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REVEALED: Airbnb scores lobbying victory in Tennessee legislature based on 'straight-up lie'

Airbnb lobbyists have contributed $10K to sponsor
Posted: 6:57 PM, Mar 15, 2022
Updated: 2022-03-15 20:18:39-04
Sen. John Stevens on Airbnb legislation.jpeg

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Airbnb scored a victory Tuesday in its ongoing battle to get Tennessee lawmakers to restrict Nashville's ability to regulate those short-term rentals that have caused problems in some neighborhoods.

But the legislation — approved by the Senate Commerce Committee — is based on what Metro Council member Freddie O'Connell called "a straight-up lie."

Related: Airbnb legislation shows how Capitol Hill really works

Sen. John Stevens, a West Tennessee Republican, explained to the committee why the bill was going after Metro Nashville and no other Tennessee community.

"The focus upon Nashville, it's my understanding, there's currently pending an ordinance to ban owner-occupied properties. So this is an attempt to preempt that action," Stevens said.

The truth is: there is no such legislation pending in Nashville — and no such legislation has been proposed.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates reached out to Stevens to ask why he would tell the committee such a story, but we have not heard back.

Airbnb had lost a recent vote in a House subcommittee, but it came back this week with a new amendment that Stevens agreed to attach to a "caption bill" that covered portions of Tennessee law dealing with short-term rentals.

Attorneys are still trying to sort out all the implications of the new amendment that might affect Nashville's ability to protect its neighborhoods.

But, because Nashville now permits only "owner-occupied" short-term rentals in residential areas, the amendment would redefine "owner-occupied" to include residences where the owner may live elsewhere but "the person has a definite intention to return."

Such a claim would be difficult for regulators to disprove.

Metro Council member Burkley Allen said she had been working with a task force that includes people who have short-term rental permits, all in an effort to fine-tune the city's approach to dealing with properties that have sometimes caused problems for neighbors.

But the legislation, Burkley said, is based on a basic falsehood.

"The Council does not have any bill that is trying to ban short-term rentals. That is not a true statement," Allen continued.

"We would be happy to work collaboratively with the state, but we think it is very important to keep short-term rental regulation local where it is appropriate for the city."

As part of our Revealed investigation, NewsChannel 5 has been tracking special-interest money on Capitol Hill.

State data shows that BIV-PAC, a political action committee operated by Airbnb's lobbyists, has given more than $10,000 to Senator Stevens' campaigns over the past five years.

They've also given $28,000 to members of that Senate committee.


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