“Total scam” or “Fabulous”? Why Airbnb divides us so deeply
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The Times story revealing the inner workings of a multi-million dollar group’s Airbnb program – illegally using the site to convert dozens of Manhattan apartments into makeshift hotels – has resonated with readers around the world.
We’ve heard from hosts who share their homes to make ends meet, families who live next to apartments rented on Airbnb, and travelers who use Airbnb – as well as those who prefer not to.
The rapid growth of the business has transformed the way millions of people travel. But it is clear from hundreds of reader comments that there is a heated debate about the impact of the so-called sharing economy on the character of neighborhoods, housing stock and quality of life. .
Below is a sample of reader comments, shortcuts, and edited for clarity.
A nuisance or a source of additional money?
Nancy Miles, 62, New York
My husband and I own a small unit in a condominium in Battery Park. Two years ago, I discovered tourists in the elevators with luggage and guides. Short term rentals are definitely prohibited in our doorman building, regardless of city rules.
The ads have been removed. But, two days ago, an ad popped up on my Facebook page showing a listing in, you guessed it, our building.
In buildings like ours, the problem is that uncontrolled strangers roam our hallways and not take care of things the way the owners would.
Mariana Rio, 37, Lisbon
I rent my apartment on Airbnb.
I work abroad so it suits me well to have it as a pied-à-terre which brings in some money during my absence. I understand tourists can get excited, but without Airbnb my neighborhood would probably be empty except for a few elderly people.
I am the law here: the property is registered with the authorities. We create invoices using a government portal. And we have a complaints book and glow-in-the-dark emergency signs.
If the government regulates short term rentals and tenants like me follow the rules, I should be allowed to do my property as I wish.
Eric May, 62 years old, Beaulieu-sur-Mer, France
For the past few years, we have used Airbnb in Asia, Europe, and the United States.
Out of about 20 rentals, only two (in Shanghai and Brussels) were so horribly misleading from what was advertised that we asked for our money.
Each time, Airbnb did well and we were fully reimbursed. The vast majority of our experiences have been positive.
But we also had the other side of the coin: our neighbors upstairs transformed their apartment into Airbnb. We lost much of our peace and quiet as overnight stays came and went at all times. It really degraded our quality of life.
Airbnb is especially ideal for customers and travelers. If you have to live with it, not that much.
Sheila G., 69, Las Vegas
We rented our two guest rooms on Airbnb. I thought I had researched the laws correctly beforehand.
We have kept our prices higher than our competitors to eliminate partiers. We’re on fixed income, so the extra money was helpful. Most importantly, we have met some great people from all cultures.
Our neighbors were not bothered by our very occasional hosts, always silent. And the government got their taxes.
But then they came knocking with a cease and desist order saying it was illegal. It turned out to be the case. The losers were us and the guests who lost the opportunity to stay in a beautiful house with a kitchen.
Good for tourism or bad for cities?
Thomas Marvin, 59, Ellington, Connecticut.
My wife and I rented an Airbnb in Manhattan a few years ago. The owner insisted on silencing us so the neighbors wouldn’t know we were there. It was clear that the building did not tolerate activity. We spent most of the time feeling like intruders.
But some people say it allows them to travel on their own terms or stay somewhere they otherwise couldn’t afford.
Tourism in large cities has a huge impact on subsidized services like trains and emergency services, and these cities are right to levy taxes to offset these costs.
Ilya Shlyakhter, 44, Allston, Mass.
The story says that “most of the tourists left positive marks”. It matters, right?
Thousands of people have had a good experience and got the service they want. All of these tourists were spending money in New York City, giving the locals jobs.
Any deception or illegality is not acceptable, of course. And all externalities should be fully invoiced. Most of my Airbnb experiences have been positive and not replicable by hotels.
Better than a hotel room or worse than a youth hostel?
David Roseberry, 66, Kennewick, Washington.
Now that we are retired my wife and I enjoy traveling, most often in Europe and usually for at least six weeks.
The hotels do not meet our needs. They insist on providing maid service or luggage service and a 24 hour desk that we don’t need or want. They don’t have kitchens or washing machines. Even the so-called suites are tiny.
So what are you supposed to do if you want to stay in one place for a week or two? The Airbnbs we usually rent aren’t cheaper than a nearby hotel room, but you can get a living space where you can live normally.
Joyce Marshall, 70, Luberon Valley, France
I have had more negative experiences with Airbnb than positive.
The worst was a nightmare in Florence with disgusting stained furniture that could actually be seen in the dim gray light of the cave they called a living space. The photos on Airbnb were incredibly beautiful, but it was a total rip off.
Long live real hotels!
Meredith Kurtzman, 68, New York
Having used Airbnb across the country, I have mixed feelings about Airbnb.
I can’t afford nice hotels and I like to use Airbnb to stay in residential areas, where I can shop and cook. The hosts have almost always been interesting people who live there.
But I live in downtown Manhattan, where many rentals are out of sight. I see lots of people walking up and down the sidewalks with their suitcases. I regret that neighborhoods are losing their character and that real estate agents buy apartments without caring about it.
David DiRoma, 65, Baldwinsville, New York
When Airbnb started, I thought the idea of a “sharing company” was great.
A person with an extra room in their house or apartment might rent it periodically to a short-term visitor who needed a bed for a night or two. The owner was there. The tenant saved a few dollars, and the landlord and the local government saved a few dollars.
Unfortunately, once smart operators figured out there was dough to be made, it all left a bitter taste.
Wayne Chen, 26, New York
Airbnb is a fabulous way to help defray the cost of vacations. I have hosted guests in my room before while I was on vacation (with my roommates here), or vice versa while my roommates were on vacation. Personally, I also prefer Airbnbs over hotels because they feel more personal and often come with nice amenities like a kitchen.
I think large scale business hosts like these give Airbnb a bad name. Let’s crack down on this practice, but I would hate to lose Airbnb over a few bad apples.