L.A. Plan Would Demand Airbnb Over Information So City Can Track Down Illegal Rentals

Airbnb, the room-sharing startup based in San Francisco, unveiled a new corporate logo on Wednesday (July 16, 2014) called "the Belo," as part of a rebranding campaign.   http://blog.airbnb.com/belong-anywhere/

Rules proposed Friday to regulate Airbnb and other vacation-rental websites in Los Angeles could set the stage for a political showdown, with the city seeking information from the companies in order to track down illegal rentals.

The plan would empower Los Angeles to fine the online platforms – and the hosts – if they advertised rentals that defied restrictions on where and how often rooms or entire homes could be used for short stays.

The websites also could be fined if they failed to hand over addresses and other information to the city. Airbnb and other companies have been reluctant to share data, including how long travelers had stayed and the price they paid, arguing that doing so would trample on hosts’ privacy rights.

The proposed law “takes a step backward, putting consumer privacy at great risk by requiring online platforms to give the government unfettered access to confidential user data without any idea of how that information would be used,” Airbnb spokeswoman Alison Schumer said in a statement.

But critics contend that requiring the websites to help find and halt illegal rentals is a crucial step in stopping scofflaws. City Councilman Mike Bonin said that if the companies don’t hand over information, “we’re shooting blind.”

“We’re not asking for a ton of deep, personal private information,” Bonin said. “What units are being rented? How often?”

The law would allow short-term rentals in Los Angeles but impose several restrictions:

People would be able to rent out only their primary residence, defined as the place they live at least six months out of the year. Hosts could rent out only that home, or a room within it, for up to 90 days annually.

They would be barred from offering apartments that fall under rent stabilization or affordable-housing covenants, and would have to pay the same kind of lodging taxes as hotels, which would go into a city fund for affordable housing.

The plan drew praise Friday from housing and labor advocates worried about how the rise of such rentals has affected housing availability.

Roy Samaan, a research and policy analyst with the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, called the proposal “a great step forward.”

“It allows legitimate home-sharing without displacing rent-controlled tenants,” Samaan said.

But the Los Angeles Short Term Rental Alliance – which includes hosts who use Airbnb, HomeAway and other platforms – called the plan overreaching and misguided, saying it would hurt residents who rely on renting out a second home to support their families.

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