Don’t scare people from sharing their homes

This week, Chris Lehane, Airbnb Head of Global Public Policy, sent a letter to New York City Councilmember Jumaane Williams expressing concern over an extreme bill that aims to unfairly punish hard-working New Yorkers sharing their homes to make ends meet and pay the bills. The full letter can be found below:  

October 22, 2015

Dear Councilman Williams:

I am writing today to once again underscore our eagerness to work with New York City in a collaborative fashion to craft sensible rules for home sharing that will allow middle class New Yorkers to use what is typically their greatest expense — the cost of their housing — to create supplemental income in order to help them make ends meet. At a time when economic inequality has had a disproportionate impact on everyday people, it is critical that we address this issue.

Airbnb is a people to people platform. It is a lifeline for people who need supplemental income. It democratizes travel and is composed of people from more than 190 countries, including many who never thought they could afford to explore the world. And it is a community made up of people who are good neighbors in cities worldwide.

Airbnb welcomes regulation and we stand ready to work with you on some common-sense policies that support middle class families and crackdown on illegal hotels. In recent months, we have successfully worked with cities around the world on sensible rules for home sharing that both support the middle class and allow cities to address the issues specific to their market. Just last week, less than five miles away, Jersey City, the historic gateway to the middle class, proposed laws that would tax and regulate home sharing. Jersey City joined the steady drumbeat of governments that have enacted common sense rules that represent a win for the middle class and a win for the city. Philadelphia, Rhode Island, San Jose, Nashville, Paris, and Amsterdam have all enacted progressive rules. New York should be no different.

As we proceed, we hope you will consider the thousands of middle class families who share only the home in which they live and use the money they earn to pay the bills. For thousands of families, home sharing is the only thing that makes it possible for them to stay in the home they love. According to our analysis:

  • 90% of New York City Airbnb hosts only share the primary home in which they live.
  • On average, Airbnb hosts in New York rent their homes for five nights per month.
  • 72% of Airbnb hosts in New York reported that Airbnb has allowed them to stay in their homes.
  • 78% of Airbnb hosts are low-to-middle income households.
  • The typical Airbnb host in the United States earns an extra $7,530 annually sharing their space, which represents a 14 percent annual raise for middle class families on our platform.

To put it simply, home sharing in New York City has provided a lifeline that is allowing thousands of New Yorker to avoid being foreclosed upon or evicted.

The legislation introduced before the City Council would punish these hard-working families, fining them $50,000 simply for sharing the home in which they live when they leave town for work or other reasons. This fine is unnecessarily punitive, comes at time when City Government has committed to reducing fines on middle class New Yorkers and is wildly out-of-step with current law. Consider that:

  • Landlords who fail to provide a smoke detector may be fined $100, plus an additional $10 per day.
  • Landlords who fail to provide their tenants with heat can be fined a maximum of $500 per day.
  • Landlords who allow people to be exposed to lead paint may be fined $250 per day, up to a maximum of $10,000 per violation.
  • Landlords who let rats run rampant on their property can be fined a maximum of $2,000 per violation.

Let us be clear: the idea contained in the legislation that a middle class family who is depending on sharing their home to avoid being foreclosed upon or evicted is more dangerous than exposing a child to lead paint, denying a family a smoke detector, turning off the heat during the dead of winter or allowing rodents to have the run of a place is simply bad policy.

A fine of this size being imposed on middle class families would lead to bankruptcies and force people out of their houses and appears to be promoted for only one reason: to scare middle class and working class people from sharing their homes. It is appropriate that this hearing will be taking place around Halloween, as it is the Freddy Kruger of bills when it comes to middle class New Yorkers who depend on sharing their homes to make ends meet.

We are aware that the powerful corporate hotel interests with a history of seeking to exercise influence over the legislative process are committed to maximizing their profits and making it harder for middle class families to share their home. And we know that at least one prominent hotel executive has lamented that hotels have lost the “ability to price at maybe what the customer would describe as sort of gouging rates.”

Still, we remain hopeful that the City Council will be interested in working with us to develop a common sense approach to actually help middle class New Yorkers stay in their homes. We are committed to working together on sensible solutions for New York City.

To this point, earlier this year we made clear that we would support a policy that supports home sharing for people interested in sharing only their primary residence. In addition, we are committed to helping our community pay taxes, which would generate an additional $65 million in tax revenue each year. To date, the City and State have not been willing to accept the taxes we have offered to collect and remit, despite the fact that cities all over the country accept such tax payments from Airbnb. Additionally, we strongly believe that any solution should include cracking down on large-scale illegal hotel operators. We oppose illegal hotels and have removed thousands of these listings from our site, and we support the many efforts that the city and state have taken to curtail this harmful activity. But regular New Yorkers who occasionally share their space should not be lumped in with large-scale illegal hotel operators.

While we will stand and fight for our middle class hosts who depend on home sharing as an economic lifeline, our desire – reflected by the global record – is to engage in a constructive dialogue on these issues and we are eager to work together to address these issues and any questions you may have.

Sincerely,

Christopher Lehane

Airbnb Global Head of Public Policy