Airbnb asks customers new requirement before booking stays in California during pandemic

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Airbnb is imposing a new requirement on travelers across California to explain why they book rentals through the service when ordering stay-at-home.

The move follows a five-day shutdown of new bookings in the Lake Tahoe area by the San Francisco company last week. Officials had raised concerns about tourists booking short-term rentals through Airbnb and VRBO during the health crisis.

Both accommodation markets have dozens of Tahoe listings available for booking for the coming weekend and beyond. VRBO has not introduced a similar requirement on its listings.

On Saturday, Airbnb rolled out a new “attestation” form on its website that customers must complete before booking in California. It urges users to review regional closure restrictions and “certify that their stay is permitted under local guidelines,” according to an email from Airbnb to officials at Tahoe. The company said the new form is intended to help educate guests and hosts about restrictions related to the pandemic as areas of the state reopen at different time frames.

Regarding the five-day blackout in Tahoe, Airbnb program manager Adam Thongsavat wrote to Tahoe officials in a December 28 email: ordering at home.

Authorities in Tahoe on the California side of the lake have filed hundreds of complaints about short-term rentals from frustrated residents since a stay-at-home order was triggered for the area on December 11. Authorities initially set it at three weeks, until January 1, but extended it last week after short-term projections showed COVID-19 cases would increase in the region after the Christmas holidays. and New Years.

Order prohibits tourist and recreational trips area hotels and property managers and bars to accept new out-of-state reservations for less than the 14-day quarantine period. Hotels and property managers have been required to erase their reservations and limit new bookings to essential travelers – people coming to work or providing critical infrastructure support – and officials say the vast majority have complied.

However, dozens of Tahoe listings on Airbnb and VRBO remained available for booking, and ski areas remained open, which locals say allows foreigners to brazenly flout the order and enjoy a winter vacation. despite the closure.

On December 21, Tahoe officials sent a letter to the two booking sites asking companies to put new bookings on hold until January 1, to facilitate refunds for customers who canceled, and to help local authorities identify non-compliant rental properties. Airbnb responded the same day, saying it would alert hosts in the Tahoe area of ​​the shutdown order. A week later, on December 28, the company continued the temporary stay of new bookings.

The move was welcomed by some Tahoe officials who have tried to keep tourists at bay.

“We are very grateful that they have been proactive,” said Placer County Supervisor Cindy Gustafson.

Others, however, viewed the blockage as too small or too late.

“They (Airbnb) still haven’t taken any action to process existing bookings, and we’ve all asked them to pay back in full, no questions asked,” said Dave Polivy, Truckee City Council member.

“The five days didn’t really make a big difference in the overall picture,” South Lake City Mayor Tamara Wallace wrote in an email to The Chronicle. She added that the biggest problem is the inconsistent restrictions between California and Nevada confusing travelers.

“Airbnb is only a small part of this,” Wallace wrote.

Tahoe has struggled with issues with short-term rentals for years, and Polivy has expressed optimism about the recent dialogue between local authorities and Airbnb.

“We got more communication from them than we ever had,” he said.

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