Airbnb has become a household name in travel. Most Americans are aware that the bearer of that name is valued at billions of dollars, and that its inventory of low-cost apartments for short-term rental is, perhaps, larger than the world’s total number of hotel rooms. Multitudes use Airbnb for their accommodations when they travel, and large numbers of people owning apartments now earn a sizable yearly income from renting them out to transient visitors.
But the very success of Airbnb has brought it into conflict with law enforcement authorities. Some state attorneys general claim that most Airbnb rentals violate the law of their jurisdiction. (The rules of several large cities and a number of states prohibit the short-term rental of apartments unless the owner of the apartment remains in residence throughout the period of the rental, which few of them do.) Others claim that Airbnb is removing large numbers of apartments from the stock of housing available to permanent residents; the dramatic argument is that Airbnb has worsened the housing shortage in many large cities.
Thus, the problems encountered by Airbnb – the lawsuits or other actions brought against them – have, until now, persuaded other large companies to stay away from the short-term rental of vacation apartments. One of the largest hotel-rental companies – the popular Booking.com – once openly stated that it was hesitant to begin renting apartments because of the fear of legal difficulties.
Those fears apparently have now been overcome. So great is the amount of business transacted by Airbnb that Booking.com has concluded it can no longer stay out of that business – regardless of the regulatory problems. Without issuing so much as a short press release announcing the change, Booking.com has added a new department to those listed on its main menu page that offers “homes and apartments.” Therefore, Booking.com is now available to those many travelers who are anxious to rent a low-cost apartment on their next trip but are hesitant to use Airbnb.com. It is possible –I have no way of knowing whether this will be the case – that Booking.com will be careful to limit its apartment services to the entirely lawful rental of a spare room in an apartment whose owner remains in residence throughout the stay.
It also is clear that Homeaway.com – another giant in the rental of vacation accommodations – also has begun adding apartment rentals to the large stock of vacation homes that it has been making available to travelers for many years.
I am noting these developments – these alternatives to Airbnb.com – despite my own personal belief that regulatory agencies should sharply limit the pressures they have brought against Airbnb. I fully agree that they should move against people who are, in effect, operating illegal hotels by making apartments available on a continuous basis throughout the year. That activity does reduce the housing stock available to permanent residents. But there are a large number of people who supplement their incomes by only occasionally moving out of their apartments and making them available to transient visitors. The latter people simply are making what should be a wholly legal use of an asset they own. They are not operating illegal hotels.
I know of several young people who occasionally move out of their apartments and go to live with a friend in order to earn additional income. These occasional rentals should be entirely legal, as they pose no threat whatever to a community’s need for peranent housing. I know of other people who rent out their apartment when they go on vacation, and thus make a wholly innocent use of housing that would otherwise lie empty. They are not operating illegal hotels.
Whatever your own views, you might keep in mind that you can now seek out such low-cost apartments for your own next vacation, by contacting such wholly reputable organizations as Booking.com and Homeaway.com, that have decided to compete against Airbnb.com.
Note to the reader: Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip. The information in this column was accurate when it was released, but prices are competitive, sometimes limited and can always change without notice.
Arthur Frommer is the founder of the Frommer’s Travel Guide book series. Find more destinations and read his blog at frommers.com.