The whole place felt grimy, and there was a hole punched in a wall.
November 1, 2019 10:19 AM   Subscribe

I Accidentally Uncovered a Nationwide Scam on Airbnb. "While searching for the person who grifted me in Chicago, I discovered just how easy it is for users of the short-term rental platform to get exploited." Allie Conti (Vice) is scammed, herself, and gets to know some of the more egregious flaws in the business model. But with the company going public next year, how likely is it that they will make necessary changes to protect guests?
posted by witchen (226 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
 
how likely is it that they will make necessary changes to protect guests?

I know the answer to this!

I really enjoyed Airbnb at first, but I now just prefer to spend a little bit more and feel a very lot safer about everything.
posted by jeather at 10:23 AM on November 1, 2019 [68 favorites]


Hotels have security, cleaning staff, bars and valet parking. Plus they don't leave bad reviews for clients!
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:37 AM on November 1, 2019 [85 favorites]


Update 11/1/19: The morning after this article was published, the FBI contacted VICE about the claims made above.
posted by roger ackroyd at 10:39 AM on November 1, 2019 [68 favorites]


This line at the end infuriated me:
Dealing with Airbnb’s easily exploitable and occasionally crazy-making system is still just a bit cheaper than renting a hotel.
This is why Airbnb doesn't have to do anything about scams - it doesn't cost them anything. I cannot understand why someone would continue to do business with an organization that demonstrates the unethical behavior that Airbnb does.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:42 AM on November 1, 2019 [76 favorites]


I don't understand why AirBnB doesn't try to do more about fraud on their platform. Other than the obvious; they are profiting and it's hard to stop. But it's absolutely terrible for their business. Most folks I know already just assume most AirBnBs are gonna be worse than the listings look. If there's outright fraud and bait-and-switch involved, people will just stop using it.
posted by Nelson at 10:43 AM on November 1, 2019 [7 favorites]


I don't understand why AirBnB doesn't try to do more about fraud on their platform. Other than the obvious; they are profiting and it's hard to stop. But it's absolutely terrible for their business.

See above. It's not actually bad for their business, because the people who were scammed are still willing to use their services in the future - they actually won't stop using it. Given that, why should Airbnb spend money cracking down on scams, when there is no downside to continuing?
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:46 AM on November 1, 2019 [25 favorites]


I've had pretty good luck with Airbnb, and have actually found a few really great places. But, sure, you just never know. In days before Airbnb, I almost booked a place over Craigslist. It was a lovely flat in London that was simply Too Good To Be True. I had some pretty deep suspicions about that but when they wanted a cachiers check in advance I pulled the plug. It turns out it was a scam and although the place was real, the owners were not involved. I can just imagine standing at the gate in the rain with luggage and two teenagers in tow ringing the bell and learning that I had no place to stay. Disaster narrowly avoided.

To the article, I'm amused that the author was travelling to see a festival headlined by Blink-182. They were the only (first? can't remember exactly) band confirmed for Fyre Fest (though they pulled out when it all started to go south). There might be some connection between Blink-182 fans and the propensity to be scammed. :)

Confession: I have a still have weak spot for their juvenile power pop, even as it signalled the death of the indie music era.
posted by sjswitzer at 10:46 AM on November 1, 2019 [7 favorites]


I don't understand why AirBnB doesn't try to do more about fraud on their platform.

I was thinking the same thing, but on the other hand scammers haven't taken down eBay or craigslist and actual rapists haven't seemed to hurt Uber's business at all.
posted by backseatpilot at 10:47 AM on November 1, 2019 [14 favorites]


I was really interested in this because, even with all of Airbnb's rampant problems, it's really hard to enjoy a hotel stay after experiencing a short-term rental like Airbnb or VRBO.

A nice apartment in a neighborhood--with a full kitchen, laundry, a living room, maybe a little porch? No competition whatsoever with a hotel in the middle of a business district or somewhere out on the freeway--with a hermetically sealed, carpeted room, and food that sucks and management that aren't motivated to be better because they're not counting on repeat customers.

I'm waiting for the day that the average Sheraton conference center will step up their game and make a more compelling case for me to stay there while I'm on a multi-day work trip. Like, at least have laundry services that don't cost $50 per load.
posted by witchen at 10:48 AM on November 1, 2019 [43 favorites]


I cannot understand why someone would continue to do business with an organization that demonstrates the unethical behavior that Airbnb does.

Because it's über-cool to be part of the disruption?
posted by Thorzdad at 10:52 AM on November 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


Hotels have security, cleaning staff, bars and valet parking. Plus they don't leave bad reviews for clients!

I've never been in a Marriott I didn't like.
posted by mikelieman at 10:52 AM on November 1, 2019 [15 favorites]


I've infrequently used AirBnb maybe 15 times over the last 5 years....always for full house rentals. I've had generally good results, but its increasingly infuriating that many of my recent rental requests have started shifting you off the platform to the rental agencies behind the listings once you have booked. So you book with AirBnB then get an email that you need to go to rental agency xyz's website and accept terms and conditions there, or fill out an additional form etc. or your booking will be canceled. Either AirBnB is a full service, or it is a glorified classifieds page.

I pulled out of one rental recently after booking when the rental company disclosed in their terms (after I'd booked!) that they had "installed audio recording equipment in the rental to remotely monitor noise levels" and I needed to consent to it. Yeah...no thanks.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 10:53 AM on November 1, 2019 [26 favorites]


It's not even just scams. With these AirBnB type things, it takes time to find the person, get the keys, get in the place, etc.

In travel, time = money in a way that is crystal clear and obvious. I had to deal with a friend's AirBnB "mix-up" in Portugal last time we traveled. Trying to find some guy we didn't know, in an unfamiliar area, with language difficulties. All in all it was a stressful touch and go 2 hours. It's just not worth the possible headaches, let alone an actual scam.
posted by SoberHighland at 11:02 AM on November 1, 2019 [22 favorites]


If you must use airbnb:

Rule 1 to remove low-hanging scam fruit: do reverse image searches on any images on an airbnb listing.
posted by lalochezia at 11:03 AM on November 1, 2019 [76 favorites]


Ok, this is making me anxious because I just made plans to use Airbnb for an upcoming trip. How much should I freak out about this? I'll do the reverse image search. Anything else to prepare?
posted by medusa at 11:06 AM on November 1, 2019


Book a hotel. That's how you prepare.
posted by tobascodagama at 11:07 AM on November 1, 2019 [70 favorites]


I don't understand why AirBnB doesn't try to do more about fraud on their platform.

Money

Other than the obvious; they are profiting and it's hard to stop.

I see you know that already.

But it's absolutely terrible for their business.

Fuck the business. The founders are going to make billions. Then they move on to the next big thing and give a couple of TED talks about being "disruptive" or discussing the "trust economy" and everyone is amazed at their brilliant insights.

Once these guys have cashed out and got some super-model girlfriends and nice chateaus, do you honestly think they'll give two hoots if the entire company burns down?

And, hey, maybe the business will survive for a decade or two because it's less crappy than the alternatives. Could happen.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 11:07 AM on November 1, 2019 [26 favorites]


I knew my Airbnb would be watching me — but it still creeped me out

Behind a paywall, so here's a quote:

Five friends and I rented a house on Airbnb in Provincetown this past summer for a weeklong Cape Cod vacation. We should have paid more attention to the note in the listing that mentioned a camera.

While it suggested it was only pointed at the entryway, the first thing we noticed upon arrival was the Nest-style camera mounted in a high corner of the open concept main floor with a little green light on. It took in the entire communal area: kitchen, dining and living room, entrance to a washroom and the stairs leading to various bedrooms up and down.

All our comings and goings, conversations, who went to the bathroom or to a bedroom, what we ate and drank, and which Céline Dion songs we sung aloud together were recorded.

It gave us the creeps so the next morning I stood on a chair and covered the camera with a tea towel. My friends and I debated what to do beforehand. Do we message the host? This was an expensive vacation for us, six friends who don’t see each other much, paid for months in advance and in a holiday town now completely booked. An argument over the camera would ruin the rest of the vacation, but leaving it on meant we were no longer comfortable in the house.

Airbnb requires hosts disclose surveillance devices in the listing and does not allow them in “private spaces” such as bathrooms, bedrooms or other sleeping areas. Over the past year there’s been many reports documenting hidden cameras and while the one in our rental was disclosed, it certainly didn’t tell us how much of our activity would be monitored.

posted by mandolin conspiracy at 11:08 AM on November 1, 2019 [27 favorites]


That's not a super helpful suggestion for people who can't afford to walk away from the prepayment.
posted by medusa at 11:08 AM on November 1, 2019 [13 favorites]


I've stayed in AirBnb and never had a major problem (once a bed didn't fold out and the owner had to come do it for us). But you know, after reading this article, I won't do business with them again. Even if I'm lucky enough to avoid being scammed, I'm sick unto death of companies that just don't give a fuck about how they're affecting real people as long as there's enough profit for them.
posted by holborne at 11:11 AM on November 1, 2019 [21 favorites]


Yeah, we got hit by these clowns on a group trip. It was kinda funny, as the person who booked it was very libertarian leaning and "just couldn't understand" how this could happen.

caveat emptor ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
posted by The Power Nap at 11:11 AM on November 1, 2019 [40 favorites]


@ mandolin conspiracy: Your story reminded me!!!: went to a 50th B-day party for a friend in south florida a couple years ago. She had done all the AirBnB booking and got there and opened the place, so it was all set up by the time I arrived. It was a small house with a nice pool and BBQ area. And the place was full of cameras! We noticed it as we were hanging in the pool area, drinking. Then we found more cameras in the house. Only saw the public spaces with cameras, but who knows what was hidden?

