Landlords operating illegal hotels are raking in big bucks on Airbnb, according to a new study, funded by the hotel-lodging industry.
The study found that multi-unit hosts, who operate two or more units, accounted for nearly 40 percent of Airbnb's total revenue for the year of $1.3 billion — or roughly $500 million in revenue.
The study, released Wednesday, was conducted by researchers at Penn State University's School of Hospitality Management, and the American Hotel & Lodging Association paid for the data. The association is a trade group and has been critical of Airbnb in the past. Airbnb disputes the research.
The study also found nearly one-third of Airbnb's $1.3 billion in revenues over a year, or $378 million, came from full-time operators renting out their units for 360 days per year in 12 of the nation's largest metro areas. Broken down individually, that amounted to $142,331 that each host earned using Airbnb.
The new data suggests a lot of activity on Airbnb centers around homes and properties that are owned by professional or commercial landlords, rather than individuals or families renting out their primary homes for short-term rentals.
"Unfortunately, this report shows a troubling trend as a growing number of residential properties are being rented out on a full-time, commercial basis, in what amounts to an illegal hotel," said Katherine Lugar, chief executive of the association. She went on to say that Airbnb is being used as a "platform for dodging taxes, skirting the law and flouting health and safety standards."
However, the San Francisco-based start-up disputed the study and said, "The overwhelming majority of Airbnb hosts are middle-class people who occasionally share the only home in which they live," said a spokesman in an email to CNBC. "This study shows the hotel industry gets what it pays for, which in this case is a specious study intended to mislead and manipulate."