Airbnb “Good neighbor” strategy announced in 2016 tool box document

Shared economy platform giant, Airbnb, announces a series of four steps for local communities and cities they can take to regulate their short-term rentals.

Since Airbnb was founded in 2008, more than 140 million guests have been hosted in almost 200 countries. Airbnb is a person-to-person webpage designed for hosts to generate income by marketing and offering space in one’s home to travelers. This successful business method has grown out of the sharing economy popularity since its inception in 2008. Since then Airbnb has seen a demand grow for solutions to some of the challenges communities face with short-term rentals. Late last year (December 2016) Airbnb announced the release of a 31-page report titled, “The Airbnb Policy Tool Chest”,  outlining a four pronged approach to working with local governments on short-term rentals. This is the first of its kind by the company.  Through several years of experience around the world Airbnb offers “insights gained, lessons learned, and policy options developed through hundreds of collaborations with policymakers across five continents…”

The Airbnb Policy Tool Chest addresses four areas related to short-term rentals: Tax collection, Good neighbors, Accountability, and Transparency and privacy. This article of the 5-part series specifically addresses “Good neighbors”.

This portion of tool chest addresses a number of areas related to the overall benefits of shared housing as it relates to tourism, such as affordable accommodation in locations which are otherwise unaffordable; increased foot traffic in communities, spurring economic development, and the subject of changing zoning regulations to allow more home based businesses.

In Michigan, for example, a number of coastal and inland communities that once were booming with tourists may not be today.  The problem may now be a lack of accommodation or services. Rural communities, in particular, can entice tourism by identifying locations of, and allowing, shared accommodation for visitors wishing to stay overnight.  This can be particularly effective in communities that do not have other options for overnight stays. Other types of businesses could be created within homes as occupations as well that could spawn additional economic development without significant overhead entrepreneurs face in traditional brick and mortar operations.

Shared housing raises concerns about the “quality” of the visitor and communities have a right to be concerned. Airbnb addresses the “good neighbor” issue by providing their “Neighbor Tool”, which, according to their tool chest on page 6, “makes it easy for people living near Airbnb listings to reach us so we can help hosts with small issues before they become big problems. When a neighbor reports an issue at a listing, such as a noise complaint, we reach out to the host to give them an opportunity to address the problem.” The tool chest policy is intended ensure users of the Airbnb service that all inquiries are reviewed “…and if we find violation of our policies, we notify the hosts and take appropriate actions.”

This tool has been employed long enough already for Airbnb to eliminate nearly 2,000 listings between San Francisco and South Korea before 2017 begins.

On page 3 of their report, Airbnb makes an important distinction though for communities looking to this tool for answers in that, “this is not a one-tool-fits-all policy prescription for model legislation. Rules that work in Portugal may not make sense for Philadelphia, yet both places leveraged these policy tools to enact regulations that enable home sharing to thrive, to their immediate and long-term benefit.” (A link to the actual report is available here.)

Michigan too has its own challenges and unique state laws on this topic. Some of these solutions may seem appropriate it is wise to consult your local experts involved with planning and zoning, as well as tourism development.

In addition, those in Michigan State University Extension that focus on land use provide various training programs on planning and zoning, which are available to be presented in your county.  Contact your local land use educator for more information. In addition, MSU Extension also provides various programs on tourism development in partnership with land use experts across Michigan. 

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