Anyway, a guy we were with hung a T shirt over the camera by the pool. And within hours, the renter got a call from the owner telling them they had to unblock the camera. They said it was a security system and we were breaking ToS by covering the security cams. But F that! It wasn't the cops, it was the owner who was peeping on us and called! I can't remember how this all ended up, but we were pissed about cameras watching us, even if we were a bunch of middle aged folks doing legal stuff. We were all in swimsuits, and the idea of some dude spying on me and my wife and friends was disgusting. We ended up covering the cameras we saw, and the renter and the owners had a long talk on the phone.

Fuck AirBnB. A few billionaires rake in cash while weird-ass semi-legal crap like this goes back and forth on other people's vacation time. Stress and bullshit. It's not worth it, people.

Plus, the owners often pay marginalized people under the table to do maintenance, etc. It's running an illegal hotel with no accountability in many cases.
posted by SoberHighland at 11:16 AM on November 1, 2019 [71 favorites]


medusa, I wouldn't freak out. Most people are fine, except maybe you'll have some issue with the dishwasher or something. As I said, I've stayed in a whole bunch of AirBnbs in different countries and it's always been problem-free except for minor stuff. Do the reverse image search and try to scrutinize the reviews for anything squirrely, as described in the Vice article. But I think chances are pretty small that you'll run into a scammer.
posted by holborne at 11:17 AM on November 1, 2019 [5 favorites]


This past summer, I had two back-to-back last-minute AirBNB cancellations while I was in a foreign country - i gathered that it was part of a multiple-listing scam (list the same apartments at different price points on different websites; only honor the reservation of the highest-booked one; juggle listings to new accounts if they get shut down).

But when trying to find out what happened - and spreading the word a little bit - I was shocked to hear about how common this is, especially for international travelers in common destinations. I was in Paris, where, I found out (not really to my surprise) that AirBNB majorly contributes to a harmful housing shortage. The same way it does in NYC, Boston, Seattle, SF bar area, and other places where people have been priced out for the past few decades - a shocking amount of housing stock has essentially been converted to illegal short-term hotels.

I liked AirBNB when it was a way to get access to somebody's spare room. Ten years ago (or whenever it was) it let me travel when I wouldn't have otherwise been able to afford it.

And it's become just another tech godzilla fucking us all over.

Perpetual growth is a goddamn shame and a travesty.
posted by entropone at 11:18 AM on November 1, 2019 [74 favorites]


What strikes me as particularly odd about the scam described -- and I'm not questioning that it's a scam, don't get me wrong -- is that if they have all these units in which to put people, it seems like it would take very little money/effort to dress those units up to the point that they were actually respectable and then rent them out legitimately on AirBnB. It would cut into the profit margins a bit, sure, but the access to real estate seems like the expensive part of the equation, not whether it has been cleaned this decade. Is the increased margin worth committing what might well be a felony?
posted by jacquilynne at 11:18 AM on November 1, 2019 [18 favorites]


My SO's cousin is in town visiting with a bunch of friends. Fortunately she is staying with us, but her friends were supposed to be staying at an AirBnB in Hell's Kitchen. Looks like they fell victim to exactly this scam, as they got the call the place was unavailable as they were boarding their flights from across the country. They are now stuck in a crappy place in Williamsburg. I just sent her this article.

Love the bit about the FBI at the end. Somehow doubt it will change anything, but man, stay away from that IPO!
posted by Grither at 11:18 AM on November 1, 2019 [5 favorites]


I know for a fact that I was catfished in Denver, and this is because AirBNB doesn’t require your profile picture to match your government ID.
posted by Young Kullervo at 11:18 AM on November 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


I cannot understand why someone would continue to do business with an organization that demonstrates the unethical behavior that Airbnb does.

I don't really think it's a mind melter: real wages are stagnant, good hotels are increasingly out of the price range of people (especially if they don't have points / status from work travel), and AirBNB has a monopoly on this type of service.
posted by codacorolla at 11:23 AM on November 1, 2019 [21 favorites]


We've had decent luck with bed-and-breakfast inns, except for one notable howler of a story that's best told over drinks.

My one run at an airbnb was finding out that the Lakeside Cottage was actually a retrofitted garden shed. It was hot, hadn't been cleaned from the last user (hair! crumbs!) and had some weirdo water-usage restrictions. We noped out. For utility-type travel, I'm in a hotel or nothing. For vacation, I'd do another B&B, but not through Airbnb.
posted by jquinby at 11:25 AM on November 1, 2019 [7 favorites]


"Most folks I know already just assume most AirBnBs are gonna be worse than the listings look. If there's outright fraud and bait-and-switch involved, people will just stop using it."

I suspect it will be gradual, and then all at once. A lot of these tech disrupter platforms just don't bother to address the problems when they're gradual, because it's such a small thing, but then it hits a tipping point and people start fleeing en masse, and at that point most of them collapse because they don't know how to cope with a SMALL problem, let alone a mass crisis.

I've actually been wondering something similar about Amazon Marketplace -- I know a bunch of prior heavy Amazon users who have either quit using Amazon entirely, or who won't buy anything on Marketplace anymore because it's so full of fakes and frauds. Which Amazon could totally address! But they choose not to. (I will only buy used books from third-party sellers anymore; anything else is too risky, who knows if your order will even show up? And if it does, it won't be like the picture.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:27 AM on November 1, 2019 [19 favorites]


is that if they have all these units in which to put people, it seems like it would take very little money/effort to dress those units up to the point that they were actually respectable and then rent them out legitimately on AirBnB.

You are assuming that a. they own the place and b. they would be willing to spend cash to fix it up. Chances are there's some kinda shady real-estate shenanigans happening where they don't stay in the same place long, for maximum profit.

I've actually had good experiences with them (Except for the one time I let my now-ex pick the place, that one was a stinker) but I only pick places with lots of diverse reviews/good ratings. The author didn't seem to have searched that hard. Not to blame them, but you do have be alert.

The stories about cameras plus the info I read about what it does to real estate/neighborhoods, though, that's making me think twice. I mostly travel for business these days and so that's all hotels.
posted by emjaybee at 11:27 AM on November 1, 2019


Book a hotel. That's how you prepare.

Yeah, I think anyone who uses an AirBnB is insane and I respond to every story like this with 'what did you think was going to happen'?

Best case is you get the experience of staying at your friend's house while they are out of town (make sure you clean up after yourself! Take out the trash! Wash the dishes! If the neighbors asked who you are, lie and say you're my brother!), except for money. Worst case (and general case, really) is the scam shit in this article.
posted by sideshow at 11:30 AM on November 1, 2019 [23 favorites]


I've booked a couple dozen AirBnBs in several countries. Most of them were really great. Probably 3 I would not have booked in retrospect, but there was really only one problematic one where I felt they scammed me. Claimed the power was off and had prevented them from pre-stay cleaning/laundry. They definitely wanted to talk on the phone, which is a major red flg from a host. No bait-and-switch, though. One thing left out of the article is that when a hotel overbooks and "walks" you to another property, they typically give a significant discount, sometimes as much as a free night. It only seems fair that you should be entitled to a property at least as nice as the one you booked, plus a significant discount. I will say that a few times when booking non-AirBnB properties we have sent wire transfers, which you're never supposed to do, and it has worked out fine.
posted by wnissen at 11:37 AM on November 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


Feeling I had all the evidence I needed to prove my point to Airbnb…

Why simply prove the point to Airbnb?

Lawyer up. This is, at minimum, fraud. Seems the groundwork for a class-action lawsuit against Airbnb is present.
posted by Ahmad Khani at 11:40 AM on November 1, 2019 [10 favorites]


Most of my AirBnB experiences have not been scams, so when the system works it opens up opportunities for travel that most people cannot otherwise afford. In turn it allows people to earn money off of their property as well. I don’t think these scams are taking over what is otherwise a decent platform by any margin. Hell, people get scammed by discount airline sites all the time. Scammers gonna scam.
posted by Young Kullervo at 11:42 AM on November 1, 2019 [6 favorites]


All these platform services are because people are poorer. They're a way of concealing, less and less effectively, the fall in real wages, the effects of government cuts, etc. They're sort of stochastic sweatshops.

They also reflect the declining power of workers - we don't even have to be hired as employees, we can just be fucked over as casual labor.

1. Wages stagnate, so private citizens moonlight as taxi drivers and hotel cleaners for a pittance. Renting out your spare room to a rotating cast of strangers by the night did not used to be considered a fun, normal thing that financially stable people did.

2. Wages stagnate, so private citizens can't afford, eg, a hotel with union staff. If people who are accustomed to travel suddenly can't afford to travel, they may get the idea that society is deteriorating so happily they can stay at a zero-hours-contract hotel-keeper's place for a pittance, much of which gets skimmed by AirBnb. Not riots, platform services. Ditto for cabs, task rabbits, etc.

3. Things get worse and more and more people need to do shitty platform labor, happily keeping wages down. Scams and abuse develop but it's all part of the plan.

4. AirBnb, Uber, etc, are can get all the venture capital/grift that they need because billionaires have so much money that it doesn't matter anymore. So the billionaires throw their money around, the grifters get rich and everyone else slowly sinks.

Seriously, there is nothing in all the world that prevents us from taxing these fuckers and using the money to improve transit and infrastructure. Nothing prevents us from making new labor laws so that wages stop stagnating and work stops being so terrible - and then people will be able to afford, eg, to stay in hotels, or to pay fair wages if they want a meal delivered or some help around the house.

All these platform services are an artifact of the concentration of money, not an inevitable effect of technology.

