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Did Regalado’s Airbnb email show bias for hotel industry? Judge said probably

An Airbnb supporter with a T-shirt waits his turn to speak at Miami commission meeting discussing Airbnb on Thursday, March 23, 2017.
An Airbnb supporter with a T-shirt waits his turn to speak at Miami commission meeting discussing Airbnb on Thursday, March 23, 2017. Miami

Did Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado show “bias” when he forwarded an email from an Airbnb host to a hotel lobbyist? Judge Beatrice Butchko said probably in a hearing last week.

In a transcript from the emergency hearing Wednesday, the judge questioned the mayor’s relationship with hotel lobbyist Jorge Luis Lopez and issued a temporary restraining order blocking the city from going after local Airbnb renters.

During the hearing, the judge referenced public records showing that the mayor’s office forwarded an email from an Airbnb host in support of the platform to Lopez’s assistant on Feb. 14. “Mayor Regalado requested that I forward you this email for Jorge Luis Lopez,” the email read.

Sending Airbnb e-mail inquiries to the mayor’s office to the hotel industry lobbyists? That’s ... I don’t know if it’s inappropriate, but it shows a bias, unless there was some other legitimate purpose, but I haven’t heard a response to that.

Judge Beatrice Butchko

Regalado’s office also forwarded another email from Airbnb lobbyist Tom Martinelli regarding the platforms new “Experiences” option to Lopez in November following a meeting between Regalado, Lopez and the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association regarding short-term rentals.

“Sending Airbnb e-mail inquiries to the mayor’s office to the hotel industry lobbyists? That’s ... I don’t know if it’s inappropriate, but it shows a bias, unless there was some other legitimate purpose, but I haven’t heard a response to that,” the judge said at the hearing.

The emails came following reports that the American Hotel and Lodging Association has created a detailed plan to thwart Airbnb’s future growth. A document from the hotel association cites Miami as one of the five major metro markets identified as “critical” in terms of the need for state and local anti-Airbnb legislation.

Airbnb has previously questioned whether Regalado’s stance against Airbnb is influenced by the roughly $75,000 the hotel lobby has donated to the mayor’s 2013 campaign account and an electioneering committee he shares with his daughter. But a Miami Herald analysis found that contributions from hotel interests were less than 5 percent of the $1.64 million raised over four years for one campaign by the mayor and two campaigns by Raquel Regalado.

I said, look the hotel industry, I know that you are very powerful, but the problem is that the residents don’t have a voice, so we are going to do something.

Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado

Tomás Regalado said Monday that his concern is not the hotel industry but rather the residents. That was the focus of his November meeting with Lopez, who is registered to lobby with Miami-Dade County but not with the city of Miami in 2017, according to county and city records.

“I said, look the hotel industry, I know that you are very powerful, but the problem is that the residents don’t have a voice, so we are going to do something,” Regalado said in an interview Monday.

But Lopez also asked the mayor to “keep him informed” on Airbnb, which is why Regalado forwarded the emails, Regalado said.

The constituent email wasn’t drafted by a local host but was a form email created by Airbnb when the mayor proposed an ordinance that would largely ban short-term rentals in the city and create a certificate of compliance. The ordinance was ultimately shelved.

Regalado said he received “hundreds” of emails from local Airbnb hosts saying the same thing, and sent one to Lopez.

The purpose of sending that email [to Lopez] was, listen, if you guys are saying hotels are laying off employees, then you should have employees send emails too.

Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado

“The purpose of sending that email [to Lopez] was, listen, if you guys are saying hotels are laying off employees, then you should have employees send emails too,” he said.

Tension between Regalado and Airbnb rose in March when, at a city commission meeting, the city said it would go after hosts who said they rent their homes on the platform. That sparked a lawsuit from Airbnb, arguing the city is stifling residents’ First Amendment rights and that Miami doesn’t have legal standing to ban Airbnb.

Airbnb filed for a temporary injunction last week, resulting in the emergency hearing in which Judge Butchko ruled to temporarily bar the city from issuing violations to the hosts who attended the city commission meeting and other locals renting via the platform.

Since the oral ruling last week the city has stopped issuing notices of violation to short-term rental violators, Deputy City Attorney John Greco said Monday.

Miami-Dade County is one of the top five Airbnb destinations in the country, with 6,800 hosts renting their homes. But for the past year, Miami Beach has been fining locals who rent on platforms like Airbnb $20,000 for each violation.

Chabeli Herrera: 305-376-3730, @ChabeliH

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