Living and dying on Airbnb
November 9, 2015 3:33 AM   Subscribe

'It’s only a matter of time until something terrible happens,' The New York Times’s Ron Lieber wrote in a 2012 piece examining Airbnb’s liability issues. My family’s story — a private matter until now — is that terrible something.
Writer Zak Stone about a tragic family death and the lack of regulations and liability in the sharing economy at the example of Airbnb.
posted by starzero (159 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
 
Can anyone explain the appeal of Airbnb to me? Is it just that it's cheaper than a hotel stay?

Maybe I'm just old and mistrustful but the whole thing gives me the creeps. It's like renting a room from someone you just met on the T.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 4:54 AM on November 9, 2015 [28 favorites]


This is an absolutely fantastically written article and really explores the issues in depth. My heart reaches out to him for his loss.

The sharing economy model absolutely has to stop being the no-accountability model as well.
posted by AGameOfMoans at 5:03 AM on November 9, 2015 [33 favorites]


//Can anyone explain the appeal of Airbnb to me? Is it just that it's cheaper than a hotel stay? //

Just got back from homecoming weekend at college. Red Roof Inn 20 minutes from campus is $300 a night on football weekends. Private bedroom in a nice house 5 minutes from campus was $25 a night.
posted by COD at 5:06 AM on November 9, 2015 [43 favorites]


It's a long read but well worth it, thanks for posting it here.

Benjamen Walker's podcast 'Theory of Everything' has a neat 3-part episode about AirB&B called 'New York After Rent' (and he just generally has a lot of good stuff on the 'sharing economy' / exploit economy, see Instaserfs). I guess lots of people are trying to spell out why these dot-com startups which defray risk to the man-in-the-street aren't the friendly goose that lays the golden egg for everyone always. It's tragic that it might take a bunch of people dying to perhaps shake the faith (or the market) that's investing in the magic of 'networked communities'.

Here's a para that stood out:
As a journalist who has written for startup-cheerleading publications like Fast Company and Good, I’d spent much of the past few years writing about the emergence of the sharing economy from a highly supportive perspective. While covering a community hearing about a proposed ban on Airbnb in Los Angeles two months before my dad’s death, I was far more sympathetic to Airbnb supporters — the hosts claiming the website helped them pull their homes out of foreclosure — than to its detractors — bitter neighbors complaining about Airbnb guests snatching their parking spots and making noise at night.
posted by Joeruckus at 5:07 AM on November 9, 2015 [12 favorites]


My condolences to OP and his family for this tragic accident.

I'm totally a fan of Airbnb but was disappointed recently when I left a review of a place I'd rented. The company chose to run with the kind remarks but chopped out the mention that the place was dirty and photos were not representative of the place we rented.

I clearly cautioned others about this place and to inspect it, if possible, prior to renting. All that verbiage was omitted by Airbnb.

So much for the veracity of any further Airbnb reviews I read.
posted by lometogo at 5:09 AM on November 9, 2015 [117 favorites]


The whole "sharing economy" model has really excelled at giving a shiny coat of paint on old unappealing ideas. Renting rooms in your house, taking odd jobs, and driving people around in your car sound like stories that grandparents told of making ends meet in the Depression. Slap a Web 2.0 front end on it and it's all brand new again.
posted by dr_dank at 5:09 AM on November 9, 2015 [277 favorites]


Ever wonder what unregulated, unfettered capitalism would look like? Where the market responds reactively, rather than proactively, to issues of safety or the environment? Where businesses push an increasing portion of the cost of doing business to their employees--I mean "independent contractors?"

The "sharing economy" of AirBnB, Uber, and the like are your canary in that particular coal mine.
posted by MrGuilt at 5:13 AM on November 9, 2015 [84 favorites]


Just curious: What would have happened differently if this happened at a licensed hotel (or what would have prevented it from happening at a licensed hotel)?

Similarly, would it be sufficient for AirBnB (or local governments) to require hosts to have a comprehensive liability insurance policy? AirBnB is icky for a lot of reasons, but this seems like a legitimate problem with a reasonable solution. Almost all business owners are required to hold one kind of insurance or another -- why should this be any different?
posted by schmod at 5:16 AM on November 9, 2015 [8 favorites]


I clearly cautioned others about this place and to inspect it, if possible, prior to renting. All that verbiage was omitted by Airbnb....So much for the veracity of any further Airbnb reviews I read.

Woah. Do they disclose this kind of selective editing of the reviews?
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:22 AM on November 9, 2015


Just curious: What would have happened differently if this happened at a licensed hotel (or what would have prevented it from happening at a licensed hotel)?

Insurance, on both points (homeowners and renters insurance are likely to exclude coverage of liability to paying guests). And corporate risk management, commercial maintenance standards and likely some kind of inspections, on the latter.

I suppose one way for Airbnb to deal with this without really dealing with it could be to farm it out to the insurance industry. Require hosts to carry a policy, let the insurers figure out the inspection regime. Required coverages (and so inspections) might vary based on the nature of the unit (apartment vs. house w/yard and pool, etc).
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:26 AM on November 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


schmod: I think a true insurance policy would make a big difference as long as the amounts were significant enough to have the insurer send an auditor with standards similar to what a local hotel is expected to add. Airbnb would be healthier long term and likely head off considerable legislative changes if they started required proof of top-rate insurance but that'd also almost certainly cause a number of hosts to drop out since a fair chunk of their profit comes from skirting those costs.

If the problem lometogo mentioned about Airbnb editing reviews to remove safety information is at all widespread, that suggests they're probably determined to die on the same you-can't-make-me hill as Uber. That would suggest a certain market opportunity for anyone willing to do a less-greedy version of the same idea which takes liability seriously for both customers & hosts and isn't quite as focused on short-term greed.
posted by adamsc at 5:29 AM on November 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


Similarly, would it be sufficient for AirBnB (or local governments) to require hosts to have a comprehensive liability insurance policy? AirBnB is icky for a lot of reasons, but this seems like a legitimate problem with a reasonable solution. Almost all business owners are required to hold one kind of insurance or another -- why should this be any different?
posted by schmod at 8:16 AM on November 9 [+] [!]


The entire point of the "sharing economy" is to do an end-run around the limitations on unfettered capitalism that sane societies put in place to prevent people from being horrifically exploited.

If AirBnB required comprehensive liability, the vast majority of hosts would lie. If they actually required it and rigorously verified it (...somehow) for all hosts, then the site would die immediately and a new, slightly shadier one would take its place. And at that point you're just recapitulating the war against software piracy all over again.
posted by Ryvar at 5:30 AM on November 9, 2015 [30 favorites]


What would have happened differently if this happened at a licensed hotel

Apart from the insurance stuff covered in the article, it's less likely to happen at a place that gets safety inspections. If it's your job all day to inspect swings and hammocks, you're going to detect the dodgy ones far more likely than an ordinary homeowner. But people whose job is to inspect for safety standards, and to ensure that people doing their jobs are kept safe are routinely ridiculed by business and the media of course.
posted by colie at 5:32 AM on November 9, 2015 [41 favorites]


I've seen plenty of reviews saying the house was dirty and not as pictured. I'm not sure why yours was edited.
posted by sio42 at 5:37 AM on November 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


Vacation rental by owner has been a thing for many years, surely they already had these liability issues figured out? The entire Outer Banks economy runs on absent homeowners renting out their vacation homes the 48 weeks a year that they aren't there on vacation themselves. Granted, most of them use a commercial property management service, but they don't have to. And my experience renting in the Outer Banks is the property management services don't do much more than collect 15% for dropping off clean linens and cleaning the house between renters.

Renting a room in your house when you are there is the "innovative" thing AirBnB enabled. Renting out whole homes is just a copycat move on their part, although I imagine they are doing it cheaper than the legacy players in that game. Seems like there should be a middle ground here that would allow AirBnB to flourish and provide more protection for the guests, says the guy who has two AirBnB homes booked in Puerto Rico next month.
posted by COD at 5:39 AM on November 9, 2015 [16 favorites]


If AirBnB required comprehensive liability, the vast majority of hosts would lie. If they actually required it and rigorously verified it (...somehow) for all hosts, then the site would die immediately and a new, slightly shadier one would take its place. And at that point you're just recapitulating the war against software piracy all over again.

Probably correct, although it would be interesting to see even vague estimates of what it would cost a homeowner to obtain coverage for a single temporary boarder. I'm not sure it would be quite the same product as traditional vacation rental unit coverages, but it should be close.

Here's a CBIZ specialty insurance promo that seems like it would work for both traditional rentals and Airbnb/VRBO style rentals.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:41 AM on November 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Uber and Lyft inspect every driver and car. It doesn't seem unreasonable for AirBnB to at least do spot checks, especially for the insane fees they charge.

My last AirBnB experience was pretty ruined by the owner lying about the location of the rental, putting it in a bad neighborhood rather than a nice one, and constantly calling to make sure her landlord didn't see me. And yet I didn't complain since that's a good way to get effectively blacklisted.
posted by miyabo at 5:43 AM on November 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


While I've enjoyed AirBnb stays, and even kept in long-term contact with some friendly hosts, the corporate process at work isn't that different from clothing manufacturers who "contact out" to sweatshops they claim no responsibility for.

The company could easily enforce rules that would make it a better citizen (no more than 7 Rental days/month, insurance, paying city hotel taxes, etc.), But it doesn't.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 5:44 AM on November 9, 2015 [10 favorites]


Hm, something that could work is for AirBnB to act as a kind of a re-insurer. So they require all their hosts to have insurance, and they specify stiff fines for when the insurance is missing. Then, in cases where something bad happens and the insurance is missing, AirBnB pay for things. They finance this from the fines.

I mean, they're not going to do this because it'd mean more work and drive some sketchy/lazy hosts away, but that way it would at least not eat into their all-important bottom line.
posted by Zarkonnen at 5:48 AM on November 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


in cases where something bad happens

Would really be better to cut down on the bad things though - as the article points out, if Google can photograph every location on Earth, can't we employ some dudes to inspect some swings? (Incidentally, swing seats hanging in lounges seem to be quite a familiar 'crowdpleaser' kind of sight on Airbnb - my young daughter always wants to stay in a place cool enough to have one).
posted by colie at 5:51 AM on November 9, 2015


Hm, something that could work is for AirBnB to act as a kind of a re-insurer....I mean, they're not going to do this because it'd mean more work and drive some sketchy/lazy hosts away, but that way it would at least not eat into their all-important bottom line.

They'll never do this, because if the insurance is missing the fines aren't getting paid when something goes wrong. Then Airbnb has to litigate against the host and the guest.

If you're checking for coverage and fining on some kind of periodic basis, then the unethical hosts will find a way to cheat the verification regime. Or you run into the same bottom-line problems mentioned above.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:53 AM on November 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


adamsc: "If the problem lometogo mentioned about Airbnb editing reviews to remove safety information "

Yeah. AirBnB would own a significant portion of the blame in that situation.

On the other hand, like others have said, rental properties, including short-term ones are not new. Not only is this a solvable problem, but it's a solved one.
posted by schmod at 5:54 AM on November 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


Just got back from homecoming weekend at college. Red Roof Inn 20 minutes from campus is $300 a night on football weekends. Private bedroom in a nice house 5 minutes from campus was $25 a night.

That is the function that B&Bs used to have. My mom liked staying at them because they were cheaper than hotels. But whenever I looked (20 years later), they were often more expensive.

Nowadays, I mostly stay at hostels. If I need it, I'll opt for a private or semi-private room. But somewhere like NYC, it's much cheaper than a hotel -- and my mom said the one she stayed in last time was perfectly nice. (We only stay at hostels affiliated with organisations that regulate them for safety and cleanliness.)
posted by jb at 5:55 AM on November 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Not only is this a solvable problem, but it's a solved one.

Do we know that for sure, though? Old-school vacation rentals are such an entirely offline venture it's hard to say how many guests have died or been seriously injured at those properties. It would take a survey of insurance data or maybe police logs in those communities to tell.

I remember periodically going on rental lakehouse vacations as a kid, but we went back to camping after a couple of unpleasant surprises. There wasn't anyone to complain to, really, except to tell friends about it.
posted by Lyn Never at 6:01 AM on November 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


My condolences to the Stone family. I hope they are able to get the support they need in their grief and trauma.

I stayed at an AirBnb house once. Coincidentally, it was also in the Austin area. I booked it with a friend. I'm white and the friend is black, and both of us are professional adult females. The hosts were a younger couple, male and female, both white. The lady host took me aside and asked, "how do you know her?" I said we knew each other from a professional organization, which was true. She looked askance. We spent one night in her dusty, uncomfortable room and then she called me on my cell to tell me she was "uncomfortable" with my friend and that we had to leave. We got a refund, but after reading this story I am even less inclined to do an AirBnb stay again.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 6:03 AM on November 9, 2015 [51 favorites]


Maybe I'm just old and mistrustful but the whole thing gives me the creeps. It's like renting a room from someone you just met on the T.