Many of the genuinely valuable things they provide could be provided better and more equitably through popular programs, and the kinds of really unfair things they provide - instant gratification for some through the sweated labor of others - should not be provided at all.

~~
I think that people who can do so should avoid using the platform services. You're rolling the dice on the service to begin with (a friend of mine almost missed an incredibly, incredibly important court date, for instance, because two Lyfts canceled) but more than that, you're participating in a sleazy, data-mining, worker-hurting service run by selfish, creepy people who'll do anything to make a buck and funded by people on the moral level of Peter Thiel.

A lot of people are stuck with these services and it's not feasible to avoid them, and that's okay, people can only do what it's realistic for them to do. But whenever we can avoid entanglement with these disgusting companies, we should.
posted by Frowner at 11:42 AM on November 1, 2019 [280 favorites]


Best case is you get the experience of staying at your friend's house while they are out of town (make sure you clean up after yourself! Take out the trash! Wash the dishes! If the neighbors asked who you are, lie and say you're my brother!), except for money.

This describes absolutely none of my own AirBnB experiences but whatever.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:43 AM on November 1, 2019 [15 favorites]


Yeah, I think anyone who uses an AirBnB is insane and I respond to every story like this with 'what did you think was going to happen'?

I used an AirBnB for a trip to Vegas last November. It was $70 a night to be literally across the street from the Rio, on the strip, in a nice condo with parking. I booked it a month out, because my previous reservation was cancelled and I had to reschedule. The stay was at least as nice as the $330/night room at the Paris I'd gotten when I went there three years ago, and I'd have had to pay more than that to stay at any hotel. I was extremely lucky, it would seem, that I didn't catch any scams or sleaziness, because that's absolutely an issue.

When income is tight, and you're looking in an urban area, there really aren't affordable hotels. And this is an entirely separate problem, and it's part of why the AirBnB market exists. Nonetheless, AirBnB needs to be regulated like a hotel or it needs to be shut down.
posted by kafziel at 11:45 AM on November 1, 2019 [15 favorites]


I've had many dozens of really positive experiences with Airbnb that exceed the "best case" described by sideshow, along with some that were fine and, yes, a few stinkers.

I've found if you do diligence with respect to the quality and content of the past reviews and limit yourself mostly to Superhosts who have a proven track record of delivering a good experience, then you can greatly lessen the risk that you will be unsatisfied with your stay.

And to those who say it's only slightly cheaper than a hotel...well, it really depends on the city and country, but by and large I've found that Airbnbs (for whole apartments or houses) are waaaaaaaay cheaper than it would cost to put up the same number of people in a hotel. As in, $300 total for four days in a lovely and stylishly appointed one-bedroom vs $800 for significantly less space in a generic hotel room. And that's compounded when, say, you're traveling with your family and would require multiple hotel rooms.

My experiences definitely haven't been all peaches and cream, and Airbnb customer support can be frustrating and awful (there was a place I had booked in Haifa Israel for two and a half months that didn't have most of the amenities and furniture displayed in the photos and which was otherwise materially disappointing, and Airbnb refused to credit me with any refund, despite weeks of trying, because I chose to try and work it out for a few days with a recalcitrant owner rather than immediately cancel the listing when I got there). But there are many, many genuine and wonderful hosts on the site offering many, many genuine and wonderful places to stay, and the fact that Airbnb itself is a shitty company may militate morally against using the service, but doesn't mean you cannot consistently book really wonderful places if you exercise some case and know what you're looking for.
posted by Gadarene at 11:48 AM on November 1, 2019 [14 favorites]


One thing I look for when I'm booking an AirBnB is positive-but-nuanced reviews. I could be wrong, but I suspect fake reviews aren't likely to say things like "good location and clean home, but wifi was unreliable," or "friendly hosts, but toilet clogged super easily." I trust reviews that recommend a place with caveats - and then I decide if I'm okay with the glitches described.

Also, a general tip for AirBnBs *and hotels: Sometimes, the owners won't mention a disagreeable feature of the room or rental just because it's *normal* for that city, so it didn't occur to them. For example, my friends and I just rented a house in Mexico City, and it was pretty great - once we got there, we learned the house had a rule against flushing toilet paper. We were meant to throw it in trash cans instead. A little gross, but I don't think the owners were trying to hide when they didn't tell us in advance - that's just a thing in Mexico City.
posted by Mr. Excellent at 11:51 AM on November 1, 2019 [4 favorites]


What should bother everyone is not so much that Airbnb does a crappy job policing their hosts but that the freaking FBI has to rely on journalists doing really basic detective work to surface these scams.
posted by simra at 11:53 AM on November 1, 2019 [47 favorites]


*Ctrl-F "hostel"*

So, I've never directly booked an AirBnB, but I have stayed in a couple my husband booked - whole-house/condo rentals in vacation destinations, the kind that used to be handled by real estate property management firms. Generally okay experiences, but AirBnB is so terrible for communities and for housing that I don't want to support them. On top of how they treat their theoretical customers.

But for those who are saying that AirBnB is the only way to afford to travel, PLEASE look at hostels. I am such a hostel booster. It is how I have traveled to lots of places. So many cities have hostels, and it doesn't always mean a bunk in a giant room. Lots of hostels have private rooms and small shared rooms. Some of the bunks hostels have these days are actually pretty nice little self-contained cubicles. Many allow children/families in private rooms. They're not just for college kids and hippie backpackers! Those rooms may be small and bare-bones, but they are definitely cheaper than hotels. Hostels have kitchens and affordable laundry! Many of them have free or low-cost entertainment options and tours! They have all different kinds of styles, just like hotels, and if you are going to a major tourist city, there is a hostel that will meet your needs. Often in the very neighborhoods you're trying to get to with AirBnBs. And they don't distort the local housing market.

Be kind to your chosen destination; stay in a hostel!
posted by bowtiesarecool at 11:56 AM on November 1, 2019 [97 favorites]


The best marks are people who think they are scamming you. And people who think they're pulling one over on the hotel industry will it seems happily get scammed again and again. Anyway maybe consider not being an accomplice to a global housing crisis.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:04 PM on November 1, 2019 [22 favorites]


Another thing: If you travel with checked luggage, consider this: lost luggage often doesn't show up until the next day. And it shows up about as reliably as the cable TV repair person. So that means with an Air BnB, you might end up waiting at Bob & Mary's house for hours and hours or all day for lost luggage to arrive.

Happened to some friends of mine. Hotels have a front desk and staff.
posted by SoberHighland at 12:07 PM on November 1, 2019 [14 favorites]


Shout out for local research on Airbnb in the article: "In 2015, the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy released a report that said large rental companies in Los Angeles had started to profit off Airbnb by creating pseudonyms that helped them appear to be normal homeowners."

The LAANE report estimated that due to Airbnb and short term rental platforms, 7,000 rental units were lost to the local housing market and converted into hotel rooms in LA. I teach urban planning, including housing and neighborhood development, and the ease with which Airbnb makes any apartment or homeowner into a hotelier-landlord is frankly dismaying. It used to be more trouble than the extra income made it worth to do short term rentals to tourists instead of one-year leases to residents. Now, it's just as easy or even easier.

The financialization of housing is a multi-headed hydra. (See Blackstone and other private equity firms snapping up single family homes, mobile home parks, etc to diversify investments). This story of a scammer is just another example of how Airbnb is exploited as a tool for profit by professional real estate investors.
posted by spamandkimchi at 12:08 PM on November 1, 2019 [40 favorites]


Re: hostels. Private rooms are still upwards of 80-100 dollars a night, which is still more than a private room in a decent AirBnB in a large city. Sure, stay in a hostel if you want to be in a bunk bed in a dorm room with randos. You’ll pay 20 bucks a night. I used to be fine with it but it stopped being charming as I aged.

Actually it stopped being charming after someone shook me awake one night yelling that I stole her bed after a booking mix up that wasn’t my fault.

So AirBnB is the “just right” step between a hostel and a hotel.
posted by Young Kullervo at 12:15 PM on November 1, 2019 [8 favorites]


Airbnb (has anyone actually ever received breakfast with their stay? anyways) massively drives up rent in some parts of the world. I've noticed the airbnb effect in both Lebanon and Palestine in particular. What used to be a cheapish stay is now on par with what one might pay in the US (e.g. $70/night and up is not uncommon where one could previously get a monthly rental for $400).
posted by Ahmad Khani at 12:16 PM on November 1, 2019 [16 favorites]


AirBnB: Everything's Fine Until It Isn't!

Sure, 10 to 1 you'll likely find good experiences with AirBnB. And sure, money can be possibly recouped by net-savvy people with lawyers after shady experiences or outright scams. But it's your trip. Your time. Your money. A person with little money to spend likely doesn't have the time and resources to chase down lost money from a giant "disruptive" Net corporation.

I'll stop thread sitting now, but all these "my experience was great!" posts are kind of pointless, IMO.

The hostel idea is a great one. I've stayed in hostels in the past and have had positive experiences. At least there's some accountability and credibility with a licensed hostel.
posted by SoberHighland at 12:17 PM on November 1, 2019 [12 favorites]


For solo or couple travel at least*, please reconsider using Airbnb.

The ways in which short term rentals have exploitation and negative externalities threaded through the whole process are myriad. The impact on the affordable housing for local residents. The impact on residential neighborhoods which often have specific local norms around noise, parking, socializing, etc.

The impact on labor as short term rental owners often use other gig economy labor platforms, while some hotels are unionized. p.s. Fair Hotel is a good database of socially responsible unionized hotels.

