Hotels group seeks more regulation of short-term rentals

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The largest U.S. hotel trade group is stepping up its lobbying efforts for stronger regulations governing short-term housing rentals listed on sites such as Airbnb, as local governments ponder stricter laws for apartment and room rentals.

The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA) is working with governments and local hotel associations to address subjects such as occupancy tax payment and American with Disabilities Act (ADA) provisions.

The association wants to ensure that short-term rental hosts are held to the same standards as hoteliers, said Vanessa Sinders, AH&LA’s senior vice president of governmental affairs.

“Hotels are very focused on making sure their guests are safe and secure, and all of those regulations are in place to do that,” said Sinders, who added that members in New York have been particularly vocal about addressing such regulations. “We think that should apply to everyone.”

The AH&LA is stepping into the short-term rental fray as governments in New York state; Portland, Ore.; and San Francisco mull further regulations that would subject short-term rental hosts to extensive requirements or outlaw many of them altogether.

Most recently, the Portland Planning and Sustainability Commission held an April 22 hearing over a law mandating that short-term accommodations providers prove that they are residents of the city, provide information to their neighbors and pay a fee for an annual permit.

The commission voted 8-1 to forward the proposed rules to the Portland City Council, which will decide on the regulations in June.

Meanwhile, ex-San Francisco Planning Commissioner Doug Engmann and affordable-housing activist Calvin Welch are pushing for a November ballot initiative that would restrict short-term rental units to commercially zoned neighborhoods and possibly offer rewards to residents who identify those violating city regulations.

Such regulations would be more restrictive than those proposed last month by San Francisco Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, which would require hosts to provide proof of residency, register their units with the city and abide by the city’s rent-control and tax laws.

Eric SchneidermanSuch proposals follow up a war of words of sorts between Airbnb and New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who has been accusing many Airbnb hosts of violating a 2010 law forbidding residents from renting out their dwellings for fewer than 30 days.

That contentiousness was further spurred by the attorney general office’s allegations that Airbnb failed to adequately prevent certain hosts from abusing the system and refused to provide the state with a full list of its New York hosts.

And while Airbnb has since been mum about New York, the company in an April 30 post on its public policy blog noted that new short-term rental regulations went into effect in Berlin on May 1.

According to the blog post, apartments in some of Berlin’s districts that are being used for short-term rentals will need to be registered and, once registered, will have a two-year grace period to apply and possibly receive a permit for short-term rentals.

“We will continue talking to policymakers about how to best preserve affordable housing and ensure that the Sharing Economy can continue to thrive,” Airbnb head of global policy David Hantman wrote in the April 30 post.
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Follow Danny King on Twitter @dktravelweekly.

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