While the regulatory tug-of-war between those concerned with the negative impacts of Airbnb on affordable housing and the home rental giant continue, the emergence of a new industry signals that the problem of illegal short-term rentals may be larger than Airbnb admits.

A number of new businesses are operating as a type of Airbnb police, making money by finding hosts that break laws and / or lease agreements by running what are essentially illegal hotels.

For example, Austin-based startup BNBShield finds and reports illegal and contract-breaking short-term rentals, helping property owners and other parties who have an interest in exposing and regulating the industry determine if properties are “being turned into illegal commercial ventures: 24/7 short-term rentals managed by third-parties who don’t actually live there and never plan to.”

BNBShield finds these illegal hotels through mapping overlay technology, image comparison and manual checks—and the company is just one of several doing so. SubletAlert.com offers a similar service and Host Compliance helps cities enforce their short-term rental laws by gathering all the information it can find on local short-term listings. It then notifies hosts, on behalf of the city, about local rules and regulations.

Host Compliance founder Ulrik Binzer doesn’t see his company as taking on Airbnb, but picking up where it leaves off. As he told CNN:

"The world is better for short-term rentals if they behave correctly," he said. "If this industry is to be sustainable in the long run, we have to accept that it's here to stay so we get ourselves out of thinking we can regulate it into oblivion.”

I agree that done right, short-term rentals are a good thing. Here are policy recommendations from Shareable's friends at the Sustainable Economies Law Center that show how cities can do it right.


Photo: Kimson Doan (CC0)

Cat Johnson


Cat Johnson | |

Cat Johnson is a writer and content strategist focused on coworking, collaboration and community. She's the author of Coworking Out Loud, a guide to content marketing for coworking space operators. Publications include Yes!