* It doesn't make you a terrible person for having used Airbnb as a traveler, or for using it again in the future. Sometimes a whole house rental makes so much more sense than everyone booking a separate hotel room (bachelor party). Sometimes it is $100 cheaper a day and the reason why you are traveling is critical for your career or other responsibilities. But I think it's not too much to ask that we refrain from using Airbnb if we have some financial flexibility, or are traveling for leisure,.
posted by spamandkimchi at 12:22 PM on November 1, 2019 [39 favorites]


I used to have a job where I interacted with lots of people coming in from out of town--hundreds of them at a time. It was stressful; I left that job, but kept living in the same place. Then while walking around my neighborhood I started to think I was hallucinating, because I was seeing out-of-towners from the job I used to have. It was obvious -- they were wearing the name badges I designed, and the tote bags I had stuffed for years. And they were wandering around, lost-looking, in my neighborhood -- my completely residential neighborhood, with no hotels. As opposed to the three hotels less than a mile from the program space, the hotel the program took place in, or the hundreds of hotels in our major American city.

Meanwhile my husband and I pay twice the rent we did ten years ago.
posted by Hypatia at 12:27 PM on November 1, 2019 [47 favorites]


I can't favorite Frowner's excellent comment hard enough. (Which is frequently the case.) Nothing else to add.
posted by ZakDaddy at 12:28 PM on November 1, 2019 [10 favorites]


Depending on your travel preferences, a lot lot lot of convents and monasteries welcome overnight guests, both because that's been one of their functions for 1500 years, and because they have so many fewer residents today so a lot of empty rooms. In some cases you just rent a very spartan single-bed monk's cell; in other cases (especially in big cities), they've converted some of the housing to nice B&B-type things. Food is almost always provided -- sometimes you eat with the community, other times they make you special meals. MOST have no gender restrictions if they're open to guests (gender restrictions are more common if you're going on a religious retreat at a monastery or convent), but a few do. There are no religious restrictions, and while you're welcome to attend prayers or Mass, you don't need to.

Typically they cost about the same as a hostel. Since a lot of them are only single rooms with single beds, they may not be awesome if traveling with a partner or family, but a lot of the big-city ones that have converted to B&Bs have nice couple and family accommodations.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:31 PM on November 1, 2019 [50 favorites]


My city is voting next week on an ordinance to regulate who can rent out their homes on airbnb.

A lot of the units on airbnb in Jersey City are owned by leasing companies, but the ad campaign is all about the small-time owners.

(Jersey City is also doing a study about parking, and Uber/Lyft are part of the conversation. Great public policy planning?)
posted by armacy at 12:33 PM on November 1, 2019 [6 favorites]


For many, a huge benefit of Airbnb is that you can cook your own food. If you have to eat out every single meal for your whole trip, those of us without much money end up getting hit incredibly hard. Access to a kitchen is a huge deal in this dystopic wage hellscape.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 12:36 PM on November 1, 2019 [33 favorites]


I think there's plenty of examples of scams, abuse, and rape with these platform services to justify a) massive taxation and b) detailed legislation to assign liability to the platforms themselves. with harsh penalties (jail not fines, yo). Hahaha...
posted by j_curiouser at 12:41 PM on November 1, 2019


I don't understand why AirBnB doesn't try to do more about fraud on their platform.

Their whole business is based on fraud and deception. Tax evasion (not collecting hotel tax and not paying business rate property tax), breaking zoning laws, breaking public accommodation laws like fire protection and handicap accommodation, breaking laws on parking, not collecting income tax/cpp/ei from their employees, not buying business licenses, not renting to protected classes, etc. Basically if there is a law that governs short term stays or business in a region they are operating in they are breaking/evading such laws. It's why a house across from a hotel that charges $330 a night is only $70.

Like vaccinations these disruptive companies are able to succeed because people don't remember all the shitty things regulations were put in place to curb. Here's hoping we don't need a few H. H. Holmes or Newhall House Hotel where 71 people died in a fire in a "appalling story of neglect, falsehood, manipulation and concealing of truth that preceded the tragedy" before we start kneecapping these companies.
posted by Mitheral at 12:42 PM on November 1, 2019 [80 favorites]


Ok, my Airbnb story, if anyone makes it this far down: this summer, while we were in Japan, we found out our subletter was staying on the couch and using Airbnb to rent out the bedroom. Nothing against NYC law, but it did violate our lease and could have caused us to lose it. This is just normal subletter bullshit, whatever. But when we contacted Airbnb to try to get the listing taken down immediately, the amount of run-around we had was enormous. It didn't matter that we had documented proof that this was our apartment that was being sublet. We had to go at least two levels up in terms of authority before they were willing to even consider it, and I believe part of this was motivated by the fact that my wife was telling them that we were talking to our landlord, our subletter, and were considering legal action.

Anyway, I've used them once, when a friend rented and entire house for a wedding. I didn't do the booking myself, the place was very nice, so whatever.

My wife does all of our booking, she has a high user status on Booking.com because of using them almost exclusively, when we were in Belfast, our host told us that she lists on both Booking and Airbnb. On Booking, we got a nice breakfast out of it, as the place was listed as a Bed and Breakfast. On Airbnb, she says the guest are on their own, she's just renting out the space through them, not providing extra services.

So that is an alternative, if they can get the place listed as a real Bed and Breakfast. I don't know if this was unique to Northern Ireland, or something that happens more widely. But given those two experiences, I have no time or patience for Airbnb. I'll take a hotel room where I know exactly what I'm getting.
posted by Hactar at 12:44 PM on November 1, 2019 [9 favorites]


I have never understood why people love Airbnb so much. I have stayed in several over the years and I can think of only one I truly enjoyed staying in, and it was a guest cottage on the Isle of Skye that had been featured on some British gardening TV show, had been in professional operation for years, and was using Airbnb for more visibility. The rest had serious issues and I probably should have just stayed in a hotel. The time I stayed at a place in Toronto where you could hear everything through the walls and I had to turn the air conditioning on (in January!!!) to be able to sleep, it was so hot. The time I rented a basement apartment in Portland for the weekend and it was not completely separated (the basement door from their kitchen was still there) and the owners of the house could have popped down at any time to assault me.

The last time I stayed in an Airbnb listing was in May 2018, and the bathroom had two steps down and the light switch was not accessible from the doorway, and I nearly fell. No sign, no warning, nothing. I reported it to Airbnb and left an okay but factual review and never heard a peep. Last time I looked it's still on Airbnb with reviews like "you can hear the subway at night but it'll lull you to sleep!"

We are all living in some sort of technologically-enabled Stockholm Syndrome. I refuse to use Airbnb ever again.
posted by Automocar at 12:48 PM on November 1, 2019 [7 favorites]


I get the hate for airbnb and I generally prefer to just book a hotel as it's easier however I have stayed in dozens of airbnbs in dozens of countries, not one bad experience of any kind ever, and I have met amazing people through it. It really isn't that hard to vet the listings, every time someone tells me about a bad experience and I check the listing it is so plainly obvious that it's not a place to stay at.
posted by Twinge at 12:54 PM on November 1, 2019 [6 favorites]


One thing hotels do very badly is accommodating travel with children. Unless you book an entire other adjoining room (which not all hotels have anyway) at x2 the cost of one room, it's nearly impossible to find hotel rooms that have actual walls and doors in between the sleeping area and the sitting area. Hotels often have a sofa-bed in the sitting area, proclaiming that is the solution to needing an extra bed for kids, but then they put the sofa-bed literally right next to the actual bed, with maybe a 3-foot high half-wall between them. Unless you also enjoy going to bed at 7PM and remaining silent all evening, sharing a hotel room with your child(ren) is MISERABLE. I never got the point of AirBnB until I started traveling with a 5-year-old.

(Hotels, if you are listening, a good solution here would be to be less cagey about your room layouts. I have spent hours squinting at pictures trying to discern--is that a doorway with a door, or just a doorway with no door? Is that the couch I see on the other side of that dresser? STOP CALLING ROOMS WITHOUT DOORS BETWEEN THE VARIOUS AREAS SUITES, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD A REGULAR HOTEL ROOM THAT YOU'VE STUCK A LOVESEAT IN THE CORNER OF IS NOT A SUITE!!!)
posted by soren_lorensen at 1:05 PM on November 1, 2019 [63 favorites]


I avoided AirBnb for a while, but eventually I tried it while traveling with friends and got a great little place that was much nicer than a hotel so I started using it more. Once I got a literal beach front mansion in Aruba with a swimming pool for a week for $130 a night (it was a last minute thing, normally they rent to larger groups).

So I definitely get why people use it.

But like all these "sharing economy" services, regulations need to catch up.
posted by justkevin at 1:16 PM on November 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


The thing is, I know that there are tolerable-to-terrific AirBnB experiences, but if people were making a living wage and had healthcare, how many people would choose to rent out their homes and deal with the hassle? Some people obviously would because they think it's interesting and they like the money, but a lot of people who do it now wouldn't, just like a lot of people would stop moonlighting for Lyft, etc etc. Casual labor for low pay isn't something most people want to do as a hobby, even if they're obliging and pleasant when they're obliged to do it.

(And of course, corporations shouldn't be allowed to; if they want to run rentals, let them do it the regular way and not by pretending to be private citizens.)
posted by Frowner at 1:17 PM on November 1, 2019 [48 favorites]


Nth-ing the folks who are encouraging people to consider not just prices, risks, and the quality of their vacation, but the fact that Airbnb is driving rental prices up precipitously in cities that already have housing shortages and homelessness crises.

