AirBnB is really great for travelers -- but it might be causing huge problems for locals

STAYING AT AN AIRBNB IS A PRETTY COOL way to see a new city. It allows you to stay in a local's home rather than a character-less hotel or a loud, cut-rate hostel, and it's often as affordable as both of those options. It's a cool, crowd-sourced way to really get a sense of the local culture.

But as great as Airbnb's might be for travelers, it might be causing some pretty huge problems for locals in bigger cities. In fact, as Grist reports, it may be the reason the rent is too damn high in so many places.

The reason is simple: If a landlord wants to raise the rent on a building, they have to risk losing current tenants. When the rent goes up, older tenants will leave, meaning that the landlord won't be earning any money on that unit until they find someone willing to pay the new rent. The risk of losing money can be a deterrent for landlords to jack up the rent too high.

But short-term rentals like Airbnb solve that problem. Landlords can rent out the unused units for exorbitant prices to visiting tourists or to transient workers who don't want to stay in a hotel. One such building in San Francisco, according to Grist, took old units that former tenants had been priced out of, turned them into a "co-creative house" with bunk beds, and now can earn over $10,000 a month for a shared room. For that type of money, why have permanent residents at all?

The result is that many cities are going through serious rent hikes now that landlords have a much lower risk level if they want to hike up the rents. In some cities -- especially cities with a lot of tourism -- this has priced lower- and middle-income people out of their old neighborhoods.

Many cities are cracking down on Airbnbs by either banning short-term rentals outright, or by limiting the number of days a year a non-hotel unit can be rented out. But Airbnb has been pushing back, saying that these measures are being pushed by hotel lobbyists who don't like that Airbnb has been cutting into their business. Which is, to an extent, true. If everyone using Airbnb's used it within the bounds of the law, it wouldn't cause any serious problems -- say, if you rented out your apartment while you were out of town. But in big cities where housing is already limited, landlords are using Airbnb to turn what used to be housing for residents into housing for tourists, and a lot of people are straight-up renting out their homes illegally.

 An anti-Airbnb sign in San Francisco's Chinatown. Photo:  Leigh Blackall

An anti-Airbnb sign in San Francisco's Chinatown. Photo: Leigh Blackall

It’s a dream-come-true for landlords, because by lowering the supply and increasing the demand for rentals, it raises the amount they can charge. But it’s also turning our cities into places that only the wealthy can afford to live in. And that’s a shame.

Ultimately, the solution to the Airbnb issue is going to have to be decided by local governments and regulators, who will have to put measures into place that protect the housing of their less-wealthy residents. But for the time being, maybe do a little extra research before you book your Airbnb. If you’re just crashing at a family’s place for a week while they’re out of town, then you’re probably not really doing any harm. But if you’re staying in an empty unit, you may be doing more harm to the city you’re visiting than you might realize. It might be worth staying in that boring hotel, instead.

This article was originally published on the Matador Network.