To the Editor:
Full disclosure: I own the Oak Bluffs Inn. I take issue with a recent letter in The Times (May 8, “Airbnb is part of Vineyard tradition”) from Andrew L. Kalloch of Hamilton, a lawyer who works in public policy for Airbnb. For starters, I Googled him, and he lives in New York and Oregon, according to his LinkedIn profile, not Hamilton.
Essentially, the letter is an advertisement for Airbnb, complete with three links to various pages of their website, and I question the journalistic integrity of The Times for printing it. The letter of course paints Airbnb in the greatest of lights: “By and large, these hosts are not full-time businesses running commercial operations.” So they are running part-time businesses that are unlicensed, uninspected, and unpermitted in residential neighborhoods. The letter then goes on to state that “public safety for hosts, guests, and neighbors is our No. 1 priority at Airbnb.” If that was really the case, Airbnb would mandate two means of egress from its rental properties, and annual inspections from the fire and building inspectors. Fire code mandates this for commercial properties.
The letter ends with, “We are proud of our community in the Vineyard, and welcome the opportunity to work with its municipalities to craft nuanced regulations that foster the economic opportunity that home sharing provides.” For starters, existing regulations do not allow for nightly rentals in residential neighborhoods in Oak Bluffs, so the bit about crafting nuanced regulation is disingenuous. Also, what the letter doesn’t bring up, let alone say that they want to comply with, is that they don’t pay room occupancy tax, which is 11.7 percent in Oak Bluffs, for example. Of that, 6.7 percent goes directly to the town, the balance to the state, which can then be then redistributed back to the Island. This also puts legitimate lodging establishments who have to charge the tax at a disadvantage. The Island is facing a housing crisis, and Airbnb is only adding to it.
I also Googled the letter, and found another letter, from March 2017, in a paper in Newport, R.I. Parts of this letter were cut and pasted from it; again, I question the journalistic integrity of The Times for printing it. A part that wasn’t copied from the Newport letter says, “In addition, Airbnb is doing its part to support core public services throughout the State of Rhode Island by collecting and remitting the state’s hotel tax on behalf of our guests and hosts.” So by their own words, they are not doing their part to support the Island’s core services.