When you rent a room in a hotel, you are typically renting from a stranger. Why is it creepier in the case of AirBnB? I get that there are problems with AirBnB, some of them documented in this story, but the fact that there are strangers on the other end of there transaction makes them like most commercial transactions, rather than setting them apart.
posted by layceepee at 6:07 AM on November 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


The whole "sharing economy" model has really excelled at giving a shiny coat of paint on old unappealing ideas. Renting rooms in your house, taking odd jobs, and driving people around in your car sound like stories that grandparents told of making ends meet in the Depression. Slap a Web 2.0 front end on it and it's all brand new again.

and

Ever wonder what unregulated, unfettered capitalism would look like? Where the market responds reactively, rather than proactively, to issues of safety or the environment? Where businesses push an increasing portion of the cost of doing business to their employees--I mean "independent contractors?"

The "sharing economy" of AirBnB, Uber, and the like are your canary in that particular coal mine.


and

The entire point of the "sharing economy" is to do an end-run around the limitations on unfettered capitalism that sane societies put in place to prevent people from being horrifically exploited.

Thanks all, for your clear articulation of what is going on here. Friends have been going on about all the organic beauty of the "sharing economy", and I've felt something was wrong, but not had the time or inclination to study it. I use airbnb, but not uber. I recently saw my (stolen) furniture on a craigslist-type site, and couldn't do anything about it because I hadn't marked the stuff. Who thinks to write on their inherited old furniture?

I'm starting a B&B at my farmhouse where I live part-time, and was told by the local B&B + rental organisation that I'd need to use airbnb, because they had taken over everything, locally based agencies were now only able to distribute weeklong cottage rentals (and even that was dying out). The local agencies offer much better control and services than airbnb, but there you go.

Personally, I find it really great to be able to live in more residential areas when traveling, and I've only had good experiences using airbnb. I also like the dynamic that airbnb has given our local urban district which was and is still to some extent imagined as a scary and violent place. Suddenly there are all sorts of people in our streets, shops and restaurants that we never saw before, and it contributes to a positive development. So I am ambivalent.
posted by mumimor at 6:08 AM on November 9, 2015 [16 favorites]


Like many of you, I immediately wanted to see how this was handled by insurance:

"Our lawyer — my dad’s best friend since college — extracted a settlement from the hosts’ homeowners’ insurance policy, which, lucky for us, did not deny coverage for commercial activity. . . We seem to be the exception to the rule. Most home insurance policies make exclusions for any commercial activity taking place for residential policies."

To me, that's the big story here: with more established business models, such as hotels and B&Bs that are vetted by an organization and more traditional vacation home rentals, as a society, we have liability models, legal precedents, insurance coverage, inspections, etc. well figured out.
posted by tippiedog at 6:15 AM on November 9, 2015 [8 favorites]


How many AirBnB units in areas like SF and NY will be able to get insurance considering that illegal subletting is rife in these areas?
posted by PenDevil at 6:19 AM on November 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Not only is this a solvable problem, but it's a solved one.

Do we know that for sure, though? Old-school vacation rentals are such an entirely offline venture it's hard to say how many guests have died or been seriously injured at those properties. It would take a survey of insurance data or maybe police logs in those communities to tell.


Property management/rental companies also traditionally stood between the owners of vacation rentals and their guests, especially in large developments in vacation destinations with largely absentee owners. Which is a big part of the industry. Those companies have their own insurance, are subject to hospitality regulation, and act accordingly.

From the unit my parents used to own in Hawaii, I can attest that the company imposed certain requirements of uniformity and safety in choosing appliances, bedding, certain furnishings and etc. They would fix things and send the bill. And I think the CCRs of the development might have required the use of a property management company if an owner wanted to offer vacation rental. That's a big part of why traditional vacation condo or cabin rentals can feel sort of utilitarian and drab like hotel rooms—they're furnished, cleaned and maintained like hotel rooms.

(I might add the unit always finished the year in the red, largely due to the management and upkeep costs, and eventually they sold it and bought into a timeshare network.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:20 AM on November 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


Count me as someone who is ambivalent as well. Shepherd and I routinely use Air BnB when we travel because hotels are too expensive for our often 10+ day vacations we take every two years, B&Bs are often not much cheaper, and I am too fastidious about staying in a hostel as I approach 40 (and that is totally on me). We have never had a negative experience, but I am not surprised so many people do. The peer review system, to me, is overly cheery at best and disingenuous at worst. I really like using Air BnB but want them to have more accountability, more responsibility, and actually give a damn about the thousands of people who taking a chance on staying in places online.

We were going to offer our spare room this year on Air BnB, but this article definitely has me rethinking that, especially since we would have to get commercial insurance in addition to our homeowner's.
posted by Kitteh at 6:22 AM on November 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


I think the thing about Airbnb is that it blurs the lines. We're generally okay with liability for big commercial enterprises, like hotels or department stores. But we're still not really okay with liability for people who, say, invited their friends over - and I think that's a good thing. But the sharing economy really blurs the lines between, say, that friend who comes to visit and kicks in 50$ towards food, and that Airbnb guest who paid 50$ to sleep there. And most of are generally in agreement that people who maintain hundreds of listings and are basically illegal hoteliers are a bad thing. But I know I at least empathize more with the guy in NYC who rents his apartment out on weekends he's at his girlfriends to help him pay his rent, or with the family who bought a new house but the sale of their last one fell through.
posted by corb at 6:22 AM on November 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


Why is it creepier in the case of AirBnB?

Well, there's a few factors. One is isolation. If you're a single person renting a room in someone's house, no one else is around. At a hotel, there's lots of other people nearby. Hotel rooms also usually have locks inside the doors, so even though they have a key to your door, you can bar the door yourself. Hotel rooms often have safes to keep your valuables. And I think most importantly hotels are owned by companies that have a major vested interest in not having guests raped and/or murdered and/or robbed on their premises by their employees.

As for a B&B, I have a strong preference for those with multiple rooms to let, where I won't be the only person on the property aside from the owners. And I look for a property with a long-standing reputation and affiliation with AAA and professional organizations, which indicates that they probably also have a vested interest in not harming their guests.

Just some guy with a spare room in his private home whose entire investment in the enterprise is the potential to maybe make $50? Nope. So much nope. A world of nope. I am not signing myself up for a potential H. H. Holmes special.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:23 AM on November 9, 2015 [27 favorites]


People who support Uber often say that the taxi industry needs disruption--citing terrible service, etc. But that terrible service is not due to the failure of the taxi industry to meet consumer needs. It's due to corruption in the taxi industry and the cozy relationship that it has built with municipalities over the decades to gain and maintain an monopoly. It's our corrupt local governments that need disrupting.

Municipalities are scrambling to put regulations in place to provide a measure of security for the consumer against just the type of tragedy that this article outlines.

Next time I rent from HomeAway (never done AirBnB), I think I'll explicitly ask in writing whether the property meets local ordinances regarding short-term rentals and whether the owner has liability insurance that covers rentals. We have only rented actual vacation homes in resort areas, so I have assumed that these criteria were met, but this is a good reminder to verify that next time.
posted by tippiedog at 6:23 AM on November 9, 2015 [9 favorites]


Horrible story, but I wonder what could have been done. SV companies thousands of miles away are probably not best equipped to inspect properties, especially for blind spots like this.

Local authorities like the Texas B&B association are probably best equipped to do this. “For new members, they are inspected with an overnight stay, and then every two years, our properties are inspected.” That's true! But only if you pay hundreds of dollars extra for the full TBBA membership -- the basic members do a one-time self-inspection.

The sleazy thing AirBnB is doing is spraying a patina of uniformity and reliability over a very messy world.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:25 AM on November 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


Our only experience with AirBnB was in Ireland, and it was better than we could ever have expected. We were in an old church converted to a charming home near Athenry, Co Galway, Bookeen Hall. Our hosts were charming, we loved their dogs, and the breakfasts were fantastic, healthy, and beautiful, fruit arranged in lovely patterns, homemade bread, fresh eggs etc. We were also right off the motorway to go into Galway City . For us this was a better experience than any hotel could have provided and the cost was competitive with much less pleasant accommodations. I can't say I ever thought about safety, we were in a very rural area and a neighbor lady even stopped and gave my husband a ride home when he got lost out jogging!

I can sympathize with the writer of the article who lost his dad so horribly, and with the issues with AirBnB around the world, but have to say for us it was perfect and we would do it again. We also used Uber in Los Angeles and found it a life saver after walking for blocks.
posted by mermayd at 6:26 AM on November 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


One more question: why did the homeowner's insurance settle? Was commercial rental part of the policy. If so, great, the owner did at least that one thing responsibly, regardless of AirBnB. If not, then why would they settle on a claim that they're not entitled to pay?

That's a big question that's not answered.
posted by tippiedog at 6:34 AM on November 9, 2015


But the sharing economy really blurs the lines between, say, that friend who comes to visit and kicks in 50$ towards food, and that Airbnb guest who paid 50$ to sleep there.

The only reason that even feels partly true is that it's part of Airbnb's marketing and lobbying. The difference between a small-time hotelier and letting someone crash on your couch for a few days has been well-defined socially (have you met the person or haven't you?) and legally (Are they staying for less than 30 days? Is the owner present?) for years. More and more, the "sharing economy" feels more like an exercise in off-loading liability by making independent contractors out of people who are probably more practiced in selling things on Craigslist.
posted by AndrewInDC at 6:34 AM on November 9, 2015 [13 favorites]


But the sharing economy really blurs the lines between, say, that friend who comes to visit and kicks in 50$ towards food, and that Airbnb guest who paid 50$ to sleep there.

This is really well stated and it's something I tried to put a finger on during my one and only experience as an AirBnB guest. I rented a room in Manhattan for one night. The hosts were a bunch of roommates sharing the 4-bedroom, 1-bath apartment, and I had one room, but when I checked in they asked me not to use the bathroom during certain hours (a big block of time while they were getting ready to work) and so forth. And it kind of made me scratch my head as to what my rights and responsibilities were. On the one hand, I was paying less than a hotel would cost, so I shouldn't expect hotel-level conveniences, right? But on the other, I was paying about $100 to stay there--it's not like I was a friend crashing on their couch. It was a really weird situation and I still don't know where the line is.
posted by mama casserole at 6:41 AM on November 9, 2015


Just curious: What would have happened differently if this happened at a licensed hotel (or what would have prevented it from happening at a licensed hotel)?

I've stayed in a reasonable amount of hotels over my lifetime, some of them a bit sketch, several with actual swings, and none of them had swings hanging from two-years' dead trees. You don't have large dead trees around on hotel property; you get your trees taken care of by an arborist. Because large dead trees tend to fall and hit guests, cars or the hotel itself.

What's more, part of your budget is for exterior maintenance, and you have licensed and bonded arborists doing the work. Now, I'm not saying that there are no sketch hotels who use someone's cousin who has a tall ladder to maintain their trees, or that there are no hotels where dangerous things happen, but hotels are better because it's easier to have and access expertise.

I have a house. I know relatively little about houses. House repair is really fucking expensive. We only hire people when the repairs are dangerous - we hire arborists, we hire electricians for major work, we hire plumbers for major work. We've got lots of stuff that is, frankly, not that well repaired, because it had to be done and we are not professionals. I can replaster a wall, yeah, and it's okay, but plastering is not my job and I don't do it often enough to make it look really good.

When you're running a hotel, you don't have to know how to plaster a wall, because your business model allows you to hire professionals. If you don't know basic electrical repair or basic plumbing, that's fine, because you're hiring electricians and plumbers.

The sheer dumb of both the tragic deaths in the story is infuriating. In the case of the people with the tree, you need to know that you take down your dead trees. That's part of being a grownup. With the heater, that seems like it was corruption, but it was probably also ignorance.

When you run a hotel, you have a procedure. When you run a "here, stay at my gussied up house to which I've added 'cute' amenities without regard for safety and on the cheap", you are operating without an instruction manual.

Also, when people go to a hotel, they have consistent expectations. If I'm staying at the Candlewood Suites in LaCrosse (recommended! Not glamorous, but very well run and thoughtfully laid out) I don't expect all this twee little nonsense like I'm staying in a tumblr lifestyle blog. I don't expect that I'm going to complain if there's leaves on the property in the fall, like the people someone described in another thread. It's easy to meet my expectations! Is my room clean? Does it have a decent bed and shower? Is it quiet? Do the TV/internet access/coffee maker/etc work? If so, boom, we're done. Basically, guest and owner are on the same page about how the hotel stay is supposed to work. Airbnb is not like this.

For me, I will always pick hotels and hostels -with a preference for unionized ones where available - over Airbnb because hotels and hostels put pay in the pockets of working people. Airbnb puts dollars in the pockets of middle class people who already have nice apartments, or it puts dollars in the pockets of super-sketch landlords a la the New York situation. Hotels are awful, true, and wages aren't good; but those wages, such as they are, go to working class people who need them far more than someone who already has a nice home.
posted by Frowner at 6:41 AM on November 9, 2015 [78 favorites]


One more question: why did the homeowner's insurance settle? Was commercial rental part of the policy. If so, great, the owner did at least that one thing responsibly, regardless of AirBnB. If not, then why would they settle on a claim that they're not entitled to pay?

