In 2015, Jersey City became one of the first cities to legalize and regulate short-term rentals, with Mayor Steven Fulop welcoming in short-term rentals while highlighting our work with the City to create “common-sense ground rules”.
Four years later, our community in Jersey City faced an impossible situation and reached out to us for help. The mayor’s one time support for short-term rentals suddenly changed and the City started pushing forward severe restrictions on short-term rentals, including a ban on tenants sharing their home; a prohibition on short-term rentals in buildings with four or more units; a 60 night cap for non-owner occupied listings, when hosts are out of town; an onerous registration system, and more.
It’s now clear what was motivating this unexpected flip-flop: in early 2017, our once positive and constructive relationship with the mayor had become fractured related to a campaign donation request the Mayor had made of Airbnb, and it is now clear he received campaign donations from the hotel industry just months after this shift.
Regardless of whether the Mayor’s abrupt and 180 degree shift — from proactively supporting short-term rentals to backing a de facto ban pushed by hotel interests — was related to hotel industry campaign donations, the bottom line was that these changes threatened to rip away the livelihoods of our community. Many hosts invested their life savings in renovations and other changes to their homes after the mayor passed rules for short-term rentals in 2015, while so many others depend on the extra income to pay the bills. These changes also jeopardize the financial security of the hundreds of cleaners and property manager they hired, as well as the small business owners who depend on local tourism activity.
Our hosts called their elected representatives; they proposed a new compromise ordinance that would put in place new, comprehensive rules that further restricted short-term rentals but preserved their ability to share their homes; they testified at countless late-night City Council meetings — and yet, still were still being ignored by Jersey City elected officials. They believed their only choice was to bring this issue to the people. To do that, they asked us if we would support them launching a referendum campaign.
We said yes — and quickly mobilized to support the community in collecting more than 20,000 signatures from Jersey City residents, putting this ordinance on the ballot.
From the very start, we knew this was going to be one of the toughest fights we have faced. We were up against a powerful, entrenched political establishment, backed by special interests from the hotel industry — the latter of which is well known to have used a variety of questionable tactics over the past five years to subvert efforts to achieve fair regulations for our community in New York City. Indeed, over the past few months, our community has faced a high level of political harassment and intimidation.
Throughout it all, our hosts refused to be silenced and made their voices heard, for the sake of their own families as well as the futures of thousands of Jersey City residents who have depended on short-term rentals over the past four years. Time and time again, they told their stories, from the host who used his art to urge friends and neighbors to vote against the ordinance to the local resident who stayed in a short-term rental to flee domestic violence. They secured the support of important civil rights organizations like the Jersey City branch of the NAACP and prominent labor organizations like Keystone + Mountain + Lakes Regional Council of Carpenters Local 253, in fighting against economic discrimination and for working families. All in all, our campaign knocked on nearly 110,000 doors; had more than 18,000 conversations with Jersey City voters; and received more than 1,000 pledges from voters to reject this ordinance.
Unfortunately, as we saw in last night’s election, we were not successful in this fight.
Jersey City is not significant to our business — and even in New Jersey, it pales in comparison to the Jersey Shore. We operate in 191 countries and 100,000 cities, with more than 7 million listings worldwide. There are about 3,000 listings in Jersey City. But we have an obligation to stand up for our hosts and their rights, and that’s what we did here in Jersey City. We hope to continue to work with our community to make their voices heard.
Around the world, hundreds of municipalities — from nearby Philadelphia and Buffalo to Los Angeles and Seattle — have figured out a path forward for home sharing that protects the short-term rental community while putting in place clear rules of the road. We have established 500 government partnerships globally, including in countries like China and Cuba.
Going forward, we hope Jersey City will hear the needs of their constituents and consider a better way in the future. We stand at the ready to work with the City when that time comes.