn up to $100,000 per calendar year for Business Activities like “Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation”).
Registration must be renewed each year by May 31st; renewal registration fees are calculated based on how much you actually earned from your business in the preceding tax year.
Step 6: Register with the Office of the Assessor-Recorder. When you receive your Business Registration Certificate from the Office of the Treasurer and Tax Collector, you’ll also need to register with the San Francisco Office of the Assessor-Recorder, the agency that identifies all taxable property in the City. To do so, you’ll need to send a New Business Registration form to the Assessor.
The Assessor’s office may ask you for more information (such as listing all your supplies, equipment and other property you use to run your Experiences/Trips/business in a Form 571-L ). This is the form the Assessor will use to determine your business property tax.
Tip: As a small service business, you may have very little or no taxable business property. You should still file the Form 571-L if you receive a notice from the Assessor's office, because if you do not, you may get penalties or you may miss out on tax exemptions that could benefit you.
Example: Anne is a trip host who runs experiences one week per month where she brings her guests to her favorite restaurants and cocktail bars in the Mission. She runs her experiences alone, and makes about $1,000 per month, which helps her supplement her earnings as an artist.
Anne registers as a business in San Francisco within 15 days of when she first runs her experience on Airbnb. She:
- Picks a Sole Proprietorship structure;
- Decides to use her own legal name to register as a business (that’s how she lists her trip on Airbnb anyway);
- Picks her own home as her business address;
- Registers her business with the SF Treasurer and Tax Collector online and pays her $91 registration fee, and then
- Once she has her Business Tax Certificate, Anne sends in her New Business Registration form to the Office of the Assessor.
So far, Anne has paid $91 in registration fees to register her business. Anne will likely continue to pay $91 in business registration renewal fees every year assuming she doesn’t make more than $100,000 a year from her Trips.
Is there anything else I should be thinking about?
Yes. You should consider the following.Activities and licenses
Depending on the activities involved in your Trip or Experience, you may need to register, obtain licenses, or follow specific rules that apply to that activity. Our section on the various activity specific topics covers some of the typical activities, but it is not exhaustive. You should always check with the City or speak to a lawyer to determine which permits and licenses may be required for the experiences you are offering.Employees
If you plan to hire employees as part of your business, you may also be required to obtain an employer identification number (EIN) from the IRS.
Note: A sole proprietor without employees can use their Social Security Number instead of EIN. The IRS also provides other useful information on taxes that apply to small businesses.Tax and accounting
You should also check what tax and accounting rules apply to you, as you may need to pay personal income and sales tax in addition to business property tax. Also make sure you have the right insurance in place to cover all the activities you will be providing.
What resources are available to me to help me get set up as a business?
We encourage you to take advantage of the free resources provided by the San Francisco Office of Small Business, including the San Francisco Business Portal, as well as the SBA’s Small Business Start-Up Guide for Northern California. The California Franchise Tax Board and the IRS also provide useful information on taxes that apply to small businesses.
Are there additional laws that apply to me as a result of my being a registered business?
Yes. Several consumer protection laws, like the Federal Trade Commission Act, California’s Unfair Competition Law and the Consumer Legal Remedies Act, require you to truthfully describe your Trip or Experience in your Listing so your guests can make informed decisions. This means that:
- The information you provide to Guests must be accurate and not misleading,
- You accurately and completely describe in your Listing the main characteristics of your Trip or Experience, as well as what is included and any special terms and conditions (for example, my favorite local craft cocktail bar Experience includes the first round of drinks, but guests must pay for additional drinks out of pocket)
- You do not offer a service that you do not intend to provide
- Your price is accurate, and you do not List a Trip or Experience at one price and then charge an additional fee when your guests get there.
In sum, this means that you need to provide the services advertised in your Listing, within the advertised dates and times, at the advertised price. For more information, the FTC provides helpful guidance on truth-in-advertising, that we encourage you to review.
*Airbnb is not responsible for the reliability or correctness of the information contained in any links to third party sites (including any links to legislation and regulations).
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