Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

January 26, 2016


By David Reiss

photo by Adam Jones

Researchers at Penn State have posted a report, From Air Mattresses to Unregulated Business: An Analysis of the Other Side of Airbnb. The Executive Summary reads,

As the popularity—and controversy—over short-term rental platforms grows in the public arena, this report takes a closer look at the hosts dominating one of the most trafficked platforms, Airbnb. The company, valued at some $24 billion dollars, has a reported 2 million listings worldwide. In media interviews and public materials, Airbnb suggests that its hosts are largely using the platform to make some additional money on the side. It states that “a typical listing earns $5,110 a year, and is typically shared less than 4 nights per month.”

But that does not represent the full picture.

This report represents the first comprehensive look at the commercial activity being conducted on Airbnb. By analyzing hundreds of thousands of data points, the report reveals an alarming trend with respect to two overlapping groups of hosts, multiple-unit operators who are renting out two or more units, and full-time operators who are renting their unit(s) 360 or more days per year. These two subsets of operators are generating a substantial amount of Airbnb’s revenue. Hosts who rent fewer than 360 days, but still far more than occasionally (for instance, more than 180 days), also contribute greatly to Airbnb’s bottom line. (2, footnote omitted)

The authors clearly have an ax to grind with Airbnb, but their findings are interesting nonetheless. One of my takeaways from the report is how differently Airbnb operates in different markets.

In Miami, for instance, 61% of Airbnb’s revenues was derived from full-time hosts who made up 7% of its operators there. That is more than twice as much revenue (in percentage terms) from full-time hosts as Airbnb’s national average.  Nationally, full-time hosts represented 3% of all hosts, less than half (in percentage terms) of the number in Miami. Clearly local conditions will drive local governments to regulate Airbnb differently. It will be interesting to watch it all unfold.

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