Image credit: BloombergView

Sooner or later, nearly every city will need to address the rapid spread of Airbnb-style short-term rentals. The Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) offers the below recommendations to help local policymakers in the United States draft equitable short-term rental regulations. You're invited to give your feedback here.

SELC believes new regulation should create inclusive opportunities for local wealth-creation while balancing the needs of all community members. Ideally, regulations should protect public interests such as housing affordability, health, safety, and municipal revenues while giving city residents a reasonable amount of latitude to earn money from short-term guests.

Short-term rentals (STRs) are getting a lot of attention these days, and so are the online platforms that facilitate them, including Airbnb, VRBO, Homeaway, and Craigslist. But hosting short-term guests isn't new. Indeed, travelers seeking a unique travel experience have been staying with locals instead of hotels well before the dawn of Airbnb. What STR platforms have done is mainstream the "alternative" travel experience by creating one simple interface where users can find a place to stay with a local host. The number of properties available for short-term rental and the frequency with which they are rented have skyrocketed in just a few years thanks in large part to the ability to connect and transmit payments between millions of people around the world.

There's just one complication: many municipal codes classify STRs as hotels, requiring hosts to comply with all the regulations applicable to hotels. These laws typically include zoning approval, transient occupancy taxes, and compliance with health, building, and safety laws. Clearly there is a need for regulations that tailor commercial hotel laws to STRs, but evictions of long-term renters, shrinking housing stock, and loss of public revenues demonstrate that the laws can't stop there. An equitable STR ordinance must address local risks by creating oversight and protections against tenant abuses, conversion of housing stock, and loss of local tax revenues.

The question of how to regulate STRs, if at all, is a divisive topic. Those who have interacted with STRs, whether as hosts, users, regulators, tenants rights activists, or neighbors, tend to disagree on how the activity should be treated at the local level. On one end of the spectrum, proponents of STRs would say that the activity should be treated as a normal use of one's residence, incurring no more scrutiny or oversight than any other use of one's home. On the other end of the spectrum, opponents assert that STRs will inevitably reduce housing stock and drive up rents and should therefore be banned altogether. SELC has crafted this policy brief in order to give cities the tools they need to regulate STRs according to unique local circumstances and the impact STRs can have on local economies, neighborhoods, housing, and livelihoods.

STRs affect everyone. In order to acknowledge the experience and insights of a wide range of stakeholders, we offer this opportunity for the public to weigh in and offer feedback on our recommendations. Please read, comment, and share this brief during the public comment period which ends April 10, 2015.

Yassi Eskandari-Qajar


Yassi Eskandari-Qajar

Yassi works at the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC). She directs SELC's City Policies and Community Currencies programs, identifying the legal barriers to the grassroots sharing economy, including shared transportation, shared housing,