If you own a house or car, you’re mostly free to do what you want with it, even make a little extra money with it – right?
Depending on where you live the answer to that question may be a resounding “no.” And for many people who are providers in the burgeoning freelance services economy – where consumers purchase rooms for rent, household labor and ridesharing services online – the harsh reality is that current state and local laws are generally supportive of established hotel and taxi businesses, but are prohibitive at times to the independent operators.
That’s been the lesson of Raleigh, North Carolina resident Gregg Stebben. In addition to owning his own company, co-hosting a technology talk show and working as the Tech Editor at Men’s Health Magazine, Gregg and his wife Jody Stebben own a house in Raleigh and last year became services providers – known as “hosts” – through AirBnb.Com, the new online venture that matches travelers in search of lodging with private homes, extra bedrooms and couches for rent.
“If you want to be in business, that usually involves doing some things that you don’t necessarily like” Stebben says. “In our case we end up scrubbing toilets and changing bed sheets, but that’s okay, we signed up for this.”
Stebben says he and his wife became providers for fun, but what has ensued in the last few months has become something for which they did not “sign up.”
“I’m not a very political person, but right now I’m at the center of my hometown’s politics” he says.
The renting of an extra room in their house became the subject of government scrutiny by politicians and city officials concerned that the Stebbens, and others like them, are undermining the local hotel industry.
“It’s easy in this kind of situation to assume that there are some bad guys, and some good guys here” he says. “I can’t speak for all cities, obviously, but as for Raleigh, I’m actually thrilled to be a citizen of this city and to interact with the leaders of this city about the kinds of new opportunities presented by companies like AirBnB.Com.”
Stebben further explains what has happened: “When you sign up to be a host with AirBnB.Com, they actually recommend that you check with your city to make sure that you know what the local laws and ordinances are. I did that. I had some conversations with some wonderful people in the city zoning department, and they told me that they honestly didn’t know if the law allowed me to rent out a room or not. But they also assured me that they wouldn’t try to stop me unless somebody complained about it.”
But somebody did complain. And the city government of Raleigh, in turn, complained to the Stebbens. And the battle continues for the right of the Stebbens, and others, to be providers in the burgeoning freelance services economy.
Stebben speaks highly of the leaders of his city, and is optimistic that the city’s laws can be revised to adequately accommodate those who want to rent rooms in their house, along with the well-established hotel, motel and bed-and-breakfast inn industries. But he also has some advice for others who are finding their way in the freelance services industries.
Click HERE to listen to the full discussion with Gregg Stebben.