NYC is Battling Airbnb, but the Home-Sharing Firm Got a Green Light in Amsterdam

Brian Chesky
Brian Chesky, chief executive officer of Airbnb, smiles during a session at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, January 23, 2014. Denis Balibouse/Reuters

New York has been battling apartment-sharing marketplace Airbnb since 2010, but other cities such as Amsterdam have found a way to live with the company, and even profit from the alternative tourist economy.

New York State passed a law against illegal hotel operations four years ago, prohibiting the occupation of an entire apartment without the permanent resident present for less than 30 days. Last fall, Eric T. Schneiderman, the New York attorney general, issued a subpoena for information on Airbnb's hosts, citing illegal activity. The San-Francisco company, which is valued at close to $10 billion, objected to the subpoena and on Tuesday, both parties met in court in Albany. The rancor between them grew throughout the day. The judge is yet to issue a ruling.

Amsterdam took a different approach, working with Airbnb rather than against it, to ensure a growing contribution to the local economy and preserve the character of its neighborhoods.

Earlier this year, the famously liberal Dutch city passed a law allowing residents to rent out their own properties to a maximum of four people at a time and for a maximum of two months a year. The person renting out the property must pay a tourist tax. City officials met with Airbnb employees to discuss the details of the new legislation.

"We want them to take their responsibility as well," said Tahira Lemon, international press officer at the Amsterdam government. The city wants to make sure such private rental companies inform all parties of their rights and obligations, Lemon said.

Hosts on Airbnb, many of whom supplement their income considerably by renting out their homes or spare rooms for days or weeks at a time, say the cooperation between the company and government was sensible.

"I do think it's good that it's official and limited by certain rules, because otherwise people just might do it anyway," Dorine, who lists her apartment in the center of Amsterdam for $349 per night, told Newsweek in a private Airbnb message. She said she has always wanted to start her own bed and breakfast but is limited by the demands of her full-time job. "The whole Airbnb idea should be compatible with NYC," she said, adding that the downside to the new law is having to pay taxes on her rental income.

Airbnb has welcomed recent housing legislation in Amsterdam and other European cities as a victory. "We're pleased that so many cities like Amsterdam, Hamburg and Paris have embraced home-sharing and Shared City is our effort to do even more to make cities around the world even stronger," David Hantman wrote on the The Airbnb Public Policy Blog, referring to an initiative the company launched in March to foster community interconnectedness.

But some of those cities do not view recent legislation as a victory for Airbnb.

City officials in Hamburg say changes to their laws were meant to tighten, not loosen, restrictions on home-sharing. A law passed last year made it possible to rent out an apartment so long as it is the host's primary residence. While it is not explicit in the law, Magnus-Sebastian Kutz, spokesperson for Hamburg's Ministry of Urban Development and Environment, said that the basic interpretation is that primary residences cannot be rented out as vacation homes for more than 180 days a year.

Hamburg is "the only state in Germany that has such tough regulation" on vacation rentals, said Kutz. If a renter or homeowner is found to be violating the new housing regulation, he or she can be fined up to 50,000 euros, he added.

In New York, negotiations have come to nothing. Earlier this month, the Attorney General's office filed an affidavit showing that 64 percent of Airbnb's offerings involved entire apartments—illegal under current legislation. Shortly after, Airbnb removed thousands of New York City-based listings. In a New York Times op-ed last week, Schneiderman said he was looking for cooperation with Airbnb.

Elsewhere in the U.S., the controversy surrounding Airbnb has grown. In San Francisco, supporters and opponents staged dueling rallies in front of City Hall on Tuesday.

But Amsterdam, it appears, has found a solution everyone can live with.

The 60-day limit in Amsterdam, officials said, is meant not only to ensure safe conditions but also to preserve the particular dynamics of each neighborhood. Hosts say that the arrival of Airbnb did not bring with it a swell of tourists—they were there well before. The difference now, they say, is that it has brokered a new kind of understanding between locals and travelers.

"It's not really fair to be annoyed by someone that comes to visit the city that I love to live in," wrote Dorine. Instead, she decided to spend some of her earnings from Airbnb on a bike bell, "just to make sure I won't actually run a tourist over ;-)"