The online room rental service Airbnb has endured a rough few months. The legality of the company’s short-term rentals has been challenged in global metropolises from Paris to San Francisco, where the company has been accused of facilitating “illegal hotels”.
In New York, state laws prohibit the rental of rooms or apartments for less than 30 days unless the owner is living there at the same time. According to a recent report from Skift, close to two thirds of the listings on Airbnb in New York violate these laws. In October of last year, the New York attorney general subpoenaed the records of 15,000 Airbnb hosts in the city. Court proceedings are set to being in late March.
In Spain, new laws to regulate holiday rentals are being enforced to ensure home-owners conform to the same requirements as hotels. In Catalonia an estimated one million beds are available in unregistered accommodation while only 600,000 are officially regulated.
The loss of the tax revenues required from hotels is clearly a key driving force behind the crackdown. But the reality of the debate is more complex than the David and Goliath battle portrayed by the PR campaigns of the €2.5 billion valued Airbnb’s plucky underdog fighting the tyranny of the state. The lack of regulation for Airbnb accommodation means there is also a higher degree of risk.
The issues extend beyond Airbnb’s short-term rentals. In 2011 Airbnb expanded its business into monthly rentals, where similar concerns have been raised. Safety issues arising from regulatory avoidance include fire safety and incomplete records of residents. Apartment block neighbours whose agreement has not been sought have expressed fears over the number of strangers receiving a key to the shared building. There’s a lack of checks on renters, which have led to cautionary tales such as the California residence ransacked by crystal meth addicts.
Airbnb is only a marketplace, not a room renter, and the company’s terms and conditions place the responsibility for complying with often unclear local laws firmly on the shoulders of the users of their service. The potential risks are not made clear and the service is mainly self-regulated. Visitors have been kicked out on the street when the local government authorities or landlords whose tenants have violated their lease by sub-letting to Airbnb users have come calling.
Airbnb has grown rapidly since its launch in 2008 and has now seen over 10 million nights in over 550,000 properties worldwide booked through the marketplace. But its growth has further highlighted the issues of the platform for both hosts and guests. And for monthly rentals, don’t expect the financial savings to make up for the lack of regulation and its associated risks. Airbnb is particularly expensive for long-term rentals, with a service fee of up to 12% charged for every reservation and rates often higher than contacting a rental company directly. Anyone looking to rent a flat in Barcelona would be wise to consider the safer alternative offered by ShBarcelona, the market leader in monthly Barcelona rentals.