Molly Turner, director of public policy for Airbnb, tells ABC News that the company's website explicitly informs prospective hosts that they have an obligation, before signing up with the site, to find out what local laws and regulations permit and what they prohibit. "In many cities," says Airbnb's advisory, "you must register, get a permit, or obtain a license before you list your property or accept guests. Certain types of short-term bookings may be prohibited altogether." By accepting Airbnb's terms of service, it declares, "You certify that you will follow your local laws and regulations."
Turner says further that Airbnb has commissioned studies by HR&A, a real estate and economic development consulting firm, to document the demographics of both hosts and guests, and to measure guests' economic impact on the communities where they stay.
Reports already are out on San Francisco and Paris. Another--on Amsterdam--soon will be forthcoming.
According to the San Francisco study, Airbnb guests contributed $56 million to the local economy between April 2011 and May 2012, of which $43 million was spent at the neighborhood level on local businesses. That spending occurred in neighborhoods that had not previously benefitted from tourist spending. That's because 72 percent of guests stayed outside the central hotel corridor, in neighborhoods "off the beaten path."
The study says 90 percent of hosts take in visitors only on an occasional basis. Hosts use nearly half of the resulting income to defray their rents or mortgages, or to pay their utilities or other domestic bills.
"It's very clear from the data," Turner agues, "that we're helping the middle class to be able to afford to stay in San Francisco and in their homes by providing additional income. Upwards of 80 percent of hosts are renting because they need to make ends meet. In San Francisco, a huge percentage of hosts are below the local median household income. A majority are low-income. They rely on this. As for the guests, a lot say they would not have come to the city or spent money if they hadn't been able to find a host. Compared to hotel guests, they visit more frequently and stay longer; they also spend more money in total than do hotel guests."
They're not frugal, she says. It's only that they choose to spend their money on things other than $900 a night hotel rooms. With the money saved, she says, "They patronize the local café, the neighborhood restaurant." Thanks to Airbnb, neighborhoods and small businesses that have never before benefitted from tourist spending now do.
"We have a great relationship with B&Bs," Turner insists. Many B&Bs use Airbnb to find guests, she says. Nor are big hoteliers worried. "They see we have a very different business model from theirs."
Asked if she is seeing any organized, national opposition to Airbnb, she says, "No, not yet. The concerns we hear are very, very local. People see something different happening in their neighborhood, and they want to control it. Our concern is to have people understand what's really going on."
Airbnb, she says, is not against communities like Silver Lake taking steps to control short-term rentals. "We applaud them for that," Turner says. In fact Airbnb (along with HomeAway, FlipKey and TripAdvisor) has established a website called the Short Term Rental Advocacy Center (STRAC) to assist communities trying to regulate the practice. According to the website, STRAC "compiles the best data and resources available for use in understanding the impacts and advocating for the smart regulation of short-term rentals."