Accommodation Pioneer Faces Angry Housing Authorities In San Francisco, Paris, Berlin, and Beyond
It was only a matter of time before the wild success of online room-sharing service AirBnB started to piss people off.
At first, it was just hotels that were mad. Since 2008, AirBnB has been making a serious dent in hotel profits by offering travellers significantly cheaper accommodation options, primarily in people’s private homes. In this way, AirBnB is to hotels what Uber is to traditional taxis.
Tourists can connect with locals via the AirBnB website and rent beds, rooms, or entire houses for a fraction of the price of a typical hotel room or vacation rental.
But now, thanks in part to aggressive anti-AirBnB campaigns funded by the hotel industry, the housing authorities in many world cities have joined the fight to shut AirBnB down (or, at least seriously modify their business model).
In San Francisco last November, AirBnB spent $8 million to defeat a proposition that would’ve required AirBnB hosts to submit regular reports of their rental activities to the City. The measure would have also required hosts to show documentation that their property was authorized for short term rentals, and would have further limited the number of days per year a person can rent out a property short-term.
Berlin, Paris, and Barcelona have similar bones to pick with AirBnB, their complaints ranging from the so-called ‘party atmosphere’ invoked by short term renters, to the exacerbation of already-problematic housing shortages.
According to the company, the majority of listed rentals on AirBnB’s website are posted by individuals, not commercial rental properties or hotels. However, those who oppose AirBnB fear that the commercial property owners who do use AirBnB are starting to favor lucrative short-term renters over long-term tenants. After all, if you can charge $2000/month for a two-bedroom apartment ($66/night), or $125/night per room in the same unit, which would you choose?
Critics of AirBnB claim that long-term tenants are getting kicked out of their rental units to make way for out-of-town travellers and the higher prices they command. Long-term rental space then becomes scarcer, increasing housing shortages and driving up housing prices in already expensive cities like Paris, San Francisco, and Berlin.
City officials in Europe and the United States complain that unregulated short-term rentals can’t be properly taxed, monitored, or held to the same safety standards as hotels and other commercial properties. In Berlin, civic leaders are particularly worried about travellers disrupting local residents by their drinking, partying, and late night comings and goings.
In the past several years, San Francisco and Paris have passed measures to limit the number of days per year a room or property can be rented, as well as the type of properties that can be listed on sites like AirBnB.
With the majority of AirBnB listings being posted by individuals, not real estate investors or hotels, it seems counter-intuitive to crack down on rentals that encourage tourism and help locals pay their bills.
However, limited housing is a real problem in many of the world’s most-visited cities. Owners whose aim it is to purchase much-needed real estate for the specific purpose of renting it out short-term should be regulated. If they’re not, dwindling housing space could easily lead to skyrocketing housing costs in cities that are already among the priciest in the world.
AirBnB should work with city officials to clearly demarcate between the Average Joe or Jane who wants to rent their spare bedroom to a traveller, and Mr. Bigwig Real Estate Investor who wants to kick out long-term residents to make more money with short-term rentals.
Travellers should have increasingly low-cost ways to explore the world in the new sharing economy, but only if their impact on the cities they visit remains a positive one.
Rebecca Anne Nguyen is a freelance writer and the Founder of TheHappyPassport.com, an inspiration site for solo female travellers.