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Airbnb wants to help renters, and not just homeowners, share their space for cash

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images/File

Airbnb wants more renters, and not just homeowners, to be able to become hosts on its short-term rental platform.

The company on Friday announced that it is doubling down on efforts to work with state and local governments to advocate for short-term rental rules that don’t exclude renters from getting involved in the lucrative side-hustle of leveraging their space to earn extra money.

But this move comes as some areas are pushing back on the company. New York City, for example, has argued that short-term rental platforms like Airbnb limit available housing supply, leading to overall higher rents, and that they can be disruptive to neighborhoods. Airbnb, meanwhile, argues its services can provide economic benefits to hosts and communities.

Airbnb now says it wants to help renters, in addition to landlords, list their homes on the platform, a policy that has been restricted in many places for years. “A lot of the early laws that were made limited short-term rental to homeownership,” Theo Yedinsky, the vice president of public policy at Airbnb, told CNN.

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And this mission is baked into Airbnb’s roots, Yedinsky added, referring to how Airbnb was first created back in 2007 when two of its co-founders couldn’t afford to pay rent in San Francisco and took in some guests on air mattresses who were in town for a design conference.

“That’s how they paid their rent in the early days,” he quipped of his now-CEO Brian Chesky and fellow Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia.

Earlier this week, Airbnb scored a major victory on this front in Virginia when Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed a bill into law that requires all localities that issue short-term rental permits to property owners also issue these same permits to tenants who have permission from their property owner. The legislation was spearheaded by Del. Don Scott, Virginia’s first-ever Black speaker of the state’s House of Delegates.

Airbnb’s new focus on helping renters host on the platform comes at a time when high mortgage rates and down payment costs are increasingly making homeownership feel out of reach for younger Americans and as inflation and cost-of-living expenses are weighing heavily on consumers. Moreover, the gap between Black and White homeownership is even worse now than it was a decade ago.

Allowing renters to earn supplemental income on Airbnb provides “a chance for people in communities that have been disenfranchised or lower-income communities to really take advantage of what Airbnb does best,” Yedinsky said.

These renters, however, will still have to get permission from their landlord to host on Airbnb (Airbnb has no involvement in individual lease agreements between property owners and tenants). And many major cities, including New York, are increasingly cracking down and heavily restricting the short-term rental market.

Rahul Bhaskar, a tech consultant based in San Francisco, currently rents his two-bedroom apartment but got permission from his building management to host on Airbnb roughly three years ago when it became part of the Airbnb-friendly apartment program that is designed to help renters earn extra income.

Bhaskar told CNN that he and his wife moved into their apartment when rent was lower due to the pandemic but said the rent has since creeped back up to pre-pandemic levels.

“We were contemplating going back to the suburbs, or maybe a different neighborhood in the city,” Bhaskar said. But he said he and his wife decided to rent their home on Airbnb during their annual trips home to India and while they travel for work to help offset the rising costs.

“It kind of works out well for us,” he told CNN. “And we were able to continue living in the same apartment.”

Beyond the requirement for landlord permission, Yedinsky said, “I don’t think there’s anything different about renters listing their space on Airbnb versus homeowners listing their space on Airbnb.”

“Obviously, we want everybody to be respectful,” he added. “We want hosts to be good hosts, we want guests to be good guests.”

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