The bedtime story about disruption goes like so: a big bad useless government financed by greedy incumbents is the only reason that authorities are concerned about issues like public transportation or unregulated genetic testing. That's why Airbnb's non-profit astroturfs for donations for "the sharing economy."
Like Uber, Airbnb benefits from a story line about hotel and landlord lobbyists, particularly in New York City, which the company has made a testing ground for regulatory battles. Nevermind that the $2.5 billion startup works directly with its own lobbyist, Bolton-St. Johns, and indirectly as "an industry stakeholder" the trade group Short Term Rental and Hospitality Association, which has hired the lobbyists Cordo & Co.—all to fight against New York's illegal hotel law.
Today, according to New York state senator Liz Krueger, one of Airbnb's lobbying arms has started a misinformation campaign about the law to put more pressure on elected officials. Krueger is referring to Peers, a non-profit industry mouthpiece that presents itself as a grassroots organization for folks who just wanna make a little money on the side—and what kind of monster would object to that? Except that Peers was cofounded by Airbnb's "head of community" and has investment from the Omidyar Network, the foundation of eBay billionaire Pierre Omidyar—connections that are glossed over in order to make campaigns look more authentic, and less like a pre-IPO necessity.
In a series of tweets, Krueger politely trolled Peers for not actually understanding the illegal hotel law. Peers brought a number of its members to Krueger's office, but according to this Storify from Andrew Goldston, Krueger's press guy, "many of them said their Airbnb hosting activity consisted of renting out spare bedrooms — which is not a violation of the illegal hotel law!"
Here's another crazy thing about Peers/Airbnb's rhetoric on this — they say they want to protect their members from unjustly being impacted by the law, but the biggest threat to most of their members isn't the law — it's the fact that overwhelmingly, Airbnb is encouraging them to do things that violate their lease agreements or their coop/condo bylaws, which could put them on the hook to be evicted! And that has nothing to do with the law. We could repeal the law tomorrow and that problem would be unchanged — in fact, it would be worse, because landlords would have a huge new incentive to evict their tenants and convert apartments to full time illegal hotels.
It seems highly unlikely that New Yorkers would get evicted en masse if the law were overturned—Craigslist part-time subletters have been renting out their apartments for years, albeit without startup profits and scale. But more to the point, a truly populist "member-driven" organization wouldn't freak out its members unnecessarily. If Peers was really about growing the "sharing economy," it might be more focused on getting Airbnb to cover the occupancy tax CEO Brian Chesky recently proposed, rather than shoving the burden onto Airbnb hosts.
Foster does not directly address Krueger's claim that Peers has started a misinformation campaign and that Peers brought members to her office who falsely thought that their Airbnb use was illegal. Rather, Foster argues that the law is confusing.
Last week, Peers members made a big impact on the public debate about homesharing in New York. Of course, when you're having an impact, it attracts attention.
Our 250,000+ members are not fighting in the service of any one company - they're fighting for their rights as part of the sharing economy, whether they're sharing their homes, their cars, their bikes, their skills and more.
You can read the stories of dozens of New York Peers members who care about homesharing on our Tumblr, a roundup of the week of action here. All New York Peers members are asking is that State Senator @LizKrueger reflect thoughtfully about what they're saying. Nearly 40 New Yorkers visited State Senator @LizKrueger last week to ask their questions, and a dozen more expressed their concerns via Twitter.
If New Yorkers need to consult a lawyer or state senator to find out what a law says, something's wrong. Many of our members have tried to sort out what the law means for them, and have received different answers from multiple experts. Something's wrong. That's why our members keep pushing for change.
Our members want to play by the rules, but in order to do so New York needs laws that are safe, fair, and clear.