Growing Restrictions on Airbnb Spark Controversy

New Restrictions in San Diego and New York City

By Kaitlyn Wallace

Within days of each other, San Diego and New York City passed actions to significantly restrict Airbnb and other home sharing-services. This action has sparked relief and anger from respective sides of the debate on the freedom Airbnb possesses to operate independent of government oversight.

In San Diego, the new regulations prohibit Airbnb use in second homes, impose a three-night minimum on rentals in some areas, and establish high licensing fees for rentals of entire homes among other strict regulations.

In New York City, a new bill would require home-sharing companies to provide the address, owner’s name, and property information of all homes up for short-term stays for New York City’s Office of Special Enforcement. Failure to report would result in heavy fines. Further, the bill would aid enforcement of current state law, which states that rentals for less than 30 days are illegal in most apartments if the permanent tenant is not living there.

These regulations are a win for groups like AirbnbWATCH—a coalition of organizations attempting to curb the power of Airbnb to allow what they call “illegal hotels”, and hotel workers unions and hotel industry lobbyists, which have seen the hotel industry threatened by the more affordable home-sharing option.

The argument for such restrictions is multifaceted. For one, lawmakers are trying to prevent abuses of online home-sharing companies. In New York City especially, there have been growing concerns over the new practice of landlords renting only to vacationers rather than permanent residents, essentially creating unregulated illegal hotels. And when apartments are taken off the market for long-term renters, it leaves less space and less housing for permanent residents — commodities already scarce in cities like New York and San Diego. In fact, a report by New York City Comptroller’s Office found that Airbnb was significantly contributing to New York’s affordable housing crisis, costing renters $616 million in 2016 alone. Another concern comes from neighbors disrupted by a constant flow of vacationers in and out of their neighborhoods.

Airbnb disagrees with these arguments, reminding lawmakers that home-sharing options are in general far less expensive than traditional hotels. Without access to their affordable vacation options, they say, vacationers will go elsewhere, decreasing the city’s tourism and tax revenue. Airbnb also claims that the rulings will make it harder for ordinary citizens who are trying to make ends meet by renting out unused room in their apartments or listing their apartment while out of town, and that the listing regulations would be a violation of their users’ privacy. Airbnb also accused lawmakers of being influenced by powerful hotel lobbies and declared that the regulations would never hold up in court.

The effects of these regulations will be sweeping: in San Diego, mayor Elyse Lowe estimated that as many as 8,800 vacation homes would be affected, and in New York, the total is even higher, with as many as 50,000 vacation units affected. These numbers agree with precedent; after San Francisco passed its own set of regulations on the home-share industry, listings fell by more than half. The range of these kinds of regulations is expanding as well, with New York and San Diego joining other cities like New Orleans, Barcelona, Vancouver and Paris to heavily regulate Airbnb and other home-sharing services.

AirbnbWATCH continues to advocate for stronger oversight of these companies. They stated through their press contact, Lauren Windsor, that “AirbnbWATCH strongly supports these pieces of legislation that will provide greater protection for residential communities, and support greater housing access and affordability for New York and San Diego residents… there is great momentum building across the country to rein in Airbnb, to stand up for city residents and take neighborhoods back.” MM&E

Kaitlyn Wallace is a contributing writer from St. Louis, Missouri.

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