POLITICS

Airbnb co-founder welcomes Quebec regulations but hopes rules won't be onerous

06/29/2015 11:31 EDT | Updated 06/29/2016 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - One of the co-founders of Airbnb says he welcomes Quebec's move to consider regulations governing the online home-rental industry, adding that such oversight would boost his website's credibility.

"To be regulated is to be recognized, so we definitely look forward to new policy," Nathan Blecharczyk said in an interview Monday at Airbnb's Toronto office.

But he cautioned that the rules should not be so onerous that they prevent regular people from renting out their homes and cripple the company's business model.

"The owners, the hosts — these are average folks," Blecharczyk said. "They're not particularly sophisticated when it comes to the processes of running a business. If there are too many steps required, you might have lower participation and non-compliance, and non-compliance is not good for cities, is not good for hosts, it creates confusion and ultimately results in less home-share."

The Quebec government has said it wants to require people who rent out their rooms or homes to pay taxes and be subject to the same regulations as registered hoteliers.

Many jurisdictions around the world have already introduced regulations targeting websites such as Airbnb, including France, Amsterdam, London and a number of U.S. cities.

In some municipalities — including San Francisco, where Airbnb is headquartered — the company is even collecting a hotel tax from hosts on behalf of the city.

"That's something we're doing now in a number of American cities, and certainly something that's on the table in Quebec," said Blecharczyk, who is also the company's chief technology officer.

If Quebec goes ahead with the planned legislation, that would make it the first Canadian province to tackle the issue, although Blecharczyk says the company is also in talks with the Ontario government.

Airbnb allows users to rent rooms or entire homes from hosts in more than 34,000 cities, often at rates lower than those offered by hotels.

The site has attracted publicity due to a number of high-profile incidents around the world where hosts have suffered extensive damage to their homes. In April, a Calgary couple who rented out their home returned to find the place trashed following what police said was a "drug-induced orgy."

But Blecharczyk says the site benefits hosts, many of whom are renting out the homes they live in to generate some extra cash or help make ends meet. Only a small portion of hosts are property owners who make a business out of renting space to tourists for short-term stays, he added.

He said it's important for any rules that are introduced to differentiate between the two. Those who are renting out their primary residences should be able to do so without having to register, Blecharczyk said.

Quebec's hospitality industry, which is in discussions with the provincial government, has said for the past few years that the popularity of home-rental services has been cutting into hotels' profits.

Natasha Desbiens, the director of Quebec City's hotel association, says she's fairly certain that Airbnb is taking business away.

"We can't prove it but we're pretty sure about it," said Desbiens. "The occupancy rate has stayed pretty much the same in the last few years, and the government says we're getting more tourists. So where are they going?"

But Blecharczyk doubts that position.

"I haven't seen any hotel go out of business yet because of Airbnb," Blecharczyk said. "In fact, I think most hotels are having record occupancy rates and charging record prices."

Follow @alexposadzki on Twitter.