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Guest Writer
May 10, 2014

The Government Battles with the Growing Sharing Economy

The Sharing Economy is a misunderstood new wave of business, but it’s causing enough of a stir in a handful of industries that it has caught the attention of consumers and businesses alike. The Internet infused applications instigate exchange of goods and services among consumers – a far cry from the traditional business to consumer model of the most powerful and equally profitable industries. These apps have grown in popularity, and in certain instances with the type of zeal that has the potential to cause mass hysteria from consumers utilizing these new community-based businesses.

By Diana Zelikman from Fueled (New York’s leading mobile app development and once in a while they write blog entries for betahaus.)

As of now, the Sharing Economy ideal poses a number of legal questions surrounding government regulation that can’t be easily answered. We, at Fueled, thought we’d check out one business whose implicated itself below.

Company: Airbnb

Coming on the market, fast and loud, with a peer to peer exchange of a constantly sought after asset, Airbnb is an online community network that quickly connects individuals with rental properties to those who are seeking a place to stay on a short-term, temporary basis. Whether customers are looking for a quiet getaway in the mountains of Colorado or need a cozy penthouse with a view deep into the ever busy hub of Manhattan, this mobile app based company provides a means to an end, in a notably inexpensive way. Those who have property to rent on a short-term basis are able to do so with ease by posting the property online, giving way to a money making connection that would otherwise have been unavailable.

The Issue: Short-term Rentals and the Law

Although this may seem like a beautifully simple way to connect needy consumers without the overreaching arm of big business types, cities across the nation are concerned with the regulatory side of this apartment-to-bed-and-breakfast concept. The biggest issue? Regulations that relate directly to the business of short-term rentals are being called into play, specifically in the state of New York. Recently a statewide subpoena was issued to cease business activities for thousands of rental properties within the state, noting that the use of Airbnb to rent out a property violates these broad regulations.

The Basis for Complaint

The “Illegal Hotel Law,” an antiquated piece of legislation, was updated in 2010 to vaguely outlaw the “business” of renting an apartment for fewer than 30 days if the apartment owner is not present. This, in turn, has created a frustrating situation for the state while it attempts to collect potential tax revenue as well as enforce safety and insurance regulations that are applicable normally to solely traditional hotels.

The Complaining Parties

Both the State of New York, in this case, as well as the businesses that stand to lose a hefty portion of an otherwise solid market share - the booming (and outlandishly expensive) New York hotel industry - and are trying to save the changing dynamic of the hotel industry. Their reasoning is if large hotel chains are susceptible to government imposition through regulation, the same should be expected of Airbnb users since they provide similar services.

What’s Next?

Without viable regulations that can be applied directly to practicing sharing economy businesses such as Airbnb, it is nearly impossible to impose the type of control the state of New York is seeking. The concept that competition within an industry is only possible between big players is beginning to waver and large corporations are scrambling to create roadblocks wherever they can. Many similar issues were present when e-commerce sites like eBay and Amazon launched, so it’s clear that government regulations and the laws are out of date to say the least. There is no clear answer, however, to the New York Airbnb issue yet. But with the popularity of the Sharing Economy coming in strong, something will need to be done in an effort to remedy the problems facing renters – both those providing the property and those utilizing them – and the breakdown of big business as the only option within the hotel industry.

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