Room-rental service startup Airbnb is going on the offensive.
In New York, state legislators have failed to pass a bill that would make partial-apartment rentals under 30 days legal. Meanwhile, Airbnb's home city of San Francisco struggles with regulating Airbnb, despite what the startup characterizes as good-faith efforts to work closely with city authorities.
And this week, California state legislators as well as city legislators in San Francisco are discussing a bill that Airbnb says would let local authorities sift through personal information about its customers in order to make sure that they're paying all of their related taxes properly, in what could be a gross invasion of privacy.
Airbnb seems to have had enough of playing nice. Now, it's going straight for politicians right where it hurts: their constituents. On a new website, launched today, the startup is highlighting one citizen of each of San Francisco's 11 districts who say they couldn't afford to live in the hyper-expensive city without the revenue they earn by renting out rooms on Airbnb.
In fact, Airbnb says the average host in San Francisco makes $13,000 a year, on an average of 6.5 nights stayed in a rented room. "In neighborhoods across this city, home sharing is making this city more affordable for thousands of San Franciscans," Airbnb says in a statement. "Instead of Trojan Horse proposals designed to effectively ban home sharing, lawmakers should focus on making it easier for San Franciscans to share their homes and follow the rules."
It's a transparent marketing ploy designed to confront San Francisco councilpeople with the impact any anti-Airbnb legislation might have in their districts, but it tells some emotional stories. Here's one from Kevin & Esther Krejci, who live in San Francisco's District 4, the residential Sunset area:
My husband and I have been sharing a room in our Sunset home. Since Kevin was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, it has been the money we make hosting on Airbnb that makes it possible to pay his medical and physical therapy bills. The visitors we've welcomed from across the world have taught us so much, especially our children, who learned to welcome people of different cultures, and understanding their own stories that they have. San Francisco is expensive, very expensive, and for our family hosting on Airbnb has made it affordable.
Here's another from PK Paksaichol, who lives in District 11, the working-class Excelsior neighborhood:
For years my wife wanted to go back to school to earn an MBA and obtain her real estate license. But doing so was expensive and felt out of reach. Without sharing a room in our Excelsior home, there was no way we could have afforded tuition. It just wasn't possible. For our family, home sharing has made San Francisco affordable—and for my wife, it has allowed her to pursue her dreams.
Obviously, these stories are supposed to tug on the heartstrings. But it is true that Airbnb is an alternative revenue stream for those who need one. At the same time, though, it's hard to ignore rampant abuses, like people renting out their rent-controlled apartments at a profit. Airbnb rentals may also reduce long-term rental supply in the already crowded San Francisco.
But at the same time, these are real people who rely on Airbnb to subsidize a big part of their livelihood. It'll be up to local regulators to decide which way they want to go.
See also: Banker Being Sued Over Airbnb Listing