From the article:

"We seem to be the exception to the rule. Most home insurance policies make exclusions for any commercial activity taking place for residential policies."

So it sounds like the policy failed to exclude paid guests, and the company decided to settle rather than litigate. You'll note the amount of the settlement isn't disclosed, it probably took into account the legal uncertainties on both sides.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:44 AM on November 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


How can Airbnb rectify this? Even the company’s critics have argued that it’d be too cumbersome for the site to look up local regulations in every city and country where it’s operating, but often this takes just a single phone call.

How can this fly for even a second? Finding out which laws we need to obey is harrdddd, so we just aren't going to.?

schmod: "What would have happened differently if this happened at a licensed hotel (or what would have prevented it from happening at a licensed hotel)?"

Licensed properties have maintenance people who review the properties constantly. For example here in BC a commercial property is going to have monthly logs of inspections of emergency lighting because it is required by law. They have people maintaining the plant on a regular basis and those people aren't going to allow a swing hung from a two year dead tree or the two year dead treee in the first place.

posted by Mitheral at 6:47 AM on November 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


@snuffleupagus, I read that, but it's a very unsatisfying non-explanation to me. I assume you're right, but it's not explicitly stated.
posted by tippiedog at 6:54 AM on November 9, 2015


.
posted by stoneweaver at 6:55 AM on November 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also, the author notes that he can disparage AirBnB to his heart's content, because he's not pursuing them legally. But he doesn't include ANY details about his insurance settlement, which means that one term of the settlement is probably confidentiality. Frustrating...
posted by tippiedog at 6:56 AM on November 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


My parents recently had a pretty hilarious AirBnB experience (my dad is a serious libertarian, so is predisposed to love this sharing economy we-don't-need-no-stinking-oversight shit) where the cottage on someone's property they were staying in had no bathroom. The description said that there was a bathroom in the main house that guests could use and I guess kind of made it sound like a private facility just for guests so you could wander in in your bathrobe and stink up the joint with your morning constitutional and be fine but as it turns out, this "guest bathroom" was just a bathroom on the first floor of the main home (which was very much occupied by the family), off the kitchen, right in the thick of everything, not even remotely private. My mom was pissed. And I had a hard time not finger-wagging at my dad about this is what you get when you trust just any old random schmoe who thinks they're suddenly a hotelier because they put a bed and a Kuerig in their boathouse.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:58 AM on November 9, 2015 [34 favorites]


Well, there's a few factors.

None of those factors is related to the fact that the person you are renting from is a stranger, which is what the original comment pointed to as the creepy thing about AirBnB.

You are citing things that are different in hotels than they are in AirBnB, while the original comment pointed to something that was the same in both cases--the person who owns the property is someone you don't know.

Is the point that companies and corporations are more trustworthy than random strangers? People often act as this is the case, but my experience suggests it's not.

It may be the case that corporations subject to government regulation are more trustworthy, but again I'm not convinced that government agencies are typically more trustworthy than random strangers.
posted by layceepee at 6:58 AM on November 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


I mean honestly, I get cold shudders thinking of trying to take paying guests at our house. Not only because they would complain and we need a lot of work to get things to where I'd feel even sort of good about it, but just because of the liability and the potential for things to go wrong, and the mismatch of expectations.

We have guests regularly, but they already know what they're getting into.
posted by Frowner at 7:00 AM on November 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


I read that, but it's a very unsatisfying non-explanation to me. I assume you're right, but it's not explicitly stated.

The settlement probably includes a confidentiality clause that covers its own terms, if not the accident itself. And it was negotiated by the lawyer, not the family.

I missed this on my first read-through (the pictures are clever but a bit distracting):

In January, Airbnb introduced a new product: secondary coverage for hosts who might find their claims denied if something goes haywire during a home-sharing stay. Peers followed suit, with a policy that extends across home-sharing platforms.

According to Airbnb, this is now a primary insurance offering:

The Host Protection Insurance program is now a primary insurance program. This means that the Host Protection Insurance program is available to hosts irrespective of what other insurance arrangements they have.

Every situation is different. To help illustrate the program, here are some examples of what the Host Protection Insurance program should cover during a stay in a covered country:

A guest breaks their wrist after slipping on the rug and brings a claim for the injury against the host.
A guest is working out on the treadmill in the gym of the apartment building. The treadmill breaks and the guest is injured when they fall off. They bring a claim for the injury against the host and the landlord.
A guest accidentally drops their suitcase on a third party's foot in the building lobby. The third party brings a claim for the injury against the host and the landlord of the host’s building.

Some examples of what the Host Protection Insurance program doesn’t cover:

Intentional acts where liability isn’t the result of an accident.
Accusations of slander or defamation of character
Property issues, such as mold, bed bugs, asbestos, or pollution
Auto accidents, such as vehicles in motion
This coverage is subject to a $1 million cap per listing location. As always, certain conditions, limitations, and exclusions apply.


Here's a summary of the policy, it's underwritten by Lloyd's of London (via their Apollo subsidiary).
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:00 AM on November 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


The best vacations I have had have been at Bed and Breakfasts in Cooperstown, New York. I've only used Air BnB once, and it was fine, but I don't think I'd do it again, having heard so many horror stories.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:02 AM on November 9, 2015


On the other hand, like others have said, rental properties, including short-term ones are not new. Not only is this a solvable problem, but it's a solved one.
Yeah. So much of (techno-)libertarianism consists of coming up with terrible, highly iniquitous "solutions" to problems we thought we solved decades or centuries ago. "Solutions" that just happen to mandate exploitation of the weak and protect the interests of the propertied and moneyed classes. And of course, the other, more alarming thing it does is define as "problems" things we thought were basic prerequisites of civilized life. Like working norms based upon the expectation of permanent, full-time employment contracts. Or regulations that allow us to expect that the products and services we use or consume won't kill us. The more we allow these pseudo-solutions to bed in and replace older, superior (but less "lucrative") norms on the basis of short-term convenience, the worse off we all will be. Because on a certain basic level, the logic of Uber and AirBnB is fundamentally corrosive to civil society.
posted by Sonny Jim at 7:04 AM on November 9, 2015 [33 favorites]


Is the point that companies and corporations are more trustworthy than random strangers? People often act as this is the case, but my experience suggests it's not.

"More trustworthy" in the sense of "not lying a lot about stuff" or "not bombing Cambodia", no. "More trustworthy" in the sense of "unlike a private citizen, you will have a professional inspect your property regularly", yes.

It may be true that an Airbnb run by a professional contractor will be nicer and better maintained than your average hotel even if it is never inspected, but most Airbnb people are not contractors. I'll take "this gets inspected and there are rules, so really hazardous stuff gets dealt with almost all the time" over "random person who has no idea how to maintain their trees decides to put a picturesque swing on one of them" any day.

I had part of a mostly dead tree fall on my house a couple of years ago and it cost thousands and thousands to remove and clear up. If we'd had an arborist out routinely, that would not have happened.
posted by Frowner at 7:05 AM on November 9, 2015 [9 favorites]


None of those factors is related to the fact that the person you are renting from is a stranger, which is what the original comment pointed to as the creepy thing about AirBnB.

Well, I thought the context and implication of the original comment was greater than "You do not personally know the humans involved in the transaction." Obviously the world being full of people you don't know is only creepy if the potential exists for those strangers to do you harm. There is greater potential for that in a scenario where you are alone in the home of a stranger than if you are in an institutional setting full of strangers, many of whom have a large amount of money invested in no harm coming to you. It's not that they're strangers, it's that they're strangers and you are putting yourself in an extremely vulnerable position with them.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:05 AM on November 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


@snuffleupagus, I read that, but it's a very unsatisfying non-explanation to me. I assume you're right, but it's not explicitly stated.

What question is not explicitly answered? The article says the hosts' policy "did not deny coverage for commercial activity."
posted by mama casserole at 7:11 AM on November 9, 2015


It may be true that an Airbnb run by a professional contractor will be nicer and better maintained than your average hotel even if it is never inspected, but most Airbnb people are not contractors. I'll take "this gets inspected and there are rules, so really hazardous stuff gets dealt with almost all the time" over "random person who has no idea how to maintain their trees decides to put a picturesque swing on one of them" any day.

Does this mean you would never stay overnight at a friend or family's house on a visit? You earlier contrasted the level of expertise you would expect in a hotel with the kind of repairs you do in your own home. Do you feel unsafe at home?

Or would you say that people who rent AirBnB spaces should do it aware of the fact that it's less like paying less to stay in a hotel and more like paying more to stay with a friend?
posted by layceepee at 7:13 AM on November 9, 2015


Does this mean you would never stay overnight at a friend or family's house on a visit?

The difference, of course, is the level of trust you have with a friend as opposed to a stranger.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:15 AM on November 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


I have never used Airbnb, largely because it strikes me as the hotel equivalent of the Ride Board we had in my university's Student Center. You could make connections for services there and find significant travel bargains, but it was all under-the-table and you had to go into each with a healthy attitude of "in how many ways could this person kill me, intentionally or not."
posted by delfin at 7:15 AM on November 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Or would you say that people who rent AirBnB spaces should do it aware of the fact that it's less like paying less to stay in a hotel and more like paying more to stay with a friend?

At which point the stranger vs. friend contrast comes back. And there's a difference in expectation between a paid and unpaid guest-host relationship, even outside of regulation.

You like Airbnb and dislike regulation. We get it.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:18 AM on November 9, 2015 [9 favorites]


At a base legalistic level, homeowners policies generally treat friends staying at other friends' houses in a very different way than they treat strangers who are paying another stranger. It sounds like in this case, the policy was vague on the issue, resulting in the settlement. I suspect this insurance company will be rewriting their policies to be less vague in the future.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:24 AM on November 9, 2015


When you rent a room in a hotel, you are typically renting from a stranger. Why is it creepier in the case of AirBnB?

Because perhaps there are liability laws in place that at least theoretically give me recourse if my stay at a hotel rented from a total stranger causes me a life-threatening injury?
posted by blucevalo at 7:24 AM on November 9, 2015


Does this mean you would never stay overnight at a friend or family's house on a visit?

With a friend, I have a fairly good idea of what I'm getting into. I have friends with whom I would never stay, because their standards of cleanliness and safety aren't up to my preferences. I also know that it's not purely a commercial transaction - they have an interest in not putting me in a room full of mouse droppings because they expect that we'll continue as friends. I also have an idea of their degree of honesty and good judgment.

As far as feeling unsafe in my own house - I know my house. I know where the bad plaster is that I absolutely must not lean on or it will fall out of the wall and that I'm going to repair after I finish the spare room. And I've accepted certain risks - the really steep back stairs, for instance. I feel okay about those because I take them all the time. I caution strangers about them because they are so steep (old servants' stairs) that they are practically a ladder, and because they....start rather abruptly when you're approaching from the upstairs hall. I won't fall down them by mistake on my way to the bathroom at 2am, but a sozzled stranger could. And there's nothing wrong with the stairs; it's just a design quirk. Or geez, the way the basement steps (also very old) are much shallower than modern/normal steps and so you have to be careful going down them.

We also have knob and tube. It's in good shape and has been inspected several times - I feel fairly good about it, and I know not to overload it. There's houses where the knob and tube wiring has been treated very roughly and/or improperly insulated and it's a huge fire hazard. The only way to know is to have an electrician or skilled inspector take a good, solid look at the place. Many people live in houses with knob and tube wiring (as renters or even owners) who don't know the first thing about it. I lived in such a house for years. Luckily my landlords were honest and it was all in good shape, but it could easily not have been. There's no way for a stranger to know that I'm telling the truth about the state of the wiring, and badly used knob and tube is a tremendous hazard.
posted by Frowner at 7:28 AM on November 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


In all seriousness, if anyone wants to Memail me their affordable suggestions for places to stay that do not involve Air BnB, please do. I am always open to options! (We often travel to the UK to see family, so def interested in those suggestions.)
posted by Kitteh at 7:28 AM on November 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


When you rent a room in a hotel, you are typically renting from a stranger. Why is it creepier in the case of AirBnB?

Because perhaps there are liability laws in place that at least theoretically give me recourse if my stay at a hotel rented from a total stranger causes me a life-threatening injury?


Plus when you rent a room in a hotel, you are not typically renting from a stranger, you're renting from a large company that has a lot of strangers with vested interests in you not dying.
posted by Etrigan at 7:28 AM on November 9, 2015 [10 favorites]


"But we're still not really okay with liability for people who, say, invited their friends over - and I think that's a good thing."

Uh, you are liable for your friends who've been invited over and its covered under your homeowner's insurance. Friends are not a magic, liability-free zone, and you'd be seeing a lot more people lose their homes after someone had an expensive accident there if not for homeowner's insurance.

Homeowner's insurance excludes commercial activity because commercial activity is riskier and more expensive to insure. You have to go up a step in price, or get a rider, or whatever. You don't get to free-ride on the lower rates while running a commercial enterprise.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:30 AM on November 9, 2015 [27 favorites]


I just discovered that Airbnb has discontinued keyword search on their site. Does anyone have insight as to why?

