Airbnb Driving Conversations About Neighborhoods, Oversight

The fast-growing online booking platform Airbnb is triggering policy conversations about local regulations, taxation, and land use

Two recent articles from the online site Grist discuss policy implications of homeowners offering short-term stays through online booking platforms like Airbnb.

From a May 6 article:

In the beginning, Airbnb was hailed as a savior for travelers and renters alike. Travelers would no longer be forced to shell out for overpriced hotels, and locals could open their homes to visitors and generate money to help pay the rent. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement, with the hospitality industry bearing the brunt of the disruption. But eight years after it launched, Airbnb isn’t just hurting the Marriotts and Holiday Inns of the world; it’s hurting people who rent.

The original idea behind Airbnb was that people could rent out air mattresses or spare rooms in their own homes, but the platform quickly expanded to include rentals of whole apartments and houses. Then landlords started to realize that they could bring in vastly more money by offering short-term rentals on sites like Airbnb and HomeAway than by offering year-long leases to traditional tenants. That’s why Towers and other critics blame Airbnb for gentrification, displacement, and the rising cost of rent.

A follow-up item on May 13 discussed initial forays into “neighbor incentives” by local governments abroad to target illegal rentals:

Rental services like Airbnb and VRBO take up valuable real estate for short-term stays. This can mean that housing supply goes down, rent goes up, and residents get displaced by visitors, as we noted last week. That’s a big enough problem that now at least two German cities are asking their citizens to snitch on neighbors who are illegally renting homes to tourists.

Berlin, which has banned most vacation apartment rentals, has a website that enables people to anonymously inform on law-breaking landlords. And now Munich, which has also introduced laws cracking down on short-term rentals, is considering launching a snitch site as well, CityLab’s Feargus O’Sullivan reports. Even before the city’s leaders started talking about setting up such a site, the Munich Renters’ Association publicized an email address that people can use to tattle on their neighbors.

Legislation was introduced in Maryland in 2016 to address taxation of Airbnb and comparable services, but did not advance. MACo signaled its willingness to sort through details of the bill – such conversations seem likely in the interim period before the 2017 session.

A different bill moved through the Virginia legislature in 2016, but was converted in the latest stages to a study.

MACo’s budget and finance affiliate is planning to discuss taxation and oversight of short-term rentals at its upcoming meeting, a setting to assess current practices and county perspectives on potential statewide legislation.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties