Nov 27, 2019

Axios Login

By Ina Fried
Ina Fried

Since this is the last issue before Thanksgiving, let me take a moment to say how thankful I am for all of you who open Login every day. I'm also thankful, just slightly less so, for those of you who forget to open Login some days. And to those of you who rarely open it, I say, "Hi, Dad! Happy Thanksgiving. See you this afternoon."

Login is 1,140 words, a 4-minute read. We'll see you again on Monday morning.

1 big thing: Cities see red over short-term rental party houses

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Private properties in Sunbelt tourist magnets are increasingly up for rent on short-term-rental platforms like Airbnb, HomeAway and Vrbo. That has prompted some local officials to take action against this latest form of tech-driven urban disruption, Axios' Kim Hart reports.

Why it matters: Cities are on edge after some high-profile incidents, including a shooting that killed five at a Halloween party held at an Airbnb rental in a San Francisco suburb last month. Afterwards, Airbnb banned "party houses" and cracked down on unauthorized conduct.

The big picture: A chief complaint against home-rental companies has been their potential impact on housing prices in already unaffordable places. In some markets, the bigger complaint is that rental properties are becoming such popular alternatives to hotels that they are drastically changing the nature of neighborhoods — and even chasing away families.

What's happening: Residents are becoming peeved in communities across the country.

  • A home near Naval Base Point Loma in San Diego is consistently a party scene, and residents worry Airbnb's rules won't be enforced, per NBC 7 in San Diego.
  • A shooting at a house party at a rental home in Plano, Texas, spurred residents to push the city to take action, per CBS 11 News.
  • Some Cape Cod residents report endless bachelorette parties, blaring music and fire pits that have fundamentally changed the neighborhood, per NBC 10 in Boston.

What they're saying: The trend was a hot topic of conversation at last week's National League of Cities City Summit in San Antonio. Elected officials from many small and mid-sized cities decried the rise of outside investors snapping up homes as rental properties, and the increased cost to public safety in dealing with disturbances.

  • In Tennessee: "We're seeing homes in neighborhoods turned into party houses with police having to be called out every week," said Nashville City Councilwoman Gloria Hauser. "We're seeing families needing to move out because it's not a neighborhood anymore."
  • In Florida: Ormond Beach City Commissioner Troy Kent said neighborhoods in his beach-town community have been overrun with short-term rentals. He no longer knows his neighbors and routinely witnesses behavior that requires public safety's attention. "It's wildly inappropriate," he said. "That's not what my constituents signed up for. There's zoning for that."
  • In Texas: College Station Councilwoman Linda Harvell expressed concern that short-term rentals can cost the city more due to police calls and clean-up needs, yet they don't necessarily pay occupancy taxes like hotels are required to.

The other side: Amanda Pedigo, vice president for government affairs at Expedia, which owns short-term rental platform Vrbo, said the company wants to work with cities to develop regulations for rental properties to alleviate concerns.

  • Vrbo has set up a portal for neighbors to file complaints about properties. "We're committed to getting rid of party houses," Pedigo said, adding that all short-term rental owners should be paying hotel occupancy taxes.
  • Seattle is one major city that has regulated short-term rentals to cut down on abuse. Most rental operators can operate only two units. Seattle set up a special tax on short-term rentals equivalent to what hotels pay.
  • San Francisco's rules allow only permanent residents to host short-term rentals. Rentals without the owner present are limited to 90 days a year.

The catch: A number of states, including Tennessee, have passed laws on short-term rentals. But some city officials say state-wide laws can limit city-specific restrictions that try to go further.

2. Heat on Amazon over warehouse conditions, Ring

For retailers, Thanksgiving kicks off the holiday buying season with Black Friday and Cyber Monday in quick succession — but Amazon has some difficult business to deal with before it can start celebrating. This week, fresh reports cast further doubts on the company's handling of working conditions at its warehouses and surveillance questions related to its Ring doorbell-cameras.

Driving the news:

  • The Intercept reports that Ring was developing a "watch list" feature driven by facial recognition software as well as a mechanism for owners to be notified of potentially suspicious activity. A company spokesperson told Axios that "nothing he's described is in development or in use today."
  • Gizmodo detailed "staggering" high worker injury rates at a New York warehouse. A report in the Atlantic places the blame on "ruthless quotas" imposed by the company on its workers.
  • Meanwhile, a new report this week from the Center for Investigative Reporting suggests Indiana officials manipulated the state's investigation into an Amazon worker's death to promote the region's bid for the company's HQ2 office.

Why it matters: Amazon has grown into arguably the world's largest retailer, and in the U.S. its vast reach online and off touches a huge percentage of households. Though the company has so far escaped the kind of public outcry that Facebook has encountered, it's becoming an increasingly prominent target for investigations by both media and regulators.

3. Facebook's Oculus buys Beat Saber maker

Image: Beat Games

Facebook said Tuesday that its virtual reality unit is buying Beat Games, the company behind Beat Saber, one of the most popular games for its devices.

Why it matters: It's a sign that Facebook continues to believe in — and put money into — virtual reality even as the industry has grown more slowly than predicted.

Between the lines: Some wonder if Facebook may face legal challenges that the small independent Beat Games did not, such as over use of copyrighted music, or even the terms "saber" and "light saber" — given that Disney is known to aggressively defend its intellectual property.

  • There's also the question of how long Facebook will be committed to Beat Saber for non-Oculus platforms, though it said it plans to continue developing for all the VR devices it currently supports.

What's next: Facebook suggested more deals may follow. "We're exploring many ways to accelerate VR, and we think next year is going to be an incredible one of VR game launches and announcements. We are thrilled to have Beat Games join our team. This is just the beginning," it said in the blog post.

4. Steve Ballmer's Thanksgiving treat

Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer isn't promising to prevent the political arguments that families engage in over the holiday. He just wants to make sure that when you end up in an after-turkey tiff with your crotchety relatives, both you and they are relying on facts.

Why it matters: It's one thing to disagree over how to tackle a problem. But finding common ground is even harder, if not impossible, when we can't agree on the underlying reality.

What's happening: Several years ago Ballmer set up USA Facts, which aims to offer nonpartisan information on how the government spends its money. This year, USA Facts is offering up data on nine controversial topics, ranging from climate to the Second Amendment to border issues.

You can download USA Facts' Thanksgiving Table Topics here.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • Office workers across the country will attempt to look busy while keeping an eye out for anyone else leaving so they can duck out too.

Trading Places

  • Nope. You have to go to your family's Thanksgiving. No trading places for that. Sorry.


6. After you Login

I've been saving this one: It's a look at how 10 famous artists might serve up Thanksgiving dinner.

Ina Fried

Editor's note: The first item has been corrected to reflect that Tennessee's law does not pre-empt cities from passing short-term-rental ordinances.