The "Sharing" Economy: Issues Facing Platforms, Participants, and Regulators A Federal Trade Commission Workshop
In 1999, my husband and I sunk every cent we had ever earned into an Asheville Bed and Breakfast accommodations property. As a commercially operational business entity, we have many legal responsibilities we are expected to honor both to our city and state. We must purchase a business license in order to conduct business in our city. We are held to the highest standards of assuring public safety (fire and health inspections), liability insurance to cover guests should they become injured on our property. We are responsible to our employees both to pay them and also to cover their FICA and medicare. We are responsible to collect state and occupancy taxes to submit to our county and state governments. No governance that is firmly accountable, monitored, insured to be present is placed on those providing these "shared economy" accommodations present in differing locations going by many names. For many, this is an attempt to capitalize on the lodging market while not being held to any of the stringent standards businesses are held to. Clearly, with all these responsibilities removed, their pricing could and is less than traditional business owners who must bare the standards of their communities. On another front entirely removed from public safety, there is the consideration of how many properties currently directed to this far more lucrative economic driver are being permanently removed from the affordable housing market they used to occupy. In our city of Asheville, affordable housing is at critical mass. All interest in yearly leasing by home owners has been effectively squelched by the obvious robust economic benefits, with none of the business required detriments, enjoyed by those now leaping onto the short term rental bandwagon. It is my belief that slowly but surely the very real problems associated with this kind of un-regulated housing of local visitors will clearly be displayed. Some of these problems have already been occurring. The complete destruction of a personal residence a family once called home now resplendent with urine, feces, stale beer, holes in the wall, ripped out sinks and generalized mayhem. Damage estimates in the tens of thousands. Great, neighborhoods where families once resided, knowing their surrounding neighbors now populated by herds of "guests" jamming up their once quiet streets with loud parties and streets so crowded the remaining residents of the street can't even pass down their street in a vehicle. On narrow streets, with no off street parking mandated to be provided by businesses housing guests, cars parked on both sides could easily prohibit emergency vehicle transport for medical emergencies. Business is regulated. Perhaps over regulated. To allow the same activity to be conducted by individuals not bound by the same rules is not only unfair, it spurns business unfairly. I am not sure that will take our nation where we need to go. Private business is a great economic stimulator both in the creation of jobs, supplementation of the tax base and the general economy, so before we hamstring it completely we might need to consider the result carefully.