Airbnb study outlines impact on Philadelphia

The American Hotel & Lodging Association’s ongoing profile on illegal home-sharing operations in major cities, particularly with regards to Airbnb, continues with a new report made available on the company’s effect on Philadelphia. The study was conducted by Pennsylvania State University and began in January, looking into cities such as Phoenix, New York and Miami with particular attention paid to the number of commercial operators in each destination that are renting more than one room at a time, often for extended periods.

And, like Phoenix, Miami and New York before it, the project’s research on Philadelphia produced familiar results. According to John Longstreet, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Restaurant & Lodging Association, 57 percent of Airbnb’s revenue in the City of Brotherly Love comes from home sharing operators renting rooms for 180 days or more, generating more than $8 million for Airbnb annually. Roughly 27 percent of the city’s hosts are renting properties full time, consisting of $4 million of Airbnb’s revenue in the city. In addition, hosts offering multiple units drove over one-third (36 percent) of Airbnb’s revenue in the Philadelphia area — more than $5 million.

Philadelphia is the latest city in the AH&LA's study, which has touched on Boston, Miami, Phoenix and New York.

As in previous reports, the AH&LA insists that the target of these studies is not the average Airbnb operator but commercial landlords operating beneath the company’s umbrella without adhering to the same level of oversight and regulation. Dee Fegan, owner of 30 Timber Road Bed & Breakfast in Mechanicsburg, said local bed-and-breakfasts have been doing Airbnb’s job for years and yet find themselves competing with hosts who do not have to comply with fire codes, health and sanitation standards, noise ordinances and more. 

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“Short-term rentals and vacation rentals often don’t follow any of those rules,” Fegan said. “If short-term rental hosts are allowed to continue to skirt the law, legitimate businesses like mine will no longer be able to compete. What we need is equal regulation—that’s fair to all of us small business owners, that’s fair to communities where these businesses operate and that’s fair to guests who are coming to stay.”

While reports like these show a statistical imbalance in the makeup of Airbnb’s hosts, leaning heavily toward commercial landlord operations rather than individuals renting single rooms, the company doesn’t seem phased. Recent developments have shown Airbnb working to build an "owners program" to work with the real estate industry, with building owners applying for the Airbnb Friendly Building Program, which allows owners to work with Airbnb and tenants to clarify renting rules. Rather than seek compliance, it seems the company is trying to set a new industry standard for working with commercial landlords.

But some cities continue to hit back. Last year, New York City dumped funding into programs to seek out illegal hotel operators, and this week San Francisco is preparing to increase registration fees for short-term rental hosts to $250, five times the current $50 fee charged every two years. The price increase is a means to cover the $850,000 annual budget for the city’s new Office of Short-Term Rental, designed to enforce short-term renting laws.

Airbnb, not a company to shirk away from responding to its critics, responded by suing San Francisco in federal court, and released a statement calling for a reform of the registration process. “Instead of meaningful reforms, middle-class hosts now get a (fivefold) permit increase on top of the seemingly endless list of other requirements just for renting out a spare bedroom,” Airbnb’s statement said.

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