The federal government added its voice this week to the numerous state and local leaders who have been calling for more oversight of Airbnb and similar property rental websites.
Continue Reading Below
In a letter to the Federal Trade Commission, a group of US senators said they were concerned about the rapidly expanding short-term rental market and asked the agency to determine how much of the market consists of people "acting in a commercial manner" by renting out entire homes or multiple homes simultaneously.
That category of listing has been ruled illegal in many cities worldwide in recent months, from Berlin to Airbnb's hometown of San Francisco, over concerns that they are pricing locals out of the rental market.
The letter, signed by Democratic Sens. Brian Schatz, Dianne Feinstein, and Elizabeth Warren, mentions Airbnb specifically, in addition to HomeAway, VRBO, and FlipKey.
"On one hand, these firms have sparked innovation, increased competition, and have provided new means by which our constituents can earn extra income," the senators wrote. "On the other hand, we are concerned that short-term rentals may be exacerbating housing shortages and driving up the cost of housing in our communities.
"In order to asses of the use and impact of the short-term rental market, we need reliable data on the commercial use of online platforms," they continued. "We believe the FTC is best positioned to address this data gap in an unbiased manner and we urge the Commission to conduct a review of commercial operators on short-term rental platforms."
In April, Airbnb pledged unlicensed commercial listings in San Francisco, where they are illegal. But at the same time, the company is also suing the city over its requirement that short-term rental listing owners complete a registration process.
The senators all represent states that have tangled with Airbnb. Warren is from Massachusetts, where lawmakers are considering a bill that would tax Airbnb like hotels. Schatz represents Hawaii, where Honolulu officials have been cracking down on illegal rentals and clashing over Airbnb tax legislation. Feinstein is from California.