I write this sentence in an Airbnb – the Uber of hotels – but governments across the country want to stop me even though it’s changed my life.
Airbnb enables everyday people to rent out a room, couch, or home to strangers on a short-term to mid-term basis. However, some communities want to see Airbnb curbed or banned entirely because it changes the way people travel, affecting neighborhoods and competing with hotels.
- Palisades Park joined two other New Jersey counties in banning Airbnb in late August.
- Airbnb is suing Santa Monica, CA for violating its 1st, 4th, and 14th amendment rights. The company has similar suits running against San Francisco and Anaheim.
- In early August, Chicago effectively ended Airbnb by passing an ordinance so incomprehensible that one of Chicago’s top real estate lawyers can’t understand it. The regular people who host guests like me must sign an affidavit saying that they understand the 25,000-word regulation in full, though. For comparison, Chicago’s hotel ordinance is 1/25th the length.
- The list goes on and on – and this doesn’t include the cities determined to tax and regulate Airbnb like a hotel or worse.
So why am I a part of a sharing economy that’s been outright banned in some places? Well, I can’t speak as a host, but I’m an experienced guest.
I stayed at my first Airbnb in June because I needed a place in the Washington, D.C. area for my 10-week internship that was affordable, didn’t have roommates, and didn’t require me to sign a lease. I booked a tiny studio apartment on the side of a house and loved my stay there.
After my internship ended, I decided to stay in the area to find work in my field as a writer, editor, or proofreader. Again, I needed flexibility since I didn’t (and still don’t) know where I would find permanent work. I’ve bounced from Airbnb to Airbnb in the region, paying between $18 and $34 a night, which works out to between $700 and $800 a month – utilities and the internet included.
In case you missed it, I’m paying a rough average of $25 a night. A Motel 6 in this area runs anywhere from between $65 and $75 a night. And you pay extra for the internet at a Motel 6.
And no, they aren’t dives. Take the place I’m staying now. It’s a small, clean bedroom in a nice townhouse located in northern Virginia. For about $26 a night, I have internet access, a place to sleep, utilities, and even access to the kitchen. The room gets a little warm during the day, but my host is friendly.
Only one of the places I’ve stayed was not up to par, and even then it was located in an upscale neighborhood and was safe and quiet – if not exactly well-vacuumed. I also only paid $18 for the night there.
I mean, my one experience with a four-star hotel involved a significant ant problem.
But what if something goes wrong?
Actually, it did. The night before I checked out of my studio apartment in Fairfax, my next Airbnb host informed me that he was seeing roaches come up into his place due to construction on the condo below him. He explained that he had called an exterminator but that he understood if I wanted to cancel.
I called Airbnb, and they not only refunded my money but paid for a night with another host and gave me a gift card.
Now not everyone has had such a positive experience with Airbnb. There are lemons among both hosts and guests and while Airbnb’s customer service is good, it’s not perfect.
Due to the rating system, though, both sides generally know what they’re walking into. Good reviews for hosts mean more money while bad reviews can make a listing toxic. Good reviews for guests mean easier bookings while bad reviews mean hosts will refuse to let you stay in their home. And Airbnb is there to ban either a guest or a host if they cross a line.
The entire system is based on trust and competition since hosts not only compete with hotels but each other. Airbnb is a marketplace, not a chain.
Not for everyone (especially jerks)
All that said, Airbnb isn’t for everyone, so hotels needn’t worry too much. I’m doing it because it’s so cost-effective on the lower end, but whether you’re paying $20 or $200 a night, you do lose some perks with Airbnb.
You lose the flexibility of check-in times with Airbnb because you have to coordinate and communicate with your host and often can’t just show up. You also lose some predictability since hosts tend to rent out only one room and each operates a little differently.
Moreover, a big caveat for many travelers is that you can’t be a jerk as a guest. I once reported that my non-smoking Motel 6 room had been smoked in, and the concierge shrugged and said that they don’t do anything to penalize smokers who break the rules. With Airbnb, that kind of behavior would make using the service very difficult (or get one banned) since hosts choose who they let stay in their homes.
In other words, while Airbnb brings tourists into neighborhoods, they’d better be well-behaved tourists if they plan on using the service again. For this reason – among others – I recommend families stick to more traditional lodging.
And sure, Airbnb competes with hotels – and hotels hate it. But with a minimally maintained Motel 6 costing up to an entire day’s work for a minimum wage worker, is that a bad thing?
Airbnb has enabled me to stay in the D.C. area at an affordable price while I find the next step in my career. The service provides extra income for my hosts. For all of us, it has enabled strangers to make connections with one another and – even if we keep to ourselves – create a sense of community and mutual trust.
Is this really something that needs to be banned or regulated out of existence? Or something of which we need more to seriously compete with Airbnb itself?