Regulation is necessary and consumer choice isn't enough, but the harm caused by Airbnb should probably factor into people's decision to use it.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 1:18 PM on November 1, 2019 [25 favorites]


We're generally willing and able to pay more per night for a stay of a few nights than we're willing or able to pay in monthly rent or mortgage payments. This means that short-term rentals will always be more profitable than long-term rentals if there's any demand at all for them. Without regulation to keep the number and nature of short-term rentals under control, they will inevitably distort local housing markets in ways that affect local, national, and global economies.

Housing costs enough at home that we need to save when we travel, so many people choose Airbnb units, causing housing costs in our destinations to increase as well, and the effect spreads onward.

Possible action to take: look into what your local cities are doing to regulate short-term rentals (Airbnb and hotel and actual B&B and hostel and extended-stay and all the other options). If it's not sufficient to provide some kind of check on housing market pressure, encourage your local governments to get on that.
posted by asperity at 1:20 PM on November 1, 2019 [8 favorites]


Air B&B is a huge fuck you to the residents of the city you're staying in, who presumably have lodging taxes and hotel zoning for a reason. (Plus staying in a stranger's home is super-creepy to me, but to each their own, I guess.)

I am 52, and have stayed in maybe 100 hotel rooms in my life...I guess I'm an outlier? I always marvel at how much some of y'all travel when reading these threads, not in judgement, just...even with discounted, unregulated, illegal stays, I couldn't afford the transport expenses, let alone the food and stays, and until recently I was doing OK. (Honestly, I think it's kind of good to make travel expensive, since it's so resource intensive.)
posted by maxwelton at 1:21 PM on November 1, 2019 [26 favorites]


everyone saying "oh you just need to do your due diligence and check the listings as well as i do" is providing unnecessary victim blaming nonsense noise that is irritating as fUCK to see here

mitheral's comment above is the most succinct explanation of why airbnb even exists; to do harm to existing industries and degrade the accompanying protections which were fought extremely hard to acquire, all for the profit of people who could literally burn the average annual US salary every week without affecting their own bottom line.
posted by poffin boffin at 1:23 PM on November 1, 2019 [57 favorites]


Worth noting that a big part of the reason that Airbnb et al. are so nonchalant about the rampant fraud on their platforms is the massive liability giveaway they received from Congress in the form of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. Section 230 is often justified in terms of protecting the operators of Metafilter-like discussion boards (an important and worthy goal!), but is mostly used these days by disruptive techbros to avoid the consequences of their own actions.

The 9th Circuit has been doing some good work in limiting the effects of this giveaway on de-facto hotel operators like Airbnb, but only in terms of allowing some local regulations to stand. (And of course those limitations probably won't withstand contact with the current SCOTUS.)

Also worth noting that part of what you pay for when you patronize a physical store or hotel is the direct and indirect costs of the operators being liable for any awful things that happen to people using that physical place. That ever-so-disruptive "internet discount" mostly comes from shifting risk onto the customer.

(Of course this also goes hand-in-hand with the massive judicial giveaway in the form of allowing Airbnb and its ilk to effectively exclude themselves from however much of the legal system they want through their terms of service -- another unearned advantage that is seldom available to physical facilities.)
posted by Not A Thing at 1:23 PM on November 1, 2019 [19 favorites]


The author was booking a place to watch Blink-182, but ended up with a Stooges apartment.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 1:29 PM on November 1, 2019 [6 favorites]


Another option for budget accommodations - Freehandhotels.com, with locations in Chicago, NYC, LA, and Maimi. They have several types of spaces, including rooms designed for groups and also shared spaces, which are like upscale hostels.

I spent several nights in a shared coed space at the Chicago site (located just off Mag Mile) in 2015. It was always exceptionally clean, I never felt unsafe, and per night rates ranged from $27 - $45
posted by she's not there at 1:41 PM on November 1, 2019 [4 favorites]


i like hostels a lot but would never stay in a communal room situation, primarily because i hate people and don't want to be near them and their gross wheezing wetbreathing farting mouth noises smacking slurping snorting sleep horrors.
posted by poffin boffin at 1:45 PM on November 1, 2019 [31 favorites]


Air B&B is a huge fuck you to the residents of the city you're staying in, who presumably have lodging taxes [...] for a reason
Usually, that reason is that they don't want to pay for their new NFL stadium* themselves, but instead want me to pay for it. My sympathy is thus... limited.

*Or convention center, or airport terminal, or whatever...
posted by Hatashran at 1:47 PM on November 1, 2019 [6 favorites]


I live in what some people consider the arse-end of Toronto. For many years it was the second-cheapest neighbourhood in the city; only the white-panic-words neighbourhood of Jane & Finch (You'll Get Shot™) was cheaper. It's still about the only neighbourhood that you can buy a not-condo for under $750K. It is very near the end of the subway, though.

In the last few years, I've noticed more and more folks with big luggage wandering round the neighbourhood looking a bit lost. Surreal sights like an entire wedding party from London trying to order breakfast at Tim Hortons. More houses with obvious (and multiple) lockboxes on the doors. The occasional fucking loud summer party at that house the nice old couple who'd been there since the 1950s used to live in.

I love my neighbourhood, but these days there are different neighbours every week.
posted by scruss at 1:47 PM on November 1, 2019 [11 favorites]


I just can't do the Airbnb thing any more, the consumer protections staying in a hotel (not booked thru a third party website) are too much for me to ignore these days. Often I've not found any real savings to be had when comparing prices, especially with deposits and cleaning fees added on.
posted by djseafood at 1:47 PM on November 1, 2019 [10 favorites]


that's what taxes DO. they make society LIVABLE. they provide SERVICES to MUNICIPALITIES. jesus lapdancing CHRIST.
posted by poffin boffin at 1:53 PM on November 1, 2019 [82 favorites]


i feel like i'm taking crazy pills
posted by poffin boffin at 1:53 PM on November 1, 2019 [23 favorites]


As a side note at least the author got to experience living in a replica punk house during Riotfest.
posted by Young Kullervo at 1:59 PM on November 1, 2019 [6 favorites]


I am 52, and have stayed in maybe 100 hotel rooms in my life...I guess I'm an outlier

I'm 53, and have probably stayed in more than 100 hotels/motels/B&Bs/hostels/Airbnbs/ in the last couple of years.

Eventually, staying in conventional hotels/motels becomes extremely boring if you travel a lot. And I have to chuckle at some of the comments in this thread about the safety of regular hotels/motels. If you travel enough, and are observant, you will eventually encounter sketchy goings-on at all kinds of "official" lodging establishments.

Plus staying in a stranger's home is super-creepy to me, but to each their own, I guess.

Yes, to each his own. While bicycle touring, I've stayed in random strangers' homes (for free). I always had a nice time. Ditto for when I've hosted bike tourists in my own place. But I have friends who would never, ever do such a thing.
posted by JeffL at 1:59 PM on November 1, 2019 [6 favorites]


After reading poffin boffin's comment, I want to elaborate a bit re Freehand Hotels's shared space. There are 4 beds to a room and each bed is it's own little cubby with a heavy curtain for privacy. I'm introverted almost to the point of anti-social sometimes (not fond of hostels, absolutely hate the typical B&B) and this worked for me.

(I'm not in any way associated with the company, I just understand that "book a hotel" isn't a workable solution for some of us.)
posted by she's not there at 2:03 PM on November 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


Systems like AirBnB exist precisely because people as individuals come to believe they are outwitting the System. "If you're as smart as I am with Google reverse image searches, careful decrypting of online reviews, seasoned internet-savvy and knowing all the secret handshakes, these problems will never happen!"

Meanwhile, reality ensues. There's real fallout that happens. To individuals and communities.
posted by SoberHighland at 2:03 PM on November 1, 2019 [28 favorites]


apparently you are all staying in really nice hotels, not cheap ones where you can hear people screaming or fucking in the room next to you, or stomping around above you; not ones where you smell the people smoking in the non-smoking rooms; not ones where things don't get cleaned very well; not ones where the locks are questionable at best. those are the types of hotels i can afford.

even when i travel for work and work is paying and i'm staying in our "nice" event hotel, i'm not very impressed. no fridge. hair in the towels. stained sheets.

everything is awful and i hate capitalism.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 2:07 PM on November 1, 2019 [36 favorites]


Overall quality of licensed hotels and lodging is an entirely separate issue. I've done a lot of business travel, and it sucks. But it has zero to do with AirBnB. But tangents like that are another thing that leads to people believing they are out-smarting the System.
posted by SoberHighland at 2:12 PM on November 1, 2019 [5 favorites]


Systems like AirBnB exist precisely because people as individuals come to believe they are outwitting the System.

While that might be part of it, I think the main reason they exist is that before their arrival on the scene, it was much or difficult, if not impossible, to rent an entire house or something nicer, or more interesting, or in a more convenient neighborhood, than a cookie-cutter hotel room.
posted by JeffL at 2:15 PM on November 1, 2019 [11 favorites]


My Airbnb experience has been a mix of decent ones* and awful ones** that've been outlined here. I definitely have in recent years made the conscious decision to not use it, but it's still one solution that's great for kids and big parties. And at the very least, having a decent-sized kitchen/nette and a microwave oven. And a washing machine!

But it's not worth the flights of stairs especially if you're travelling with the elderly (unless you're in Paris or places like it where old buildings have begun installing those small lifts that can fit the circular stairwell space), and it's not worth trying to figure out the keys and not giving away yourself to the neighbours. It's not worth not having a reception that can hold your luggage/mail when you check out and you still have hours to go.

