Why your Philly Airbnb is at risk of collapsing
Updated May 3
The next time you’re looking to rent an Airbnb, you might want to check the property for dangerous code violations.
It is not always an easy task, but it could save you from a difficult situation. It turns out that the short-term rental platform does not monitor violations, including those that could pose immediate danger to customers.
Even if alerted, the site might not close the questionable list. According to Airbnb spokesperson Liz DeBold Fusco, it’s just not their job. “In the United States, the responsibility for enforcing the code lies with the cities,” she said.
It seems like a risky policy, especially in places like Philadelphia, which is is experiencing an increase in building collapses and lack of inspectors.
It is not just a theoretical problem. It has been nearly a month and a half since the Philly Licensing and Inspection Department declared 1365 East Palmer St. dangerously imminent – a designation reserved for buildings that could collapse without notice – and ordered the owner to vacate. places.
Yet, as of May 1, the townhouse on the corner of Fishtown between Belgrade and Palmer maintained at least four active listings on the rental site – a, of them, Three, four. Update: After Airbnb was contacted by Billy Penn in this regard, two of these lists have been deactivated.
“Airbnb has a number of tools in place to build trust and resolve security concerns – from our 24/7 customer service team and reviews that allow customers to report their reviews to our Neighbors Tool that allows local residents to file complaints, ”DeBold Fusco said via email.
Airbnb’s official policy seems to be to wait for customer complaints, the logic being that if an ad has a code violation, a customer is going to say something about it.
L&I spokesperson Karen Guss is not so sure about this logic, as most code breaches are not visible to the naked eye. And the department certainly doesn’t have a mechanism in place to alert Airbnb every time an inspector discovers a dangerous property, she said.
“I’m just blown away,” Guss said. “We don’t have a program to use taxpayer money to do due diligence for Airbnb.”
Philly does not need a permit to list a property on Airbnb, although there is an 8.5% profit tax. Regulations the city has set up for what is called “limited accommodation” rentals include the requirement for smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors throughout the property.
Across the country, a few places have implemented policies that can detect code violations. Both Brookhaven, Georgia, and Buffalo, New York, require hosts to register their short-term rentals with the city before listing them, which triggers an inspection.
Dangerous house on Belgrade and Palmer streets finally reported thanks to neighbors who formed a group of volunteers who “actively assists[s] the L&I keeping an eye out for shady constructions, ”Guss said.
After several worried calls and messages, police attended the rental property on March 20. They found the owner carrying buckets of soil from the basement in his truck, which immediately raised a red flag.
A landowner often does this kind of work to increase their basement height and create more living space. In Philly, where many buildings sit only on tightly packed earth, digging like this has the potential destabilize the whole structure.
” We saw [properties] fall, we saw them collapse, ”said Guss. “You can literally bring down the house. “
After their visit in March, police arrested L&I officials, who failed the property inspection and slapped the owner’s face with five consecutive orders to immediately stop work on the house.
The Palmer Street House deed lists a Fishtown real estate company called the Rivera & Rivera Corporation as the owner. Records show the company has had 25 code violations on its properties over the past decade. It also maintains at least 10 active ads on Airbnb.
Contacted via Airbnb’s messaging service, the owners declined to provide their full names. Airbnb identifies them as Alberto & Xavier.
Alberto and Xavier said Billy Penn that they stopped renting the extremely dangerous property as soon as it was cited by the city. The listings remained active on the Airbnb site, although all pending rentals were canceled, as evidenced by comments posted automatically by users who had made reservations.
On Tuesday, the owners were granted a city safety permit, allowing them to employ contractors to stabilize the building.
But they are mad at the city for creating such a fuss in the first place.
“I’m sure no one from L&I who raised the collapse danger had the credentials to make this call,” Alberto and Xavier wrote via the Airbnb messaging system. “The violations issued were contrary to the facts. They added that they planned to re-let the building as of this Friday.
“It’s an ambitious schedule,” Guss said in response. “They don’t just do the job, they also have to have it inspected. “