New York officials not buying Airbnb’s ‘Community Compact’ News

| 22 Nov 2015 | 11:26

A public relations push by Airbnb to cast itself as a good corporate citizen has been met with skepticism by New York lawmakers, who aren’t convinced the changes will bring about any additional regulatory compliance by the company.

After fighting to defeat new rules in San Francisco and weathering a damaging story of a guest in Texas who died on a faulty rope swing during an Airbnb stay (which was advertised in the listing as a draw), the company released what it called its Community Compact, a set of guidelines for working in a responsible way. The measures include a promise to pay hotel and tourist taxes in the cities in which Airbnb operates and the release of previously undisclosed data, such as the safety record of Airbnb listings and the number of days a typical listing is rented.

In cities where officials have identified a shortage of long-term rental housing, the company pledged to work with the Airbnb community, “to prevent short-term rentals from impacting the availability of long-term rental housing by ensuring hosts agree to a policy of listing only permanent homes on a short-term basis.”

But officials in New York say the Community Compact is a disingenuous attempt by Airbnb to improve its public image without changing any of its core operating procedures.

State Senator Liz Krueger, one of Airbnb’s staunchest critics, said the company continues to enable users to flout New York housing law and continues to resist any regulatory measures, despite the compact.

“They’re creating problems, big picture public policy issues, yet they claim they’re a business with the magic formula that has the right to make money but no liability for what’s happening,” said Krueger in an interview.

Much of the criticism over Airbnb’s practices stems from the company’s platform enabling people to operate illegal hotels, or properties that operate year round on a short-term rental basis, negatively affecting housing stock and violating state’s illegal hotel law, which forbids stays of less than 30 days if the owner is not present.

Even for scrupulous users, said Krueger, most short-term rentals violate lease regulations that forbid any sub-leasing without the prior consent of the property owner. A report by State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman last year found that 72 percent of Airbnb’s listings in New York City violate housing laws.

“I suppose equally disturbing to me is they’re not providing potential hosts and guests that information either,” said Krueger, regarding housing laws in New York. “We believe they are, as a business model, walking people into breaking those laws. There’s a whole bunch of different laws you can get in trouble with as a host.”

She also scoffed at the kind of data Airbnb is planning to release as part of it’s Community Compact, and questioned why they aren’t sharing information on how many users have multiple or year-round listings on the site, which would enable regulators to target those who abuse the platform.

“If they were actually providing the kind of data we need that would be news to me,” she said.

Airbnb did not respond to requests to comment for this story.

Schneiderman also criticized Airbnb’s Community Compact as a smokescreen.

“This is a transparent ploy by Airbnb to act like a good corporate citizen when it is anything but,” said Schneiderman. “The company has all of the information and tools it needs to clean up its act. Until it does, no one should take this press release seriously.”

Meanwhile, Mayor Bill de Blasio has allocated an additional $10 million to the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement for fighting illegal hotels.

OSE was created in 2006 by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg and is tasked with investigating quality of life issues such as lawless adult establishments and trademark counterfeiting operations. Earlier this year the unit’s staff more than doubled to 29 people and was given an initial $2.8 million in funds by the city council’s progressive caucus to crack down on illegal hotel operators.