*The recent decent one is basically an actual quasi-inn that listed itself on the platform for visibility, which was an odd mix of regulated hotel practices (there was a scheduled check-in and guest registration) and obvious real estate gentrification (they've bought out several walk-up units in the neighbourhood so your choices are between different buildings). This was in Tokyo. Another one is an actual house of someone who worked between the city I was in and London, so it was a genuinely lovely house tho we're not supposed to use the heating at certain hours to keep down their bill. The stairs though...

** I never had yet the scam like in the FPP but I'm not even surprised. What I encountered a lot was the bare units with mattresses on the floor, clearly in a building complex that's been bought out by a company that turns all the units into rentals (Paddington in London, and Dublin). But the more unusual one for me was just an outright money scam in Paris. everything was fine, except on the second day the landlady insisted she never received our deposit and wanted us to pay it in cash while waiting for the deposit to clear. That was when it was apparent to me how much Airbnb made it difficult for us to lodge a useful complaint because everything was on app or maybe an email and therefore on time delay. What saved us was just googling for Airbnb {country numbers} and we found a page that listed it all (solidarity in frustration I guess), and it turned out to be a local number for the hosts. And my French was entirely Duolingo-trained, but I knew enough to get to a human who could speak English who then spoke to the landlady, who got spooked and never bothered us again for the duration.
posted by cendawanita at 2:19 PM on November 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


Reading the comments on this is just... wow. There are good ones, like Frowner's excellent one, but the number of comments that are in some way positive about AirBnB...

Sorry about the raging elipses, but I am having difficulty here. I am aware of Metafilter's blind spots on a number of issues, but "screw your city/town/neighbourhood, I got a nice holiday cheap" is a new one on me. Because AirBnB is damaging to places in ways that more conventional tourism isn't - see Mitheral's comment about evading legislation.

There is this sense of an entitlement to travel which overrides other considerations. Holidays and breaks from work are important, yes; and a change of scene can be good for you. But that doesn't trump people who live in the places you visit.

And if you want to really be disruptive, I found out recently that a number of inland local councils in England used to own their own hotels at seaside resorts in the mid 20th century, and disadvantaged people could put their names down for a free week's holiday there, coach transport provided. That's disruptive, not screwing over other people while billionaires milk you like cows.
posted by Vortisaur at 2:19 PM on November 1, 2019 [76 favorites]


I will second the motion that Airbnb's can be far more practical for families with kids than hotel rooms.

In fact, I'll go even further and just call a spade a spade: if parents want to have sex on vacation and cannot afford a luxe multi room suite or adjoining rooms, an Airbnb/VRBO is the only practical option.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:21 PM on November 1, 2019 [12 favorites]


With platform services, the narrative is always that there are no downsides - that it should in fact be possible to rent a cheap, fancy, private home in a nice residential part of town and the things necessary for this to happen are of course not bad for society. But things that are cheap and luxurious have a lot of externals to make them so cheap - the externals are exploitation of workers, rising rents, rip-offs and grifters. The externals come with the cheap fancy private accommodations.

Up to a certain point, you can ameliorate the problems by redistribution - better wages all around allowing for better hotels, boutique hotels, nicer hostels, etc. Or you can take a leaf from the old USSR (and by all accounts the Public Resorts leaf was actually a pretty decent leaf even if the book itself was a bit of a mix) and run some public resorts so that anyone can afford to travel. It would be possible to make a society where, through regulation, travel was better and cheaper for average people.

But it's not actually possible to have private luxury at a low cost available at the drop of a hat anywhere you look without having serious negative externalities. The fact that private luxury at the drop of a hat is nice in the moment doesn't justify the externalities.
posted by Frowner at 2:22 PM on November 1, 2019 [40 favorites]


I hold all of the same issues as y'all with the bullshit "sharing economy" assholes who only seem to be "disrupting" neighborhoods. But when we go to Toronto to see the cousins, we have a nicer time staying in a cute basement apartment where we can cook and sleep in a different room than the kiddo than we would all piled into the DoubleTree or some shit.

If architects/designers can figure out that some of us do better work with couches and banquettes to sit in and actual windows, why can't mid-priced hotel companies provide more layout choices than the one where you walk past the closet and bathroom to the single room where the bed/s, TV, and sad little desk/chair are?

If my choices were more varied than basic room, luxury suite, extended stay place full of weirdos and drifters, I could easily get excited about hotels again.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:27 PM on November 1, 2019 [10 favorites]


when something looks too good to be true IT IS IT ALWAYS IS has humanity learned NOTHING from gruesome fairy tales of yore

that inexpensive yet luxurious rental house looks so good because the owners want to CONSUME ALL THAT YOU ARE
posted by poffin boffin at 2:29 PM on November 1, 2019 [16 favorites]


I am in an Airbnb in Tallinn as I write this! I've had so many positive and memorable experiences with Airbnb over the years: meeting people's cats, walking through neighborhoods I never would have otherwise visited, drying clothes on a clothesline, listening to Slovenian folk music from someone's CD collection. One amazing host in Dubrovnik took me and another guest on a free day-long hiking tour of Koločep island (she needed some people to be in promo photos). None of those things would have happened at a hotel or hostel. Many of the people I've stayed with are students or single parents or precariously self-employed and Airbnb helps them get by. I have friends at home who do the same.
posted by oulipian at 2:30 PM on November 1, 2019 [5 favorites]


> I am aware of Metafilter's blind spots on a number of issues, but "screw your city/town/neighbourhood, I got a nice holiday cheap" is a new one on me.

I'm not seeing anything like that here. There are people explaining why they've found AirBnB to be useful, but that's different from "Screw your city."
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:32 PM on November 1, 2019 [9 favorites]


there is in fact no fundamental difference between the two, just levels of honesty.
posted by poffin boffin at 2:33 PM on November 1, 2019 [42 favorites]


The bulk of the "Airbnb" stays I've had were actually decades-old pensions where the nice old people renting a room had just used the booking platform.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:37 PM on November 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


I don't mean to come off as being a booster of Airbnb though. My comments above are essentially just me copping to the edge cases that sometimes still get me to cave: extended stay where we need a kitchen and a separate bedroom (even then we tend to favor VRBO); and situations where Airbnb is just connecting me to an old-fashioned room to let in a rural area.

The vast majority of our stays these days are secured by gaming Priceline, Hotwire, etc. for cheap hotel rooms and then cheerfully overtipping the staff with our savings.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:45 PM on November 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


I'm not seeing anything like that here. There are people explaining why they've found AirBnB to be useful, but that's different from "Screw your city."

Except that it isn't if you don't acknowledge the damage Airbnb does to the communities it operates in. Beyond the scams, they push landlords to prioritize short term rental over long term, which in turn amplifies the rental crunch,as well as the company's long running opposition to regulation.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:46 PM on November 1, 2019 [21 favorites]


I don’t think these scams are taking over what is otherwise a decent platform by any margin.

It is not "decent." It openly facilitates rentals that are out-and-out illegal in NYC. People are literally being run out of rent-stabilized apartments by landlords so they can--again, quite illegally--be turned into AirBnB rentals.

If you come to NYC and use an AirBnB that you haven't verified is of the strictly legal kind (which, outside of certain actual private houses, essentially requires that the landlord rent you a room while he is still present in the actual apartment), you are issuing a big fuck you to the city, and not just to the city, but to some of its most vulnerable residents. Like retired eighty-year-old Chinese immigrants who don't speak much English levels of vulnerable. If you can't afford to visit here without breaking our laws in such a blatant and blatantly exploitative way, stay home. We've got enough capitalist vultures preying on these people as it is.
posted by praemunire at 2:47 PM on November 1, 2019 [52 favorites]


I really can't imagine showing up in a city I don't live and hoping that the place I'm staying is actually there and not a scam, or a dump, or has cameras installed. There is no way a "boring" hotel room is worse than this. I'll take boring.

In my experience many hotels that don't have microwaves or refrigerators in the room actually have those things, just not enough for every room. Call down to the desk and ask for them. I've never been told "no" yet.
posted by bongo_x at 3:00 PM on November 1, 2019 [13 favorites]


Honestly this thread feels like it's demonstrating the difficulty in convincing people that something the find convenient or a luxury is in fact an abject harm upon society.

This is something I struggle with greatly. How do I convince my aging mother that she's participating in a platform which is destroying communities when it's the only way she can afford a vacation, given her meager income? I'm not sure, but if we can't convince people who are otherwise aware of the aggressions of these "service platforms", we're in serious trouble.
posted by cidthesquid at 3:02 PM on November 1, 2019 [23 favorites]


Call down to the desk and ask for them. I've never been told "no" yet

I have. Though I don't ask for big things like that, just a kettle. What is it about kettles that's so difficult to arrange... And I'm practically hotel-exclusive these days.
posted by cendawanita at 3:17 PM on November 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


the strictly legal kind (which, outside of certain actual private houses, essentially requires that the landlord rent you a room while he is still present in the actual apartment)

So are the strictly legal kind considered fair play or just less awful? Because I sincerely do only rent from people who reside in the same place.

(TBH, though, I can't say I do it out of a sense of responsibility, just comfort. It's more like what I'm used to staying in pensions in Romania.)
posted by DirtyOldTown at 3:19 PM on November 1, 2019


A nice apartment in a neighborhood--with a full kitchen, laundry, a living room, maybe a little porch? No competition whatsoever with a hotel in the middle of a business district or somewhere out on the freeway--with a hermetically sealed, carpeted room, and food that sucks and management that aren't motivated to be better because they're not counting on repeat customers.

The charm is the only thing that has tempted me to use AirBnB - but I've found the same charm by staying at smaller hotels, B&Bs (yes, they do exist!) and - when I want a full kitchen - hostels with private rooms.

