Our country is governed by rules and regulations to ensure the safety of all our citizens. I am thinking in particular about the regulations that all of us in the lodging industry have to follow – smoke detectors, emergency exits, carbon monoxide detectors and carrying the appropriate insurance. There are also many health regulations regarding the kitchen and food standards that are easily ignored. Some of the regulations are old and do not make much sense – for example, the requirement before the age of dishwashers (but still on the books) that B&B’s use separate dishes for the family and for guests, even though all dishes are washed in the dishwasher.
Yet one of our concerns is the lack of a “level playing field” between legal Bed and Breakfasts and Airbnb establishments. In reality, the legal Bed and Breakfasts are being discriminated against. We are required to be incorporated, to carry the appropriate insurance, to follow all the local and state regulations, and to pay state and county sales and lodging taxes.
Although some Airbnb hosts follow the regulations and pay the appropriate taxes, most do not. Airbnb asks that we trust them to do the right thing. They provide no visibility regarding money transactions. They self-regulate with regard to the county codes and do not follow any occupancy limits. One of the most disturbing aspects is the lack of visibility that they have in the community. Rarely do they speak about being an Airbnb host in fear that they will expose themselves to the tax collectors. In fact, if you go on the Airbnb website, you may see a picture of the house or a view from the house, but you will not see an address and no last name of the host. They used to require that you send a picture of yourself to the host before they will talk to you or confirm a reservation. This was eliminated when Airbnb was faced with a discrimination lawsuit.
Airbnb is a $30 Billion business and is very powerful. When a community or state begins to talk about imposing regulations on Airbnb facilities, they start legal proceedings to stop any progress. They also refuse to release a listing of their facilities, and they are fighting legally to protect their hosts. But when an accident occurs in an Airbnb home, their response is that the host and guest are solely responsible. Their common argument is that they are supporting a Grandmother who rents out a vacant room to pay the mortgage, enabling her to stay in her home. In reality, the average Airbnb host is 46 years old and has multiple dwellings. They also now call themselves short term rentals to circumvent existing tax regulations.
Many communities and states are currently working on laws that would eliminate short term rentals under 30 days. They are not trying to eliminate Airbnb establishments, but rather to “level the playing field” so that all hosts pay their fair share and everyone benefits from a safe and healthy environment.
It is a dream to think about what could be done in our communities with the influx of tax money if all Airbnb’s became legal. Our roads, bridges, water and sewer systems could be updated. Everyone’s tax burden could be reduced. And everyone would be contributing more fully to the community.
For more information, check out the Airbnbwatch website.