Airbnb has removed New Orleans’ pass-through registration system from its website, a system seen as an important enforcement tool for city inspectors who use the tool to identify properties in violation of city regulations.
The pass-through registration system allows short-term rental hosts to automatically apply for a city license when they list their property on the Airbnb website. A key feature of the registration included publicly posting license numbers, which allowed city inspectors to match licenses with property owners and addresses.
Airbnb does not otherwise reveal the addresses of properties on its website, which has made unlicensed properties more difficult to find for enforcement purposes. With the removal of license numbers from Airbnb’s site, city inspectors will now have to use other methods to identify short-term rentals operating afoul of city regulations.
Short-term rental hosts can still post their license number in their property’s description, but it is no longer entered as a default option connected to the pass-through registration system.
The removal of the pass-through registration system came 15 days after the City Council voted to impose a temporary ban on new short-term rental licenses in most residential areas of the city. They move has been hailed as a victory for opponents who have said their proliferation has led to higher housing costs and forced permanent residents out of the city’s culturally historic neighborhoods.
Airbnb said in a statement that its pass-through registration system was part of the city’s landmark agreement in December 2016 to regulate short-term rentals, and it is being removed because the new regulations the council adopted are in conflict with the platform.
“We’ve been working in partnership with the city of New Orleans for the past two years, implementing a package of enforcement tools, including data sharing and a pass-through registration system, tailored to the city’s new short-term rental rules passed in December 2016,” Airbnb spokeswoman Laura Rillos said. “The city changed the rules in May 2018, and these unilateral changes are incompatible with one of the enforcement tools, the registration system previously available through Airbnb.”
Rillos added: “While our competitors have sat on the sidelines, we have collected and remitted taxes and the affordable housing fee. We have also complied with all data requests. Going forward, we are hopeful we can continue working closely with the city.”
The reference Rillos made to “competitors” includes platforms owned by Expedia, which operates the short-term rental companies HomeAway and VRBO. Expedia has not been collecting or remitting taxes to the city from its short-term rentals, and it also didn’t comply with all of the city’s subpoena requests submitted as part of enforcement actions.
In a statement, Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s spokesman, Beau Tidwell, said in a statement that “Safety and Permits was disappointed to learn on Friday evening that AirBnB would discontinue the interface with the City’s pass through registration system.”
“One of the advantages the enforcement team is sorry to lose is the automatic link created between applications started on the AirBnB platform,” Tidwell said. “This allowed the license number to be uniformly and automatically displayed, and improved consistency between license statuses both on the AirBnB site and the city’s internal system. This provided consistency and predictably for hosts and guests booking properties in New Orleans.
“The biggest effect from the regulatory standpoint of Safety and Permits is that AirBnB’s decision to remove the display of the license number field will also make hosts vulnerable to enforcement actions by the city because the requirement that the license number be displayed on all advertisements persists, but AirBnB eliminated the field on its New Orleans listings,” Tidwell said. “Hosts with valid licenses who were affected by the change from AirBnB may become subject to penalties.”
Eric Bay, president of the local short-term rental advocates’ group, the Alliance for Neighborhood Prosperity, said in an interview that Airbnb’s move makes sense given a majority of the license applications would end up being denied by the city. He said he sees Airbnb as taking “the high road” in continuing to collect and remit taxes.
“In all fairness, if I ran that company, I would’ve said, ‘You voided your agreement so we’re voiding all of our actions,'” Bay said. “It makes total sense that they shut that system off. They were doing Safety and Permits’ job for them.”