I asked in the users-helping-users forum-type thing they have and got the answer that they discontinued it about two months ago with no warning and no explanation.

Which is unfortunate, because I'd love to search for places that have cats, or walking trails, or lake views, or allergy-free linens, etc. I'm guessing I'm not alone, so there must be something serious behind it.
posted by amtho at 7:39 AM on November 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Etrigan: "you're renting from a large company that has a lot of strangers with vested interests in you not dying."

And a legal obligation to maintain their properties and for some stuff (like fire safety) that is inspected by the government on a regular basis (at least where I live).
posted by Mitheral at 7:40 AM on November 9, 2015


Which is unfortunate, because I'd love to search for places that have cats, or walking trails, or lake views, or allergy-free linens, etc. I'm guessing I'm not alone, so there must be something serious behind it.

Possibly. Or it might have been poorly coded and/or broken in some way that's embarassing to admit.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:47 AM on November 9, 2015


Wow, what a terrible story. We've used AirBnB a few times and I always was aware that we were trading cost savings for increased risk, but it never entered in to my mind that it could be as bad as that.

I generally dislike the new "sharing" economy but will use it out of necessity (like when I had to get to the airport after a blizzard and literally the only way I could get there was via Uber). This whole narrative of "trust" and how we just don't trust each other enough anymore is kind of insidious to me. Not because I generally distrust people, but because there will always be bad actors and you can't police that on trust alone.

After all, they're missing the second half of "Trust... but verify."
posted by backseatpilot at 7:48 AM on November 9, 2015


To me, this feels like another go-round in what will be an endless cycle.

Back when the idea of hotels first began to exist, it was like what Airbnb is now: everybody and their grandmother offered spare rooms in their houses, or built hotels to offer rooms to guests. Potential guests had to make educated guesses as to whether a particular establishment was safe, or had to rely on word of mouth from friends. And the worst-case scenario was horrible beyond belief (think H.H. Holmes's murder castle).

This led to the development of hotel regulations, which over time gradually became a more reliable guide to quality assurance (a hotelier couldn't slip a few bucks under the table to a regulator, for example). And hotel chains sprung up which offered a uniform experience in every city.

Over time, the small and unregulated hotels were driven out of business, and the large chains became a de facto oligopoly. Faced with reduced competitive pressures, they could then focus on maximizing return on investment to their shareholders, and not as much on providing the best price for potential guests. Which has provided a competitive opportunity for Airbnb.

Airbnb might itself be driven out of business due to punitive damages resulting from a lawsuit, but some equivalent might establish a reasonably reliable and cheaper alternative to the current hotel chain consortium. At which point, it will have driven its competitors out of business, and can then raise prices, and so on, and so on.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 7:51 AM on November 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


> That would suggest a certain market opportunity for anyone willing to do a less-greedy version of the same idea which takes liability seriously for both customers & hosts and isn't quite as focused on short-term greed.

You'd think this in many fields, but unfortunately the economics are not going to work.

It's much better to be the greedy, risk-taking company and then pay off the liability suits than it is to do the right thing everywhere.

If you take risks with people's lives, 99.99%+ won't ever know you did it. But if you enforce safety standards on each property, it's a vast amount of work for no obvious profit except the knowledge that you're being a responsible person - which in 2015 in the USA is basically a joke.

The issue is simple - a fairly small number of propagandists have managed to convince a vast number of people that any sort of regulation on businesses is provoked by resentful, hateful people in government who need a job and simply want to see businesses fail. This means that government at all levels lacks the will to enforce those regulations. That's a great pity, because even though there are a lot of unnecessary regulations, overall these all grew up due to the realization that we the people need to be protected from the rapacity and the negligence of business owners, that absent regulation the best strategy for a capitalist is to allow a certain number of people to die and then pay off their families.

This is why we (my family) don't use Uber (and never have). This is why we are stopping using AirBnB (we have one further rental at Christmas we had a long time ago, unfortunately). It's not that we think we're going to change anything - we simply do not want to participate in this destructive business model in any fashion.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:56 AM on November 9, 2015 [21 favorites]


Yeah, can we stop calling it the 'sharing economy'?

When they talked about sharing in kindergarten, they left out the part where the teacher skims a cut off every time a kid shares her toys with another, eventually becoming a billionaire off the kids' sharing.
posted by splitpeasoup at 7:57 AM on November 9, 2015 [50 favorites]


When they talked about sharing in kindergarten, they left out the part where the teacher skims a cut off every time a kid shares her toys with another, eventually becoming a billionaire off the kids' sharing.

And then claims not to be at all responsible when one of the kids shares their peanut butter sandwich and kills the other kid.
posted by Etrigan at 7:58 AM on November 9, 2015 [15 favorites]


If AirBnB required comprehensive liability, the vast majority of hosts would lie. If they actually required it and rigorously verified it (...somehow) for all hosts, then the site would die immediately and a new, slightly shadier one would take its place. And at that point you're just recapitulating the war against software piracy all over again.

https://SilkBnB.onion
posted by acb at 8:01 AM on November 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I had a friend who was considering AB&B for a spare room, and the first thing I asked was "how does your insurance handle commercial claims, and will your policy be cancelled if they find ou?" Turns out, that yes, the insurance would be cancelled, a separate policy would have to be engaged for them to be protected.

Most homeowner policies do not cover commercial endeavors. Renting a room is a commercial endeavor. Someone breaking a wrist or leg or whatever could bankrupt you for the rest of your life.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 8:04 AM on November 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


You like Airbnb and dislike regulation. We get it.

I really didn't mean to give that impression. I only wanted to highlight the fact that the problem with AirBnB is not that the person you are renting from is a stranger. I've never rented from AirBnB, but my point isn't that the worries about health and safety issues associated with staying there are overstated, but that I'm surprised people have so much more confidence in renting hotel rooms from corporations, even with the presence of government regulation.

I'd be surprised if staying in AirBnB wasn't more hazardous that staying in a fully-regulated hotel, but I wouldn't be that surprised. Google "deaths in hotels due to negligence," and you might decide you would just rather stay at home.
posted by layceepee at 8:04 AM on November 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


> Or [AirBNB's keyword search] might have been poorly coded and/or broken in some way that's embarassing to admit.

Hard to believe. AirBnB seems to get strong engineers, because they have good compensation and good options, and because the techno-libertarians that make up SF these days love their model.

Their database just isn't that huge, and keyword searching really isn't rocket science, particularly in what is basically a database with a single, fixed schema....

...though one conceivable possibility is that they grew fast enough that their original search mostly stopped working "overnight", so they turned it off while they wrote another one, so that with a long-term view we're simply seeing their site at an unusual moment...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:04 AM on November 9, 2015


I'm not convinced that government agencies are typically more trustworthy than random strangers.

Nobody needs to convince you, because that trust is already implicitly built into civilization whether or not you wish it to be the case. Watch that next glass of water, do you trust the EPA to regulate it?
posted by aydeejones at 8:04 AM on November 9, 2015 [16 favorites]


I have to say, the HH Holmes "murder castle" story mentioned above is pretty...well, it makes me far more of a fan of hotel regulation than I ever thought I would be. Essentially, the guy murdered at least 26 and possibly several hundred because he was able to build an entirely unregulated and uninspected commercial building and because there was no reliable way (given the technology of the time) of checking on his many allegations that his victims had just "gone to stay with family in California" or "gone to Iowa for a wedding". More, there was no moral hazard regulation on life insurance (so he could require his employees to carry life insurance benefiting him and then kill them) and no meaningful regulation on where med schools bought...their skeletons!

Even the shadiest hotelier is unlikely to be an HH Holmes, of course. But you have to think - just one reliable, independent building inspection by a building inspector where it would have been noticed if he went missing on the job, and all the oubliettes and lime pits and doors that didn't open from the inside, etc would have been noticed.
posted by Frowner at 8:06 AM on November 9, 2015 [8 favorites]


Most homeowner policies do not cover commercial endeavors.

Fortunately, most AirBnB hosts are themselves renters, and have no insurance whatsoever.
posted by miyabo at 8:06 AM on November 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


Most homeowner policies do not cover commercial endeavors. Renting a room is a commercial endeavor. Someone breaking a wrist or leg or whatever could bankrupt you for the rest of your life.

This is precisely why we haven't "paid it forward" as it were with renting out our spare bedroom on Air BnB. When we bought our house, when I called around for homeowners insurance quotes, I asked about what kind of insurance we would need if we wanted to use that room for Air BnB. To be honest, at least half of the companies I talked to were unfamiliar with Air BnB, and other half understood, but across the board the standard answer was commercial insurance. We couldn't afford that so we decided to drop it as an option.
posted by Kitteh at 8:15 AM on November 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


lupus_yonderboy: "It's much better to be the greedy, risk-taking company and then pay off the liability suits than it is to do the right thing everywhere."

Right up until your company has a "Pinto" moment.
posted by Mitheral at 8:17 AM on November 9, 2015


Fortunately, most AirBnB hosts are themselves renters, and have no insurance whatsoever.

Really? Landlords don't require proof of renter's insurance as a condition of your lease wherever you are?
posted by indubitable at 8:18 AM on November 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


^^Nope. I have never had a landlord require or ask me about having renter's insurance.^^

Edited to add: when I was single and living on my retail wages, I would not have been able to afford renter's insurance anyway as well as the rent/utilities/food.
posted by Kitteh at 8:20 AM on November 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Marcel Petiot, sort of the H. H. Holmes of France, operated a similar front for his murder house. Instead of running a hotel for people going to the Chicago Exposition, he purported to be a member of the French resistance engaged in getting well-paying people out of occupied France via his murder house. Obviously this is a vocation that by its very definition can't be regulated and verified, which made it perfect for a highly organized predator.

Unregulated shadow markets are very handy for predators of all stripes. I try to keep that in mind.
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:22 AM on November 9, 2015 [10 favorites]


Watch that next glass of water, do you trust the EPA to regulate it?

I certainly behave as if I do; you are right about that.

But here's the Natural Resources Defense Council writing about the Food Quality Protection Act:

But there's a wide gulf between the law and its implementation by the EPA. The reality is that the agency has failed to live up to the law's mandates.

Meanwhile, I was in Sunset Park last weekend watching the NYC marathon runners come by, accepting cups of water from random strangers. I would have thought it perverse if they insisted on getting Deer Park in sealed bottles.
posted by layceepee at 8:24 AM on November 9, 2015


> I'm not convinced that government agencies are typically more trustworthy than random strangers.

The reason we have government agencies is not because some busybody woke up in the morning and decided he wanted to oppress businesses. Each one - the FDA, OSHA, the EPA - is a response to literal centuries of "random strangers" poisoning people with bad food, slaughtering their employees through negligence, and trashing the environment...

There's actually a name for places where government agencies are universally powerless and/or untrustworthy - they're called "fragile states" (previously called failed states).

----

> Right up until your company has a "Pinto" moment.

Not really an issue for a technology company. I note also that your example is almost 40 years old...

Thing is, America doesn't believe in punishing criminal companies any more. At most, hundreds died because of the Pinto - though there's pretty good evidence it was only dozens.

I used to work for Drexel Burnham Lambert, which under the Reagan administration was basically dismantled and had its chief earner Milken jailed for small procedural violations - which, I hasten to add, they totally deserved, as they'd systematically flouted the law for years - but none of the dirty deals collapsed because they were actually economically viable!, and the worst that you can say happened is that a lot of people who bought or sold stocks during that time did a tiny bit worse on them than they would have.

By contrast, the World Bank (hardly a radical organization!) estimated that by 2009 alone the global financial crisis had killed 50,000 people - source and as we all know it cost trillions of dollars - and yet we didn't see any perp walk action from the Obama Justice Department.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:31 AM on November 9, 2015 [11 favorites]


Meanwhile, I was in Sunset Park last weekend watching the NYC marathon runners come by, accepting cups of water from random strangers.

The water isn't from the strangers though. It's provided by New York Road Runners and Poland Spring.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:33 AM on November 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Really? Landlords don't require proof of renter's insurance as a condition of your lease wherever you are?

I have never come across this requirement. If this was the case, well, I wouldn't be able to afford to rent anything.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 8:34 AM on November 9, 2015


I am an AirBnb host; we own a lakefront cottage next door and rent it out about 225 nights per year. The rental income covers the taxes, big maintenance/improvements and generates income too, although we don't maximize it (e.g., we hire professionals to clean it between guests, plow the snow, etc.). A few observations about matters raised above...
  • We pay all of the pertinent taxes and file the requisite permit applications ourselves, but there is at least one company set up to do this for AirBnb hosts who are less facile with such things. It coordinates with AirBnb, VRBO and the other major middlemen. The one I'm thinking of covers all US jurisdictions.
  • Our insurance agent added coverage at our request to accommodate the AirBnB operation and it costs an extra $25/year.
  • To manage liability, we do not let the guests use any of our boats, provide bicycles, etc. We even make swimming sound a little uninviting in the description. Our biggest fear is that some guest will fail to open the flue before lighting a fire. After reading this article I will not be installing a hammock after all.
  • We tell the guests that we live next door to minimize the odds of hosting a fly-by-night meth lab.
  • When AirBnb sent the offer for a free carbon monoxide alarm, smoke detector and first aid kit, I declined because the cottage was already equipped with all three. That prompted a concerned call from AirBnb. I wound up accepting the offer because it was the only way to earn the check boxes noting these safety features on my listing. No one ever checked to be certain I installed them.

