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Hotel industry mounts attack on Airbnb with House bill

Thursday, September 12, 2019  
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Hotel industry mounts attack on Airbnb with House bill

The Hill - September 12, 2019 

Airbnb and other short-term rental companies are worried that new legislation in Congress would require them to police their own rental platform and crack down on users.

The fight between the hotel lobby and rental platforms like Airbnb is entering a new phase as lawmakers on Capitol Hill weigh legislation that threatens companies that advertise short-term rentals.

The powerful American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) and tech companies have been facing off in cities and states across the country in recent years, but that battle is now heating up in Washington as lawmakers and regulators weigh a host of measures to address home-sharing services.

In the House, a recently introduced bill would strip online rental websites like Airbnb, HomeAway and Flipkey of federal protections that for years have given internet platforms legal immunity over content posted by third parties.

The Protecting Local Authority and Neighborhoods Act, introduced by Rep. Ed Case (D-Hawaii) on Friday, would make internet platforms liable when they host advertising for short-term rentals that violate state and city laws.

The measure is a top priority for the AHLA, which has spent more than $1.6 million on lobbying this year and has four firms on retainer, including Fierce Government Relations and Peck Madigan Jones.

Association members also pressed lawmakers to back the legislation during the group’s annual fly-in on Wednesday.

“For far too long, these Big Tech short-term rental platforms have been hiding behind this antiquated law in order to bully and threaten legal action against local elected officials who are simply trying to protect their residents from illegal rentals that are destroying neighborhoods and access to affordable housing,” AHLA President and CEO Chip Rogers said in a statement.

The group has a strong ally in Case, who was senior vice president and chief legal officer at Outrigger Hotels Hawaii from 2013 to 2018 and previously served on the AHLA’s board.

In a statement, Case criticized the short-term rental industry, saying it is responsible for “the loss of affordable housing as residential units are converted to transient accommodations for tourists.”

“Many of the owners and operators of these units are failing to comply with basic consumer safety, public accommodations and tax requirements that the legal lodging industry has had to follow in order to conduct its business,” he added.

Case said that he resigned from the AHLA board in 2017 and has had “no further personal or professional engagements with the visitor industry (other than for representing a district where tourism is the top economic generator and private employer).”

His bill already has bipartisan support. Republican Reps. Pete King (N.Y.) and Ralph Norman (S.C.) are co-sponsors, as is Democratic Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (Ill.).

The measure now awaits action from the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.) and ranking member Greg Walden (R-Ore.) sent a joint letter last month to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer urging him to avoid including language in trade agreements that’s similar to the federal third-party protections for internet platforms known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA).

“Sec 230 is meant to enable platforms to take down harmful content. It should not be a shield for inaction,” Pallone tweeted in May in response to news of Facebook addressing political disinformation.

The hotel-rental fight over Section 230 comes as the tech industry is facing increased scrutiny in Washington on a number of fronts; lawmakers in both parties have called for revisiting web companies’ internet protections.

President Trump signed a bill last year that limits the immunity of Section 230 on platforms that knowingly host content that promotes or assists human trafficking and prostitution. The White House is also reportedly working on an executive order to address anti-conservative bias on the internet that could affect Section 230.

The short-term rental lobby is gearing up for a fight against the bill, pushing back on multiple aspects of its provisions. One of their arguments is that the battle should be at the local level.

The Travel Technology Association, the trade group that represents Expedia, Airbnb, VRBO, Booking.com, Priceline and Trip Advisor, argues that Section 230 is the wrong way to address the issue.

“Amending the CDA for every special interest, such as the hotel lobby, is a flawed approach,” Steve Shur, president of the association, told The Hill. “In the context of the broader conversation around Section 230 and legitimate societal challenges, to associate vacation rentals in the same conversation with extremism, illegal gun sales and the opioid crisis is outrageous in its assertion and downright ludicrous to even suggest.”

The group said its first step is to educate lawmakers about the legislation.

“The motivations behind this bill are clear — to serve the special interests of the hotel lobby — and Congress shouldn’t take the bait,” Shur said.

The bill is the latest battle in a long-running fight between the hotel industry and the short-term rental platforms, with hoteliers lobbying for tougher restrictions on businesses like Airbnb in cities and states across the country.

Read the full article online herehttps://thehill.com/regulation/lobbying/461018-hotel-industry-mounts-attack-on-airbnb-with-house-bill