What to do if companies like Airbnb ban you after a background check
- Companies like Airbnb say they use background checks to help protect the community.
- Background checks have proliferated, but there are common flaws in the system, experts say.
- Here’s what criminal justice experts say about inaccurate background checks and how to file appeals.
Bethany Hallam’s ordeal began when she booked a trip for her and her partner to see an NFL game in Miami. She planned to stay at an Airbnb, only to find that the accommodation platform had deactivated her account due to a criminal record match.
Hallam, a council member for Allegheny County in Pennsylvania, took to Twitter. “Did I just…have a life @Airbnb booking ban for 9 year possession charge?!?” Hallam tweeted above a screenshot of an email from Airbnb.
The email did not list a specific conviction as the reason for the ban, nor did it state that the ban was for life, and Airbnb quickly reversed the decision after a review. Nonetheless, Hallam’s tweet prompted a strong reaction on Twitter from people alleging similar bans.
Airbnb told Insider in a statement, “For the safety of our community, Airbnb conducts background checks in the United States and may take action to deport individuals with certain beliefs or who have multiple prior convictions.” Airbnb said it lifted Hallam’s ban using “an evidence-based appeal process that considers the type of crime and evidence of rehabilitation.”
Despite the positive result, Hallam has no plans to return to Airbnb, but her case raises questions about what people can do in similar situations if they want to dispute information on a criminal background check. .
Insider spoke to criminal justice experts to find out why companies run checks and what to do if you think yours has been unfairly used against you.
Why do companies conduct background checks?
Companies will do what is necessary to protect their bottom line and mitigate any potential lawsuits, said Robert Stewart, assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Maryland.
“They don’t really look at the potential risk in terms of public safety per se,” Stewart told Insider. “They seek to mitigate the lawsuits and public perception.”
But companies’ “green light” or “red light” could also depend on their values, he continued.
“I think companies are partly capable of determining their own criteria,” Stewart told Insider. “Do you care about crimes? Or crimes only in the last 10 years? Crimes in the past five years?
Justin Carnahan, an Airbnb host with properties in Missouri, said he is keen to keep the public safe and believes Airbnb’s background check policy and how the company defines less serious and serious crimes are fair. He also believes that there should be limits.
“Minor offenses can be incredibly subjective to the situation and shouldn’t be considered for eviction,” Carnahan said. “No one should go to jail for a [marijuana] factory, and disorderly conduct could mean they didn’t give an officer the respect the officer thought they deserved.
“If the guest or host has a major criminal history, I believe it is in the interest of the users as well as Airbnb to remove them. I would not want to take my family unknowingly to a possible sex offender or a violent person, in the same way that I would not want a person of that variety to stay on my property.”
Businesses may have an appeals process
Airbnb appeal process offers three different ways to fend off account deletions: by responding directly to the email, submitting a complaint via a link, or contacting Airbnb customer service. From there, a “team of specialists will review and assess your eligibility for reinstatement”.
The company said it has developed an appeals process because “we understand that there may be a number of reasons why someone may have a criminal conviction on their record.”
You can request a copy of your background report
For people who receive an unfavorable decision based on a criminal background check, whether from Airbnb, a job, or a landlord, Stewart’s advice is to request a copy of the background check, which the employers are usually obligatory provide.
“Don’t assume the information reported in the background check is accurate,” Stewart said. “Review it very closely as soon as possible. You may find minor and even major inaccuracies that could make a difference in your case.”
If you find errors or inaccuracies in your report when applying for a job or housing, Stewart suggests filing a dispute with the company that conducted the verification as soon as possible.
Melissa Moore, director of civil systems reform at the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance, told Insider that the background check industry has proliferated over the past two decades, but there are huge flaws in the entire industry. Common faults can include errors in data entry, data matching, and validation.
“It’s gotten to a point where there’s a lot of data pulled from publicly available information,” Moore said. “And it might be inaccurate at the exact time the data is retrieved.”