Uber isn't Portland's only fight with a sharing-economy startup. The love affair between City Hall and Airbnb is publicly fraying.
City Commissioner Nick Fish has been pushing a crackdown on Airbnb hosts who don't get safety inspections. Airbnb sent a lobbyist to a City Council hearing Dec. 18 to object to new rules compelling the company to provide the addresses and city permit numbers of its hosts.
Fish upbraided him for more than 10 minutes.
"You want to have your cake and eat it too," Fish told him. "We have an obligation to go after folks who are not following the law. The only way we can do that is [if] we know where they live, and you're claiming that's confidential and somehow an erosion of your privacy rights."
Airbnb's director of public policy, David Owen, said his company objects to providing "unfettered access to private user data without formal legal process, which is a fundamental tenant of Internet commerce."
Fish was agog.
"This has shades of Uber all over it," Fish said. "We invoke the Internet, and we claim an exemption from all the other laws and rules of society, because we're somehow 'on the Internet.'
"We welcomed you to Portland," he continued. "We're pleased that you've harnessed the Internet. But sir, we have to make sure that the guests in one of your hosts' places—and you do not inspect your hosts' places—we have to make sure that guest is safe."
Mayor Charlie Hales led a push to legitimize and regulate Airbnb's short-term rentals this summer, making Portland the first city in the nation where Airbnb collects lodging taxes. But few of the hosts using the online rental marketplace have followed the new safety rules.
WW reported last week that only 6.5 percent of Airbnb rentals have bothered to apply for city permits (and undergo safety inspections) since the city required them in August.
City Council is scheduled to vote in January on an ordinance that would fine online rental marketplaces $500 each time a host advertises a rental without posting a city permit number.
The battle resembles Airbnb's fights in New York—where the company gave the state attorney general information on 107 hosts believed to be breaking the law.
Watch the video—where Owen says new city rules could restrict commerce on Craiglist—and Fish then waves Craiglist listings at him.