This isn't about the sharing, it's about the commerce.
This weekend Peers, the lobbying group affiliated with over three dozen sharing economy companies in Silicon Valley, began a petition to “Legalize Sharing: Save Airbnb in New York.” The initial goal of Peers’ petition was to get 20,000 names in support of a movement to legalize sharing by Airbnb and similar services, but Peers easily captured over 21,000 names in the petition’s first three days. They’ve since reset their goal to 30,000 names, and at some point they will present the names to the New York State legislature.
The petition was prompted by a subpoena that New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman issued last week to Airbnb requesting user records. Airbnb is fighting the subpoena.
The Peers petition’s public face is Mishelle, a military veteran who writes that she came to New York City to finish a college degree. She is making ends meet by renting out a room in her Williamsburg apartment.
Read more about what collaborative consumption and the sharing economy mean to the future of travel.
But her stated goal, and that of Peers, its backers, and the over 21,000 names of support, has already been achieved.
Sharing is already legal in New York State.
The existing law does not prevent anyone from renting out a room in their apartment, condo, or house (although co-op or condo board, or homeowner associations rules may), as long as they are present during the stay. A recent ruling by the New York City board charged with enforcing rules, and that Airbnb was party to, confirmed this.
Hosts on Airbnb, as well as other services that match visitors and locals, can welcome guests into their home for free or for profit and create the types of experiences, exchanges, and relationships for which the sharing economy is known.
Many existing Airbnb stays do this, meeting both the letter and the spirit of the law.
Mishelle’s two listings have been removed, but her reviews are still live. From the 40 reviews in appears that guests clearly like both the space and their host, with one writing “She is easy to get along with and makes the experience of staying in a strangers home, not strange at all.”
Michelle had a second listing on the site that was for the entire apartment, which is not legal. Still, it’s clear that neither portray a bad host who is gouging tourists or driving neighbors crazy; the single room rate was $67 a night, the entire apartment could be had for $169 a night.
She wasn’t renting multiple units, and, like her petition says, isn’t anything close to what a reasonable person would consider a slumlord.
The Lobbying Effort
Peers counts Aribnb as a partner, but the lobbying group says it is not being bankrolled by it or any of the other three-dozen-plus sharing economy companies that are also partners. But the interests of the two are so aligned that efforts like the “Legalize Sharing” one are aligned closely with activity at the rentals giant.
Doug Atkin, Airbnb’s Global Head of Community urged Airbnb hosts and users to support the Peers petition in an email he sent this weekend:
I’m writing to you on behalf of Airbnb hosts, your fellow New Yorkers, because our community is under attack by officials and special interests. Won’t you please add your voice to the thousands who have already spoken up to save Airbnb in New York?
Only if you make your voice heard will policymakers finally realize that overbroad laws are hurting you and hurting New York.
A petition to change NY laws already has 3,500 signatures, and an Airbnb host, Mishelle, has pledged to personally deliver it to the NY Senate if it gets 20,000 signatures. We think with this many signatures, they will have to take action.
Please sign Mishelle’s petition to change the NY law here.
The New York Attorney General has subpoenaed the records of almost all of our New York hosts. We are fighting the subpoena with all we’ve got, but poorly written laws make for even worse enforcement, and unless you help to stop it once and for all, the laws may never get better and New Yorkers will continue to suffer.
Sign Mishelle’s petition to change the NY law and Save Airbnb.
Thank you for standing with our New York hosts. We can create a new world where people can feel at home, anywhere. Let’s create that world together.
Thank you for signing,
Global Head of Community
Along with his position at Airbnb, Atkin is also a co-founder and board member at Peers.
In conjunction with the grassroots efforts of its peers at Peers, Airbnb has also retained two lobbying firms in Albany, New York. Bolton-St. Johns, which has close ties to New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and Cordo & Co., which also represents Expedia, TripAdvisor, and gambling groups (not to mention the Girl Scouts), are spearheading efforts in the Empire State.
Bolton-St. Johns and Cordo & Co. are not lobbying to make sharing legal in New York, but to remove barriers to other forms of short-term rentals listed on Airbnb and other websites.
The sharing battle had been won before it even started.