    All in all, it's been a good thing for us, with the exception of the occasional bad guest. On two occasions, guests flipped out (one didn't feel safe without curtains, although no one can see into the building and the photos show no curtains, and the other "found dog hair" on the leather couch on the last day of the stay and felt entitled to a full refund) and AirBnb was helpful negotiating settlements. FWIW, I grudgingly refunded the first folks 50 percent and gave the second folks a token amount, because they were clearly scam artists.

    Most guests have been wonderful and some have become friends. Many have visited two or three times. Other benefits: knowing we played a role in people's celebrations, e.g., engagements, honeymoons, reunions, etc. One long-term guest edited his film there and listed us in the credits to his movie. A+++ Would AirBnB again.

  • posted by carmicha at 8:34 AM on November 9, 2015 [19 favorites]


    Can anyone explain the appeal of Airbnb to me? Is it just that it's cheaper than a hotel stay?

    Yes. I've used AirBnB a lot as a guest (I can't host at this point, and am good with that) and I've been able to find super-cheap rooms in places that let me travel without always having to go the youth hostel route (I've done it before, but it's getting a little too dorm-like for my taste). I'll admit that I've had good luck, and I also have a bit of a "caveat emptor" attitude, so a place would have to be REALLY janked for me to back out; the one and only time I almost did was when a window blew in at a place in Philly in the middle of winter at 11:45 pm, and the owner took her sweet time coming over to help me fix it. But then when she showed up it was clear that she was more frazzled than malicious, and she immediately offered to give me that last night's cost refunded, so I stayed. (Plus it turned into comedy because she'd inexplicably brought her dog, so I ended up playing with a dog at 3 am while she carefully stapled blankets and cardboard over the broken window and swept up glass.)

    But the sharing economy really blurs the lines between, say, that friend who comes to visit and kicks in 50$ towards food, and that Airbnb guest who paid 50$ to sleep there.

    I think it also blurs the lines between the responsible guest house owners and the people who just throw a futon in the spare room. I have two friends for whom their "day jobs" are managing the two vacation properties they own; one in the Catskills and one in Utah. They take it very seriously, and didn't even join AirBnB until after they'd already established the Catskills place as a rental property. A lot of other "we rent out our vacation home" places are also on AirBnB, but are put there by people who know what the hell they're doing.

    Ostensibly, the good/bad reviews are supposed to steer customers away from the people who don't know what they're doing, but that may "crowd-source" this kind of thing a little too much.
    posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:35 AM on November 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


    What occurred to me just now: when I first started travelling as a relatively young person in the 1980s, and was looking for places to stay far from home, I relied on CAA/AAA travel guides to find me hotels that weren't cockroach infested or whatever.

    Perhaps this is the future of Airbnb - if their own review system proves to be untrustworthy, perhaps another organization will spring up that will do their own quality assurance ratings and offer certification to reliable hosts.
    posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 8:37 AM on November 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


    Can anyone explain the appeal of Airbnb to me?

    Beyond what other people have said, if you need space for more than two people, it's way more affordable than multiple hotel rooms or a suite.
    posted by smackfu at 8:43 AM on November 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


    I really love an affordable option that also has self-catering as in addition to the expense of hotels, I would also have to factor in the cost of eating out every day. Part of what appeals to me in lengthy travel is being able to go grocery-shopping or going to markets in the places I am staying. I like being able to cook a simple meal and have a bottle of wine from the shop on my vacation. Obv, YMMV.
    posted by Kitteh at 8:45 AM on November 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


    The no renter's insurance thing blows my mind. I've rented in 2 states and always had that requirement. My local insurance agent is even familiar with it because it's apparently pretty common around here.
    posted by indubitable at 8:49 AM on November 9, 2015


    Wow. I rented from age 19 to age 35 and never had renters insurance be required. We finally actually got a policy at our final rental before we bought, but it was never required by any of our many landlords.
    posted by soren_lorensen at 8:53 AM on November 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


    My husband was horrified that I never had renter's insurance at any of my apartments. I can tell you when it came to bite me on the ass: when my apartment was destroyed by the tornado that struck downtown Atlanta in 2008. It took my then-landlords months to even give me my $600 deposit back. I lost 50% of my stuff and had to rely on my dad to pay the deposit/first month's on a new place afterwards.
    posted by Kitteh at 8:55 AM on November 9, 2015


    In Toronto, I've never been required to show proof of renter's insurance - just proof of employment. I got my own tenant's insurance / personal liability insurance package shortly after I became a renter, but it wasn't required.

    I assume that if somebody sues a tenant, it's not the landlord's problem if the tenant can't afford to pay the settlement.
    posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 8:56 AM on November 9, 2015


    Wow, I guess that moves things pretty firmly into the "who knows if the people you're staying with even have liability insurance" column.
    posted by indubitable at 8:56 AM on November 9, 2015


    I only wanted to highlight the fact that the problem with AirBnB is not that the person you are renting from is a stranger.

    You mean it's not a problem for you. For the people stating "i am uncomfortable/feel unsafe staying in the private home of a total stranger" it remains a problem, and no amount of "but have you considered this other situation" circular arguing is going to change that.
    posted by poffin boffin at 8:56 AM on November 9, 2015 [3 favorites]




    lupus_yonderboy: "Not really an issue for a technology company. I note also that your example is almost 40 years old... "

    I was thinking more the publicity fallout. Ford wasn't doing anything that all the other manufacturers weren't doing from a legal perspective and there doesn't seem to be any consensus of the severity of the defects.

    All it really requires is a couple pretty white girls to go missing/killed and in some way get blamed on the lack of oversight. It wouldn't kill the business but there would be a lot more call for effective regulations. Like lupus_yonderboy pointed out most regulation is reactive. It is unfortunate that we need to learn these lessons over and over again every time we shift to a new technology or delivery method.
    posted by Mitheral at 8:56 AM on November 9, 2015


    In terms of "why do we like hotel inspections but drink water from strangers at marathons", that's because trust is situational.

    People giving you water at a marathon don't stand to make a profit by giving you poisoned water (although I suppose a serial killer could try). The baseline state of water in Boston is safe and drinkable, even when it's coming out of the taps. There's a clear tradition of giving out water in which people know they are participating. All these things structure trust.

    Strangers renting you a room have a strong incentive to get your money while minimizing their own costs. The default state of housing is variable and there are a lot of factors involved - it's not like we're all issued mass-produced ultra-luxe FEMA trailers from the housing center or something. The traditions involved are also variable - people feel that they are participating in different ones.

    Seriously, even in societies where there's a very flat hierarchy and things are primarily unregulated, there's a lot of social practices to build trust, there's a lot of very immediate mechanisms for dealing with bad actors and things tend to be less complex. If someone trades me some bad fabric, it's fairly easy and immediate to identify that. If someone takes my money and I sleep in a house where there's mouse-gnawed wiring with insulation laid directly over it, I have no way of checking on that and only by the grace of god do I not die in a fire.

    I can imagine a bunch of ways in which a non-state-regulated system for room rentals could arise and be safe, but they would all involve creating a state-like regulatory function that would actually probably lose the economies of scale gained by having the state do it.

    (I had never even heard of renters' insurance til about two years before I bought. I got some then, but it was a total novelty.)
    posted by Frowner at 8:59 AM on November 9, 2015 [9 favorites]


    Our family has been happily using VRBO to find vacation condos to rent and have had great experiences. Emphasis on "vacation condo." Even if the individual owner was doing the property management work herself, it was done at a professional level, reflecting that the owners take it seriously as an investment property. Quality rentals on VRBO are upfront about their licensing/ordinance compliance. We recently looked into AirBnB's offerings for an upcoming vacation and ... eh. It felt like the site was unusable for our needs. Cute Instagram-level pictures, but low levels of concrete information on the properties and amenities.

    But, yes, this is an insurance problem. Insurers have a lot of power to impose safety requirements on the insured. All these "sharing economy" businesses seem based on avoiding local regulations and labor laws. Workers are not employees, properties are not insured, housing is transfered to the tourism sector. Ugh.
    posted by stowaway at 9:03 AM on November 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


    The entire point of the "sharing economy" is to do an end-run around the limitations on unfettered capitalism that sane societies put in place to prevent people from being horrifically exploited.


    I think this kind of glosses over the other aspects where things like Uber and AirBnB can allow people with less capital to participate in these transactions. There's a lot of iffyness in these things when it comes to dodging social responsibility via taxes or exploitation via the company like Uber. But just shrugging the whole point off as if it's a way to avoid liability seems facile to me.

    Go rent from a hotel in NYC and you're handing money to what is probably a corporate partnership between a major hotel operator like Klimpton, Hilton, etc, and some venture that had the money necessary to buy an entire building. Yeah, the hotel management handles regulatory and maintenance issues... which they do by employing a lot of people at really awful wages.

    Renting a room or sofa from some random person via AirBnB may not do anything to enrich the people at that maid level but odds are the people you're renting from aren't financially at the point where they're part of a building ownership group. Even if they're people with the financial wherewithal to get an entire unit which they can use exclusively to rent out they're still not at the level of the people running large multi-unit rentals.

    As an inequality leveler it's sorely lacking but I guess I'm naturally cynical about this call for supposed protections that only get notable attention when it might impede slightly more average Joes and Janes and the upshot is returning to a system that only keeps Paris Hilton supplied with furs.

    If there are standards of protection of our fellow humans that have big gaps in them when someone hands over a hamilton to stay in someone's living room then there's almost certainly that same gap when someone sleeps there for free. Why are we only going to address this by going after people trying to cover their rent to someone a thousand or million times better off than themselves? I don't think we should do nothing here, but I find it super depressing that we're going to address the loud party life-enjoyment-ruining from a neighbor's BnB instead of just creating good protections for everyone.

    The no renter's insurance thing blows my mind. I've rented in 2 states and always had that requirement. My local insurance agent is even familiar with it because it's apparently pretty common around here.

    Awareness of renter's insurance is kind of shockingly low, considering how inexpensive it is. I understand why commercial apartment operations don't require it; they have insurance that covers the physical building and damages beyond what a deposit would cover. But from a resident standpoint it's nuts not to have it if you can cover the $150 or so a year it runs (or did when I was renting in other than a friend's home > 15y ago).
    posted by phearlez at 9:05 AM on November 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


    The regulatory issues and insurance coverage issues are interesting ... but there seems to be the implication in the story and a lot of the comments that hotels are obviously safer than AirBNB.

    I consider that to be a very contentious assertion: hotels serve as crime scenes, accident sites, and infection vectors with distressing regularity. An AirBNB contact experience is going to be between a (reviewed and at least to some extent verified) host and guest; a hotel will feature dozens if not hundreds of other guests and employees.

    I expect that when primary host insurance bought through AirBNB becomes predominant, that the rates per room (or equivalent) are going to end up being quite cheap, implying fairly low actuarial risk.
    posted by MattD at 9:12 AM on November 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


    I'm surprised people have so much more confidence in renting hotel rooms from corporations, even with the presence of government regulation.

    I trust corporations to align themselves to their financial incentives as perfectly as they can manage. As long as we have systems in place that make it more costly for corporations to kill their guests than not to kill their guests, they will take the precautions necessary not to kill them. (When this system fails, it's usually because they were able to purchase successful lobbying against regulation less expensively than the cost of safety improvements.) The upside of their large size is that it increases the value to the corporation of marginal improvements in safety, and gives the corporations the resources to make those improvements.

    The people who owned that property are almost certainly very nice people who are horrified that this terrible death happened at their home. But that didn't translate into having the skills and resources to prevent it from happening.
    posted by Horace Rumpole at 9:13 AM on November 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


    I've also done dozens of rentals via VRBO/Homeaway/etc and have generally had good experiences, probably due to the greater experience of the average owner and better communication between parties.

    I'm surprised to see that AirBnB books 500k stays per night, or about 10% of the entire hotel industry in the U.S. If this is the only death so far attributed to an AirBnB-listed property, then hotels are deathtraps by comparison.
    posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:14 AM on November 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


    I bought a place with outbuildings, and thought about doing AirBNB- my friends all encourage it. But the idea of strangers (who I am sure are perfectly nice) in and out of my house seemed dangerous for me and my serenity, and them and their expectations of having a charming "home" experience. As others in the thread have mentioned- you need to have some type of professional, who knows how to normalize the experience .

    I have succesfully airbnb'ed- I think it's a great idea, with some problematic aspects. But you pays your dollar you takes your chances- if you want to "disrupt" things, you have to expect it's not going to look like the old way.

