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City to ensure AirBNB hosts playing fair

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – One of the hottest new trends for people looking for a place to stay while traveling -- AirBNB.com -- has one  bed-and-breakfast owner in Jacksonville crying foul and a city councilman wondering if the people offering their homes for rent are following state and local regulations.

The website and app allows people to name the city where they want to stay and see a variety of apartments, homes and private rooms where they can stay. Prices vary per place and city but are often lower to similar bed and breakfast properties.

The city is not opposed to AirBNB operations, as long as they follow the same rules as any other public lodging facility, including proper zoning, paying the appropriate taxes and following certain safety rules.

AirBNB's website has a page that lists responsibilities for hosts, but it's up to the operator to follow those regulations.

Gina Martinelli, who loves to travel, opened up her home as an AirBNB host.

"It's a small room, but it's well-situated," Martinelli said. "I want them to know this is a house of joy and everyone is an artist and musician and this is a wonderful way to experience life."

Councilman Jim Love said the app doesn't provide a list of addresses, so it's hard to tell how many of these are operating in Jacksonville. City officials contacting their counterparts in Savannah, who said tracking down these hosts took a lot of manpower. That city identified 150 AirBNB hosts who weren't paying appropriate taxes and sent them cease-and-desist letters. Almost all of them complied.

"We just want to make sure that the legitimate bed and breakfasts are on the same level as the AirBnBs," Love said. "If they are following the rules, fine. Not a problem. But if they're not. If they are not in the right area, if they are not paying taxes, then we need to make some changes."

This city has asked AirBNB for a list of hosts in Jacksonville and send them letters. Any person not complying with local laws could be fined $250 per day.

Martinelli says she has no problem playing fairly.

"I would just have to charge more, I guess," Martinelli said. "I want to share the love with what's left in my life. I'm nearly 70 years old and it keeps me connected to the world."

If you are a AirBNB host or are interested in doing it in Duval County, call the zoning office at 904-255-8300 or the Planning Division at 904-255-7800 to find out the rules.