Airbnb is suing Boston over their anti-gig economy laws

Back in June, we looked at the new raft of laws going into effect in Boston which were specifically designed to crush Airbnb and related gig economy activity involving short-term rentals. At the time, Airbnb wasn’t announcing any immediate action in response other than seeking community input and additional dialogue with municipal leaders. It seems that the “dialogue” didn’t produce much in the way of results because Airbnb is now taking the city to court. (Boston Globe)

Airbnb has filed a lawsuit in an effort to overturn Boston’s new short-term rental law, and is asking a judge to block the stringent rules from taking effect on Jan. 1.

In a federal court filing on Tuesday, Airbnb claims that Boston’s regulations requiring online rental platforms to police their listings and share user information with the city violate state and federal laws.

Under the rules set to take effect in January, Airbnb investors and apartment tenants would be prohibited from renting their homes by the night, and property owners would not be allowed to list more than one unit on the website. Airbnb has about 6,300 listings in Boston. Studies suggest an outsized share of its business comes from investors and other hosts the rules are aimed at curtailing.

The basis for the suit is a bit curious because the company isn’t trying to get the draconian laws overturned. Instead, they are claiming that the laws violate the federal Communications Decency Act by attempting to force the online listing provider to enforce the law and holding them liable for the listings and actions of the site’s users. They are also claiming a violation of their Freedom of Speech rights.

That’s unfortunate because even if they prevail, they’ve probably gotten themselves off the hook but not done anything for the hosts who may be relying on that income. The basis of the suit also doesn’t address the fundamental overreach of municipal government power in play here. If you own a property which is suitable for safe, sanitary occupancy, or if you rent such a property where your lease allows you the option to sublet it, what business is it of the city government how you tend to your affairs in these matters?

The city is still laughably complaining that short-term rentals are, “exacerbating Boston’s housing shortage because landlords take apartments out of the general rental market to instead lease them by the night to tourists.” But whose problem is that? If people are able to rent out their space on a regular basis, that means there is a demand for such rental options. If there isn’t enough long-term rental housing in the city, then it’s up to Boston to make it easier for people to build or invest in apartment buildings to meet that need.

These laws are driven by the hotel industry and their lobbyists, as we’ve pointed out before. It’s a national campaign to wipe out Airbnb because the gig economy is cutting into their profits and they can’t or won’t figure out how to adapt and compete fairly. That’s what the courts should be asked to address here.