Digital Booking Sites

HomeAway CEO sees tough short-term rental laws as a “nuisance”

@denschaal

Mar 07, 2013 1:14 am

Skift Take

We’ll almost inevitably see a convergence between the vacation homes of HomeAway and Flipkey, and the apartment rentals of Airbnb, and that will highlight how these companies share common interests when local legislators try to curb their activities.

— Dennis Schaal

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HomeAway may have initiated the formation of a coalition with Airbnb, TripAdvisor and Flipkey to fight restrictive short-term rental laws, but CEO Brian Sharples thinks municipal crackdowns are “more of a nuisance than a problem” for HomeAway.

One reason is that owners and property managers renting their homes through HomeAway are primarily offering second-homes in traditional vacation destinations and not urban markets, Sharples says, and another is that HomeAway doesn’t collect money as part of the transaction, leaving that between owners and guests.

The Short Term Rental Advocacy Center, launched last month, counts the four companies as founding members, and is geared to protect the rights of providers, who seek to rent properties for 30 days or less, from restrictive local laws. The group says it has chapters in about 10 cities.

Separately, HomeAway has been advising members of its owner community on how to combat restrictive legislation.

The organization’s formation comes as some rental sites, such as Airbnb, which often has owners and apartment renters offering up rooms on a short-term basis, face a crackdown from cities such as New York City and others.

Sharples has emphasized over the years that HomeAway is in a different business than Airbnb, but apparently interests coalesced to form the coalition.

Sharples notes that HomeAway operates in about 15,000 vacation-rental markets, and that rules and regulations pertaining to short-term rentals have been on the books for “eons,” so HomeAway can provide some perspective and experience to the group.

He noted that HomeAway helped fight a push in headquarters-hometown Austin, Texas, which initially sought to ban short-term rentals, and now allows them, although rentals have certain restrictions and the city requires apartment and condominiums to be registered.

Sharples explains that local laws are being contested in about 70 jurisdictions, but only around 15 are potentially impactful ones for HomeAway.

HomeAway argues that it isn’t against regulation of the market per se, but it wants those laws to be fair.

“We could have gone off on our own,” Sharples says, but HomeAway decided to join the coalition rather than seeing the four companies “going off in different directions.”

HomeAway, Airbnb, and TripAdvisor/Flipkey all have staff lobbying on behalf of their customers’ and the companies’ interests, Sharples says.

One issue that often comes up is that owners often aren’t stepping to the plate and paying their taxes.

Sharples says HomeAway has for several years partnered with HotSpot Tax Services to help homeowners comply with local tax laws.

HomeAway’s business model differs from Airbnb’s, Sharples explains, as HomeAway is not part of the transaction while “Airbnb is collecting money and disbursing it.”

Becoming a merchant of record, as Airbnb is, leads to “a huge entanglement of laws,” Sharples says.

He says when HomeAway begins to offer an optional pay-per booking model later this year, it still won’t be the merchant of record when guests rent from owners or managers.

And, HomeAway has no intention of charging guests a booking fee when it begins to charge owners a fee.

“The idea of charging travelers a fee, in the end, is short-sighted,” Sharples says.

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