Warren joins call for Airbnb probe

Haiyun Jiang
Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Brian Schatz (Hawaii) asked a federal agency on Wednesday to examine the prevalence of commercial operators on websites such as Airbnb that facilitate short-term housing rentals.
“In order to assess the use and impact of the short-term rental market, we need reliable data on the commercial use of online platforms,” wrote the senators in a letter to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Chairwoman Edith Ramirez. “We believe the FTC is best positioned to address this data gap in an unbiased manner and we urge the Commission to conduct a review of commercial operators on short-term rental platforms.”
{mosads}The letter, led by Schatz (D-Hawaii), was also signed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).
An FTC spokesperson confirmed that the agency had received the letter but declined to comment further.
Critics have accused Airbnb and similar services of not doing enough to police operators who use their platforms to run larger-scale commercial lodging businesses, as opposed to individuals simply putting their home or room up for rent. The lawmakers are asking the FTC to investigate the scope of this practice on home-sharing platforms.
“On one hand, these firms have sparked innovation, increased competition, and have provided new means by which our constituents can earn extra income,” they said.
“On the other hand, we are concerned that short-term rentals may be exacerbating housing shortages and driving up the cost of housing in our communities.”
The FTC is in the midst of an examination of the on-demand economy, a loose term encompassing businesses that let Americans buy goods and services with a tap on their smartphone screens, including home-sharing platforms. Their guidance on the sector, which will be nonbinding, was initially expected earlier this year but has yet to materialize. The lawmakers said they hope that the FTC will gather data and include it either in its report or as a stand-alone product.
Meanwhile, battles continue to rage around Airbnb, which critics allege restricts housing availability and drives up rental prices. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is currently considering whether to sign a bill that would limit activities on home-sharing services, and the company just sued San Francisco over new penalties for when its hosts do not register with authorities.
The hotel industry is also a primary foe for the company and others like it, since hotels see them as a major threat to their business.
The senators also alluded to complaints that Airbnb does not do enough to deal with discriminatory users, saying they have “read troubling reports of racial discrimination on some short-term rental platforms.”
An Airbnb spokesperson said in a statement that the company looked forward to working with lawmakers and regulators, but defended their platform as empowering mostly middle-class hosts.
“The vast majority of our hosts in Massachusetts, California, Hawaii and across the county are middle class people who depend on home sharing as a way to address economic inequality,” the spokesperson said. “According to a study conducted by former National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling, the typical Airbnb host makes approximately $7,530 by sharing their home 66 days per year.”
This story was last updated on July 14 at 11:06 a.m.
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