Advocates for Airbnb, the online service that allows people to rent rooms in their homes, are mobilizing as the city of Raleigh considers challenges to the Internet company's legal ability to operate in the city.
Jeff Tippett, a local public-relations consultant, has organized a panel discussion for next Monday, Jan. 5, featuring a cast largely friendly to the Internet service. It's scheduled for 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at The Architect Bar & Social House at 108 1/2 East Hargett St. in Raleigh, limited to ages 21 and up.
The issue arose late in November, when the city received an anonymous complaint about property owner Gregg Stebben, who was renting a room in Five Points. City staff say that Raleigh's rules largely forbid such "bed-and-breakfast" activity in most neighborhoods.
Now Stebben, the Airbnb user, is set to star in the panel discussion. He'll be joined by Max Pomeranc, a senior spokesman for Airbnb; Justin Miller, an entrepreneur who faced his own trouble with city regulations; and Bill Spruill, a local investor and entrepreneur.
Airbnb neither requested nor paid for the meeting, Tippett said, but he acknowledged that he is advocating for the service. Like Stebben, he sees the issue as a litmus test: Will Raleigh's government change its rules to foster a new Internet-enabled economy?
"We've done so much to advance in the innovation space," he said. "When I saw this come up I knew this was a big issue because the implications are larger than just Airbnb. This is about innovation and about the shared economy."
The panel will not include any owners of traditional bed-and-breakfasts, who often criticize Airbnb as an unregulated and unfair threat to their business. Neighbors of some Airbnb rentals in Raleigh also have complained about unfamiliar guests taking parking spaces, among other issues.
However, audience members may ask questions of the panel, Tippett said. The Raleigh City Council also has been invited; Councilman Russ Stephenson, who has expressed concern about the service, plans to attend, Tippett said.
The city council, meanwhile, likely will discuss Airbnb again late in January. The city has officially notified Stebben that his rental is breaking city zoning rules, but it's holding off on fines until the council considers its next step, which could include an amendment to city ordinances.