share
by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | February 17, 2016

Brooklyn, N.Y.-based researchers Murray Cox and Tom Slee released a report this week claiming that in November 2015, Airbnb removed more than 1,000 units in New York City from its platform in an effort to improve its standing with city authorities, who have stated concerns that the social-economy lodging company's listings of what essentially are entire apartment buildings will effectively take much-needed housing off the market by turning those units into full-time, short-term rentals. Currently, New York City housing law stipulates that it is illegal to rent out an entire apartment building in the city for 30 days or less, which is exactly the kind of rentals that are a key part of Airbnb's business.

Cox and Slee, founders of InsideAirbnb, a site whose purpose seems to be to expose perceived wrongdoings by the company, charged that Airbnb removed listings in New York City belonging to hosts with multiple units so that "the…data would fit the message the company wanted to deliver. The percentage of traffic going to hosts with multiple Airbnb listings has been a constant 30 percent of the total during 2015, until the days before the November purge, when it dropped to 20 percent."

A spokesperson for San Francisco-based Airbnb rebutted the researchers' findings: "The facts are clear for all to see — the vast majority of our hosts are everyday people who have just one listing and share their space a few nights a month to help make ends meet."

The researchers' report came just days after Airbnb endorsed the findings of a study by Hendersonville, Tenn.-based STR, which conducted independent research on Airbnb's effect on New York's hotel industry, using data supplied by the lodging provider and presented free of charge to the company. STR's findings showed that there was no direct correlation between Airbnb’s presence and hotel performance in Manhattan. Interestingly, this was the first time that Airbnb has released in-depth data to a third party for independent analysis.

Meanwhile, London's BBC this week reported that Airbnb in recent weeks has de-listed a number of its U.K. hosts without any explanation to property owners. When contacted by the BBC, the company said in a statement: "We routinely carry out initiatives for quality purposes. This is not unusual or unique. It's routine activity that happens around the world." However, one British marketing and public relations firm felt Airbnb's sudden de-listing of hosts might be the company's strategy for trying to get ahead of the housing game before new regulatory restrictions come into play in the U.K., which would force them to pay taxes similar to those payable by hotels and guest houses.

Last month, the Washington, D.C.-based American Hotel & Lodging Association, which has long been critical of Airbnb for not being held to the same rules regarding payment of lodging taxes, released a report titled From Air Mattresses to Unregulated Business: An Analysis of the Other Side of Airbnb, which claimed that nearly 30 percent ($387 million) of Airbnb's revenue in 12 of the nation's largest cities is generated by entire apartment buildings.

AH&LA president and CEO Katherine Lugar blasted Airbnb for dodging taxes, skirting the law and flouting safety standards. "This is not about 'home sharing,'" Lugar said in a statement. "This data tells a very different story than the one told by Airbnb, which wants the face of Main Street but the wallet of Wall Street. As a corporation valued at more than $25 billion, they have a responsibility to protect their guests and communities; they should not be enabling the corporate landlords who are clearly using their platform to run illegal hotels."

Airbnb likely can expect to face more detractors and more heat as it gains ground in the shared-economy space, and as its appeal continues to grow among leisure as well as business travelers. This battle is only just getting started.