Last month, the City of Madison’s common council advanced an ordinance that would place tighter regulations on short-term tourist rentals like Airbnb operations.
Part of that ordinance would have required short-term rental operators to “identify all guests and provide for the make, model, and license plate number” of any car associated with said guests.
But, Alder Arvina Martin, the lead sponsor of the ordinance, says the City is backing down from certain regulations following pressure from Airbnb hosts during a public hearing last month.
“We got responses that people were uncomfortable submitting information regarding their guests’ home addresses, license plates, and any kind of identifying information to the City,” Martin says.
“We listened to that and thought that the point was well-founded, and then we decided to take most of that out. The only thing that we are asking for then is the name of the person who reserved the room or space, and then their choice of contact information, whether it’s a mailing address, email, or phone number.”
Sam Randall, an Airbnb spokesperson, says the platform believes these changes still go too far.
“Although this is a move in the right direction, this ordinance would still impose rules that violate the privacy of guests who rely on home sharing to affordably travel to Madison,” Randall says. “If passed, the ordinance would both stifle the earning power of Madison residents and limit travel options for those looking to visit the city.”
Last month, Airbnb sent Madison hosts an email encouraging them to attend the City’s Plan Commission meeting and oppose the ordinance. The platform also gave hosts access to a form letter arguing against the requirements.
Ulrik Binzer is the founder and CEO of Host Compliance, a Seattle-based company that has worked with Madison since 2017 to locate and identify unlicensed short-term rental units in the city.
Binzer says the form letter Madison hosts received is part of a broader playbook the company is currently using to oppose similar measures in Michigan, Georgia, Virginia, and Florida.
When a local government does pass an ordinance regulating Airbnb, the platform retaliates.
“The first thing they do is threaten to sue,” Binzer says.
“So, they will basically say [they] find [the ordinance] is a violation of whatever rule they can come up with, and sometimes they have to go all the way back to the Constitution or the Communications Decency Act and in many cases the city council will now back down because they’re a small town and can’t afford to litigate this stuff. So, they’ll come up with some less strict rules and Airbnb wins.”
If the threat of a lawsuit doesn’t work, Airbnb will sponsor ballot initiatives opposing regulations before filing litigation against an ordinance.
But, with the company’s initial public offering set for later this year, Binzer says Airbnb has opened fewer lawsuits in recent years; instead, the company will attempt to prevent local regulations entirely by lobbying state lawmakers to craft their own, less restrictive legislation.
“When they see that city regulations don’t go their way, what they do is they try to essentially escalate it to the state level,” Binzer says.
“What they then do is they will go typically to rural state legislators and get them to propose [a] state preemption law that basically takes away local governments’ ability to regulate short-term rentals. They will do it under the premise of protecting property rights and basically saying that these city people are just against property rights and [that] the state will crack down on this.”
The City’s Plan Commission is currently holding another public hearing on the ordinance at the City-County Building, Room 201.
If the full city council adopts the ordinance, it would go into effect on April 15th and hosts would need to have operating permits in place by July 1st.