Is Airbnb Legal?

A blog about business and economics.
June 6 2012 5:22 PM

Is Airbnb Legal?

I was excited to take a break from my usual role as anti-regulation scold this morning write the case for more stringent utility-style regulation of cable companies but I'm back to form with a piece about Airbnb.

I think Airbnb is great. If you don't know what it is, basically it's a service to let people rent out space in their own for people to stay in when they're visiting town. People who travel a lot can do it with their apartment when they're gone. Empty nesters can rent out a spare room. And in some cases (like the place I stayed in Buenos Aires) people can purchase property specifically with short-term rentals in mind. I think this is a really valuable service. Traditional hotels in major cities are very focused on a business audience with a dowtown location and an often excessive level of service provision. But if you're interested in visiting a city just to visit you might prefer to stay in a residential area. Go someplace that young people live and where there are cool bars and restaurants rather than a business district full of middling expensive food targeted at people on expense accounts.

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My concern is that in many cases this isn't actually legal and could be construed as violating various zoning and business licensing rules. After all, one reason the hotels are concentrated where they are is that those are the places where you're allowed to build hotels. Smart cities will look at changing this, and welcome more beds for visitors and thus more overall visitors and travel.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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