Hotel lobby cheers scrutiny on Airbnb

Hotel lobby cheers scrutiny on Airbnb
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The hotel industry's representatives in Washington are taking a victory lap after Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenThe Hill's 12:30 Report: NY Times story sparks new firestorm over Kavanaugh Working Families Party endorses Warren after backing Sanders in 2016 Warren proposes new restrictions, taxes on lobbying MORE (D-Mass.) and other lawmakers raised concerns about home-sharing services like Airbnb with a federal regulator.

In a message to their members last week, the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AH&LA) hailed the move after “working closely” with Warren and fellow Dem Sens. Brian Schatz (Hawaii) and Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinTrump court pick sparks frustration for refusing to answer questions This week: Congress returns for first time since mass shootings GOP senators object to White House delaying home-state projects for border wall MORE (Calif.) "for several months" on the issue.

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The message obtained by The Hill opens a new window into how the hotel industry is working to draw support for its fight against home-sharing services in Washington.

The senators "sent a letter to the Chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission this morning raising concerns about the short-term rental industry with respect to housing costs, racial discrimination, consumer protection, and community safety, as well as the short-term rental platforms' inconsistent compliance with tax laws,” the organization said in their message to members.

“The letter dovetails perfectly with our strategy of pushing for transparency while highlighting the public policy issues related to short-term rentals and the need for a level playing field, which was also a key ‘ask’ of members during our Legislative Action Summit earlier this year.”

The trade group went on to call the lawmakers' letter the "most consequential and high profile critique of the [short-term rental] industry at the federal level to date" and says the trade association is taking steps to bring more attention to the action.

And the letter praised the senators involved.

It said Warren’s “status as one of the most prominent and popular lawmakers among progressive activists will likely help mobilize grassroots and political support for reining in commercial operators on Airbnb and other sites.”

The group also noted that Feinstein was a key critic of Airbnb and mentioned Schatz’s position as a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over some on-demand economy issues.

“Together, the three Senators are an ideal team, from our perspective, to be raising the issue with the FTC,” the organization said.

Warren, Schatz and Feinstein sent their letter last week, asking FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez to probe the number of people on home-sharing platforms who are using them to run commercial businesses — renting out a portfolio of properties, rather than simply a few rooms or homes.

They also raised concerns about racial discrimination and safety that the hotel industry has also seized on to make its case against home-sharing services.

The hotel lobby confirmed the message to its members received by The Hill was authentic. It is commonplace for industry groups to influence congressional letter-writing.

But the hotel group's reaction highlights the intensity of its growing nationwide battle with Airbnb. Traditional hoteliers worry that Airbnb and other home-sharing platforms will cut into their business.

Last year, they took their case to the FTC at a workshop on issues related to the on-demand economy, which includes not just home-sharing but also, among other areas, ride-hail applications like Uber and Lyft.

Rosanna Maietta, a spokesperson for the hotel trade group, said that home-sharing platforms were one of the major issues brought up when its members visited Washington to meet with lawmakers earlier this year.

Feinstein’s spokesperson pointed The Hill to Schatz’s office, which declined to comment on the record about the trade association’s role in drafting the senators' letter to the FTC.

Warren’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Maietta said she didn’t view the note to members as out of the ordinary and noted that the industry has been “very public” with its concerns about commercial operators on Airbnb.

“It’s not surprising to me that we would send a note to our members about an important step in this conversation,” she said, later arguing that it wasn’t uncommon for trade groups to urge lawmakers to speak out on their issues.

“I mean, we’re a trade association, right? That’s what everybody in Washington does,” she said.