By Bharat (Bruce) Patel, AAHOA Chairman (2016-2017)
When San Francisco’s “Airbnb law” took effect early last year, affordable-housing advocates breathed a collective sigh of relief: the law capped Airbnb’s whole-home short-term rentals and required hosts of the same to register with the city.
Their relief was premature. In the more than 18 months since the law passed, only 20 percent of San Francisco’s 7,000 whole-home hosts required to register have done so, and Airbnb has made no effort to eliminate noncompliant hosts. The city’s housing crunch has continued unabated and the hospitality-industry playing field remains woefully uneven.
As an organization of entrepreneurs and small-business owners, AAHOA members embrace competition. We compete with one another every single day, and that competition drives industry growth, compels us to relentless innovation, and is life-giving blood in the veins of American capitalism. Airbnb, as evidenced by its passive refusal to cooperate in San Francisco and outright lawbreaking in myriad other markets, has demonstrated repeatedly that it has no interest in preserving the system that made our country great. The company wants and clearly expects special treatment in the form of unregulated listings, tax-free earnings and zero liability.
State lawmakers around the country have reacted to Airbnb with varying degrees of unease, but most have opted, at least for now, to see what happens before taking action.
Miami is one notable exception. Several communities in the greater Miami metropolitan area have acted swiftly to pass ordinances forbidding home-rental agreements under one year and imposing extremely hefty fines (up to $100,000) for hosts who advertise whole-home short-term rentals on any website – not just Airbnb.
In February, the Austin (Texas) City Council, faced with strong evidence that temporary residents were disrupting established neighborhoods, voted to put a freeze on issuing new short-term rental permits through March 2017. A permanent citywide ban on short-term residential listings will take effect in April 2022.
Miami and Austin, unfortunately, are just drops in the bucket of Airbnb’s $30-billion empire. The real battleground is New York City, Airbnb’s largest American market and home to almost 40,000 Airbnb listings, an estimated 55 percent of which are illegal. Airbnb’s failure to comply with New York housing laws has resulted in a bill, pending approval by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, that would fine hosts up to $7,500 per illegal listing.
According to travel-industry news source Skift, New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council President Peter Ward believes that “Airbnb has been breaking laws with impunity for years, depleting affordable housing stock and threatening middle-class union hotel jobs.” Those offenses, along with Airbnb’s persistent refusal to participate fairly and responsibly in the lodging industry, threaten to destabilize countless American communities in the name of ill-gotten profits.
As responsible small-business owners, AAHOA members have a duty to staunchly oppose any entity that seeks an unfair market advantage. For the sake of our industry’s future and the preservation of an American Dream that only hard work can achieve, I ask you to use your political voice to tell our lawmakers that until it submits to a level playing field, Airbnb is not welcome in our industry or our communities.