Can Bill Green — Who Has Used Airbnb — Make the Service Legal Before He Leaves?

Currently, almost all Airbnb rentals in Philadelphia are illegal. One soon-to-depart City Councilman wants to change this.

Bill Green

Photo | Jeff Meade

As the Internet continues to grow and the economy continues to suck, more people are going to try to sell goods and services online for extra income. One such way to do that is to rent out your house short-term. This is the world we live in now. Fortunately, there is an easy way to do that: Airbnb. Owners can rent out their places or parts of their places for money; renters can get much cheaper rates than they would in a hotel. Wikipedia says listings on Airbnb “include private rooms, entire apartments, castles, boats, manors, tree houses, tipis, igloos, private islands.” Next big snowstorm, I’m renting an igloo.

Airbnb, which launched in 2008 in San Francisco, has its share of detractors. Hotel groups don’t like it for obvious reasons, and Airbnb is fending off claims it’s “at war” with hotels. A Harvard study says black people who are Airbnb hosts are paid less for their rooms than non-black ones. (“Airbnb Racism: Same as the Old Racism,” read a headline at Fusion.) A blogger claimed the company made its rise on the back of spam. And, in 2012, an Airbnb rental in Sweden was allegedly used as a temporary brothel.

But the upside — well, the upside besides short-term rentals for sex, I guess — is tremendous. Look what you can get for $180 a night in West Philly.

You can’t buy that type of Golden Girls kitsch anywhere else. No, really, I can’t even find one on eBay.

There is an issue for cities, though, that renters and rentees might not consider: Taxes. As it stands now, almost all Airbnb rentals in Philadelphia are illegal. The Inquirer‘s Samantha Melamed wrote about this issue earlier this month:

While cities including New York and San Francisco are working with Airbnb to collect occupancy taxes – and New York’s attorney general subpoenaed Airbnb’s records to crack down on tax dodgers – Philly’s Revenue Department is apparently not looking to collect the 8.5 percent hotel tax or the 6.45 percent business income and receipts tax on Airbnb units. “We’re not collecting taxes, and we’re not contemplating collecting them,” said administration spokesman Mark McDonald, referencing the city’s failed attempt to recoup unpaid hotel taxes from Expedia between 2001 and 2005.

Melamed also flagged this $30-a-night fold-out couch underneath a Bob Marley tapestry in Northern Liberties as well as a guest (at a different unit) “who produced a blender from his suitcase and demanded an array of five fruits to make a smoothie.”

But, currently, those homes with Bob Marley, the Golden Girls and five different fruits aren’t entirely kosher. The Nutter administration has no plans to collect these taxes, and isn’t even “contemplating” it. But the rules are the rules, and Airbnb owners have to feel uneasy at their in-limbo status. (Or they’re too busy watching Golden Girls reruns to care, I don’t know.)

But one City Councilman wants to change that. Bill Green — who will leave Council to head up the School Reform Commission — recently told KYW 1060’s Mike Dunn he wants illegal room rentals made legal:

Councilman Bill Green has used and knows Philadelphia has many listings…. “It’s a product that I use when I travel. And it’s something that’s clearly being used here, and we’re not enforcing the law. So we might as well figure out a way to create a registration process, and tax it, [so] that [it] works with our zoning code.”

Wait, Bill Green has used Airbnb? I know he’s not the one who demanded the fruit, but I want to believe.

Green’s confirmation process with the SRC will likely take a few months, but it still seems like his idea is more of just “a start.” Per KYW He simply wants to hold a hearing, and there’s no date for it yet. For the foreseeable future, Airbnb will remain almost completely illegal in Philadelphia. But like jaywalking, it looks like we’re all just going to ignore it. It’s the Philadelphia way.

Follow @dhm on Twitter.