"Airbnb" Making its Way Into Midlands Travel

Columbia, SC (WLTX) -- A website that matches people looking to rent a room, or even a couch, with people staying away from home is being called into question by some.

It's called Airbnb, and some are saying it's a harmless way to make a little extra money, while some others say it allows people to get away from paying specific taxes.

The site is quickly gaining attention in larger cities like New York and San Francisco, but there is also a small community of people opening up their homes to people on the internet right here in the Midlands, too.

"My son, he told me about it," said Larry Mills, who said he has been renting a room and a bathroom at his home near Irmo for six months. "He told me I was wasting my space in my house."

Mills is one of a handful of people in the Midlands taking advantage of a website by opening up their home to strangers.

"I guess I'm too trusting, but I thought it's on the internet that they're staying here, it's all over the world that they're spending the night at my house," Mills said with a chuckle. The site's front page says it's active in 190 different countries. Many log on looking to rent a room or a sofa to a user on the website.

"They're verified by Airbnb first" Mills said, "then second, you talk to them before they stay here."

After getting verified through a social security number, photo ID and other verification tools such as a home address and date of birth, full access to the website is gained. From there, anyone looking for a place to stay away from home sends a message.

Peer-based reviews are what users say keeps the system honest.

Mills said he had even struck a rapport with some people that stayed with him from Pennsylvania.

"I would like to go visit one of the people who stayed with me," Mills said. "I know I have a place to stay and people that I know."

But questions are being raised about the legality of the site. Whether you rent or own your dwelling is one aspect, and according to an attorney News19 contacted, the law gets gray when looking at how long a person may be staying with you. Opponents also point to what they say are lost revenues from hospitality and accommodations taxes paid by guests at hotels.

"I'm sure they get a lot more renters than I do," Mills said. He said about five or so people have stayed in his home, giving him about $3,000 for some needed home repairs.

"(It) makes it a little more comfortable for the people staying here, too," he said.

The Better Business Bureau does not accredit the website, and reports there have been 184 complaints launched against the website in the past three years.

All the complaints have been closed.

In New York, the website has been challenged by the state's attorney general.


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