Airbnb turns to public servants to tackle legal challenges

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Airbnb has hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to develop an anti-discrimination policy while forming an advisory board of four former mayors to improve relationships with the cities where its hosts rent out homes. 

Airbnb is bringing in Holder amid allegations that some hosts discriminate against minorities. Plus, the accommodations-listing service is looking for mayoral assistance as it faces municipal legal battles, including one with its home city of San Francisco.

Airbnb’s Mayoral Advisory Board includes former Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter, former Rome mayor Francesco Rutelli, ex-Houston mayor Annise Parker and Stephen Yarwood, former lord mayor of Adelaide, Australia.

The company said the board was “the latest step in our ongoing commitment to work cooperatively with cities across the globe.” The board, which will meet quarterly with Airbnb staff, will address issues such as improving transparency, paying its share of lodging and tourism taxes and working with municipalities on how to prevent hosts from exacerbating housing shortages.

Last week, the company tapped Holder to “help craft a world-class anti-discrimination policy,” Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said. The hiring of Holder, who served as U.S. Attorney General under President Obama from 2009 to 2015, is part of an effort Airbnb announced last month to address allegations that some of its hosts racially discriminated when renting out their homes.

“We have an obligation to be honest about our own shortcomings, and do more to get our house in order. That’s why we’ve been talking more openly about discrimination and bias on our platform, and are currently engaged in a process to prevent it,” Chesky said. “While we have a policy that prohibits discrimination, we want this policy to be stronger. And we will require everyone who uses our platform to read and certify that they will follow this policy.”

As for the mayoral advisory board, its formation might have been spurred by Airbnb’s legal battle over how its hosts can rent out their homes or rooms without violating cities’ laws for short-term rentals. Last month, Airbnb filed its first lawsuit against a city, San Francisco.

San Francisco last month passed an ordinance that, among other things, required all hosts who hadn’t registered with the city to immediately remove their listings and fined Airbnb and its hosts as much as $1,000 a day for listings by unregistered hosts. 

Airbnb, whose hosts operate in more than 34,000 cities worldwide, alleged that the city’s host-registration process was “broken” and “confusing,” and called the ordinance “hastily-crafted.”

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