Airbnb acts on ‘party houses’ following fatal shooting

Airbnb has nixed so-called "party houses" in the wake of fatal shootings at one of its California rentals. (Photo credit: Airbnb)

Following the deaths of five people in a shooting incident at an Airbnb rental in California, CEO Brian Chesky said the platform was “banning party houses.”

The group, which was due to go public in 2020, said it would create a dedicated rapid-response team and that it “must do better.”

The platform said it would verify every listing by the end of the year to establish hosts are who they said they are, that photos and information are accurate and locations meet safety standards.

Beginning December 15, the group said that if, upon checking into a listing, it did not meet its accuracy standards, it would rebook the guest into a new listing of equal or greater value or he/she would get a 100 percent refund.

In an email to employees, Chesky said, “The world moves at the speed of trust, and the more trust that exists, the more access we can all have. Airbnb is founded on trust and our vision depends on us continuing to increase this in our community.”

Five people died and others were injured after a house in Orinda, Calif., was booked for a small group, before reportedly being publicized on Instagram as the venue for a Halloween party that eventually drew a crowd of more than 100 persons. The host did not authorize the party, Airbnb said.

Setting Proactive Policies

Chesky took to Twitter, noting, “What happened on Thursday night in Orinda was horrible. I feel for the families and neighbors impacted by this tragedy; we are working to support them. Starting today, we are banning ‘party houses’ and we are redoubling our efforts to combat unauthorized parties and get rid of abusive host and guest conduct, including conduct that leads to the terrible events we saw in Orinda.

“Here is what we are doing,” he explained. “First, we are expanding manual screening of high-risk reservations flagged by our risk-detection technology. Second, we are creating a dedicated ‘party house’ rapid-response team. Third, we are taking immediate action against users who violate these enhanced guest policies, including removal.”

According to the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office, when the police arrived at the scene, they found a house party with more than 100 attendees, who had apparently come from throughout the Bay Area for the Halloween event.

Orinda requires short-term-rental hosts to register with the city annually and pay an occupancy tax, with a maximum occupancy of 13 persons. The owner of the house told the Associated Press the person renting the house allegedly had told him it was needed for asthmatic family members to escape the smoke from a nearby wildfire.

Taking Action

Neil Baylis, partner at international law firm Mishcon de Reya, told our IHIF newsletter,  “This appears to be basic damage limitation. When people start being killed at your premises then you need to take action and be seen to take action, otherwise you’re complicit in the harm being suffered and that will have legal and financial consequences.”

Airbnb has been subject to a number of restrictions in jurisdictions around the world, most of which have been related to the frequency with which a property has been rented and whether the host was also living on site.

A recent study conducted by the UNWTO into the global legislative response to peer-to-peer lodging found most of the measures implemented referred to areas of “fair competition” and “consumer protection,” specifically measures related to taxation, registration and permits.

The report highlighted the challenges destinations faced in implementing rules and regulations, with a lack of local capacity as well as clarity over whose responsibility it is to monitor and regulate short-term tourist accommodations.

UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili said, “With the emergence of new online platforms for short-term rentals, the market has been growing at an unprecedented rate. According  to projections, it will continue to outperform the growth of traditional accommodation[s] providers in the coming years.

The Challenge of Rules and Regs

“There are significantly more regulations than we thought and it is encouraging to see destinations taking the initiative. However, many challenges remain, including the practical implementation of rules and regulations relating to the short-term tourist rental market. Good governance and effective cooperation between the public and private sectors are key to successfully meeting these challenges.”

Cities such as Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona and New York are among the more active. The day before announcing its IPO, Airbnb took the opportunity to point to the limited impact legislation had on its growth, commenting, In San Francisco, where one of the most restrictive laws in the country was implemented in 2018, the number of Airbnb listings increased by 22 percent in one year. Overall, total booking value in San Francisco was unchanged in 2018 vs. 2017, driven by a 42 percent increase in the number of nights hosted per listing. These metrics reflect the continued strong demand from guests and the ability for our hosts to increase hosting frequency to meet the demand.