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The Ethics of Airbnb and Its Critics

Real Estate Developments, Real Estate Legality, Real Property


Airbnb Logo by Airbnb’s Design Department.

On Monday, Airbnb filed a formal complaint against Share Better with the New York State Joint Commission on Public Ethics.  The complaint accuses Share Better of being an unregistered lobbying group backed by major players in New York’s hotel industry, designed to spread propaganda against the popular home-sharing app.  It further alleges that Share Better is in violation of several state laws regulating lobbying groups, including the requirements to disclose funding sources and spending in excess of $5,000.

Share Better’s website describes the company as a “nationwide group of neighbors, community activists and elected officials who have a unique perspective on the so-called ‘sharing economy’ and Airbnb in our neighborhoods.”  Share Better presents itself as a colorful grass-roots organization of dozens of neighborhood groups, as well as assembly members, city councilmembers, and big names like Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and U.S. Congressman Jerrold Nadler.  However, instead of community resources, at first glance, the focus of the site is almost exclusively attacks on Airbnb.  The organization even released several commercials against the home-sharing company, one of which is linked here as an example.  Although it is listed nowhere on Share Better’s website, Bloomberg Businessweek reports that Share Better’s main backers are, in fact, the Hotel Association of New York City and New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council, as alleged in Airbnb’s complaint.

Given all this information, Share Better might seem suspect in its motives and strategies.  However, according to Share Better, it is really an advocate for affordable housing.  The main belief that Share Better advances is that Airbnb raises housing costs by buying up affordable units for use as illegal hotels.  Share Better also contends that Airbnb’s business model fosters an atmosphere of racism, as backed up by a recent Harvard Business School study by Benjamin Edelman, Michael Luca and Dan Svirsky, which found that people with names traditionally associated with minority race groups receive 16 percent fewer booking confirmations than applicants with traditionally white names.  Additionally, African American Airbnb hosts receive payments averaging 12 percent lower than white hosts.

A spokesperson for Share Better publicly disputed Airbnb’s case by asserting that Share Better is not incorporated and has no officers, employees or expenditures of its own, and that its chief funders, the Hotel Trades Council and the Hotel Association of New York City, all file lobbying disclosures as appropriate.  On Monday, a Share Better ally, the Illegal Hotel Committee of the West Side Neighborhood Alliance, through member Tom Cayler, filed a complaint with the Joint Commission on Public Ethics asserting that Airbnb has failed to fully comply with New York’s lobbying requirements.  In an email, Airbnb spokesperson Peter Schottenfels responded that, “any complaint by hotel-funded Share Better is like Al Capone accusing Eliot Ness of being a mobster. Somehow the consultants who run this front group were tipped off about an impending ethics complaint regarding their failure to properly disclose lobbying activities, and their response is to make up a retaliatory, sham claim.”

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