    I know a woman who has a place on the edge of a large national forest. She has been super successful with her guests and herself because it is already a place that accounted for not just the people living there. And her partner helps her build/fix whatever, since he is a journeyman and has those skills.
    posted by LuckyMonkey21 at 9:19 AM on November 9, 2015


    Maybe they did away with keyword search to prevent searching for particularly vulnerable landlords, or to assure it wouldn't be easy to search for code/regulation violators. Who knows? Maybe it's some kind of legal thing. Maybe it made some renters uncomfortable somehow.
    posted by amtho at 9:19 AM on November 9, 2015


    Wow, I guess that moves things pretty firmly into the "who knows if the people you're staying with even have liability insurance" column.

    This is another sort of thing that we have a lot of solved problems already. Situations where people own a property only partially - condos where your ownership stops mostly at the drywall, townhomes where you mostly own the roof and part of the side walls, etc - have settled law (if, say, your failure to cope with keeping the roof intact harmed your neighbor) and ways of insuring them. Part of the point of the condo board is to handle keeping insurance that covers the structure and some amount of culpability if Owner A's actions harm Owner B's property/unit.

    This line is handled between owner/tenant when people have proper insurance that covers commercial operations as well. I've never needed to buy any but I suspect you'd end up with a policy that would cover fixed items but not much stuff people brought with them; even with my homeowner's insurance here I had to tack on an additional rider to cover the really only marginally above-average amount of computer and photo gear I have here by virtue of my profession.

    AirBnB has done a lot of things that make me wrinkle their nose at them, but some amount of this trouble I think we can trace back to the shitty way we just protect our average citizen against the vagaries of life. Social media roasted that poor woman last month who filed suit against a young relative when she broke her wrist. When I started seeing that on Facebook I immediately thought "it's going to turn out that this woman was forced to file this suit by her insurance company, or that the parents of that kid couldn't get their homeowner's insurance to pay out." And sure enough, after a few days it floated up that this was exactly what had happened.

    Even without a commercial transaction that was what a family had to do to get an insurer - who had happily cashed their premium checks - to shoulder the bills for a pretty pedestrian accident. That's just nutso. Even if it was two insurance companies arguing over who should pay - which you'll get to see first-hand if you ever have medical bills as a result of a car accident - the fact that the customer parties themselves had to get involved points, to me, is a sign of a damaged system independent of "sharing economy" companies.
    posted by phearlez at 9:21 AM on November 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


    phearlez: As an inequality leveler it's sorely lacking but I guess I'm naturally cynical about this call for supposed protections that only get notable attention when it might impede slightly more average Joes and Janes and the upshot is returning to a system that only keeps Paris Hilton supplied with furs.

    I agree. When people tell me that the taxi industry needs disrupting, I tell them that the cozy relationship that the taxi industry has with local governments which allows them to gain and maintain a monopoly while offering drivers apparently a really shitty employment arrangement and offering terrible service. What needs disruption is that relationship, not the taxi industry per se. (Not sure if that's a direct response to your comment, but anyway...)
    posted by tippiedog at 9:25 AM on November 9, 2015


    I used to use Airbnb, but after a trip to Europe this fall I've lost interest. It is no longer an upgraded version of couch-surfing, and now seems much closer to a VRBO-type operation. We never once met our hosts in any of the three places we used, and instead had 'friends' or property managers meet us to give us the keys. Most owners now seem to run up to a dozen apartments.

    In some places Airbnb might resemble the old sharing-economy ideal, but it seems to be moving quickly away from that.
    posted by kanewai at 9:30 AM on November 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


    What is the old sharing-economy ideal, anyway?
    posted by soren_lorensen at 9:35 AM on November 9, 2015


    Puff, puff, pass.
    posted by snuffleupagus at 9:37 AM on November 9, 2015 [10 favorites]


    What is the old sharing-economy ideal, anyway?

    the feast thrown by the lord on his wedding day to which all his serfs are invited to eat for free.
    posted by poffin boffin at 9:40 AM on November 9, 2015 [11 favorites]


    The article's suggestion around inspections is troubling:

    But if Google can photograph every surface of the earth and the U.S. government can conduct a census, couldn’t Airbnb peek inside 1,000,000 properties if that would make its “community” safer? Tip from the sharing economy: just hire some TaskRabbits.

    Do you really want to entrust untrained randoms with doing safety inspections - especially when the official ways are terrible already?
    posted by divabat at 9:43 AM on November 9, 2015


    I've used VRBO.com when traveling abroad, but not AirBnB.

    Things that make me more likely to choose a private rental over a hotel: availability, price, familiarity with the city/mobility options.

    Things that make me less likely to choose a private rental: unfamiliarity with the city/mobility options, safety, price.

    Besides, there are many things I consider "safety issues" that haven't been addressed here:

    - is the owner a pervert/using the rental room as an illicit filming location for selling "voyeur videos" online? how safe am I disrobing in someone's private home? what about having sex in their spare bed?
    - is the owner committing crimes in that home I could be arrested for as an unwitting accomplice? (growing weed/selling drugs/human trafficking/unlicensed catering business... really, this rabbit hole's quite deep)
    - is the home secretly hazardous to my health? e.g., is this owner renting the house out because it's got a black mold problem, and the owner's vacated but cannot sell as-is without incurring a loss?
    - is the owner breaking local rental/tenancy laws that may cause me to have to testify in court at a later date regarding my stay? Could I be fined/ticketed myself for breaking those laws?
    - is the neighborhood/area far more dangerous than I understand, and could I unwittingly put myself in harm's way due to a recent spate of rabid animals found near the creek running behind the owner's house? etc.

    I have used Uber, though, because frankly, the worst thing that can happen is I'll be killed in a car accident. That could happen in a taxi, while I'm driving, etc. Besides, insurance is required to drive.

    Someone's private home can hold untold horrors, based on just the trailers for Gasland. In the same vein, renting out a room in my home to a stranger opens up a whole world of liability issues -- I'd prefer to draw up a legal rental contract for 3-6 months, deal with the tax implications, etc. than try to make a quick, easy buck if I needed the extra income.

    Anywhere I get naked and sleep for several hours is far more risky to me, especially with my chronic health issues, than riding in an unlicensed and bonded taxi. But that's just my personal opinion.

    Most of rural America's still chugging along doggedly under no economic influence by the so-called "sharing economy," by the way. Literally none of the frequently named startups have a prayer of disrupting any municipalities that aren't part of a desirable tourist area or mid-to-large-sized urban city.
    posted by Unicorn on the cob at 9:46 AM on November 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


    I have used Uber, though, because frankly, the worst thing that can happen is I'll be killed in a car accident.

    You're right, that is the worst thing. There are less bad things that are still pretty horrible that could happen, though. Such as being kidnapped and all of the possible outcomes that that implies.
    posted by soren_lorensen at 9:50 AM on November 9, 2015


    Well, the alternative to Uber is taxis, which in many places are expensive, dangerous, and uncomfortable (I've had drunk taxi drivers, a different one who got in two different fender benders on the same ride, another where we were pulled over and it was clear he had a police history). The alternative to AirBnB is national hotel chains, which are often expensive and a bit inconvenient, but they're safe and comfortable.

    Also: bed bugs. I would happily pay hundreds of dollars to not stay in a place with bed bugs.
    posted by miyabo at 9:53 AM on November 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


    You are probably slightly less likely to pick up a bed bug at an Air BnB apartment that is rented out once a month than a hotel room that is always occupied, but of course, the hotel (presumably) has much better resources in bed bug eradication.
    posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:01 AM on November 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


    So I was on the fence last week about voting for Prop F here in San Francisco, a now-defeated ballot measure that would have placed some rather significant restrictions on Airbnb and other short-term rentals. The measure had some concerning aspects (though overplayed by the $8.3 million campaign Airbnb fought against it, a campaign that cost them roughly $80/vote against it) and I do think that homeowners ought to have at least some reasonable opportunity to use their properties as they see fit. And I wasn't thrilled with the prospect of SF progressives slapping the tech industry this way, not that parts of the industry don't need a slap from time to time, but there's enough of an us vs. them thing going on here that we really don't need to add to.

    On the other hand, I certainly sympathized with those who view Airbnb as part of the housing problem in the city and on the issues that come from living next to or below what is suddenly a hotel. So I was somewhat undecided, and I'm not usually in that position when it comes time to vote.

    Then I went on Airbnb and quickly found like 10 listings for apartments in my complex. It's not very hard to find these if you start with the general location and look for details like the kitchen cabinets or the handles on the windows. Every lease clearly prohibits subleasing without permission, let alone renting out your place on a nightly basis on the internet. One listing told guests to pretend they were friends of the host if anybody asked. Another one used pictures of the building's old model apartment and featured a god damn architectural rendering of the lobby from before it was built. I think you can guess how I ended up voting.

    At a minimum, Airbnb should be making an effort to ensure that the places listed are actually authorized by the owners of the property. They could force you to submit proof of ownership or even just a copy of your lease and a letter from your landlord authorizing it. Yes, people can forge these documents, but then they are clearly in the wrong because they are the assholes who forged documents. Uber and Lyft inspect your car (and show the driver photo/make/model/license plate to help prevent unauthorized switches), but Airbnb doesn't even bother to try to make sure you're legally allowed to rent the property. That's nuts.
    posted by zachlipton at 10:06 AM on November 9, 2015 [16 favorites]


    - is the neighborhood/area far more dangerous than I understand

    Funny story, that's how I got a gun pulled on me while trying to find my Airbnb apartment in Lima, Peru.
    posted by the agents of KAOS at 10:14 AM on November 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


    Renting a room or sofa from some random person via AirBnB may not do anything to enrich the people at that maid level but odds are the people you're renting from aren't financially at the point where they're part of a building ownership group. Even if they're people with the financial wherewithal to get an entire unit which they can use exclusively to rent out they're still not at the level of the people running large multi-unit rentals.

    But the thing is, you are literally spending your money directly on people who have the capital/social capital to rent a nice place. Those people are not working class people. No one on my street could do AirBnb successfully (I'm sure some people could get one or two rentals before the reviews caught up with them) because our neighborhood is dodgy, dirty and noisy, and the housing stock is in terrible condition. Leaving aside the know-how and social capital involved in the first place. Whereas I'm pretty confident that there are people on my street who work as cleaners. Just like you can't drive for Uber unless you have a decent car - the very people who need low-barrier-to-entry weird schedule work the most are the people who don't have the capital to participate.

    Yes, this is about the collapse of the middle class - everyone thinks it's great larks to make rent by playing hotelier or driver. But the collapse of the middle class is happening on the back of the much worse, deeper, more desperate and fucked up destruction of the working class. You use your late model car to make rent driving for Uber; he, she and they end up homeless on the street, or doing not-that-fun-or-well-paid sex work, or selling plasma twice a week, because the jobs that are income supplements for the middle class used to be rent-paying jobs for working class people.
    posted by Frowner at 10:15 AM on November 9, 2015 [28 favorites]


    Whereas I'm pretty confident that there are people on my street who work as cleaners. Just like you can't drive for Uber unless you have a decent car - the very people who need low-barrier-to-entry weird schedule work the most are the people who don't have the capital to participate.

    AirBnb rentals charge a cleaning fee. This can be used by the host to hire cleaners.

    A friend of mine runs a VRBO rental, and this is exactly what he does. Why? Because a professional cleaner can do a better, faster job than he can.
    posted by storybored at 10:25 AM on November 9, 2015


    Just like you can't drive for Uber unless you have a decent car - the very people who need low-barrier-to-entry weird schedule work the most are the people who don't have the capital to participate.

    You clipped my "this is not an inequality solution" line, though I don't think you're necessarily saying I am claiming it is. But. You have to do this as an apples to apples comparison, and I don't know that I think you are, given your Uber example. I don't think you're going to find that the average cabbie job is open to just anyone, and in many markets the regulation capture has concentrated ownership and profit in the hands of people at much higher levels than the comparatively lower standard of car ownership for an Uber X driver(1). In the DC area there were early efforts to regulate Uber such that nobody could be in the market unless they had a fleet of 3+ cars. That failed, but it was a very clear indication of a regulatory system designed to keep out anyone who didn't have deep capital pockets.

    I guess I just read stuff like this from zachlipton:

    Then I went on Airbnb and quickly found like 10 listings for apartments in my complex. It's not very hard to find these if you start with the general location and look for details like the kitchen cabinets or the handles on the windows. Every lease clearly prohibits subleasing without permission, let alone renting out your place on a nightly basis on the internet. One listing told guests to pretend they were friends of the host if anybody asked. Another one used pictures of the building's old model apartment and featured a god damn architectural rendering of the lobby from before it was built. I think you can guess how I ended up voting.

    and I think "well, so what if the lease says that?" Whose interest does such a limitation mostly serve and who really is subject to that limit who has the slightest ability to push back on it? I am fortunate enough to be in the top 5% family income-wise, but I still find myself getting pushed into contracts with terms I think are gross. It's been four years since one that really stuck in my craw. In that case I was fortunate enough to be at liberty to push back on them and ask for a change and have lawyer friends to consult. But eventually they said like it or lump it, and lumping it would have meant a personal life upset and walking away from thousands of dollars sunk into the process already. That's a level of personal liberty and choices that I'd bet you more than half the people signing those leases don't have.