For example, the Emerald Falls B&B in Niagara Falls is walking distance to downtown, a short bus trip or long (but pleasant) walk to the falls - and the "Emerald Room" is actually two rooms (a sunroom and the bedroom) with a MASSIVE 2-person jacuzzi tub. Charm galore, and a tasty breakfast. The owner even gave us free passes to a tourist attraction that she didn't have time to use!

Except that it isn't if you don't acknowledge the damage Airbnb does to the communities it operates in. Beyond the scams, they push landlords to prioritize short term rental over long term, which in turn amplifies the rental crunch

The corrosive effect on rents is the number one reason I don't use AirBnB. In Toronto, it's estimated that there are some 6000+ listing for entire apartments or houses; the local vacancy rate is less than 1%. In my area of the city, there are frequent reports of people being evicted from their housing, only to see it appear on AirBnB.

Banning entire units from short-term rental would increase our vacancy rate into a healthier place.

How do I convince my aging mother that she's participating in a platform which is destroying communities when it's the only way she can afford a vacation, given her meager income?

I struggle with convincing friends who have much higher incomes and lots of choices, so I don't know what to say... except that there are other options for lower income people:

- B&Bs are often a good price for 1-2 people travelling, comparable to AirBnB - and often run by lower income people themselves, and can include great breakfasts

- Budget motels & hotels can be a bit spartan, but still clean and pleasant. Amenities matter less when you're just there to rest your head - and some have kitchenettes. Last year, I stayed at the Buchan Hotel in Vancouver for less than $100/night: no elevator, hadn't been renovated in 20-30 years, but it was all clean, the location was PERFECT, and the free coffee in the lobby was just as good as many a fancy coffee shop's.

- Hostels are not the terrible places people think they are and there are even hostels that cater specifically to older travellers; many have private or twin rooms, as well as dorm-style, and offer full kitchen access. I would recommend staying at a hostel affiliated with one of the major organizations, like Hostelling International. My mother (in her 50s) and I stayed at great YHA affliated hostels in London and Bath for $100/night - and the Bath hostel is in a converted mansion an easy walk from the historic baths. She was on a special diet at the time, so the full-kitchen access was so helpful - and we also took advantage of the shared use to meet people and chat and learn things about the area.
posted by jb at 3:23 PM on November 1, 2019 [14 favorites]


Just from the other side, we rent a place in western Mass. and the large but shabby house next to our smaller peaceful rental was then sold to a couple from the city (as are we), who instantly converted it into an Air BnB that rents for a *ridiculously* low price per night for as many as it sleeps, meaning it gets raucous groups of noisy young people who predictably leave massive amounts of garbage full of pizza boxes and beer cans that they don’t secure, meaning bears come a calling and scatter that trash all over our yard every weekend, and also you don’t really want bears thinking of your yard as their favorite diner to stop at on the way to the ski slope next door. And that sucks for the neighbors, because the people passing through may be having a wonderful time and not even be aware of the disruption they cause for a previously more peaceful (and relatively more bear-free) neighborhood.

The owners introduced themselves to us the day they bought it and seemed nice enough p, but have otherwise rarely if ever been present. They have local service people manage it. They are unresponsive to repeated pleas via the Airbnb platform that they improve their trash security setup and guidance to tenants.

We let it go because we’re moving on to our own place further north, the best feature of which is that you can’t see or hear a neighbor. Learned our lesson here. An AirBnB makes a bad neighbor when you’re in vacation country for sure.

Now we are weekender/summer people and in a sense we are interlopers on the historical community here, as they were on Indigenous inhabitants. And we’ve also used AirBnB a three times on our own travels and had only good experiences. I’ve also spent a lot of my life in hotels (as a road musician and then an academic so yeah I have the Hilton Honors points to prove it) and find them unpleasant. I get the charms of a distinctive AirBnb rental for sure if the option is a what-city-am-even-in Hilton Garden Inn or whatever.

But being the neighbor of a bad AirBnB (that probably gets great reviews as a party house) has soured me on top of my discomfort at the larger contributions to inequality and the housing crisis and disruption of vital tax bases. I’m likely to avoid it in the future.
posted by spitbull at 3:23 PM on November 1, 2019 [14 favorites]


Have we already forgotten that the name "AirBnB" is because it got its start as an air mattress on the living room floor of one of the founders?
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 3:23 PM on November 1, 2019 [7 favorites]


Funny thing: I believe that the restaurant in the basement of the Buchan was more expensive than our room there.

It was a great place to stay.
posted by jb at 3:24 PM on November 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


AirBnB is the worst and I haven't used it in a very long time, but goddamnit I wish booking a hotel didn't involve going to sites that also spend all of their time lying to me; telling me that 32 other people are looking at the same hotel right now; straight telling me that "What we are paid may impact our sort order"; telling me that a hotel is $275 a night, when it actually costs $391 a night. These are all literal examples from the booking site I'm using right now in another tab.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 3:31 PM on November 1, 2019 [32 favorites]


Airbnb came in handy when we moved to Toronto because we were able to book one for the first 2 months while we looked for a long term rental. There didn't seem to be any serviced apartment options that weren't prohibitively expensive. It was a 1 bedroom basement apartment where the owners lived upstairs. They mostly seemed to rent it out for longer stays like ours.
posted by Kris10_b at 3:31 PM on November 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


AirBnB is the worst and I haven't used it in a very long time, but goddamnit I wish booking a hotel didn't involve going to sites that also spend all of their time lying to me;

I never use hotel booking sites—I do research other places and go directly to the hotel website. It’s rarely been more expensive and often been cheaper then comparing it to a booking site.
posted by Automocar at 3:35 PM on November 1, 2019 [9 favorites]


Most people using airbnb aren't saying "fuck you" to anyone. They're generally victims of the same stagnating wages and income inequality most of us are experiencing. Blame the system which is providing perverse incentives, don't blame the people who are just trying to get along in that system.

It also seems weird people are discussing hotels as like, these amazing ethical businesses, just like it seems weird when people discuss taxis as this great alternative to Uber. They're all shady and unethical. I don't see them as a solution either.
posted by Emily's Fist at 3:38 PM on November 1, 2019 [19 favorites]


Being a victim doesn’t give you license to become a victimizer.
posted by Don.Kinsayder at 3:46 PM on November 1, 2019 [21 favorites]


(IMO the solution for uber/lyft is investment in public transit, for the record. I'm not sure what the solution to hotel malfeasance is. But let's not pretend like a fair portion of that $250/night makes it back to cleaning staff. If you're in a city with hostels or B&Bs, awesome. Otherwise: ?)
posted by Emily's Fist at 3:47 PM on November 1, 2019 [6 favorites]


It also seems weird people are discussing hotels as like, these amazing ethical businesses, just like it seems weird when people discuss taxis as this great alternative to Uber.

At the very least, hotels and taxi companies pay lip service to regulation and accept that the government has the authority to dictate how their business is run, as opposed to the Silicon Valley mindset that regulation is an evil to be opposed.

They're all shady and unethical. I don't see them as a solution either.

This is just Broderite bothsidesism that dodges the issue with the gig economy - the people running it feel that they should be accountable to nobody but themselves.
posted by NoxAeternum at 4:01 PM on November 1, 2019 [23 favorites]


In this thread: people trying to find reasons to say that airbnb is good actually in order to justify using it. If you're not going to stop using Airbnb then just acknowledge that you're doing something semi-bad for the price and the convenience, support tighter regulations and move on.

There's no ethical consumption under a capitalist system, individual consumer choice actually matters very little in this situation and so therefore should not be used as a barometer of morality, you're not going to get sent to the Bad Place, it's okay to just admit that it might be bad but you're going to keep doing it.
posted by storytam at 4:09 PM on November 1, 2019 [30 favorites]


Who knew advocating for public transit was Broderite bothsidersism.
posted by Emily's Fist at 4:09 PM on November 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


I think a certain idea of the American vacation might be sacrosanct.
posted by Selena777 at 4:13 PM on November 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


Who knew advocating for public transit was Broderite bothsidersism.

Livery is part of public transit, because mass transit systems cannot (and should not be asked to) serve all the transit needs of the public - which is where livery steps in, and leads to the bifurcated user model for it that has been observed. As such, a properly regulated livery system is necessary for a healthy public transit model - which is something that is anathema to the SV gig economy firms. In a similar light, hoteliers are regulated for a number of reasons which the industry has come to accept - and which Airbnb also attacks on principle.
posted by NoxAeternum at 4:17 PM on November 1, 2019 [18 favorites]


Using a home or apartment share to avoid hotels is a little different than being happy they exist when you want to specifically rent a house/apartment for a few days, for some larger family or group trip. I’ve been on trips that wouldn’t have been economically feasible without group lodging and a kitchen, so nothings being diverted from the hotel industry there. I do try to use the much more staid and conventional VRBO instead, because of Airbnb’s shitty politics and culture. And I’ve had some shady experiences on Airbnb, but not on VRBO so far.
posted by snuffleupagus at 4:47 PM on November 1, 2019 [4 favorites]


In the early days, I used Airbnb a fair bit until a host cancelled on me and I realised it was far more trouble than it was worth - plus, frankly, I got to the point where I could afford hotels.

Skip forward a few years and now I live in Edinburgh, which has one of the highest density of Airbnbs in the world. The owner of the flat next door recently turned it from a long-term rental into, yes, an Airbnb. It was initially going to be just for the Fringe in August, but now it’s November and there are still tourists coming and going. There are easily a dozen Airbnbs in our street, and I’ve noticed that many of the recently-sold houses are becoming permanent Airbnbs.

This has, of course, increased our house price. But it is destroying the neighbourhood.

