Top 5 Recent Airbnb Stories
A Berlin ban, San Francisco crackdown, Chicago ordinance, New Orleans controversy and Connecticut-wide tax requirement highlight the war over Airbnb.
Airbnb, a platform which connects hosts with travelers and boasts access to home-like accommodations in 191+ countries, takes a beating this week as cities ban short-term rentals, pass rules governing them or impose taxes on the transactions.
1. Berlin Ban on Airbnb Short-Term Rentals Upheld by City Court
By Philip Oltermann
Tourists planning to pop over to Berlin for a weekend break may have to give up on the hipster dream of living like a local in a spacious loft apartment, and get back into the habit of staying in an old-fashioned hotel room instead.
Airbnb and other short-term letting agencies face a bleak future in the German capital after the city’s administrative court on Wednesday upheld a de facto ban on short-term rentals, in a landmark ruling that could inspire similar restrictions in cities around Europe.
Under the ban, in effect since 1 May, people who let more than 50% of their apartment on a short-term basis without a permit from the city risk a fine of €100,000 (£78,000).
Landlords will still be able to let individual rooms as long as they use at least half of the apartment for themselves. Home exchange, where two parties agree to swap their apartments for a period of time, will also be unaffected by the ban.
The city senate has set up a website where users can give anonymous tipoffs about Airbnb usage, and officials for popular districts such as Mitte have announced they will reject 95% of permit requests.
2. Airbnb Is None Too Pleased About San Francisco’s New Crackdown
By Davey Alba
Airbnb is speaking out against tough new legislation in San Francisco that would require short-term rental sites to police their own listings for properties that violate city regulations.
This week, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors voted 10-0 to toughen short-term rental laws already on the books. The city already requires hosts renting out their places on Airbnb to register with the city, though that’s proven difficult to enforce. But with a bulked-up progressive majority following the election of Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who campaigned on housing affordability, the board decided it needed to crack down harder. The new rules demand that Airbnb and sites like it only publish listings that include an official registration number that shows the property is officially approved by the city as a short-term rental. Sites that don’t comply could face fines of up to $1,000 daily for each listing in violation.
Needless to say, Airbnb is against the new regulations. The company argues it is merely a platform that connects would-be renters and hosts, and that it’s not responsible for hosts that don’t comply with the law. It cities a provision of the Communications Decency Act that absolves online intermediaries from blame for content users of those platforms post.
“An estimated 1,200 San Franciscans avoided foreclosure or eviction by hosting on Airbnb,” an Airbnb spokesperson said in an emailed statement to WIRED, in keeping with the company’s longstanding contention that allowing hosts to rent out their places on the site enable them to help cover housing costs in San Francisco’s soaring market. “This legally questionable proposal puts their housing at risk without offering any real solutions to fix the complex process.”
3. Airbnb Regulations Could Prove Costly for Chicago
By Eric Boehm
John Norton wanted to invest in property in downtown Chicago, but city officials have convinced him to stay away.
If he was going to move downtown, Norton planned to offset the higher rents by renting out part of his space via room-sharing services like Airbnb, he told Watchdog in an email.
With the city government in the process of approving onerous new regulations for Airbnb users, though, he says he’s reconsidering that plan.
“I wanted to invest in downtown property,” Norton wrote. “I’m not going to bother now.”
If Chicago’s proposed Airbnb ordinance is approved, it will mean higher regulatory standards and taxes for the estimated 4,500 hosts across the city. It would also limit those hosts to renting their space no more than 120 days per year, with some city officials arguing that the limit should be even stricter.
4. Airbnb Agrees To Have Hosts Collect State Taxes
By Daniela Altimari
As part of an emerging effort to capture tax dollars generated by the rapidly growing sharing economy, Connecticut is poised to begin collecting taxes from Airbnb.
Beginning on July 1, Airbnb's more than 1,800 active home-rental hosts in Connecticut will collect the 15 percent hotel tax, and remit the money to the cash-strapped state. Airbnb users were notified late Wednesday of the agreement, which was negotiated by company officials and tax commissioner Kevin B. Sullivan over several months.
"For people across the state of Connecticut, Airbnb is making it possible to make ends meet, pay the bills and stay in their homes," said Josh Meltzer, regional director of public policy for Airbnb. "Thanks to the leadership of Connecticut officials, our community can now contribute new tax revenue to their communities and continue to bring new revenue and visitors to hundreds of Connecticut local businesses."
"This agreement allows the state of Connecticut to harness the economic impact of home sharing while also making it easier for Airbnb hosts — the vast majority of whom are middle class people sharing their own home — to comply with local tax laws," Meltzer said. "We look forward to working with state officials to implement this agreement."
Connecticut will join several states that collect the taxes, including North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and Alabama, as well as more than 150 municipalities.
5. Airbnb Pits Neighbor Against Neighbor in Tourist-Friendly New Orleans
By Rob Walker
Talk to the locals in certain New Orleans neighborhoods — from the historic and genteel Garden District uptown to the dense and increasingly trendy Bywater downriver — and you can be pretty sure that one topic will come up eventually: Airbnb.
With crime, potholes and the Saints, the home-sharing economy has become one of the city’s default topics, bickered about in countless informal conversations, through snarky signs (“Won’t You B&B My Neighbor?”) and increasingly in public forums where city officials, and the citizenry, argue over what to do about it.
Everybody has an opinion. Some are distraught at revelers leaving “floors covered with vomit” in residential buildings and “short-term strangers” squeezing out long-term residents. But just as passionate are people who say renting rooms on Airbnb has brought them enough cash to rehabilitate properties or cover the mortgage after a layoff or after Hurricane Katrina. All of those arguments were made in September at a planning commission hearing on the subject — a meeting that lasted more than two hours despite a time limit on comments.
That hearing began a process that is supposed to resolve how to handle short-term rentals in New Orleans. Blurring the lines between residential and commercial land use, home-sharing platforms have created a unique and thorny regulatory problem — a “hybrid” that “doesn’t really fit into the typical boxes,” as Robert D. Rivers, the executive director of the New Orleans planning commission, puts it. The technology design that has disrupted the hospitality industry has also disrupted civic life and public policy making.