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U.S. Senators Ask for Federal Investigation of Airbnb

The (in)famous rental sharing company is in a real good-news, bad-news situation these days

Being a $25 billion company with operations that span the globe is a good reason to get out of bed in the morning. But then you remember that your hometown wants to bill you potentially tens of millions of dollars per week and you’re stuck suing in reprisal. Now that three U.S. senators, including former San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, are asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate you, the snooze button must look awfully attractive.

A letter fired off to the FTC this week, bearing the stamp of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and Hawaii’s Brian Schatz as well as Feinstein, urges the Federal Trade Commission to "study and quantify the degree to which the short-term rental market consists of persons acting in a commercial manner by renting out entire residences."

The three federal lawmakers saying they’re "concerned that short-term rentals may be exacerbating housing shortages and driving up the cost of housing" is like an early birthday present for local critics of the company.

Still, the senators are not exactly calling for everyone to assemble with pitchforks and tar at Airbnb headquarters. Rather, the letter is a neutral but potentially pointed observation that more information is needed, but STR companies don’t seem terribly interested in providing it in a speedy and transparent manner.

Companies like Flipkey and HomeAway are also mentioned by name. But as usual, Airbnb is the face of the industry, for better and for worse.

In the past, Airbnb has told Curbed SF and other media outlets that it simply doesn’t have the resources to respond instantly to inquiries by individual municipalities in its 34,000 city worldwide network.

In that sense, a single, broad federal probe might be a considerable timesaver. Though the relevant companies are probably not going to be much in the mood to accentuate the positive, should that occasion ever come.