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  • Writer's pictureRealFacts Editorial Team

Airbnb’s Secret Weapon to Fight State Laws: Its Hosts

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In the picturesque town of Jericho, Vermont, Julie Marks rents out her basement and a guest unit on Airbnb. When state officials proposed a bill in 2021 to restrict short-term rentals, she penned an impassioned opinion piece against it in a local paper. This act of defiance caught the attention of Rent Responsibly, a national network for short-term rental host groups, partly funded by Expedia Group, the owner of the vacation rental-listing site Vrbo. Rent Responsibly urged Marks to form a state group to oppose the bill.

Rapid Mobilization and Success

Fueled by determination and a couple of glasses of wine, Marks created a website at 1 a.m. and, almost overnight, 600 supporters rallied behind her cause. Taking further advice from an established host group, she hired a lobbyist and soon, alongside other group leaders, met with lawmakers for coffee, testified at hearings, and hosted social events at local breweries. Their grassroots efforts paid off: within a few months, the Vermont bill was dead.

A Growing Political Force

Marks’ story is emblematic of a broader trend where Airbnb hosts are emerging as a potent political force. These hosts, often with the financial backing and organizational support of the short-term rental industry, are increasingly becoming the face of advocacy efforts while companies like Airbnb and Expedia assist behind the scenes. Rent Responsibly has facilitated the formation of numerous advocacy groups across the U.S., enabling hosts to swarm statehouses, flood towns with letters, and show up at community meetings en masse. This mobilization is beginning to shift the political balance in states such as Vermont.

Facing Regulatory Challenges

This surge in political clout comes at a critical time for the U.S. short-term rental industry, which faces a wave of regulatory challenges. Cities like New York have already taken aggressive steps, such as enforcing strict registration rules that have severely curtailed short-term rentals. Other states and municipalities may follow suit, driven by concerns from hotel companies, unions, neighborhood groups, and housing advocates about the impact of short-term rentals on local communities and housing markets.

Host Groups Advocate for Benefits

However, host groups argue that their industry promotes tourism, creates jobs, generates tax revenue, and helps middle-class homeowners pay their bills. The number of Airbnb hosts in the U.S. has grown dramatically, reaching over 790,000, an eightfold increase since 2014. With increased host revenues, many individuals now have substantial financial stakes in preventing restrictive regulations from passing.

Success Stories in Colorado

Colorado's advocacy group, the Colorado Lodging and Resort Alliance (Clara), illustrates how these efforts are gaining traction. Initially focused on information sharing, Clara shifted towards active advocacy by 2023. With funding from the Vacation Rental Management Association, Clara hired a lobbyist and successfully helped defeat a Colorado Senate bill that would have significantly increased property taxes on short-term rentals.

Challenges in Hawaii and New York

Not all efforts have been successful. In Hawaii, the pandemic-driven surge in rents and the devastating Lahaina fires intensified calls to restrict short-term rentals. Despite forming a statewide group, hosts could not prevent a new law allowing counties to set their own limits on Airbnb. In New York, protests and lawsuits failed to stop a near-total ban on short-term rentals.

Ongoing Support from Airbnb and Expedia

Despite setbacks, the organizational support from Airbnb and Expedia continues to bolster host groups. Hosts like Andrea Henderson in Denver have seen their numbers swell, with local groups growing from a handful of members to over a thousand. These hosts coordinate with company advocacy teams, disseminate information about legislation, and encourage community engagement.

The Strategy of Staying in the Background

Companies like Airbnb prefer to remain in the background, allowing hosts to lead the charge. This strategy proves effective as local voices resonate more authentically with lawmakers and communities. Julie Marks captures this sentiment well: “If Airbnb walks in the door, no one is going to support them. But if Julie Marks and her three friends, who are also Vermonters, walk through the door, they’ll listen.”

A Shift in the Conversation

The rise of organized Airbnb hosts signifies a shift in the conversation around rental regulation. As grassroots advocacy becomes increasingly sophisticated, hosts are not only defending their livelihoods but also reshaping the political landscape in favor of short-term rentals. This growing movement underscores the power of community-driven action in the face of regulatory challenges.


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