Photo by PoPville flickr user Miki J.
Marc lives in NoMa. PoP-Ed. posts may be written about anything related to the District and submitted via email to princeofpetworth(at)gmail please include PoP-Ed. in the subject line and the neighborhood in which you reside.
The following is written testimony that has also been submitted to the Council of DC.
“Testimony Opposing the Anti-Airbnb Bill, 22-92. by Marc Gersen
I live and vote in Ward 6 and I host on Airbnb. I urge you to vote “no” on this bill. First, I will explain how the 15-day limit harms ordinary D.C. residents like me. Second, I suggest a more targeted approach to regulating short-term rentals. Don’t regulate natural persons sharing their own home. Instead, focus on large apartment rental buildings, which advertise entire units online. These are the real de facto hotels.
I. The 15-day limit
A. The overbroad reach of the 15-day limit
I list my own bed on Airbnb whenever I travel. Under the bill, this would become unlawful because I travel more than 15 days per year.
I am a full-time student. Homesharing income helps me when I leave home for spring break for a week, winter break for two weeks, and even a weekend trip to escape the Inauguration madness.
The 15-day rule is unnecessary because the bill already contains another rule to limit homesharing to a dwelling’s permanent occupant. I’m a permanent occupant. Last November, I voted at the J.O. Wilson Elementary School across the street. I’m not an absentee, de facto hotel. I live here too. That should be enough.
This bill burdens a huge swath of D.C. residents. Frequent travel is common in Washington, D.C. Here, people travel a lot, and this bill burdens everyone who travels more than 15 days or who might ever think of listing their home on Airbnb. For example, federal workers get five weeks of paid vacation per year. One friend, an IT consultant, travels for work every Monday through Thursday. His only home is his Logan Circle condo, but he is away over 156 nights per year.
B. The regulation’s wasteful effect
Forcing me to forgo Airbnb income and to keep my bed empty after the 15th day I am away is pure waste. I will lose, the would-be visitor will lose, and our city will lose when both the visitor and I have less with which to enjoy our city.
The 15-day limit will not protect the supply of housing to other D.C. residents. When I travel, my room is empty space a visitor can use, but it’s not space available to be someone else’s home. It’s already my home. I’m coming back.
C. The 15-day limit harms the least privileged Airbnb hosts
On its face, the 15-day rule does not limit not de facto hotels, but rather, regulates ordinary people – permanent occupants of their own permanent residence. I have heard people argue that allowing unsupervised strangers into one’s own home for more than 15 days is bizarre and the rule is needed to prevent likely schemes to evade the rules. How naïve and privileged!
In my home, I have few valuables and few breakables. Having people over when I am away causes me little worry. But the extra income does helps.
Some people have, unashamedly, told me they have no sympathy for people using their home to make money. I am proud to be a D.C. resident. In the future, I hope to be able to afford to dismiss homesharing as bizarre or more hassle than it’s worth. For now, the extra income helps to prevent me from being displaced into Virginia.
The bill thus jeopardizes my ability to continue living in a neighborhood which is expensive and increasingly preferred by D.C.’s most privileged residents. This “Affordable Housing Protection Act” does the opposite. My neighborhood will not be any more affordable, but my home may be unaffordable to me.
The bill does not attempt to limit regulation to protecting affordable housing. It does not attempt to consider the many, varied circumstances throughout our city. The bill restricts what all D.C. residents can do in their permanent homes in all neighborhoods and at all price points. This is not a well-designed solution to a problem. It is like a regulatory shotgun blast.
D. Implementing the 15-day limit will be overly complicated and problematic
Suppose I’ve used up my 15 days, and I accept a guest reservation fully expecting to be home. But then a surprise occurs. Hopefully, it would be attending something like a wedding, not funeral. But either way, will I have to cancel on my guest? Would I have to self-report to an agency and seek approval? Will the rules distinguish between a funeral for close family, distant family, and friends? Will I need to hire a lawyer? What an embarrassment for our city!
II. A more effective solution is to instead look at real estate management companies and large rental buildings
This bill is problematic because it attempts too much, affects too many people, and applies a single rule to too many people’s different circumstances. The Council should put aside regulating Airbnb hosts who are natural persons and D.C. residents. Instead, look at large real estate management companies’ practice of keeping entire units off the rental market.
Consider 425 Mass, a luxury Chinatown rental building, which also lists itself as a hotel on Booking.com. I have attached the online hotel ads. The corporate owners of 425 Mass provide units to a professional hotel management company, yet prohibit the tenants who actually live there from homesharing. This is not unusual.
The Office of Tenant Advocate should look at whether this practice is fair to the other renters who live in the building. This seems unfair for tenants who moved in to a residential building, only to find that it later became a de facto hotel.
My home is not a de facto hotel. It is far more personal. I enjoy sharing coffee with my guests and talking about our city. Times are changing, and more people prefer home sharing. Washington, D.C.’s reputation succeeds in attracting young people, entrepreneurs, and tech startups. Attacking D.C. residents like me who embrace homesharing as “illegal hotel operators” is unfair, does nothing to protect affordable housing, and will harm our city’s reputation.