Airbnb in Ontario displays hate symbol and company responds three weeks later

Warning: Some readers may find this article disturbing.

A Toronto woman refuses to rent from Airbnb after finding a prominent hate symbol in a property.

Patricia Joong, along with her partner and friend, rented an Airbnb near Belleville for a three-day getaway in early March. Joong tells blogTO that she has rented with Airbnb in the past and has always enjoyed the experience.

On March 4, the trio hiked before heading to the property, so they ended up arriving around 6 p.m. It was starting to get dark.

The place they were renting was above a garage, and through the glass door they could see inside. The symbol of hate, a Confederate flag, was hard to miss inside the garage.

“The Confederate flag was hanging on the wall and there was a spotlight,” Joong told blogTO. “The whole garage was very dark except for the flag which was shining.”

They couldn’t avoid seeing him. Not knowing what to do next and exhausted from a day of traveling and hiking, they climbed up to the unit.

“We were really tired and just wanted to relax a bit,” she says.

They had snacks and talked about what they had seen.

“We had never really encountered anything like this before and we started talking about how uncomfortable we all felt because of what we saw.”

The Confederate Flag, popular among white supremacists and people in the southern United States, has long been denounced as a symbol of hate.

As three people of color, Joong says they felt unwelcome and very uncomfortable staying at home. They decided to call Airbnb but the agent they contacted told them they had “no control over how hosts decorate.”

She pushed the officer further by asking if there was a Nazi flag or racial slurs on the wall. “Everything was like, ‘this is not something we can control. I’m sorry’.”

They asked for a cancellation and were told they should contact the owner directly.

“I was quite shocked that was what they recommended because it’s the Confederate flag that symbolizes white supremacy.”

They decided not to contact the owner at that time and instead returned home to Toronto the same evening.

A few days later, she contacted the host who gave her a refund but it didn’t include the Airbnb fee. The host said he was sorry the group had this experience but said nothing about the flag.

The Three Travelers started a petition for the company to update its policies.

In an email response, Airbnb said it “does not tolerate discrimination and our policies prohibit hateful and discriminatory items, which specifically includes the Confederate flag.”

They admit the matter was mishandled and apologized.

“We deeply apologize to Mrs. Joong and Mr. Ford (Joong’s partner) that our Community Support Team member appears to have mishandled this matter and given them an incorrect account of our policy – we don’t want to never have our guests had this type of experience, especially when they have made such a serious complaint to us.We have suspended this listing indefinitely while we investigate further.

But Joong believes that this response only came after consulting the media. After numerous attempts to contact Airbnb and resolve the issue, nothing changed until the media reported it.

“We had to put so much pressure on them to deal with a case that was reported, and I just wonder how many more are out there who might not have the time or the energy to pursue the action on the home.”

While Airbnb has a policy against hate, harassment and discrimination, the statement does not say what they will do for customers in this situation. There is a policy called Open doors as of 2016, the company clarified that if a customer feels discriminated against, Airbnb will find a similar accommodation if there is one available or alternative accommodation elsewhere.

But that didn’t happen for Joong.

“They now say in their policy that they don’t tolerate this, but what does that mean?” she says. “Because they didn’t do anything about what we reported, they just didn’t, they didn’t follow up at all.”

This story was updated on April 1 to include Airbnb’s open house policy.

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