Top Tech Policy Think Tank Protests DC Bill To Crackdown On Airbnb Rentals

Jonah Bennett | Contributor

A leading science and technology policy think tank has submitted comments arguing against legislation moving through the D.C. City Council to crackdown on Airbnb housing rentals.

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation filed comments Monday to the D.C. City Council regarding legislation forwarded by council member Kenyan McDuffie in late January mandating that residents who want to share their homes, even for a short period of time, must pay for a new business license.

Under this strict bill, homeowners would also not be able to rent out their units for more than 15 cumulative days a year, unless the owner is also present on the premises.

Those who don’t comply with the bill could be subject to fines of up to $7,000.

The point of the bill is to prevent units that could potentially be allocated to low-income residents from being rented out to transient visitors belonging to a higher income bracket.

Robert D. Atkinson, president and founder of ITIF, argued Monday that short-term rentals should instead be encouraged and any regulation should be applied to homeowners who rent out multiple units.

If the regulation does move forward, ITIF also thinks the cap should be at 90 days for rentals, not 15 days.

According to Atkinson, the proposed legislation fits in neatly with hotel industry aims of restricting competition and dynamism in the market. For Atkinson, these aims should be ignored.

Rather, ITIF believes the problem of housing scarcity for low-income residents should be solved by easing burdensome paperwork requirements and zoning restrictions, which artificially limit the supply of available land for development.

“The biggest impediment to low-income housing is that cities, especially growing cities where people are moving into versus moving out, is that cities are very reluctant to make new land available for additional housing, and they often make it very expensive, or they impose long time lags on getting the necessary permits or zoning changes, or whatever you need for a developer to build low-income housing,” Joe Kennedy, analyst for ITIF and former chief economist at the Department of Commerce, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

Notably, the bill also mandates that Airbnb publish business license numbers for homeowners who obtain licenses from the city, which ITIF strenuously objected to, as well.

“ITIF also believes that platforms should not be held responsible for the accuracy of information provided to them by renters or for their compliance with local law,” Atkinson wrote. “This is an unreasonable burden for a single jurisdiction to impose on an online platform. Moreover, verifying compliance should be the responsibility of the city.”

McDuffie’s legislation will be subject to a hearing on Wednesday, which will go on for hours and feature dozens of witnesses.

Local progressive groups have started to coalesce around the bill, believing that the regulation could help to solve the problem of limited housing for low-income residents.

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