Will the real Airbnb please stand up? 

Over the past two years, I have worked with the city of Portland, Ore., to develop and implement appropriate regulations for Airbnb and other short-term rental services.

We have encountered many of the same problems as San Francisco. Airbnb talks the talk about working with cities, but does not walk the walk. For example:

— Portland has a requirement that the permit number must appear in all online advertising. Airbnb could simply not display listings lacking a permit number, but they just refuse to do so. Requiring a permit number to be displayed in all online advertising is the essential minimum to support compliance and enforcement, since any listing without a permit number is out of compliance.

— Portland has a requirement that entire-place (host absent) rentals not exceed 90 nights per year. Airbnb could easily limit the number of nights on any entire-place listing in Portland to a maximum of 90 nights in a year, but, again, it simply refuses to do so. Any host listing more than one property is likely to be operating one or more entire-place rental on an ongoing basis.

This leaves cities with the option of fining Airbnb for listings that do not support local regulations (something that the Portland City Council has authorized as a last resort), or requiring Airbnb to provide basic host contact information, which Airbnb also refuses to do. The state attorney general of New York went to court and forced Airbnb to release some contact information for Airbnb hosts in New York City. Then when the data is used, Airbnb complains the data is out of date.

Lest you think I am just an Airbnb hater, I support Airbnb private-room rentals where the host is present during the guest’s stay. The private-room rentals do help people stay in their homes, do not take long-term housing units off the market, do not create horror stories and usually provide true value to the traveling public. Listening to Airbnb describe the benefits of Airbnb, you would think that all their rentals were private room rentals. It is really Airbnb host-absent, entire-place rentals that are the issue. A recent case in Calgary, Alberta, showed that even a weekend away can result in a destroyed home.

Ongoing entire-place rentals are really just vacation rentals and definitely reduce the stock of long-term rental units in a city. At public hearings, you will usually hear testimony from private-room Airbnb hosts with a single listing. You almost never hear an entire-place host testify, and certainly not those with multiple listings.

The fundamental difference between Airbnb’s good host-resident private-room rentals and Airbnb’s bad host-absent entire-place rentals is the fundamental dichotomy with Airbnb. This is why I always ask: Will the real Airbnb please stand up?

Steve Unger is a Portland, Ore., innkeeper and editor of The Airbnb Analyst.

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