Congressman Ed Case of Hawaii has drawn up legislation to amend the Communication Decency Act (CDA) Section 230. This section “shields online intermediaries (“interactive computer service providers,” a very broad sector of actors) from being treated, under law, as the publisher or speaker of content authored by a third party”. In general, it prevents companies with websites from being sued because of third party content.
Case’s Protecting Local Authority and Neighborhoods (PLAN) Act, “would end abusive litigation by internet-based short-term rental platforms attempting to avoid accountability for profiting from illegal rentals and strike down local regulations aimed at curbing this illegal activity and its widespread negative impacts.”
The “Vacation Rental Management Association…is emerging as a lead voice in marshaling opposition to Case’s proposal. ‘Amending CDA 230 … could open the door for frivolous lawsuits affecting thousands of small businesses across the country, stifling travel accommodations and technological innovation of the industry,’ the group’s government relations director, Greg Holcomb, told POLITICO.”
Politico notes (6 ways websites could lose their legal immunity in the United States) that the bill may carve out a section of CDA 230 to target Booking.com, Airbnb, and VRBO, among many other listing sites, to turnover personal data collected from the sites to assist local and state governments to enforce regulations. “Citing fears that these online platforms are using the liability shield to flout state and local housing regulations banning or limiting short-term rentals…(Representative Case) with ties to the hotel industry (Ed Case joins board of American Hotel & Lodging Association) wants to make them liable for failing to keep unlawfully rented units off the internet.”
Congressman Case’s “Dear Colleague Letter” calls the bill “a narrow, targeted change to the statute to ensure short-term rental companies and internet platforms comply with state and local planning, zoning, rental, labor and tax laws.”
This change is far from a narrow. In many communities and states, the definition of an “online platform” includes the websites of vacation rental management companies. This change would create liability for professional management companies over issues they have no control over. Congressman Case’s office notes that this could help local and state governments’ enforce labor laws. The question is what types of data will they require digital platforms to collect and remit?
It is clear that this bill is being drafted to assist Honolulu’s new unenforceable draconian short-term rental ordinance that aims to remove thousands of vacation rentals from the market and penalize the industry with fines reaching as high as $10,000 per day, per incident.
VRMA will continue to track this bill and is working with industry partners to educate lawmakers on the importance of professional vacation rental management and the vacation rental industry.
Here are some more links to learn more about the Communications Decency Act: