The Airbnb Party Ban and the Challenge of Neighborhood Crime Control
Over the past two years, there have been episodic reports of serious criminal occurrences at properties listed by Airbnb. In 2020, Airbnb responded to concerns by announcing a temporary ban on using its property listings as “chronic party homes” or for “open” gatherings.
“Chronic party houses had become neighborhood nuisances”, the company recognized.
In June 2022, he decided to make the ban permanent.
The decision was motivated in part by a mass shooting at Pittsburgh rental property that left two dead and nine injured. But it also reflected the company’s assessment of the policy as a “public health measure” taken during the pandemic that “has evolved into a fundamental community policy to support our hosts and their neighbours.”
Editor’s note: The company’s statement says more than 6,600 guests were suspended from Airbnb globally in 2021 “for attempting to violate our party ban.”
For many residents of communities where Airbnb properties are located, the policy was long overdue. It was also good news for local authorities and law enforcement.
The business model of Airbnb and similar operations depends on connecting hosts and individual travelers with short-term use of the property outside of traditional neighborhood oversight and regulation.
Historically, local government entities have maintained such oversight through the review and approval process for building codes and uses.
The need for Airbnb policy change is easy to understand when you consider what hospitality services such as short-term accommodation do to a neighborhood. They introduce a population that is transient by its very nature and as such can be inherently destabilizing when it comes to informal and localized social control.
City planners and government officials struggle to maintain public safety oversight in these situations. Law enforcement must properly and effectively deploy patrol services to reinforce urban areas where weaker forms of neighborhood social control exist.
Controlling the forms and nature of daily activities across geographic spaces has long been an understood way of engaging in the fight against crime.
Since the introduction by Lawrence Cohen and Marcus Felson of Routine activity theory In criminology, law enforcement professionals and local government officials have recognized the close connection between the nature and location of daily activities and crime patterns in geographic spaces.
This understanding is one of the many reasons local governments engage in zoning practices related to where one can build and how one can use their property.
Such practices restrict and confine the nature of daily activities to specific geographic locations within a city.
Some may think that variations in building codes between areas are just a way to maximize city coffers by dictating land use goals and permissions. But it is also a tool for monitoring and maintaining public safety.
This is why we see commercial activities located in certain areas of the city and residential activities located in others.
The new economic opportunities and savings realized by owners and travelers using Airbnb’s services have been explosive. In 2021, it is estimated 44 million Americans have used an Airbnb rental rather than traditional hotel accommodation.
Additionally, nearly 20% of travelers today have used an Airbnb rental. What makes Airbnb listings potentially criminogenic is their facilitation of activities in neighborhoods that were never designed for such activities.
They claim that the self-imposed ban on using Airbnb listings for parties and other social events has reduced holiday usage reports by 44 percent. Making the ban permanent is the right policy approach to limit Airbnb’s encroachment on neighborhood public safety risks.
Yet some may wonder whether digital platforms that offer such services outside of traditional local monitoring should exist. Research is slowly emerging and showing mixed results regarding the relationship between Airbnb or VRBO listings and local crime rates.
A 2021 study found a relationship between Airbnb listing density and neighborhood crime. However, this study was limited to one city, Boston.
Moreover, a precedent studyin 2019, with a broader coverage base also found a link between Airbnb listings and crime, but noted that the relationship was limited to Airbnb listing “type”, not simply listing density.
So the jury is still out on the criminogenic effects of an Airbnb listing on neighborhood public safety. What these studies suggest is that neighborhood characteristics play an even bigger role in the region’s crime rates.
Currently, Airbnb listings appear to be exacerbating problems in neighborhoods that are already weak with local and informal social control, and they may introduce new ones into those that are not.
Either way, Airbnb’s outright ban on the use of property listings for parties and the like is a step in the right direction.
This gives neighborhood residents a semblance of control over the activities that take place nearby.
Kent Bausman, Ph.D.is a professor of sociology at the University of Maryville and a faculty member of its Online Sociology Program“His research has contributed to reform efforts to improve Missouri’s public defender system.
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