Santa Monica’s common sense regulations ensure online businesses don’t have an unfair advantage
Online vacation rental giants Airbnb and HomeAway, which also operates VRBO.com, have sued Santa Monica in federal court in a bid to invalidate the city’s common-sense law that protects its housing supply from being turned into hotels. The companies argue that their behavior is immune from regulation simply because they do business online. The case is currently before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
“We stand shoulder to shoulder with Santa Monica,” City Attorney Dennis Herrera said. “Airbnb and HomeAway are trying to twist the Communications Decency Act to mean something it doesn’t. The law does not allow these companies to engage in unlawful commercial transactions just because they happen to take place online. The same standards apply for any business. San Francisco has been regulating short-term rentals in a similar fashion for a while. We heard the same claims that this will somehow decimate the internet. Such claims have proven to be false. These types of regulations haven’t broken the internet. It is working just fine in San Francisco.”
As the brief notes: “… CDA immunity is bounded. It does not provide blanket immunity to online companies. Acts that would otherwise be illegal do not ‘magically become lawful’ simply because they occur online.”
The brief was filed by the City and County of San Francisco, District of Columbia, Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, City of Columbus, City of Oakland, City of Seattle, and the Public Rights Project.
It notes: “As this Court observed a decade ago, ‘[t]he Internet . . . has become a dominant—perhaps the preeminent—means through which commerce is conducted. And its vast reach into the lives of millions is exactly why we must be careful not to . . . give online businesses an unfair advantage over their real-world counterparts, which must comply with laws of general applicability.’ Roommates.com, 521 F.3d at 1164 n.15. The Court’s remark rings all the more true now.”
The case is HomeAway, Inc., and Airbnb, Inc. v. City of Santa Monica, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Case No. 18-55367.