Auckland Council has inadvertently created a "resistance culture" among Auckland Airbnb hosts, AUT marketing lecturer Marian Makkar says.
"The council is seen as being at war against some of its citizens, targeting Airbnb hosts to the point where the public are starting to believe they are cheats," Makkar says.
"They're basically saying all hosts are the same, that all hosts are cheats. That's something that's really fired up the resistance. It makes these guys really angry and upset."
Auckland Airbnb hosts have been reeling from the council's new Accommodation Provider Targeted Rate (APTR), popularly known as the "bed tax," which has seen rates bills double, triple or even quintuple for some hosts.
The council has been struggling to identify who is liable for the targetted rate - or at least at what level, with staff trawling through Airbnb and Bookabach listings. Hosts say they aren't trying to evade the new tax. Rather, confusion reigns over many aspects of it, such as what constitutes a self-contained area.
Ray Pitch, who lets part of his home on Airbnb, says it feels like hosts are being demonised when examples of high-earners are used by the council - when in fact according to Airbnb figures, the 11,300 hosts in Auckland bring in a median $4760 year through the accommodation sharing site.
Makkar says Airbnb has also done its bit to foster rebellion - though in its case, intentionally.
"Airbnb themselves are partly responsible for embedding this resistance culture by continuously asking hosts to speak out to their council," she says.
Pitch confirms this. He says Airbnb also helped organise a meeting of hosts, and has encouraged them to speak out to the media.
But he also syas it's been a bit of a one-way process, with Airbnb keen to help foment discontent, but failing to provide hosts with any explanatory materials as they grapple with the APTR, which is based on a complex matrix of factors.
"We've had to advise them," he says.
After multiple approaches to the council, Pitch was able to get his rates bill reduced from around $16,000 to $5800 - much closer to the $3600 he paid the year before.
Pitch is part of a closed Facebook group of 198 Airbnb hosts.
Makkar says the rebellion will only grow.
"Many hosts have launched or signed petitions, hired lawyers, created private online and offline groups and meet to try and fight this, which is part of a resistance culture that we are not only seeing with Airbnb but with other brands," she says.
She likens the situation to a Gillette campaign that invoked #metoo themes in a controversial bid to provoke discussion, and Nike's ads featuring Colin Kaepernick, the NFL player who drew opprobrium from US president Donald Trump after refusing to stand for the national anthem in protest against racial injustice.
Makkar says many Airbnb's targetted rate personally because they don't see their home as a business but as something that's "private, sacred and extremely meaningful to them. It represents them as people. The hosts feel that because the council wants to control the income by applying a tax," she says.
Part of the problem has come down to poor communication from the councils, the AUT lecturer says.
"If they had done their homework and had things clear from the beginning, hosts wouldn't have resisted so much."
Pitch says it took him months to discover that nights booked through a personal website or word-of-mouth were exempt from the targeted rate.
He says the council was intimidating with its demands for a statutory declaration, and altered its story.
Council financial policy manager Andrew Duncan says the information in the Council's Funding Impact Statement has been consistent throughout, but that it has made tweaks to its messaging to make it easier for Airbnb hosts to understand. An unimpressed pitch has laid a complaint with the Chief Ombudsman, which is being assessed.
Makkar says, action by the council, "might seem financially sound and 'fair', is actually creating socio-cultural problems. Government and councils need to adapt to the changing marketplace and new digital platforms that are sweeping through society and changing traditional consumption and the consumer culture around accommodation, renting, driving and owning things."
What sort of change would she like to see? The academic says she's "100 per cent behind" Airbnb's call for a "true bed tax," or a flat levy of around $5 per night on bookings, which she sees as a more simple and modern solution - although she acknowledged a law change would be required for Auckland Council to go down that route (local government minister Nania Mahuta says she's waiting on a Productivity Commission report into local body funding, not due to be completed until November 30, before considering any change).
Pitch says some hosts see the targetted rate as a tactic to make them throw in the towel and return properties to the long-term rental market or general housing supply. An alternative narrative is that the council has yielded to lobbying by the traditional accommodation industry.
Earlier, Mayor Phil Goff said, "I welcome Airbnb because it provides competition, it provides options and without it we would be struggling to cope with visitors coming to our city. But I have also said to Airbnb that we have to put you on the same level playing field as our traditional providers."