Tenants who illegally sublet part or all of their home on the website Airbnb could get busted shortly, thanks to a new online tracking service.
Huntbnb, started by two San Francisco web developers, allows property owners to spy on tenants and its launch has led to predictions of Airbnb’s demise.
Almost single-handedly, the vacation rental site has built a market worth around 7.5 billion euros per year, and is loathed by the hotel industry and property owners alike.
The original Airbnb site doesn’t show the exact location of available rooms until a booking is made. So owners often have to trawl through several pages of properties.
Even then, they may only know if their home is being illegally sublet if they recognise furniture or decor on photos published with the listing.
The Huntbnb website utilises an algorithm that matches Airbnb listings with information provided by owners.
Users just enter the address of their property and the site will display listings within about 500 metres of the given location.
Four thousand users reportedly tried Huntbnb within 24 hours of the site going live.
One of the founders Bhargay Errangi told SFGate.com that property agents had enquired on behalf of owners and “some even offered to pay” to check and then possibly snitch on renters.
Airbnb benefits tenants by allowing them to rent out spare rooms and even their own bedroom while they are away. It boasts as many as 800,000 available rooms in 190 countries.
But owners maintain that they are cheated out of potential rent and home insurance policies are often invalidated when tenants stay illegally.
In future, local authorities may also seek to use the service to help catch public housing tenants who sublet rooms through Airbnb.
In Paris, France around 30,000 rooms are estimated to be rented out for short periods, many through Airbnb and its French equivalent Sejourning.com.
Officials estimate that owners and public tenants of up to 60 percent of those rooms are flouting the law by not getting approval from the city government, reports The Point.fr.
A new law passed in March allows inspectors to visit homes unannounced if they think illegal tenants may be living there.
French owners can be fined up to 25,000 euros for each dwelling or up to 1,000 euros per day per square metre.
In the US, owners have put restraining orders on tenants to prevent them illegally subletting through Airbnb.
Editor Chris Dannen was served with papers after earning around 15,000 euros from renting out his spare room in a plush New York apartment he rented.
“Attached to the (restraining) order was a complete printout of my Airbnb listing and all my reviews, included as evidence I had violated clauses in my lease”, he wrote in an article for FastCoLabs.com.
He was forced to evict the property within 10 days.
Huntbnb could even be used by tax authorities as much of the income generated by short-term vacation rentals is not disclosed.
In France, owners or tenants must declare additional income on their annual tax returns, while in the UK, the first 5,000 euros of income is not taxable.
Authorities in Germany say they want to collect a bedroom tax on vacation rentals in the same way hotels are charged.
It seems that while the internet has created new opportunities for sharing what you don’t need, growing regulation and the search for profits will always come along to spoil the fun.