Airbnb Hosts Facing Continued Short-Term Rental Backlash Across US

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Airbnb is facing a mountain of challenges to its listings across the United States. The company, nevertheless, reported that its bookings reached an all-time high this year after reporting $2 billion in profits last year. With a stock price up by almost 50 percent this year, new zoning and tax restrictions enacted by cities and states, however, are taking some of the luster from those trying to use Airbnb for their property.

The heyday for Airbnb hosts started during the pandemic, beginning in mid-2021 and mid-2022, when the number of new hosts in the United States increased by more than 50 percent. But since then, many towns and cities have attempted to limit a host’s opportunity to make some extra money from their properties.

In Orange County, California, the city of Irvine, for example, banned short-term rentals in 2018, but has just started to enforce the law. According to a study published this summer in Real Estate Economics, the impact of enforcement has had a noticeable effect on long-term rents, which dropped by $114 per month. One of the study’s authors, Michael Seiler, a real estate and finance professor at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, told The Epoch Times that one of the reasons for the new laws is that some renters of Airbnb properties aren’t observing neighborhood decorum.

“Some folks don’t fall in line and follow the rules, but there’s still a ton of pros and cons on both sides of this issue. From the tax revenue perspective, you can say this is good for cities, with homeowners generating new property taxes,” he said.

Other cities in California, including San Francisco and Santa Monica, have also placed severe restrictions on short-term rentals (STR) in their cities.

The most talked-about restriction on Airbnb hosts occurred in September in New York City, where, after numerous attempts by the company to stop it, the city now requires STR hosts to register with the Office of Special Enforcement to obtain a license. Once the license has been obtained, rentals are allowed only if the host not only lives there but is present during the guests’ entire stay. The city also banned Airbnb stays of less than 30 days, the same restriction now in Irvine. The city aims to open up more rental opportunities and competition in New York City, where a studio apartment goes for $3,350 a month and a four-bedroom apartment rents at $6,995. The effort has drastically reduced the number of available STRs in the city.

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Mr. Seiler said he understands both sides of the Airbnb debate.

“Imagine you’re in New York City, and you own a place there, and you’d like to supplement your mortgage or rent. In that case, you’re going to like Airbnb. But if you don’t have a desire to do that, and you’re the neighbor of one, you’re against it because they don’t know the rules for noise and things like security and trash. It’s annoying.”

The state of Colorado saw a chance to collect new property taxes, which could quadruple for STRs next year. Proposed 2024 legislation could hike taxes for Colorado STRs from 7.6 percent to nearly 28 percent.

In Greenville, South Carolina, a new city code restricts STRs to only certain zones and levies additional taxes. Both Airbnb and Vacation Rentals by Owners are cited in the code. As a result, hosts who are backing proposed legislation, H.3253, have made a mounting effort. The legislation would prohibit a municipality, county, or other political subdivision of the state from enacting or enforcing an ordinance, resolution, or regulation prohibiting the rental of a residential dwelling to a short-term guest. The bill, which was introduced in December, is still stuck in committee.

In addition to regulatory issues, some hosts and customers have filled social media with complaints about working with Airbnb. One of the most significant issues has been Airbnb cleaning fees, which, according to NerdWallet, are charged at a median rate of $75 for a one-night stay. Its analysis found that the cleaning fees added up to about 25 percent of the total rental price, with almost 40 percent of listings charging cleaning fees ranging from 20 percent to 29.9 percent of list price.

But other internal issues have also plagued Airbnb hosts. Francesca Calabretta, who owns six Airbnb properties in Lynchburg, Virginia, told The Epoch Times that she’s not as concerned about cleaning fees as she is about not being backed up by the company in disputes with renters.

“The guests seem to get the upper hand every single time an issue arises,” she said. “I’ve had guests cancel at the last minute in prime season and was gracious in negotiating with them on a partial refund, and every single time, Airbnb, without my permission, would refund the full amount.

When there are disputes, the guests are always right.  I get it that they have bigger fish to fry, but hosts are not a priority for them.”

Soon, a private equity firm could also own the Airbnb you rent. TPG Capital Management LP has agreed to invest $450 million in Airbnb Inc., showing its hope that values keep growing.

TPG told The Wall Street Journal that the Florida-specific home-buying project is a “pilot program” and wouldn’t necessarily scale to large numbers if results fall below expectations. But the firm also said that Florida is the test ground, and if the program proved successful, it would look to expand to other vacation markets.

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