Some of the key questions in the city’s debate about Airbnb have emerged. The city could consider instituting taxes on short-term Internet rentals such as Airbnb, and may create a licensing and permitting process for rentals, among other options presented at a Raleigh city council committee meeting Tuesday.
One possibility: Like San Jose, the city could discourage people from renting out homes where they don’t live. Max Pomeranc, Airbnb’s public policy manager, suggested that Raleigh make its potential rules easy for amateur users.
“We’re big believers in regular people renting out their homes and bringing a lot to communities,” said Pomeranc, who flew down from New York for the council committee meeting, which was far from a final discussion.
Pomeranc was responding to a suggestion that Airbnb users and other short-term rental owners be forced to register their properties on local or state government lists.
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“If you’re doing this once a year or twice a year, you’re probably going to be disincentivized from doing this by a registry,” he said.
However, hotel and bed-and-breakfast owners want Airbnb users to play by the same rules they do – and some might go to the legislature to ensure that happens.
“Our members have no interest in trying to shut down Airbnb ... but we are interested in fairness and in a level playing field,” said Steve Mange, a representative of the N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association.
The group wants to see a statewide registry of Internet rentals, Mange said; he reminded the committee that most lodging establishments have to get a permit. He expects state legislation regarding Airbnb and similar services to emerge this year, he said.
That idea gave Councilman John Odom pause.
“I’m very nervous to hand this over to the state,” he said.
Yet he said too that the city should balance the disadvantages that bed-and-breakfasts and hotels face compared to Airbnb users.
“I have a special-use permit. I’m registered with the city. I’m registered with the state. I get the inspections. All that has cost money,” said Doris Jurkiewicz, owner of the Oakwood Inn. She warned that the change could drive bed-and-breakfasts from the area.
At that, a local Airbnb host chimed in: “Would you feel like you’re over-regulated?” Brad Thompson asked.
“At this point, yes. But I didn’t feel like it before,” Jurkiewicz responded.
Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin said some changes might be inevitable.
“It’s obvious you’re frustrated, but this is a disruptive innovation. When disruption happens, some people do lose business,” she told Jurkiewicz, though Baldwin also called for a “level playing field.”
Dennis Edwards, president of the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau, said that Airbnb rentals might be luring out-of-town convention visitors, when the convention center and other attractions were actually funded by taxes on hotel rooms.
“We’re leaving money on the table,” he said. There might be a solution to that: Airbnb automatically collects taxes from users in some cities, potentially including occupancy taxes.
However, the company will only do so much to help enforce new laws, Pomeranc said. If Raleigh sets limits on how people can rent their house, it shouldn’t expect Airbnb to turn over all its personal data on users without a subpoena.
“You would want the normal due process,” he said.
The Law and Public Safety committee will pick up the topic again in March.