Bend residents concerned about Airbnb's effect on the local housing supply and economy should pay close attention to what's currently happening in San Francisco. In response to a new rule there that would fine Airbnb $1,000 per day for every unregistered listing in the City, the home-sharing behemoth is suing its hometown.
The company contends that the new rule violates the Communications Decency Act, a federal law that prohibits the government from punishing websites for user-generated content. They say the government should focus on the users who are posting illegal rental listings, and the company should not be required to help the City enforce its laws.
Despite the fact that Airbnb just last year agreed to require hosts in San Francisco to register with the City, it has continued to allow non-registered listings on the site. So far, only 20 percent of hosts required to register in San Francisco have done so.
It would be an easy task for the company to identify, based on geography, which hosts are required to register with their local governments, prompt those hosts to submit proof of registration, and disable the accounts of those who don't provide it. After all, the company recently had no trouble at all figuring out how to target San Francisco hosts with banner ads when they logged in to their Airbnb account, reminding them to vote against an upcoming ballot measure. It's not much different from Enterprise Car Share requiring members to confirm the validity of their driver's license each year.
Whether he lawsuit prevails, one thing is clear: Airbnb seems to think sharing is for others, not themselves. They don't want to share the names of their hosts with cities who would like to remind those hosts to register their short-term rentals, and collect the fees associated with such. They don't want to share data that would help cities understand just how much local Airbnb rentals are affecting affordable housing supplies. And they don't want to share any responsibility for the collateral damage caused by unscrupulous users they refuse to police, even as they take a cut of every transaction conducted through their platform.
Airbnb insists that it helps longtime residents keep their homes while housing prices skyrocket, and there is some truth to that. Many homeowners in Bend use the platform to make their mortgage, and to make ends meet. But the company doesn't want to share data that would clarify just how many of their hosts meet that description, and how many are using the platform to convert affordable housing into lucrative short-term vacation rentals. If Airbnb wants to be seen as a champion of the shared economy, it should start by sharing the responsibility for making sure its own users are following the rules. Perhaps if it did, more cities might welcome them with open arms instead of devising local ordinances designed to clip the company's wings.