As we’ve been covering the attempts by municipal governments in multiple cities to stamp out Airbnb (and the gig economy in general) it’s been an educational experience for me. It seems that there are a significant number of people “cheating” the system by renting out large numbers of apartments or rooms that they don’t even live in, turning those properties into de facto hotels. (Whether that’s really cheating or should be regulated more heavily is a debate for another day.) But the fact is that many Airbnb hosts are actually using the service the way it’s generally advertised. These are people with a spare room or other space attached to their primary residence that they rent out by the night to make extra money. In this recent Time Magazine report, one surprising factoid emerges. A surprising number of them are teachers.
Eighth grade English teacher Jennifer Bankston’s 30-minute lunch break isn’t much of a break anymore.
It’s instead an opportune time to respond to inquiries — while chomping down on a salad before her next class starts — from people all around the world who are interested in staying in her Woodland Hills home, located in the northwest Los Angeles neighborhood that sits along the Santa Monica Mountains. Bankston doubles as a host on Airbnb, the popular hospitality service where homeowners rent out rooms in their homes or their entire households to guests.
“It is a juggle,” Bankston, who became an Airbnb host two years ago, says. But it’s a necessary one. Both she and her husband, Louis, are teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where they say they haven’t received a raise in years.
As with anything else in real estate, prices vary with location. The Bankstons live and work in a pricier section of Los Angeles. That means that their combined teaching salaries don’t add up to much in such a pricey market. But it also means that they can charge $100 per night for their guest room. If they can pull down an extra $36K per year doing that it’s the difference between keeping their house and losing it. Teachers in more rural areas no doubt have cheaper mortgages, but they also can’t charge that much for a room so it all balances out.
The amazing part of the report released by Airbnb is that ten percent of their registered hosts in the United States are teachers. Considering what percentage of the adult population work in that profession, they’re very much overrepresented. But then, K-12 teachers in America still earn, on average, only 60% as much as other professionals with comparable levels of education, even if you factor in their summer vacation. That probably makes the thought of being an Airbnb host a lot more attractive if you’re trying to figure out how to afford a home of your own.
Coming back full circle to the original question, though, this shouldn’t only apply to teachers. If you own your own home or rent an apartment where it’s legal to sublet, you should be able to do so without any excessive government regulation. It’s your space and you should be able to decide what to do with it within reasonable, legal limits. You’re not “taking rental property off the market” if you’re already living there. You’re simply competing with the hotels in the area, and they’re the major force behind the drive to regulate Airbnb out of business.
With that said, I’ve gained some appreciation for the complaints of people living in apartment complexes or condominiums where neighboring units are not occupied by the owner or tenant of record and are instead being used strictly as standalone hotel rooms. Perhaps there’s room for reasonable regulation on those. But as for regular homeowners and renters such as the teachers featured in the linked story, let them make some extra money if they’re willing to put up with regular houseguests.