Airbnb seems to be taking its regulatory problems increasingly seriously: The San Francisco-based online lodging marketplace has hired David Hantman, Yahoo’s head of government relations, to run its public-policy efforts from Washington, DC, AllThingsD’s Kara Swisher reports.Hantman isn’t even the first experienced DC hand Airbnb has hired away from Yahoo: Last year, it recruited Kim Rubey as its head of communications. Rubey previously worked as a press secretary for John Edwards, the former senator and presidential candidate.
In an email to colleagues, Hantman describes Airbnb’s challenges with local laws that forbid short-term rentals of homes or apartments in places like New York and San Francisco:
They have some huge challenges with a few antiquated laws in their biggest markets, so my job will be to help them convince governments that allowing people to rent out their own homes or apartments should not be a problem, and that in fact it is great for the economy and for the tons of people that can only pay their mortgage or rent through the extra income they get from Airbnb. For hundreds of years families have been taking in boarders or renting out extra space, and this service is just bringing that process into the 21st century, at a time when it is more needed than ever.
Note how Hantman subtly elides the distinction between renting out entire apartments and taking in boarders. While those may sound similar, and Airbnb allows both kinds of transactions, under the law, they’re very different.
Airbnb has several other serious regulatory issues to grapple with: Whether California will seek to regulate it for handling payments between guests and hosts, and how Airbnb rentals should be taxed.
To date, Airbnb has tried to generate positive publicity about the economic benefits it claims its rentals bring to local economies. That soft approach doesn’t seem to have led to much progress. Hantman’s hire suggests Airbnb is going to try to lobby more aggressively to get regulations changed to make its transactions explicitly legal.