Travelers renting residential homes is a hot topic. Advocates for short-term rentals say it is good for the economy and causes no additional disruption to neighborhoods. Proponents for vacation rentals would have you believe they are a breeding ground for noise, drugs, and illegal activity. Neighbors insist, “I don’t want Airbnb near me.” Let’s unpack both sides. Should your city ban Airbnb?
Airbnb runs on the philosophy of the sharing economy. In this day in age women are renting out their wombs, drivers are renting out their cars, and now homeowners are renting out their houses. There is an element of idealism interwoven in the sharing economy. In many jurisdictions worldwide, laws have not caught up to reality. Individuals on both sides of these sharing economy transactions often only have trust to depend on.
While trust and a sense of community are a cornerstone, the sharing economy in part is popular by necessity. Entrepreneurs offering up their wombs, cars, or homes may claim altruism, but in the end, there are profits being created. A shrinking middle class has spawned creativity amongst those hoping to get ahead. Owners of specialized equipment rent it out for extra cash. Property owners can rent out storage space for a fee. All of these sharing economy transactions directly benefit an individual, possibly your neighbor.
Why Would Someone Airbnb?
In a word, money. You can find countless articles describing the cultural education a host received from an Airbnb guest or a new friendship they formed as a result of opening their home. I don’t doubt those experiences are real and life-changing for the hosts writing about them. But they didn’t start renting their home on Airbnb for some pipe dream of a new best friend.
Entrepreneurs with homes on Airbnb range from struggling apartment renters granting access to a pull out sofa to career landlords with dozens of properties. For all of the hosts, it boils down to income. The sharing economy has given the little guy an opportunity to compete in a marketplace that prides itself on the community. Mega landlords sometimes end up with lower reviews because of the lack of personal connection.
I tend to believe owning something should give you the autonomy to sell access to that thing. Guests staying at an Airbnb near me are no more foreign to me than any long-term renter or homeowner. Sure I “know” my neighbors in the sense that I know their names, know when they go on vacation, and know their political tendencies from yard signs. But I don’t really know my neighbors. I haven’t done full background checks on them. They could be secretly torturing animals in the basement. My neighbors could be mean to their gay brother or hateful to their African-American sister-in-law. Just as I don’t have any right to prevent the bank from selling a home to a racist, homophobic, xenophobic, and sexist buyer, I also don’t have any right to know who might be staying in my neighbor’s house for the weekend.
Having an Airbnb near me is good for small businesses nearby. In an age when Amazon can deliver your heart’s desire in under two hours, bringing travelers into neighborhoods encourages patronage to local shops. Many Airbnb’s promote local shops to their guests via flyers, coupons, and welcome books. Long-term residents may not visit the local bakery very often, but short-term guests are bringing money to spend on their vacations. It’s ironic that each state’s tourism office spends large budgets trying to convince travelers to visit their area, but residents don’t want those dollars spent in their own community.
As a frequent traveler with a family, I love the concept of Airbnb. Eating out for every meal can be tedious with children’s constant mood swings. Renting a home to utilize a kitchen and spread out for personal sanity is invaluable. My family uses the home, in the same manner, a family who owned the home would use it. In talking with many Airbnb opposers, they have actually rented a short-term property as a traveler. They just don’t want an Airbnb near them. Their desire to prevent Airbnb from being near them seems rooted in emotion. They believe Airbnb threatens their way of life in their own home. Instead of recognizing that a family just like them could want to come to town to spend Thanksgiving in the same neighborhood as their parents, they have decided only criminals would rent a home in a neighborhood.
My city currently has a ban on all transient tenant rentals, so there are no legal Airbnb near me at the moment. The November 2018 election of new city council members brought the Airbnb discussion up yet again. At a candidate forum, three different potential council members cited increased traffic as a reason to continue preventing Airbnb in our city. It seems the emotional reaction from uninformed people is that we should ban Airbnb.
As an involved citizen, I asked the two business owner candidates how many of their employees lived within 2 miles (walking distance) to their places of business. The answer, zero. Politicians would have us think that me leaving my house and allowing renters to be there instead is increasing traffic. I took it upon myself to walk down our local shopping street and ask employees where they lived. The most common answer among hourly workers was, unfortunately, a city 27 miles away and a minimum of a 40-minute drive. What would a logical person conclude is the actual traffic problem?
Airbnb Horror Stories
With over 400 million individual rentals completed worldwide the percentage of negative experiences remains extremely low. If you compare crime statistics between a vacation rental home and any average owner-occupied home, there is no evidence to suggest the rate of crime is increased. However, if you make the threshold of acceptance a zero crime rate, you will, of course, be disappointed. Crimes happen on airplanes, in hotels, at restaurants, and on university campuses all over the world. We don’t outlaw those things citing a few crimes and making people fearful of those institutions. Why has the idea to ban Airbnb become so popular?
Follow the Money
When an opinion like outlawing Airbnb becomes so popular, you have to wonder where the opinion stems from. Lobbyists for the very popular hotel industry are making the few short-term rental horror stories go viral. They are strategically convincing your neighbors they don’t want any Airbnb near me. My local politicians say they believe in property rights in one breath and they are scared of allowing Airbnb near me in another breath. Logic versus emotion is pitting neighbor against neighbor. I don’t begrudge my neighbor the ability to earn some extra money by leveraging their home. We are all just trying to get ahead and I believe all of us can be successful simultaneously.
One argument made against Airbnb points to the reduction of affordable housing as a result of vacation rentals. It’s hard to know what impact Airbnb has on a complex issue like long-term housing, but it’s worth analyzing. The average number of listings per Airbnb host has gone up gradually over the years. As it stands now there are 6.5 listings per unique host.
Not all properties hosted on Airbnb are exclusive full-time vacation rentals, to clarify many of them are rooms being rented in a full-time owner-occupied residence. The average may or may not be heavily affected by career landlords offering dozens or even hundreds of properties. A top income earner on Airbnb even has over one thousand listings he offers through a system he calls rental arbitrage. That large network of Airbnb was acquired though renting long term rentals and sub-letting them as short-term rentals.
Median home sales prices in my home state of Oregon are $330,800. Based solely on averages of property taxes, insurance, and mortgage rates a monthly payment of $2,230.31 would be due on a very average home. In the same state, an average employee earns $60,834. Numbers like these make it very difficult for long-term landlords to break even moreover turn a profit. Charging $3,000 per month to a long-term tenant is certainly not exactly affordable housing. However, as an Airbnb host I was able to generate an average of $3,444.25 per month.
No They Shouldn’t Ban Airbnb
New concepts are scary. It’s easy to see how Airbnb can be viewed as a threat to the older generations understanding of travel accommodations. In 2018 Airbnb celebrated ten years of matching vacationers to short-term home rental options. Virtually every corner of the globe has an Airbnb available to rent. Right now it is not legal to operate an Airbnb near me, but with understanding will come acceptance. Letting fear dictate legislation, opinions, and industry progress is a mistake. Let your neighbor earn some income. In conclusion, I want an Airbnb near me just as much as I want to be able to rent an Airbnb in London when I take my next family vacation.