One of the things that continually amazes and impresses me about people is their endless capacity for innovation and creative thought. The only thing that comes close to matching it is the energy with which governments try to squash the life out of anything new and exciting and anything they can’t control.
The latest example comes from Airbnb, the app-based service that allows ordinary people to convert their apartments into short-term accommodation for weary travelers. It’s an eminently sensible idea, so much so that it’s amazing no one came up with it before. Avoiding all the infrastructure, staff and real estate costs of hotels, not to mention the burden of complying with lodging regulations, Airbnb hosts are able to provide a much needed service for a fraction of the price.
Of course, hotels are not happy about this competition, and so several popular tourist destinations are cracking the whip on Airbnb, threatening hosts with huge fines and presumably trying to drive Airbnb services from the market altogether. In New York, the legislature is poised to outlaw the service altogether, while in Los Angeles, the local government has taken legal action against some hosts they allege are violating the law.
To Airbnb’s credit, they are not taking this abuse lying down. The company recently filed a lawsuit against the San Francisco government, the city where the service originated. New regulations poised to go into effect at the end of July require Airbnb hosts to register with the city, and pay a registration fee of $50. While this may not seem like the most onerous regulation imaginable, certainly not comparable to New York’s attempts to shut the company down, the registration process could seriously damage Airbnb’s presence in San Francisco for a couple of reasons.
First of all, the city seems to have gone out of its way to make the application process inconvenient, refusing to allow online submissions or even snail mail ones. Potential hosts have to actually show up in person, documents in hand. Anyone who has ever tried to do business at a government building knows that this is rarely as simple as it sounds. To those who value their time and their privacy, the application process will serve as enough of a deterrent to drive hundreds of hosts out of the market, making the service far less convenient and successful within the city limits, which in turn will hurt the company’s brand.
More upsetting than the practical aspects of the regulation, however, is the principle of the rule. Why does the city need these people on a registry? One can only assume that registration is the thin end of the wedge, designed to make future, more restrictive regulation easier when the time comes. In Airbnb’s lawsuit, they allege that the rule violates the First Amendment, as well as several other federal statutes.
Like most regulations, this is a thinly disguised effort to protect big hotel chains from competition under the guise of “public safety” or “consumer protection.” As a result, innocent and entrepreneurial hosts are being harassed and inconvenienced, with the ultimate goal of destroying and innovative and lucrative source of revenue for San Francisco residents.
It’s gratifying to see Airbnb standing up for its rights in court, but given the recent record of federal judges, I wouldn’t hold my breath for a favorable ruling. Regardless, I hope that Airbnb will continue to push back against cities’ attempts to regulate them out of business, and continue the pattern of disruptive innovation that has resulted in so many exciting companies over the last few years.
This article originally appeared on Conservative Review.