Mayors, Your Constituents Agree: Regulate Airbnb

This weekend, mayors from all over the country will gather in Miami Beach for the annual U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting to discuss important issues affecting their cities. As issues surrounding commercial operators using platforms like Airbnb to run illegal hotels become more and more prominent in cities across the country, we are offering mayors a quick look at how their constituents feel about illegal hotels.

A new poll released this week found that an overwhelming majority of U.S. adults think that people and companies that make a living renting out apartments or houses on a short-term  basis on rental sites like Airbnb should be required to follow local zoning, health, and safety rules (91% agree); and should be subject to the same fire and safety regulations as a hotel (87% agree).

On top of that, 62% of respondents said Airbnb hosts shouldn’t be able to factor in personal information like race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or age, when deciding whether or not to rent out their property to a specific person.

Mayors, your constituents want action! Every day in communities across America, they are speaking out against the discriminatory practices, disruptive behavior, and safety problems Airbnb rental properties inflict on their neighborhoods.

Rutgers University study released earlier this month found that discrimination based on personal information is all too common, even after Airbnb claimed to recommit itself to a policy of “inclusion and respect.”

In just the past few weeks, we’ve seen more disturbing news nationwide. In Los Angeles, NBC4’s I-Team tracked an illegal hotel operator who was renting multiple apartments in buildings that do not allow Airbnb hosting to out-of-control and disruptive guests. Beyond negatively impacting the quality of life for the neighbors of these units, a local community advocacy group asserts that these illegal commercial hosts are exacerbating the LA affordable housing crisis.

Or look at D.C., where community leaders are raising their voices about the devastating impact of illegal hotels using Airbnb. The District’s attorney general recently filed a lawsuit against a company that was using Airbnb to violate the city’s Rental Housing Act, which prohibits apartment units being converted into transient rentals.

Despite all of these very real concerns, Airbnb is forging ahead with self-serving ‘agreements’ with cities across the country that help facilitate business on their platform with disregard to the best interest of your cities. Here’s a brief reminder of Airbnb’s approach to working with cities:

In Chicago, Airbnb played “political games” to deceive Chicagoans and launched a “seven-figure advertising campaign aimed at bullying Chicago policymakers” into supporting legislation favorable to the company.

In New York, Airbnb was caught purging data to make their operations look more benign in a report the company released to policy makers. Airbnb was caught red-handed removing more than 1,000 listings from hosts with multiple units. According to the Times:

Matt Mittenthal, a spokesman for New York’s attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, said, “If this analysis is accurate, it appears that Airbnb is again trying to downplay the number of illegal apartment listings on the site.”

“Airbnb continues to show a blatant disregard for New York laws designed to protect the rights of tenants and prevent the proliferation of illegal hotels,” he added.

In San Francisco, the city thought it had finally come to an understanding with the short-term rental platform with a bill that “became known as the ‘Airbnb law’ for its friendliness to the company,” but Airbnb ended up suing the city over whether it should have to help enforce the law that it helped pass.

In Los Angeles, Airbnb convinced the city to agree to a shady tax deal, so that the city can collect tax payments while it mulls over how to regulate rental activity that is currently illegal there. Activists and lawmakers alike fear that the tax collection is validating Airbnb’s illegal activity and influencing the policymaking process. According to Councilman Mike Bonin, “We need to let our regulations dictate how much revenue we receive, and not let potential revenue dictate what sort of regulations we craft.”

Why stop at a single city? In Florida, Airbnb has managed to procure sweetheart tax agreements in counties all over the state. No questions, one lump sum, no transparency – complete with a gag order for the county officials not to talk about the deals.

To the mayors nationwide attending this weekend’s conference, it’s clear that an overwhelming majority of your constituents favor stricter regulation on short-term rental sites like Airbnb. And if you think that Airbnb will play nicely, respect your laws, and pay their fair share, think again.

We simply ask you:  Will you allow short-term rentals companies like Airbnb to skirt regulations in order to profiteer off of your constituents?