    All because the property owners have just tossed that line into a contract and which forbids someone from taking what they're paying for and adding some of their own efforts - cleaning, management, finding somewhere else to crash for a few days while it's let out - and turning it into a few bucks. I'm sure some of those units in zachlipton's building are actually people even better off than that, who might be renting purely for sublet purposes, and I think that's a lot less of a bright line. But even those people probably represent a whole different social strata than the owners.

    I'm not claiming this is a solution, I'm not saying it doesn't have some or maybe even a lot of muck in it. But I think it's flat-out wrong to claim this is only built on the backs of the lowest wage earner. I think that when you draw this line that lets big guns to just flat-out limit the use of capital to themselves you're concentrating power at a high level. I'm skeptical that a dollar diverted from a hotel operator would have mostly ended up in the hands of a lower wage worker.

    I don't know how to fully compare this. That cabbie job (2) in many markets would put money in the hands of the worker with a percentage siphoned off to the capital owner - both in the sense of the car and the license/shield/regulatory paperwork manager. What's the upshot wage there? What's the value in protecting an awful job? That maid gig in NYC isn't livable, for example. So are we really serious about caring for people if we allow that job working for the tremendously well-heeled building owners while stomping on opportunities for more middle class folks?

    I guess my tl;dr is that it seems like some of this concern about "sharing economy" stuff smells bad to me if we're protecting businesses that traditionally seriously fuck over the lowest worker. I don't want that to be a "we can't care about this while children are still starving in Africa!" but this feels like protecting big money a lot more than small money.

    (1) Whether the crappy wage pushdown Uber uses on those folks represents a worthwhile wage is a different question than people gate-kept out by capital ownership.

    (2) That didn't require personal ownership of the car; some may, but if they do they're not appealing to a lower income group - that would be the same purchase barrier to participation as being an Uber driver who owns your own car
    posted by phearlez at 10:52 AM on November 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


    France has been pretty proactive WRT AirBnb, basically grabbing them by the arm and going, "hey, this is called tourism rentals, they're taxed and insured, if they're not we'll come after you," and as France is the biggest tourist destination in the world, AirBnb went "eep okay".

    When I put my Nice place on there, I had to declare it as a tourism rental to city hall, get proper insurance (which I'd have done anyway, but I'm uncommonly responsible compared to others on the Riviera... which on re-read is a massive understatement...), and pay hotel tax, which is pretty minimal for non-star places. It's when you have a three- or four-star hotel that the tax gets expensive. All of this was mentioned on AirBnb as the steps to go through as well.

    Regarding ratings, egads don't get me started, I only have one so far and yet I've already chatted with and written to AirBnb about it. (Low rating on description and cleanliness when the comment itself said the description is accurate, which I took great pains to indeed do, and the apartment was clean. Sigh.) They seriously need more accountability with ratings. Instead I was told "ratings are strictly opinion!" to which I replied wondering why they're called "ratings" and not "opinions". Did not get a satisfactory answer to that.

    AirBnb are making a big push here in France, it will be interesting to see how it plays out between France's rather strict responsible approach to tourism rentals vs. tourism habits in the southeastern part of the country. Demand is huge down there, supply is not, and honesty in real estate even less so. Hell, there are real estate mafias down there don't even get me started on what I went through trying to sell my place, UGH, noped right out of that.
    posted by fraula at 10:54 AM on November 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


    Here's a thought:

    Require people who want to list their place on sites like Airbnb to provide a letter from their homeowners' insurance promising to cover liability (which presumably, they either wouldn't get or would have to pay extra to obtain). Either that or they arrange to have the liability covered by Airbnb (presumably for a larger chunk of the action and after an inspection). Or, above a certain scale, they are forced to register as a hotel/motel and be regulated that way.
    posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:55 AM on November 9, 2015


    IANAL, so that may not be airtight. But the basic idea is requiring coverage and assumption of liability, while providing multiple avenues for accomplishing this, based on the size/scale/class/location of the property. That seems to be the way to go.
    posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:59 AM on November 9, 2015


    fraula: All because the property owners have just tossed that line into a contract and which forbids someone from taking what they're paying for and adding some of their own efforts - cleaning, management, finding somewhere else to crash for a few days while it's let out - and turning it into a few bucks.

    But your hypothetical homeowner--and zachlipton--signed that contract. The homeowner is free to acquire another property that doesn't have this restriction, but if I were zachlipton and I discovered that other owners/renters in my building were breaking their purchase contract to rent out their place, I'd be hopping mad. Zachlipton presumably didn't plan to have hotel tenants for neighbors when he bought in that building, and he has a reasonable expectation to expect his neighbors to abide by the contracts that they voluntarily signed.

    I live in a suburban community with an HOA, and I hear the same thing: Oh, the the HOA is such a fascist regime. It may be, but you moved in here, knowing that there was an HOA. You signed a contract agreeing to live by its convenants.
    posted by tippiedog at 11:31 AM on November 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


    That was me, not fraula. And you're totally right, there's a lot of sort of secondary reasons to have that sort of limitation and it may operate as a convenient way to prevent some shenanigans. But in that specific case it was something Zachlipton had to go looking to determine, not something s/he looked up because there had been escalating amounts of BS pissing hir off.

    So if the other tenants are all getting what they paid for without complaint, whose interest does stopping that activity benefit and who pays the price for it being stopped? I'm not trying to take any sort of rabidly pro-uber/airbnb sort of position, but I wonder who benefits most when it's stopped as a venture and what sort of more generalize flaws are we worried about in the "sharing" that really should just be plugged across the board. Are people really being protected by their insurance for non-sharing activities? Are they being protected against fellow tenants who really fuck up their life experience even when they're not "illegal" subletters?
    posted by phearlez at 11:44 AM on November 9, 2015


    So if the other tenants are all getting what they paid for without complaint

    One of the things I pay for in apartment buildings is secure off-street areas that are not public. Turning it into a spot that ten different people have keys to every weekend significantly damages what I'm getting. And oh, sure, I'll never know - even if one of them steals my bike out of the garage, who's going to be able to connect that with your key being floating around for a year, you aren't going to volunteer! Why not skip getting licensed electricians to do any work too, as a tenant it's not like I check up the license and bond of everyone who works on the building, how could that harm me when I won't know?

    aka absence of complaints is not evidence for an absence of harm.
    posted by the agents of KAOS at 11:54 AM on November 9, 2015 [19 favorites]


    So if the other tenants are all getting what they paid for without complaint

    Also, if your neighbor is making noise, you can call the police, or 311 or whatever, and your neighbors will eventually stop making that noise, if the police come and visit them every night. Someone who is only there two nights isn't going to show any hesitancy to be loud or obnoxious.
    posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:58 AM on November 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


    One of our enterprising (new) neighbors, decided to rent 10 apartments on our street and offer them through AirBnB. So we went from quiet residential street to there are people coming every night and how the hell are they so noisy! Plus that's 10 less apartments that can be rented by people who'd live here and contribute to the neighborhood.

    Renting your place once in a while wouldn't be too bad, full-on I'm nearly running an hotel is really annoying for neighbors. There's a reason we have zoning laws. And it's also unfair for legit/licensed B&Bs and other establishment who pay their taxes contribute to funding the local organization that promotes tourism to the city.

    Sharing economy, more like free-riding economy.
    posted by coust at 12:41 PM on November 9, 2015 [26 favorites]


    Been through like 5 arbnb's with nothing but superlative experiences. No more staying in "motel hell" on the edge of town where the lights are bright but the experiences are corporate. I love checking into a residential area and getting to hang with the homies.

    Now that I've written this, the next one will have roaches and noise.
    posted by telstar at 12:43 PM on November 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


    Sure. I don't personally have complaints (and my apartment has great soundproofing), but I know other people elsewhere who haven't been pleased to find out they are living next door to what is suddenly a hotel.

    phearlez: your point is well taken that lease terms can be one-sided and that limitations on subletting are a situation where a large profitable corporation is restricting my use of the property I have rented. But I don't think it's unreasonable for an apartment building to have some kind of common expectation of how the space will be used. I can have friends over for a drink and a meal, but I'm also not allowed to use my apartment as a bar or restaurant.

    My other point though was about listing quality. People who are renting out places on Airbnb that they are not legally entitled to list are likely to pull other shady stuff. A couple of the listings I found had photos that could not possibly be accurate because they were copy/pasted off the internet. One had a recent review complaining that there was no toilet paper, hangers, or trash cans. Do you think these folks had a fire extinguisher?
    posted by zachlipton at 12:48 PM on November 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


    After this last trip with 3 airbnb stays, I started wondering how I could airbnb my place. No doubt many others share my curiosity. The bottom will drop out at some point. That juncture is not yet reached.
    posted by telstar at 12:54 PM on November 9, 2015


    In thinking about AirBNB and Uber, I came to a realization:

    The 'sharing economy' is often the same level of magical thinking as anti-vax for the techno-libertarian set.

    "Well, I'VE never encountered a problem and only had superlative experiences couch surfing, so these things that regulation is in place to mitigate must not exist, and are therefore not needed!"

    Everything's great while you're rolling sevens, but sooner or later if you keep letting it ride, you'll come up snake eyes.
    posted by Tknophobia at 12:59 PM on November 9, 2015 [11 favorites]


    Well, the alternative to Uber is taxis

    Oh yeah, on the last trip started using uber. I'm from Germany, so the name put me off at first. But out of about 10 rides only one was problematic (dropped us off a few blocks from our destination, which neither the driver nor us knew). I'm still high on the sharing economy, but I imagine it won't be long before something harshes this particular buzz. And no, I'm not anti-vax.
    posted by telstar at 1:03 PM on November 9, 2015


    The reason why hotel rooms are much more expensive than AirBnB i because AirBnB assumes you will take on responsibility for insuring yourself against liability and will maintain your establishment so it is safe and clean. Nevermind that most people don't meet this high bar because then they can rent out the space at a huge profit. They also don't pay the taxes that hotel rooms have to pay which means that we are all subsidizing those AirBnB rentals with our taxes so these people's guests can enjoy the infrastructure that those taxes pay for. So, hotels have to compete with rentals that can skimp on costs by being "mostly" legal.

    My biggest issue with AirBnB is, since the tax situation makes it so profitable, people buy up properties with the sole intention of renting them out on AirBnB, huge swathes of them. They don't pay proper taxes on them, they fill neighborhoods full of party houses where the people could give a shit about your neighborhood, and rent prices go sky high because all the places that used to be available to people looking to settle in your neighborhood are now mini hotels.
    posted by Foam Pants at 1:03 PM on November 9, 2015 [10 favorites]


    They don't pay proper taxes on them

    I think it doesn't help that we have such a byzantine tax system in the US that is so often predicated on politicians trying to be Santa for their constituents and making up for it by going after people who can't vote them out of office. In my middle age I have now seen a lot of taxation campaigns sold on how they'll make up shortfalls from out-of-towners and hotel taxes are maybe one of the biggest ones.

    Then of course there's the mortgage interest deduction which is massively weighted towards being of benefit to the well-off. It's insane that you can fully claim it on a 2nd home rental property so long as you live there between 14 and 36 days (depending on how many days you rent it).
    posted by phearlez at 1:36 PM on November 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


    Meanwhile, the CEO of the platform that was used to publish the piece steps in to play devil's advocate in a less-than-charming way.

    This is a super sad story. But on the question of liability and responsibility, I’m wondering for those who assume most/much of it should fall on Airbnb would feel different if the house were rented, through, say VRBO. Or Craigslist? Or a newspaper classified ad? Why or why not?
    ps — Those images are a bit much.


    Technology disruptors gotta stick together, I guess.
    posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:41 PM on November 9, 2015


    I've rented nearly 30 years in three states, and I've never been required to have renter's insurance. I can understand and sympathize with renters who might sublet their space or even do a short-term space sharing rental, but turning their rental into a business is not good for anyone. I haven't experienced neighbors doing this, but I'd be unhappy about that kind of thing happening next door, essentially running an unregulated business in violation of zoning and lacking liability coverage.
    posted by krinklyfig at 3:47 PM on November 9, 2015


    Then of course there's the mortgage interest deduction which is massively weighted towards being of benefit to the well-off. It's insane that you can fully claim it on a 2nd home rental property so long as you live there between 14 and 36 days (depending on how many days you rent it).

    Yeah, but that's really hard to pull off if you're just buying up a lot of property for investment, which is what the regulation is meant to discourage. I agree that it's still mostly benefitting people with financial means, but it's not helping the investors per se.
    posted by krinklyfig at 3:57 PM on November 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


    AirBnb rentals charge a cleaning fee. This can be used by the host to hire cleaners.

