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Laws? What laws? Sharing startups shrug off backlash and forge full-steam ahead

Caitlin McGarry | May 19, 2014
City officials are cracking down on the sharing economy, but companies like Airbnb and Lyft are fighting to legalise peer-to-peer money-making.

share conference

The sharing economy is full of startups competing against each other to connect you with rides, places to stay, and people to perform your tasks, but in some cities, they're fighting for the right to exist at all.

Even California, the most tech-friendly state in the country, has spent years debating how to regulate homegrown companies like Airbnb and Lyft. State officials only last year developed rules for ride-sharing, and many Airbnb hosts in San Francisco are violating the city's law against short-term rentals.

But rather than taking a wait-and-see approach, sharing startups and their users are barreling ahead, breaking old rules and lobbying for new ones—and making some enemies in the process. Politicians, protesters, and sharing proponents gathered this week in San Francisco to hammer out some of those legal issues at the first Share: Catalyzing the Sharing Economy conference. Nothing was resolved, but everyone involved is gearing up for a national fight.

"Calling for war"
Airbnb was born in San Francisco six years ago, but has been brazenly violating the city's ban on short-term rentals for its entire existence. City Supervisor David Chiu recently introduced legislation to legalize Airbnb, but added a few restrictions: rentals would be limited to 90 days per year and hosts would be required to register with the city.

The legislation has a few opponents, like David Campos, Chiu's opponent in a race for State Assembly.

Chiu told the crowd of Share attendees that Campos and his supporters "are calling for war on you" and that he just wants to "make sure that everyone is playing on a level playing field." Campos has said that Chiu allowed Airbnb to participate too much in creating the legislation that would regulate it.

Other sharing companies are closely following Airbnb's issues in San Francisco, not to mention the company's fight for its life in New York, but so are hosts who use the platform to rent out their spaces. Many of them face fines and eviction for violating city laws.

"This legislation that David Chiu has proposed that in the next few months will go to the Board of Supervisors is crucial legislation that the whole country will watch," well-known angel investor Ron Conway said during a Wednesday Share panel. "This would not pass if it went to a vote today."

Chiu's proposal gets Airbnb a little closer to legalization. In New York, the company is still battling the state attorney general's subpoena for user data.

Lyft's feel-good focus
Like Airbnb, Lyft has faced pushback from city officials. The fist-bumping ride-sharing service rolled out in 24 new cities simultaneously last month, and a few of those cities were surprised to see pink mustaches pop up on their streets. Kansas City, Missouri, greeted the company with a legal smackdown.


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