The "Sharing" Economy: Issues Facing Platforms, Participants, and Regulators A Federal Trade Commission Workshop
My husband and I were over 65 when our owner-occupied 3-family house burned beyond repair in May, 2008. Rent from the other two apartments was our retirement plan, to supplement our social security benefits. You know that fire insurance policies don't pay promptly and the insurer's efforts to minimize payout and to push their customers into quick decisions. Building the replacement duplex cost more than we'd expected. All our savings had to go with the insurance benefits before we took a mortgage to finish construction. We've built a house with two guest rooms and a whole-house duplex next door and a mortgage over $250,000.00. We now live in an area whose economy was decimated by the post-Reagan economic spiral of loss of production jobs and change to "service economy" in a culture-rich tourist destination. Very few people in this area who live in rented housing have jobs that pay enough to afford the rent for our duplex that it's worth, and that we need to collect for help with our mortgage and utilities. Short-term vacation rental of the duplex has let us live independently since summer of 2011. But sometimes we worried about the vacationers who responded to our rent-by-owner listings on the internet. Local real estate agents referred us to the internet when we sought to list with them to find responsible renters for vacation periods. We faced efforts to "scam" us with requests to accept overpayment by check and refund the difference to the would-be "renter"; minor damage whose repair and clean-ups were strenuous, time-wasting, and a drain on income; and the "sightseer" prospect who insisted on a tour of the rental house and then tried to haggle for a lower rent in prime vacation season. My husband is now 75 and I'm 72 and we're both still working part-time. Over a year ago we found out about airbnb.com on a Sunday morning T.V. business show. I signed us up and we've been consistently happy with the "trust and sharing" ethic of the airbnb.com internet site ever since. The airbnb.com site required verification of our identities, and assures us that renters who would have access to airbnb.com would also have to verify their identities. Both, owners and traveling renters, review each other. Airbnb.com handles the collection of rent and fees and deposits them into our account. Airbnb never asked us to let them handle the money BUT relieve them of any responsibility. The other online sites have started to press us "owners" to let them handle the rent and damage deposit promising to deposit proceeds to our account, but they want us to sign an agreement that relieves the site of any responsibility to either us or the renters. Our first airbnb guests were in our home's guest rooms, on our second floor. We've met people of all ages, from foreign countries as well as all over the U.S.A. We don't provide breakfast or other meals, just a small refrigerator to store "doggy bags" from restaurants, and a 4-cup coffee maker, and use of our microwave if a traveler needs it to heat a baby bottle or heat-'n-serve. Guests who want to get acquainted have been pleasant and we've enjoyed their conversations. Guests who just want to rest and do what they came to town to get done do that. Last summer we started also listing the furnished, duplex house on airbnb.com. We supply clean sheets and towels and warm bedding and paper products (suitable for our septic system)xz. With airbnb.com, we have more guests, and our rental income is higher. Our worries are fewer, I have occasionally "denied" a traveler who was inadequately verified, and our airbnb guests have not been careless with our furnishings or linens and bedding. Airbnb.com has "help" for any problem with the site, or an email exchange, and it's answered by nice people who understand what I'm saying. The "trust" thing helps; I've emailed an inquiry to "complete verification" before I'll "accept". It works.