Taking a Stand: PLAN Act Would Ensure Local Authority Over Short-Term Rentals

PLAN Act

The following article by Chris Burgoyne, vice president of government and political affairs at AHLA, originally appeared in the November 2019 issue of LODGING.

As employers, taxpayers, and neighbors, hoteliers are proud to be an integral part of local communities, and we are committed to strengthening and growing them together.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for short-term rental platforms such as Airbnb and HomeAway and the commercial operators that use them. Commercial operators list multiple units or entire buildings year-round, creating de facto illegal hotels while flouting basic safety and security requirements, zoning rules, and taxes. These illegal hotels create safety concerns, reduce affordable housing inventory, drive up rent prices, and displace longtime residents.

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Over the last several years, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), our partner state associations, and member companies have joined with affordable housing, neighborhood, and labor groups to illustrate the need for transparency and common-sense oversight of short-term rentals. And elected officials across the country are taking notice. Governors, mayors, state legislators, and city council members have been adopting laws and regulations to level the playing field and protect neighborhoods from illegal hotels. But short-term rental platforms are hiding behind an obscure federal law to avoid complying with these common-sense state and local regulations.

Passed in 1996, the Federal Communications Decency Act (CDA) played an important role in fostering the internet’s growth. Section 230 of the CDA provides internet platforms with broad immunity from liability for third-party content posted on their websites. The original intent of Section 230 was to shield an internet platform if users posted content that was obscene, lewd, excessively violent, or otherwise objectionable.

Today, short-term rental companies are exploiting Section 230 to claim immunity from state and local laws and protect their profits. In fact, they have sued local governments in at least 10 cities that have passed regulations for short-term rentals. They have declined to be good corporate citizens and remove listings that violate state and local regulations.

States and municipalities should be free to adopt and implement reasonable planning and zoning laws that govern short-term rentals. Billion-dollar companies that profit from their website content should be accountable for that content, and when a rental listing is deemed illegal, they should be required to remove it.

Fortunately, Congress has the power to close this legal loophole and ensure local authority over short-term rentals. The Protecting Local Authority and Neighborhoods Act (PLAN Act), introduced by Reps. Ed Case (D-Hawaii), Pete King (R-N.Y.), Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), Neal Dunn (R-Fla.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), would amend the Communications Decency Act to stop companies from profiting when they are knowingly facilitating transactions of illegal goods and services. The bill would ensure that state and local governments can pass laws and regulations addressing short-term rentals and make clear that Section 230 does not shield online rental platforms from complying with state and local laws.

Since the bill’s introduction in September, AHLA has been on Capitol Hill working to educate lawmakers and increase support for this critical legislation. Hoteliers can help this bill succeed by contacting their representatives in Congress and encouraging them to cosponsor the PLAN Act. Visit www.ahla.com/hotelsact to get started.

For too long, illegal hotels have gone unchecked, but momentum is on the industry’s side. AHLA will continue the fight to rein them in and ensure a legal and level playing field for the lodging sector.