Skift Take

You can really like Airbnb and the effect it has had on how we travel while not supporting the rule breaking that happens in cities like New York. But it's very hard to appreciate a deep-pocketed astroturfing campaign that tries to pretend it is grassroots-driven.

Last week Peers, a hybrid public relations and lobbying group backed by sharing economy businesses such as Airbnb, began an initiative in New York City to reach out to lawmakers and advocate for the overturning of a state law that makes illegal most of the activity on Airbnb and other vacation-rental sites.

The effort focused on calling out New York state legislators on social media as well as visiting offices with petitions advocating Peers’ position. Peers also promoted a “Peers Stories” Tumblr that curiously consists almost entirely of stories about Airbnb rentals that are legal under current state law. The organization is also collecting donations from people to buy “crowd-funded” ad that will ask state officials to legalize Airbnb’s illegal rentals. Airbnb, which is currently valued over $2.5 billion, has its own new ad campaign that does not address these issues.

Last week’s action was an off-shoot of a petition by a Peers user named Mishelle that the group promoted in October to “legalize sharing” in New York. The campaign was quickly called into question since Peers used an Airbnb host who already had a legal rental as the public face of the campaign.

A Peers representative argued in an email to Skift that it didn’t matter that she already had a legal rental. “Peers didn’t ‘choose’ Mishelle, she chose to get involved because of the fact that the current law is unclear and many people are not sure what’s legal or not.”

Peers’ efforts stand in contrast to the Short Term Rental Advocacy Center, which both advocates for short-term rentals while also informing users of local laws. STRAC was started by HomeAway along with support from FlipKey and Airbnb.

What the Law Says in 140 Characters

Following last week’s action, New York State Senator Liz Krueger, who backed the law that placed the current restrictions on short-term and vacation rentals, asked the same question of Peers and its representatives in a series of Twitter exchanges. They were collected by her press officer Andrew Goldston into a Storify thread.

It’s the clearest primer yet on what’s legal and what’s not when it comes to vacation rentals in New York City.

Tags: airbnb, lobbying, politics, sharing

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