Tom Slee: Sharing and Caring

I posted a few days ago on the potential pitfalls and distortions of the sharing economy — singling out a recent Harvard study detailing renter discrimination on rental lodging website Airbnb. Professor and writer Tom Slee has a wonderful piece in Jacobin that expands on the fears I touched on earlier, specifically that the sharing economy has major holes in regulations that open the door for abuses with few avenues for recourse. Again on Airbnb:

Many of Airbnb’s “hosts” are violating New York’s short-term rental laws or their own tenancy or co-op agreements, or both. In early skirmishes, individual hosts were taken to court, but after talks broke down, the Attorney General demanded a list of all 15,000 Airbnb hosts in the city. The company accused the Attorney General of a “fishing expedition.” The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Internet Association (“representing the leading internet companies”) have stepped in on the side of Airbnb, pledging to “fight this tooth and nail.” Sharing economy group Peers has collected over 200,000 signatures on a petition to “save sharing in New York,” and Airbnb has released studies and produced videos to fight the suits…

…[T]he dispute has drawn in not only the hotel industry but also, in a rare alliance, landlord and tenant groups. The Attorney General claims that illegal hotels are abusing Airbnb’s site, and Krueger complains that Airbnb is “actively recruiting tenants to list their apartments on their websites even though they are well aware they are putting residents at risk of eviction” by breaking laws and tenancy agreements. Some “online businesses have become highly profitable by ignoring state and local laws and ignoring the damage their business model has done to communities.”

I’m all in favor of innovation and utilizing the free flow of information to come to creative economic solutions. But we also have to realize that these things aren’t perfect, people do get left behind and it’s critical that we make sure the correct protections are in place to minimize the damage.

Either way, Slee’s article is a really fascinating read. Check it out.

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