The "Sharing" Economy: Issues Facing Platforms, Participants, and Regulators A Federal Trade Commission Workshop
My husband and I are owners of a small Studio Apartment cottage in the Garden of our home here in the Foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. We bought our home years ago and began a major renovation project on the property while focusing on paying off our mortgage. Our goal for years was to become financially secure in our retirement years and not have to rely on public subsidies for our livelihood. Two years ago we finished the last portion of our renovation project with the completion of the cottage and in November of 2014 we began accepting guests through Airbnb.com. The experience has exceeded our wildest expectations and we have had the pleasure of meeting a wide variety of people from all over the world. Before joining the Airbnb sharing community my husband made a trip to the county offices and asked about the TOT taxes and how we might set up payments and after a series of departments referring him from office to office without anyone knowing how to 'deal' with this issue he came home and we went ahead and joined. We are not against paying the taxes and just need a clarification as to how that can be accomplished. The frustration is there is no current plan for the sharing community to be included into the county system and now there seems to be a negative sense that we are somehow trying to be excluded from county responsibilities. Our cottage was originally built between 1910 and 1920 as the town bakery, in the early 1930's it was converted into a studio apartment for a disabled man and he lived there for several decades. When we bought the property in 1986 it had a bathroom, wood stove linoleum floor and kitchen cabinets however, it was substandard and virtually uninhabitable. We used it for storage until we could afford to thoroughly renovate it to current codes and for energy efficiency. We are proud of the results with a new foundation and concrete floors, on demand hot water heater, low flow water features in the bathroom, dual pane windows and a full 10 inches of insulation. It is fully handicapped equipped and was designed to be used as a convalescent home for my husband and I in our later years if needed. There was a lot of forethought and planning that went into this project. In the meantime, through airbnb we have been able to supplement our retirement income while bringing tourism into the local economy. The majority of our guests are young college graduates in search of a little downtime in our area. They are interested in hiking, biking and explorations. Even though there is a small kitchenette in the cottage, our guests tend to eat out and seem to love their visits to the local wineries and small shops. Because we can only accommodate 1-2 people, we feel we are not making a huge impact on the local motels. Furthermore, our guests have expressed to us that they are not interested in the motel experience and would probably camp if they were not able to have the more personal experience here at our home. In closing, I want to emphasize the importance of the sharing economy and the value it has on everyone. The chance to share our home and property has been a win-win-win for not only us, but for our local economy and for the guests we share with. This county had it's humble beginning during the Gold Rush of the late 19th century, Logging had a huge economic impact in the 20th century, however both of those industries are all but gone, tourism seems to be in our future and our home in our quiet little town of 300 people is definitely a different experience for many people. It is my belief that we are not interfering with, distracting from or competing against any other local businesses and in fact are bringing a group of visitors into the county that may not have visited under other circumstances. Furthermore, the additional income may actually improve the living conditions for many people and allow them to remain in their own homes for a longer period of time.