Airbnb says more than 3,600 people across the state use the online service to rent out their homes. Now the company is asking those homeowners to get involved with a statewide study that could impact the future of home sharing in Vermont.
The number of people using Airbnb in Vermont has been steadily increasing every year, and so lawmakers this year created the Short-Term Rental Working Group to find out if new legislation is needed to control the growing use of the service.
The working group is expected to issue a report this month that looks at whether new health and safety rules are needed to protect the public, as well as the impact on revenues in the state.
The company recently sent out letters to the homeowners who use their service to rent out rooms. Airbnb spokesman Peter Schottenfels says the Vermont working group needs to hear from the Airbnb hosts.
"We're glad that the state of Vermont is interested in pursuing sensible short-term rental policies," Schottenfels says. "And we hope that our hosts' voices are heard when they are formulating their report."
According to Schottenfels, the letter went out to everyone in Vermont who registered their house with the online home-sharing company.
And Schottenfels says that while the company supports health and safety measures, the part-time hosts shouldn't have to meet the same regulatory requirements of a full-time hotel or bed-and-breakfast.
"The majority of Vermont hosts share their own home occasionally," Schottenfels says. "They're not full-time bed-and-breakfasts, they're not full-time hotels. They're working people who are relying on Airbnb and relying on home sharing to earn some extra money. We hope that the working group decides to make that differentiation when they're forming their report."
The Short-Term Rental Working Group was rolled into a House bill that addresses how food and lodging establishments are regulated, and the group was asked to "level the playing field between short-term rentals and other lodging establishments."
They're expected to make recommendations on whether Airbnb hosts might need to register with the state and pay a registration fee.
Lillian Colasurdo is with the Department of Health and she chaired the working group, which met two times over the past few months.
"The idea of renting out a second home in Vermont to people who are vacationing is not a new concept," Colasurdo says. "It's just gotten a lot easier with the advent of different website platforms that people can advertise on."
Colasurdo says it's been tough to tease out the revenues that Airbnb rentals are bringing in and separate them from other tourism income.
And she said the Legislature may have a hard time coming up with rules that make everyone happy.
"We get into questions of ... 'What is an appropriate level of regulation?' — which is never, I think, an easy question for us to answer," Colasurdo says. "A hotel being a full-time business that sees a higher volume of people has certain concerns for safety and for sanitation that a vacation home that's rented a total of 20 days a year likely doesn't have the same concerns."
Last year, Airbnb reached an agreement with the state over paying its rooms-and-meals-tax on behalf of the people who use the service.