Airbnb Builds an Empire, Regulatory Future Uncertain
August 14, 2015
August 14, 2015
Carla welcomes you into her Florence apartment with a wide grin and a cold bottle of water. Barely allowing you a moment to drop your bags in the rented bedroom you found on Airbnb, the grandmotherly Italian woman rushes you into her dining room and excitedly begins to show you her favorite locations in Florence on the city map. Despite her broken English, her genuine pride for her city overwhelms you with excitement for the museums, restaurants, churches, and incredible vistas that will fill your next few days in the city.
Not all Airbnb hosts welcome their guests with such enthusiasm. People across the globe choose to rent their bedrooms, apartments, or houses through Airbnb for many reasons: They need help making rent, they have more space than needed, they want to make some side cash, they want to meet people from around the world, or a combination of those rationales.
Airbnb can be a great way to find lodging, and the company’s financials prove its popularity with travelers. Founded in 2008 as AirBed & Breakfast by two roommates strapped for cash, the startup has recently expected to close a funding round with a valuation of $24 billion – which exceeds the value of Marriott International Inc. and other online booking sites such as Expedia and Priceline. The Wall Street Journal reported that Airbnb expects to take in $900 million in revenue this year.
But with big money comes controversy, and Airbnb is no exception. Some U.S. cities are beginning to regulate short-term rentals. Several cities in Southern California are drafting laws to safeguard residential neighborhoods, draw tax revenue, and ensure housing availability for long-term residents. New York City’s crackdown on illegal rentals has had a measurable impact on Airbnb.
Boston may be next.
While Airbnb is currently unregulated in the city, disturbed neighbors have brought the issue to the attention of local lawmakers. Some Boston residents have been frustrated by the noise from guests and cleaning services, or the presence of strangers creating a security risk in their hallways. Others are concerned about Boston’s already tight housing .
Some condo associations have taken action by fining owners who rent their condos through Airbnb in violation with their buildings’ bylaws. For the time being, the Boston Inspectional Services Department holds a policy of not issuing citations to homeowners while an internal group develops a policy recommendation. The Boston Globe reports that a city policy is expected to be announced this fall.
While regulation may be necessary, let’s hope that responsible hosts will continue to be allowed to create unique travel experiences for visitors in our remarkable city.