By Melissa Dobstaff
The hospitality industry has been evolving, even more so since AirBed & Breakfast, aka “Airbnb” officially broke into the market back in 2008. Airbnb launched as an online marketplace and home-stay network that allows individuals to list and provide short-term lodging rentals in residential properties. Those who use Airbnb to list rentals are in charge of setting the prices, but in the end Airbnb receives a percentage from service fees generated from hosts and guests alike. Since its official launch back in 2008, Airbnb has grown to over 60 million guests, with more than 2 million listings worldwide. With such an innovative business model, policing Airbnb has always been an issue and now the company, as well as its hosts, are up against new obstacles when it comes to the law and policing this new niche in the market.
A recent development in policing Airbnb has been the emergence of companies like the Austin-based startup BNBShield or similarly SubletAlert, which operate with the purpose of catching tenants who are illegally renting out their apartments through Airbnb. BNBShield accomplishes this goal by using custom software technology that easily scours online listings in a given area in order to match information with known features in a given building. Through these efforts the companies will report their findings to Landlords who then in turn can elect how to proceed with the information, though typically they start with a warning, which can later be followed by more drastic measures, such as an eviction.
The need for policing Airbnb often stems from policy concerns, which includes safety and quality of life issues of other tenants who are potentially adversely impacted by these short-term rentals. Other reasons for policing Airbnb are more focused on the cities themselves collecting taxes and controlling noise, but either way regulating Airbnb is constantly an issue of debate. Issues arise between landlords and tenants as well as between property owners and cities, and the way in which to resolve disputes arising out of Airbnb listings will have to come about by way of regulation.
Short-term rentals are beneficial, but establishing a regulatory balance will help ensure that everyone benefits. As the Airbnb industry stands now, issues arising are almost demanding that we weigh the interest of the property owner, the tenant, and the community and determine which one trumps the rest. Though with a proper regulatory scheme everyone can win and benefit from using Airbnb. If we can strike a balance between complying with city standards for short-term rentals, while appeasing landlords who aren’t entirely keen on the idea of their tenants renting out their apartments for short-term sublets, then its possible that everyone involved stands to benefit from the industry.
While regulation of the Airbnb industry is key to its future success, finding the proper regulatory scheme is crucial, and not all that simple. Currently Airbnb is involved in a suit against the city of San Francisco, because while Airbnb supports regulation, it believes that San Francisco’s new rule forcing all Airbnb hosts to register with the city has gone too far. Regulation of Airbnb is necessary in order to protect the interests of all involved. Without regulation tenants can be evicted for subletting their apartments via Airbnb, landlords can hold units off the market specifically for the purpose of Airbnb rentals, and homeowners are often coming up against nosy neighbors and local laws that impact their ability to lawfully rent their space on Airbnb.
As a whole, Airbnb appears to be here to stay and is staking out its place in the hospitality industry. Though in order to maintain its success in the future, we need to properly balance the interests of all parties involved. When it comes to policing Airbnb the law is still a few steps behind, but we can expect to see a more uniform regulation of the industry in the future that hopefully upon successful implementation, will appease everyone.
Student Bio: Melissa Dobstaff is a Staff Member of the Journal of High Technology. She is currently a 2L at Suffolk University Law School. She holds a B.S. in International Business Management with a minor in Spanish from Youngstown State University and a Post Baccalaureate Certificate in Paralegal Studies from Kent State University. Melissa is the Vice President of the Business Law Association for the 2016-17 academic year.