Airbnb fights its “party house problem”

The luxury cabin in Incline Village, Nevada, just north of Lake Tahoe, features a hot tub, sauna, pool table, fire pit, two patios, and a rear – courtyard full of imposing pines. It can accommodate 14 people, according to its announcement on Airbnb. And it was a nightmare for Sara Schmitz, a retiree who lives next door.

The house is often the setting for noisy bachelor parties and weddings, Ms Schmitz said. Recently, a team of students stayed there, blowing weed smoke into their house. When she asked them to stop, they threw garbage in her yard.

“It’s a constant party house,” said Ms Schmitz, 57. She called the police a dozen times about the property and joined the Incline Village STR Advisory Group, an organization that fights against short-term rentals – for which the biggest source is Airbnb.

What Ms. Schmitz encountered is part of the “party house problem” facing Airbnb. This is when guests who book its properties throw parties there, which seems to happen more frequently in the coronavirus pandemic, as people seek out places to socialize with bars closed and hotels appearing to be. risky. In July, New Jersey police broke up an Airbnb party with more than 700 people in attendance.

Party houses pose a risk to Airbnb’s reputation and business as the $ 18 billion company prepares to go public this year. In many neighborhoods, people have been put off by the noise and inconvenience of rentals. Complaints about party houses on sites like Airbnb and Vrbo rose 250% between July and September compared to last year, according to Host Compliance, which provides local hotlines in the United States and the United States. Canada.

Worse, the party houses raise security concerns. Between March and October, at least 27 shootings were linked to Airbnb rentals in the United States and Canada, according to a tally of local reports by Jessica Black, an activist fighting against short-term rentals. The tally has been verified by The New York Times.

Over the years, Airbnb employees have pushed executives to do more to deal with party houses, said six people who worked on security issues at the company. But they said the startup had largely prioritized growth until a deadly Halloween shootout last year at an Airbnb hit national headlines. Five people died.

The issues are now fueling Airbnb’s many struggles with communities over how to regulate home rentals. Groups like Incline Village are making their voices heard and sharing their strategies to tackle short-term rentals. Cities like Chicago, San Diego, Ann Arbor, Michigan and Atlanta have recently proposed or passed more stringent rules or bans on properties.

“The long-term viability and profitability of Airbnb is going to be a big question mark” if the party’s problem is not resolved, said Karen Xie, a professor at the University of Denver who studies the industry. short term rental.

Christopher Nulty, a spokesperson for Airbnb, said the company is combating party houses with “new robust policies, products and technologies to stop large gatherings, which far exceeds measures taken by others. “. He said Airbnb made changes even though the moves “knowingly impacted growth and nights booked.”

Airbnb started rolling out new rules against party houses around the time it was preparing to go public. In July, he said guests under 25 with less than three positive reviews on the site couldn’t book entire homes close to where they live. In August, the month he asked for a public list, he imposed a 16-person cap on bookings, banned parties and sued guests responsible for events.

Last month it started testing technology to block suspicious last-minute bookings and suspended some party houses from its lists. And before Halloween – the first anniversary of the Airbnb shooting in Orinda, Calif. – it banned overnight rentals on Halloween.

Some said that the measures were too few, too late.

“The damage has really been done to the neighborhoods during this time,” said Austin Mao, an Airbnb host in Las Vegas. He said the costs of repairing holiday damage to his properties, which host up to 2,000 guests per month, had been enormous. Neighbors complained so much about the holidays over the summer that he converted a third of the units into long-term rentals.

In 2016 Christopher Thorpe, an entrepreneur from Lincoln, Massachusetts, said he suffered damages of $ 28,000 after an Airbnb guest organized an 80-person rave, with ticket sales, at his home. . Mr Thorpe later learned that other hosts had flagged this guest for parties, but Airbnb had not removed the tenant from the platform.

“Airbnb put up as many roadblocks as they could to avoid dealing with this,” Mr. Thorpe said.

Airbnb has long struggled with security concerns, said the six former employees who worked on Trust and Security and asked to remain anonymous.

Two of them said they asked Airbnb to prosecute people who frequently throw rental parties for the damage, but executives feared it would draw attention to the events. Several also said they have pushed to limit or remove the “Instant Book” option, which confirms reservations immediately without requiring host approval. But the feature, which was used by nearly 70% of listings in 2019, has improved convenience and made Airbnb more competitive compared to hotels. So Airbnb didn’t do anything, they said.

Mr Nulty said Airbnb promotes instant booking so that hosts cannot discriminate against customers by denying some of them a reservation, adding that hosts can turn off the feature. He denied that leaders were asked to sue party promoters and said his legal team had not rejected the proposals over concerns about public attention.

In Incline Village, which has around 9,000 residents, Airbnb party houses have increasingly grated residents. Shortly after retired physiotherapist Joe and Edie Farrell moved into their vacation home permanently last year, the house next door became an Airbnb. The explosive music and drunken people created “10 days of anxiety” around July 4, said Ms Farrell, 70.

“Airbnb is basically helping people set up a hotel in our neighborhood,” said Farrell, 68. “Now you have to worry about your safety and your peace and quiet. “

Then came last year’s fatal shooting at the Airbnb in Orinda. A Vice article that described fraudulent Airbnb ads and fake host accounts also went viral, raising questions about trust.

In response, Airbnb said it will ban parties hosted by professional organizers that have been promoted on social media. He also said he would verify that all seven million of his listings were compliant with the ad on December 15, 2020, and announced a global hotline for neighbors to report the holidays. And he promoted his chief policy officer, Margaret Richardson, to trusted vice president. (She’s been gone since.)

But when the pandemic struck in March, executives scrambled to keep the business afloat. Check blocked. (Airbnb said 40% of listings have “started the verification process.”) The neighborhood hotline, which was supposed to be available globally, is only accessible in the United States, Canada and the Netherlands. Low.

In May, Airbnb cut a quarter of its workforce, including much of its security team. In an internal question-and-answer session with Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb, employees protested the layoffs. One said the move would leave guests without support for weeks, according to a list of questions seen by The Times. Another wrote that he would not feel safe staying at an Airbnb or renting his home on the site due to the lack of a security plan.

In the first week after the layoffs, safety records piled up, former employees said. Airbnb has asked many of those it had laid off to temporarily return to work on the cases; many of those workers have stayed, current and former employees said. In Dublin, layoff plans were completely canceled, they said. Airbnb said the team managing user safety is now the size it was before the layoffs.

In August, Airbnb introduced other changes to improve security. He sued a guest who threw a party in Sacramento that resulted in the deaths of three people. He then pursued another guest who threw a party in Cincinnati, where a property manager was shot in the back as he tried to interrupt the event.

On October 19, the company sued Davante Bell, a party promoter in Los Angeles who hosted parties at Airbnb mansions. “Airbnb has suffered and continues to suffer reputational damage and potential liability to third parties as a direct result of Bell’s actions,” said the company’s lawsuit.

Mr. Bell, who declined to comment on the Airbnb costume, sold tickets to a new party called “Nightmare on King Bell Street Halloween Mansion Party” on social media. This week, he continued to publish flyers for the event. When asked if the party would be held at an Airbnb, Mr. Bell did not respond.

Comments are closed.