    Actually, the decision to charge an explicit cleaning fee or bury it cost in the rate rests with the owner. Some people list cleaning separately to imply that professionals doing the work, make the per night fee seem lower and/or be more fair to longer-term guests. Others include cleaning to make it seem like a bargain. Probably many never think about it at all. I'm going to start including it as a way of subtly raising the rents since I'm apparently charging too little: summer 2016 was 100% booked by 9-1-15.
    posted by carmicha at 4:00 PM on November 9, 2015


    Re: Uber, a lot of drivers are professionals who migrated from the livery world, but I'm not sure if that's true for Lyft. I favor Uber over cabs because the experience is nearly always better: newer cars, GPS and fewer obnoxious drivers and noxious smells. If Uber and its ilk are driving down the cost of medallions so that taxis can afford to improve (and/or forcing them to raise standards to compete), I'm all for it.
    posted by carmicha at 4:04 PM on November 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


    I fell down a badly designed staircase in an AirBnB not long ago - managed to catch myself at the last minute so I landed softer than I could have, but banged myself up pretty good in the process. If I were older (etc), it could have been bad. Ever since I've been wondering about this property standards/inspections issue (and the liability issue, although I had naively assumed either the homeowners insurance or AirBnB insurance would cover problems).
    posted by LobsterMitten at 4:04 PM on November 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


    Once upon a time (1800's through to about 1940) women did not just make a reservation at a hotel, or walk into a hotel to stay there while traveling. That wasn't something that decent women did. A random hotel was considered dangerous to women's morals, either because she might be exposed to seeing immoral things such as prostitution and become corrupted, or because her reputation could be ruined. There were only a few hotels where a woman could stay safely while traveling alone.

    So what a woman did when she got off the train, or the steamer in Chicago or London or San Francisco or Pottsville or wherever she ended up, was go to the nearest church (easily located because of the spire) and inquire where she could stay of the clergyman. And this was one of the many expected responsibilities of a clergyman, knowing where women traveling without a male escort could stay.

    There was almost always a boarding house run by a woman that only accepted respectable women as boarders where she could get a room or a bed. (If there was no respectable boarding house available the woman would likely be offered a place to stay at the home of a member of the congregation where there was a woman who could act as her surety.) Of course if the woman didn't pass the respectability test - for example if she were Irish, looking for a place to stay in a Protestant town - she was on her own and told with a contemptuous snort that the local seedy hotel would provide accommodation for Her Sort.

    This situation continued until the YWCA and the YMCA got established and opened a hostel in pretty nearly every decent sized town in the English speaking world. If you were a woman traveling alone you just asked where to find the YWCA and stayed there. That was one of the reasons why the YWCA came into existence. It provided women for the first time with the ability to travel safely at will by providing decent cheap accommodation.

    That was one of the solutions to sketchy short term rental accommodations. Clearly on line reviews are not a safe substitute. Neither is there a clergy person conveniently located in every town that we can consult. It will be interesting to see how this one plays out and what safeguards become available.

    My guess is that they won't become available, because there already is a solution, staying at a hotel chain. Airbnb is for people who want to live the lifestyle of people who can afford to travel, but can't actually afford to do so - another sign of the creeping erosion in our standard of living.
    posted by Jane the Brown at 4:33 PM on November 9, 2015 [15 favorites]


    This is one of the things that make hotel stays more expensive than AirB&Bs. The plant is more expensive because they have to meet higher standards for accessibility, stairwells, emergency lighting, fire alarms, exit lighting, fire extinguishers, sidewalks, egress, security, possibly sprinklers and parking.

    Also I'd bet people are less willing to chase after an AirB&B for compensation than faceless corporation hotel.
    posted by Mitheral at 4:36 PM on November 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


    the creeping erosion in our standard of living.

    Whose standard of living is eroded? For the lodger, it's a step up in her standard of living. For the renter, it's additional income.
    posted by esprit de l'escalier at 4:36 PM on November 9, 2015 [2 favorites]




    The lodger is staying at the airbnb because it costs 45$ a night instead of at a hotel which would cost 115$. The lodger is staying at the airbnb because it is close to the university. There is no hotel close to the university because there are not enough people willing to pay $200 a night, which is what a hotel would have to charge in order to make a nice profit if they were in the university district.

    The renter is making extra money so they can cover their mortgage, which they can't afford otherwise.

    Would you like to see some figures to get an idea what I mean by "the creeping erosion in our standard of living?"

    Expressed in 1950 dollars, U.S. median household income in 1950 was $4,237. Expenditures came to $3,808. Savings came to $429, or 10 per cent of income. The average new-house price was roughly $7,500 – or less than 200 per cent of income. Average hotel room rate: $5.61 (0.00132)

    Median family income in 1960 was $5,620. In 1960, a new house would cost around $16,500; a new home would cost the average family three times its annual income. Average room rate - $10.81 (0.001923)

    1970 Median family income $7,466 Average room rate - $19.83 (0.00265)
    1980 Median family income $16,166 Average room rate - $45.44 (0.00281)
    1990 Median family income $$27,792 Average room rate - $58.70 (0.00211)
    2000 Median family income $40,199 Average room rate - $85.89 (0.00213)

    In terms of median family income this means that the cost of a rental room went up to its highest cost compared to income in about 1980 and has remained relatively stable since then but has started climbing again. I believe the room rate figures only apply to hoteliers, not airbnb hosts.


    By 2005, the cost of a home rose to 470 per cent of family income. But by 2005 the median household income is for TWO wage earners, not one. Which means it is closer to 940 percent of a single person's income.

    2007 Median family income $48,117 Average room rate - $103.87 (0.00215)

    2014 Median family income $53,657 Average room rate - $137 (0.00255) Average price for new home $312,550 which is 582 percent of family income or 1164 percent of a single person income.

    But remember also that median means the number in the middle of a set. There are a LOT more people now at the two extremes rather than in the middle as there were in 1950.

    Also consider that with mortgages, credit card balances and student loans, the average American household carries $203,163 of debt. -Contrast that to the average savings of 10% of income in 1950. While it is true that many people own a lot more consumer goods "stuff" and are better educated than in 1950, consider that most people own those goods and went into debt for that education because they saw it as necessary. In 1962 roughly half the population in the US did not have a high school diploma. It was therefore obviously not difficult to find employment without one. In 1962 nobody owned a cell phone. In 2015 try finding a working pay phone. Not all that debit is frivolous.

    An overly simplified way of looking at these figures could be:

    1950: A working man could support a wife and family
    1960: A working man could support a wife and family and had more discretionary income!
    1970: A working couple could support their family.
    1980: A working couple could support their family but had to work extra hours to get ahead
    1990: A working couple could support their family if they went into debt using credit cards
    2000: A working couple could support their family if they maxed out their credit cards and no one got sick
    2010: A working couple could support their family after the foreclosure if they moved in with relatives and no one got sick...
    posted by Jane the Brown at 6:25 PM on November 9, 2015 [27 favorites]


    You're arguing that the standard of living is eroding. I think it's increasing very slowly for the poor, and increasing very quickly for the rich. (You yourself point out the differing educations, for example, which has benefits other than finding a job. Education is a huge value in itself.) But anyway, this has nothing to do with airbnb except that you are suggesting that people using airbnb instead of hotels is evidence that they are being forced to do that by their increasing poverty.

    But the rich use airbnb just as much as the poor. It is simply a good deal for some people in some situations. If anything, airbnb is a step in the right direction for the poor by increasing the return on their stagnant incomes.
    posted by esprit de l'escalier at 6:39 PM on November 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


    I'm wondering if there's ever been a case of someone whose stalker rented an AirBnB in the victim's building, then assaulted them.

    Really, there are countless awful edge cases I can imagine with this, and yeah, awful things with Uber but maybe 10x the volume and diversity of awfulness with AirBnB.

    Not to knock anyone's positive experiences, though. We all have different limits vis-a-vis traveling/vacations, and the chance for joy and restoration of the soul should always be given proper reverence. I'm possibly pickier than most and prefer private residences/rentals to hotels, anyway -- I'm just wary of using them in the US (for liability and insurance concerns, mostly).
    posted by Unicorn on the cob at 8:58 PM on November 9, 2015


    And this was one of the many expected responsibilities of a clergyman, knowing where women traveling without a male escort could stay.

    Heh.
    posted by telstar at 9:01 PM on November 9, 2015


    One of the apartments near our last building had been rented out through a company as a short stay apartment during our tenure in this apartment building, where we were required to have renter's insurance and to also sign a very detailed lease clause about the possibility of eviction if found renting out space through AirBnB etc. It's unclear what arrangements led to this apartment being available for short term rentals, but I would put the tenants as a slight negative on the hall-- the amount of noise, parties, late night deliveries, and smoke was pretty much concentrated around that one room, though the building is pretty soundproof so these were very minor annoyances. Most groups were completely fine.

    But then the last group lit the apartment and the hallway on fire.

    Thankfully, it was a minor fire. But we received no updates on the cause, on the stability of the apartment itself, on the chemicals used on the fire, on whether any other apartments were at risk...and the people who rented it? I hope they're okay! We had no way of knowing who they were or contacting the parent organization or forwarding packages or anything. I don't know what would have happened if there were damage to other apartments due to the fire. Some of this lack of communication was on the building corporation, without a doubt. But when our neighbors had a plumbing issue that affected us, we could work it out with them and with the maintenance folks. Anything in the other apartment, though, there was no recourse and no way to address issues. I've used AirBnB and VRBO and Homeaway (with neighbor oversight of the property) and I'd like to think we were good temporary visitors. It's not a completely broken system. But I don't live near a short stay apartment any longer.
    posted by jetlagaddict at 9:05 PM on November 9, 2015


    I'd be unhappy about that kind of thing happening next door, essentially running an unregulated business in violation of zoning and lacking liability coverage.

    You're the guy who got my neighbor's secret backyard restaurant shut down, aren't you?
    posted by mrgrimm at 9:44 PM on November 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


    The renter is making extra money so they can cover their mortgage, which they can't afford otherwise.

    I stayed at a property where the renter was renting to cover her cancer treatments (as well as coming out of retirement and taking another job) so it's not all for the lulz.
    posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:57 PM on November 9, 2015


    .
    posted by vibratory manner of working at 1:04 AM on November 10, 2015


    At which point the stranger vs. friend contrast comes back.

    The thing is, there are already sections of society that host strangers routinely, for various reasons. When I was an activist, it was routine to be told that housing would be provided by allies, and I was routinely sleeping on other people's couches, and other people were sleeping on mine, strangers all. We explicitly did it to get around the cost that organizing would charge of we had to rent hotel rooms, so we could spend more money on the cause and not where we slept. I've had friends who have called up their fraternity while traveling to find someone they could stay with. We share our homes in natural disasters all the time - like after Katrina when an apartment sharing system for victims got set up. We do already share our homes with strangers. There are no hard and fast lines.
    posted by corb at 6:05 AM on November 10, 2015


    The thing is, there are already sections of society that host strangers routinely, for various reasons. When I was an activist, it was routine to be told that housing would be provided by allies

    But "Joe from Bread and Puppet plus the PM Press managing editor will be sleeping on your floor" just isn't the same as "random person", and I know, for I've hosted many a traveling puppeteer and novelist at this point. It's not risk-free, but there's a different investment. I don't want my house to be "the house where no one from Bread and Puppet WILL EVER STAY AGAIN" - I have an inbuilt relationship not to the person but to the group. They have an inbuilt relationship not to me but to my general social circle - they don't want a situation where Joe is known as a creepy creepy creeper and can never get housing in this town again. Plus, it's not a commercial transaction, and money - as the poet wrote - changes everything.

    What I want from hosting cool traveling people is to be able to host more of them and to build relationships across the country and across projects - that's my incentive, and that motivates me to do a good job. [If I weren't motivated on this personal level, I would probably decline to host and then help in some other way.] What they want is to have a pleasant interaction with me and to have a free/comfortable place to sleep. They're not seeking a tumblr-worthy boutique b&b experience, and they're not going to ding me in activist circles if my shower is old and the sheets are clean but not new. There's also an expectation that we'll spend some social time together - sometimes people literally do not have time due to a schedule, but every time I've hosted someone, we've had breakfast together or sat up late hanging out, or I've taken them out to dinner or arranged a social event. Whereas while I'm sure that sometimes you Airbnb with friendly people and spend time together voluntarily, you would feel kind of weird if they expected to hang out.

    I think the key part is that it's not a commercial transaction - the mutual motive is the thing itself, not the getting/saving of cash.
    posted by Frowner at 7:55 AM on November 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


    There may be some places where things need shaking up, but a lot of this 'sharing economy' stuff strikes me as just wanting to get around existing regulation covering exactly what people are doing. I'd put a line between old and new sharing economy stuff as well, like someone else did further up the thread. Old stuff - couchsurfing, liftsharing/carpooling. You're happy to help people out, you might get something towards your petrol, or you get a good reputation if you need to crash somewhere else, but it's sharing with someone, not doing something for them. You're letting someone stay in your spare room on the odd occasion, or you're giving someone a lift close to or on your way.

    New stuff equivalents are AirBNB and Uber, and the main difference for me is the explicit service providing. You want to book your place or part of it out to people solidly for weeks at a time? That's fine, but you're running a B and B, and there's standards society says you need to meet for that. You want to get paid to drive people to places they want to go? That's fine, but you're a minicab, and there's standards you need to meet for that.
    posted by MattWPBS at 3:29 PM on November 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


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