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Airbnb co-founder: We'd 'take a bullet' for other sharing-economy firms

The peer-to-peer vacation-rental company says it would use its scale to deflect harm policy makers might throw at other firms.

Screenshot by CNET

SAN FRANCISCO -- Airbnb, the short-term vacation rental company, has had its share of friction with policy makers. On Wednesday, the company's co-founder said it's willing to sacrifice as it faces some of these scuffles.

The company has been a pioneer of the so-called "sharing economy." The term is hard to pin down, but in part it refers to a new breed of businesses that run peer-to-peer marketplaces where people who own things like homes or cars rent them out to other people.

The trend has caught on -- Airbnb said it has 350,000 hosts renting out their places, and the company is said to be valued at $10 billion. But the rapid uptake has caused some friction with government regulators. Opponents of Airbnb's home-sharing business say it has contributed to evictions and, in San Francisco, has exacerbated a shortage in affordable housing.

As a leader in the space, the company says it's willing to take a hit to pave the way for future companies.

"Your average citizen or policy maker isn't necessarily trying to think big about the opportunity," Nate Blecharczyk, Airbnb's chief technology officer and co-founder, said on stage here. He said the company can use its scale to change the perception around sharing-economy businesses and build relationships with regulators. "Maybe we can even take a few bullets in the process, so someone later doesn't have to," Blecharczyk said.

In April, San Francisco Supervisor David Chiu introduced legislation that would rein in some of the activity around home sharing in San Francisco. The proposed law would limit the amount of time hosts could rent out their homes, requiring them to live on their properties for at least nine months out of the year. The law would also require hosts to sign up for a registry, which would keep information like their names and addresses in a database.

Home sharing is "creating a bit of a challenge in the midst of our affordable-housing crisis," Chiu said on stage, earlier in the day.

Should the legislation pass, Airbinb said in a blog post, the company would comply with the restrictions of the legislation, though in the firm's opinion the bill is "not perfect."

But it's not just a struggle in San Francisco, Airbnb's home turf. Regulators in New York City have also been coping with the rise of short-term rentals. Last year, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman hit Airbnb with a subpoena, seeking records about hosts who may be violating state law. On Tuesday, however, a judge rejected the subpoena for being overly broad. Schneiderman's office is already in the process of filing another one.

Airbnb argues that its service actually helps people avoid losing their homes. According to the company, 75 percent of Airbnb hosts who rent their homes in San Francisco use the money they make to pay rent.