with Aaron Schaffer

Airbnb is implementing a new policy to prevent landlords from exploiting its service as a federal moratorium on evictions expires later this month.

Beginning Tuesday, the company will prohibit landlords from listing properties where they evicted a tenant for failure to pay rent, as I reported earlier this morning. Airbnb says the policy will be in effect at least until the end of the year to ensure that landlords aren’t forcing out renters to profit off short-term rentals during a public health crisis.

The company said it will work with cities to identify properties where renters were pushed out after being protected under the moratorium.

Cities across the country are bracing for a potential wave of evictions as the federal moratorium expires June 30. An estimated 14 percent of adult renters in the United States are behind on payments amid the economic turmoil brought on by the pandemic and delays in disbursing federal emergency rental aid, according to data from the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“You can either be a solution to challenges that are out there, or you can be compounding the challenges," Chris Lehane, AirBnB’s head of policy and communications, told me. “We want to be a solution when it comes to economic opportunity.”

Airbnb is just one of many companies that is working with governments in new ways to address the pandemic. 

Companies long at the center of regulatory battles like Airbnb, Uber and Lyft are finding new ways to work with government officials. The ride-share companies recently launched an initiative with the Biden administration to provide people free rides to coronavirus vaccination appointments. And social networks and search engines have been working with public health authorities to develop information centers about the coronavirus amid criticism their platforms were used to spread misinformation.

Lehane said these efforts reflect a need to find new ways for government and the private sector to collaborate during a broader debate about how the tech industry should be regulated. He called for a “common sector” approach amid growing debate about how to regulate tech giants. 

“Platforms have a responsibility to build the tools and integrate their platforms with government systems to make these policies as effective as possible,” Lehane said in an interview.

The policy could build political goodwill for Airbnb following years of criticism. 

California Assemblyman David Chiu (D), the chair of the state Housing and Community Development Committee, urged other short-term rental platforms to consider adopting similar rules. Chiu led efforts to regulate Airbnb in San Francisco while president of the Board of Supervisors there, and he has called for the state to extend eviction protections.

“It’s very helpful Airbnb is doing their part to ensure that their short-term rentals are not contributing to evictions,” he told me. “We’re very concerned about seeing a significant crisis when the moratorium goes away.”

Airbnb’s meteoric growth over the past decade has put it at the center of a series of controversies, including accusations that short-term rentals drove rising rents and encouraged tourists in formerly residential neighborhoods.

The now public company has been increasingly investing in trust and safety. 

The company's long-running criticisms were exacerbated by allegations that Airbnb rentals were being used for parties that ran afoul of public health guidance during the pandemic, leading the company to institute a ban on gatherings of more than 16 people at its rentals.

Airbnb also canceled and blocked all reservations in the Washington metro area around the inauguration earlier this year during efforts to secure the Capitol following the Jan. 6 insurrection. The company also has banned accounts for many people involved in hate groups and the Capitol riot.

Yet Airbnb’s latest policy could be challenging to enforce, especially because there’s no centralized mechanism where cities report pandemic-related evictions. Even in cities where such data is easy to access, it’s not always updated.

Airbnb says it’s addressing this through a new portal that it built to enable governments to manage short-term rental policies. Lehane said cities could use these tools to flag properties that violate the evictions ban to the company. More than 40 governments and tourism organizations around the world have access to those tools.

Airbnb also has named Andrew Kalloch “anti-eviction administrator” to coordinate with cities on the new policy. Kalloch is the company’s senior policy development manager.

Our top tabs

Bipartisan group of senators introduces $40 billion bill to close the digital divide.

The legislation, co-sponsored by Sens. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Angus King (I-Maine), highlights the growing support in both political parties to boost federal funding to bring more Americans online, as I reported today. The senators say the closure of businesses and schools during the coronavirus pandemic made clear the need for expanded Internet access.

Bennet told me in an interview that the funding is urgently needed even as coronavirus cases decline in the United States, as businesses and schools prepare for a hybrid future of work and education. 

“I think it’s very exciting as long as everyone in the country has access to broadband,” he said. “If they don’t, we’re going to see the digital divide creating a greater divide than what already exists between kids living in poverty and more affluent kids.”

The bill, called the Broadband Reform and Investment to Drive Growth in the Economy Act, would specifically invest in what the senators call “future proof” networks, with upload and download speeds of at least 100 Mbps, to ensure they do not quickly become outdated.

The Senate overwhelming advanced the nomination of tech critic Lina Khan for a Federal Trade Commission seat.

The Senate advanced the nomination of Khan, a longtime critic of major technology companies such as Amazon, in a 72-to-25 vote, and it is set to vote on her confirmation today. Khan is one of the nation's most prominent advocates for greater antitrust action against the tech industry, and the vote reflects the growing bipartisan support to address competition issues in Washington. 

Khan has indicated she plans to aggressively look into regulating tech giants. She received bipartisan support at her April confirmation hearing and would be the youngest-ever commissioner if confirmed.

Matt Stoller, the director of research at the American Economic Liberties Project, which advocates for greater regulation of monopolies, noted that Khan's confirmation will usher in the first “anti-monopoly majority” at the FTC in a generation. Author James Surowiecki:

Google and Amazon executives are set to testify on Capitol Hill over smart-home technology.

The Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing will be the executives’ first appearance since a bipartisan group of House lawmakers introduced a series of bills seeking to rein in the tech giants. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who chairs the panel, has signaled that the company’s dominance over competitors such as Sonos will be a key portion of the hearing. 

“A market dynamic is emerging where only a handful of powerful tech companies dominate, which is especially concerning given the sensitive data they are collecting about us in our homes,” Klobuchar said in a statement. A Sonos executive plans to testify.

(Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Rant and rave

YouTube announced that it would no longer allow its main ad spot to feature banners about politics, elections or alcohol. Harvard Law School lecturer Evelyn Douek says the announcement highlights how YouTube's political ad practices get less scrutiny than Facebook:

Alex Weprin, a reporter at the Hollywood Reporter:

Steve Koczela, the president of MassINC Polling:

Hill happenings

Inside the industry

Trending

Daybook

  • The Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee holds a hearing on home technologies today at 2:30 p.m.
  • A House Committee on Small Business subcommittee holds a hearing on broadband on Wednesday at 10 a.m.
  • European digital enforcer Margrethe Vestager discusses artificial intelligence at an event hosted by Renew Europe at 9 a.m. on Thursday.
  • Werner Stengg, a cabinet expert to Vestager, discusses the European Commission’s new proposal to regulate artificial intelligence at an event hosted by Stanford University’s Institute for Human-Centered AI on Thursday at noon.
  • Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee, speaks at a NetChoice event on June 22 at noon.

Before you log off

“So how have you been?” After 15 months, Stephen Colbert is back in front of a live audience: