A new service that helps local governments enforce housing regulations on sharing-economy hosts is another step in holding this industry to similar standards as hotels, but it’s also an avenue to work them into the community rather than banning them outright.
A new San Francisco-based startup is offering local governments the ability to root out short-term rental units that violate local laws while leaving alone those that follow the rules.
The Wall Street Journal reported this week the company can do what city governments can’t do, going through online rental data to see if any units break the law. It also reported the service helps local officials understand sharing economy activity in their communities so they can come up with better regulations.
The idea came to the company’s (Host Compliance) chief executive, Ulrik Binzer, after the city he lives in banned short-term rentals, meaning he could no longer rent out his home when he traveled.
“It became apparent to me that our city was just making decisions based on anecdotes and hearsay,” he told the paper. “There was no data to back up that there was a need to ban it.”
So far, 15 local governments have hired this company on to help with their enforcement efforts against those breaking the law while leaving alone the hosts who follow the rules.
On paper, this sounds like a win-win-win scenario for the hotel industry, the sharing economy and communities. Hotel executives and associations have long talked about wanting local and state governments to treat businesses like Airbnb as they do hotels, from taxation to safety regulations. This is one more tool in the fight for similar accountability, allowing local legislators and law officials to find the rental units breaking local ordinances and shut them down.
For sharing economy companies and hosts, this is another sign that some local governments are willing to work with them instead of just kicking them out. Municipal governments are starting to trust Airbnb and its brethren.
For cities, it allows them to better ensure the peace and safety in the community, for both those who live in neighborhoods where there are short-term rentals and for the guests who use them. It may also save money, as this service would cost less for many cities than hiring some other outside firm.
This regulation enforcement is akin to the tax issue hoteliers have pushed for years. There’s arguably little difference between a guest staying at a hotel for business or leisure purposes and a guest renting out an apartment or room for similar reasons. Both are guests who can contribute to the local economy through tourism and hotel taxes as well as directly to retailers and restaurants near their accommodation. Both are guests who should be safe within their accommodations without disturbing their temporary neighbors.
While there are hoteliers out there who would rather the sharing economy be shut down, that’s simply not going to happen. To some degree, people have a right to do what they want with their homes without a government body shutting them down, even if it does disrupt the cash flow to hotel companies. Similarly, to a degree, governments have the right to create and enforce laws to ensure the safety of the community and guests visiting from out of town.
Hoteliers should jump at the chance to play a part in what could be a workable compromise, serving as an example of how to host guests safely and as a model of a responsible corporate citizen by paying their fair share of taxes. By taking a less adversarial stance and showing a willingness to work together on solutions, the hotel industry might open itself up to new opportunities and even partnerships. Sometimes the best way to eliminate an enemy is to make them a friend.
Writing about Airbnb and companies like it as anything less than the end of the world can sometimes be a lightning rod here, but let the lightning strike if need be. What do you think? Can hoteliers find some sort of middle ground with the sharing economy? Tell me what you think. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org and @HNN_Bryan.
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