Legal Storm Brewing For Airbnb And Other P2P Travel Sites

Published on August 8th, 2011 | by

Last week, we wrote about Airbnb’s recent troubles with a San Francisco user whose house was vandalized by a guest who booked through the online service.

Since the story broke, Airbnb has publicly apologized to the homeowner and issued a new guarantee whereby the personal property of hosts who accept reservations through Airbnb will be covered for loss or damage due to vandalism or theft up to $50,000.

Although the fledgling company has done its best to handle this public relations disaster with speed and compassion, the incident served as a rally cry for those who have opposed peer-to-peer lodging services because of the legal gray area in which they operate.

In San Francisco, some say property owners who use online services to temporarily rent out their homes are in direct violation of the law, and should be stopped.

From SF Gate:

Airbnb of San Francisco acts as a matchmaker, allowing people to briefly rent out their apartments or rooms to travelers, while charging a service fee. But city rent control laws and planning regulations technically prohibit residents from doing this. The Planning Department defines a property that’s leased for less than 30 days as a hotel, which is subject to restrictions, permits, fees and taxes that are largely ignored in these cases.

There’s also a California law that prevents unfair competition, which might apply to people who rent rooms on a short-term basis without going through the same process that legitimate hotels and bed and breakfasts do.

Because many see services like Airbnb, Wimdu or Roomarama, as a way to generate a significant supplemental income, properties in popular cities that should be permanent residences have become permanent hotel rooms instead. Opponents say this takes rent controlled properties off the market, and in some cases prompts the eviction of legitimate tenants already living there.

Communities surrounding San Francisco, including Santa Cruz County, Capitola, Monterey and Carmel have already taken legal steps to limit temporary rentals, and short-term apartment rentals have already been banned in New York City and Paris.

What do you think? Are peer-to-peer lodging and travel sites circumventing their legal responsibilities or should renters and property owners be allowed to use their residences as they see fit? Let us know in a comment!

Image Credit: Flickr – taberandrew


About the Author

Beth believes many societal problems can be solved through sharing or other alternatives to the corporate system. I'm interested in exploring the growing collaborative consumption movement and how sharing is changing the way we work and play. See what I'm up to by following me on Twitter as @ecosphericblog.