After Hooker and Orgy Stories, Airbnb Still Fighting for Legitimacy

Airbnb

Amid reports of accidental orgies and its apparent popularity with prostitutes, Airbnb has continued its PR blitz undaunted, releasing a steady drip of data about its benefits to the city, most recently its potential contribution of $21 million worth of tax money, if only the city would just help us help you and change the law that only allows actual hotels to collect and pay occupancy taxes. Seems like a logical move, but according to a New York Magazine, it’s not exactly winning them as many friends as they might have hoped.

The hotel industry is still fighting tooth and nail against a more permanent, regulated, safely legal version of the service, and now that their primary argument—the fact that Airbnb doesn’t contribute to the city tax-wise—has been turned on its head, have done an about face, insisting that changing city law to collect taxes from Airbnb renters would be a disaster. “For them to turn over a law to collect taxes is them just trying to legitimize what we see as an illegal business,” said the chairman of the Hotel Association of New York City.

Hotel owners have also given lip service to Airbnb somehow causing problems with affordable housing, but the real motivation here is a pretty obvious—to stamp out industry competition—and we’d be inclined to agree with Kevin Roose’s assessment, that “Airbnb and traditional hotels offer different amenities and could coexist just fine.” Also, as I’ve written on this site before, to crack down on New Yorkers trying to make a little cash off their homes, in this economy and this real estate market, doesn’t sit especially well.

In any case, hoteliers don’t write city policy (we hope not, anyway!) and there are still some major, concrete changes that’d need to take place for the service to really and truly have a green light in New York. Per NYMag:

One is a law that says that only hotels are allowed to collect and pay occupancy taxes. Another is a law that prohibits New Yorkers from renting out their homes for less than 30 days without the primary occupants being present. […]

In San Francisco, Supervisor David Chiu recently introduced a bill that could show a way forward. Under San Francisco’s proposed law, the ban on short-term rentals would be lifted, and in return, Airbnb hosts would be required to register with the city, pay occupancy taxes, and fulfill certain other obligations. It’s not the deal either side wants, but it’s a way for a city to acknowledge Airbnb’s right to exist while also addressing the hotel industry’s actual concern — that the site will pick off its bookings — by putting up barriers to entry for Airbnb hosts.

Seems reasonable enough; legislation that realistically approaches the way citizens actually behave tends to work out better than sweeping crackdowns (see also: legal weed). That is, unless the city wants to encourage more people to unwittingly host orgies in their apartments? But that’d be a whole other blog post.

Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.