Thankfully, the Scottish government has power to regulate short-term rentals, and Edinburgh residents are sufficiently up in arms that I feel cautiously optimistic things will get better in a couple of years. But that doesn’t help the thousands of people who’ve already been priced out of this city by landlords not paying their fair share in taxes.
posted by adrianhon at 4:51 PM on November 1, 2019 [20 favorites]


Wages stagnate, so private citizens can't afford, eg, a hotel with union staff.

This is a rosy eyed view of the past. Wages have been stagnating since about 1970 - but in 1970, few middle or lower class people expected to fly for vacations or stay in hotels. People regularly drove from Toronto to Florida. Even in the 1980s, my family (immediate or extended) only travelled by car/bus and only to places where we had relatives who we could stay with. My parents-in-law travelled frequently in Europe, but even with kids or in their 50s they would stay in campgrounds rather than hotels - and they were solidly middle class.

Expectations have changed - maybe due to cheaper flights or packaged holidays, maybe media or maybe living on debt.

But the luxury of nice hotels has always been just that: a luxury, enjoyed only by a few.
posted by jb at 4:52 PM on November 1, 2019 [18 favorites]


There's no ethical consumption under a capitalist system, individual consumer choice actually matters very little in this situation and so therefore should not be used as a barometer of morality, you're not going to get sent to the Bad Place, it's okay to just admit that it might be bad but you're going to keep doing it.

Maybe people are responding to the same tiresome Metafilter computer jockies saying "well, as a rational person, I simply can't understand why anyone would use a service that is convenient and saves them hundreds of dollars!"
posted by codacorolla at 5:15 PM on November 1, 2019 [14 favorites]


Have we found the exact cleaving point of the MeFi community? :(
posted by sjswitzer at 5:19 PM on November 1, 2019 [4 favorites]


> Hotels often have a sofa-bed in the sitting area, proclaiming that is the solution to needing an extra bed for kids, but then they put the sofa-bed literally right next to the actual bed, with maybe a 3-foot high half-wall between them.

Boston has some ridiculous laws that mean you can't set a cot up in a hotel room, or at least that's what the hotels have said when I tried to do it. I travel a fair amount with my family and we haven't run into that anywhere else.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:28 PM on November 1, 2019


I am right now today trying to finalize plans on a europe trip that it seems to me right now would have been somewhere between difficult and impossible, and more problematic in terms of trust verification, without airbnb as a primary filter. Also frankly very challenging to find a shared space for 4 people with cooking, as discussed above and that was a key criteria for the whole trip to work at all. I believe I understand and and am troubled by a lot of AirBNB and related gig economy issues but in this case it seems like the best of a bunch of shady shit options.
posted by hearthpig at 5:33 PM on November 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


The trick is to be very specific when asking if it’s a true suite or a single room with a living area.

Or just stay at any instantly-recognizable former-Embassy Suites with the U shaped floorplan and terribly slow glassed in elevators. They’re getting long in the tooth and it shows despite updates, but they are all actual suites.

Mostly Doubletrees now.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:35 PM on November 1, 2019 [6 favorites]


> My parents-in-law travelled frequently in Europe, but even with kids or in their 50s they would stay in campgrounds rather than hotels - and they were solidly middle class.

That's still true for most of my middle-class American friends who have kids at home, I'd guess. They'll take a big trip once in a while (Hawaii, not France) but summer travel involves camping, or staying with relatives.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:42 PM on November 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


I've never been in a Marriott I didn't like.

Especially my favorite, The Marriot Residence Inn. No matter where, Atlanta, San Diego, Silicon Valley, Redmond, they've all been very good.
posted by bz at 5:50 PM on November 1, 2019 [4 favorites]


I often think about going back to hotels. But last week I found a great studio apartment in central XXXtown for $60, as opposed to $300 for a night in a hotel. But every interaction I've had with the company has been total crap. At least hotels have customer service departments that actually reply.

On the other hand, there are still real B&B. Maybe it's time to compromise by staying at one of those next trip.
posted by morspin at 5:52 PM on November 1, 2019


It is not "decent." It openly facilitates rentals that are out-and-out illegal in NYC. People are literally being run out of rent-stabilized apartments by landlords so they can--again, quite illegally--be turned into AirBnB rentals.

I didn’t mean ethically decent, I meant functionally decent: the probability of me being scammed is low and I enjoy being cheap. You’re not wrong.
posted by Young Kullervo at 5:53 PM on November 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


Have we found the exact cleaving point of the MeFi community? :(

It's at the same place it's always been: in the gap between the lower-middle class and the petits-bourgeoisie.

...it is, after all, extremely important that different levels of disempowered people feel morally obligated to fight each other for not being sufficiently Good.

Meanwhile, I make a 15% return on my weapons-manufacturing investments because blowing up Yemen is expensive and I just stay in the Four Seasons because fuck having to think about where to stay.
posted by aramaic at 5:53 PM on November 1, 2019 [10 favorites]


I have seen first hand what Airbnb does to cities I love and what enrages me is when those cities pass laws limiting host use of the platform, Airbnb refuses to enforce it in the listings even though it would be trivially easy to do. (For instance, units may not be rented more than 30 days in a year.)

If you can’t afford other solutions, I’m not going to judge you, but I won’t use Airbnb.

By the way, I’ve had the kitchen argument with friends many times, but I’ve generally had little problem staying in a short stay service apartment in my many travels. These are buildings for temporary renters and often have a hotel-like service for but are still fully fledged apartments. They don’t exist literally everywhere, but I have stayed in them in many many cities and countries. I prefer to travel solo and would rather cook in my own kitchen.

Also, many European countries have systems like the Dutch “friends on bicycles” where you can get a room at someone’s house. France is full of hostels and hiking rooms. But people often don’t bother to look.
posted by frumiousb at 5:56 PM on November 1, 2019 [6 favorites]


My neighborhood is pretty close-knit, and two or three AirBnB spots in our area are very noticeable and notable for being out of sync with norms—oh, an underage party of 20+ kids where two women used to live. Oh, now it’s ten guys in football jerseys in the two bedroom place. Oh, the street is full of badly parked cars because a bridal shower is happening. The only time cops have been called to our block since I’ve lived here (9 years) had to do with the AirBnB.

The owners live on the other side of the country, we no longer have their contact info, and reaching out about issues has been unproductive. It is alienating. They make money while we wonder what’s going to happen next weekend.

AirBnB has a neighbor forum but it’s clearly to head off lawsuits.
posted by Riverine at 5:57 PM on November 1, 2019 [15 favorites]


I’m confused by some of this because I thought for sure we paid taxes when I rented an Airbnb in Portland two summers back. Maybe some municipalities have stronger laws on this.
posted by eirias at 6:03 PM on November 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


It's at the same place it's always been: in the gap between the lower-middle class and the petits-bourgeoisie.

This is correct, but perhaps not in the way some seem to be expressing Since it’s the lower middle-class who are facing housing insecurity because of opportunistic landlords while the petit bourgeoisie love their travel options that they use much more often than lower income folks
posted by Space Coyote at 6:07 PM on November 1, 2019 [12 favorites]


So, by contrast, for a while I was boycotting Marriott because of their owner's anti gay marriage stance (CA prop 8), and then I discover that despite all of that their hotel chain is, strangely, catering to and friendly to gay clientele. But still, they are my very last choice.

As for Airbnb, I go for granny units that are not suitable for long-term tenants. Recently I stayed at a place that was used for student housing during the school term but rented as Airbnb in the summer. That seemed OK for the local community, but yes, it does support the overall Airbnb business model which I don't really want to support.

Sometimes you have to choose the less-bad alternative. I mean, do you really want to talk about the hotel chains?
posted by sjswitzer at 6:08 PM on November 1, 2019 [5 favorites]


I mean, do you really want to talk about the hotel chains?

Yeah, really.
posted by JeffL at 6:15 PM on November 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


Like the hotel chain where an older friend was a union waiter and is now retired on his pension? I mean, there's more to the whole structural critique than "hotels good platform services bad" but there are unionized hotel workers.

Obviously this is a structural problem that can only be really solved at a redistributive level, but I dislike the way "no ethical consumption under capitalism" gets mobilized to say "whatever, use sweated labor, make money for harmful businesses, go ahead, resistance is futile". For one thing, when you give money to awful businesses you're not giving it to better ones. Even if avoidance or boycott doesn't, like, revolutionize the system it can still help support businesses that pay livable wages and aren't terrible in other ways.

Also, I usually see the whole "resistance at the individual level is futile" thing in the service of economic exploitation - I haven't seen it trotted out in favor of eating at Chik-fil-A, for instance. A lot of people are pretty firm about not eating at anti-gay restaurants; why not be that firm about skipping as many labor-exploiting places as possible too?
posted by Frowner at 6:15 PM on November 1, 2019 [47 favorites]


Also, do we really, really think that most hotel chains are, eg, complicit in sex-trafficking whereas the shady operators who are AirBnB-ing the flophouses aren't? Shady people who have access to flophouses are almost exactly the kind of people who are involved in coercing labor.
posted by Frowner at 6:17 PM on November 1, 2019 [22 favorites]


"The owners live on the other side of the country, we no longer have their contact info, and reaching out about issues has been unproductive. It is alienating. "

Out of curiosity, has anyone reported it to the city as an unlicensed hotel? I mean, not to the police when there's a specific issue, but to city officials for (I assume) violating various laws about renters, residency, etc.? At the very least, the city can force the landlords to be responsive.

The first thing I would do is check the property tax rolls, because I bet you dollars to donuts it is still on local tax rolls as either "owner occupied" or "single family (long-term) rental," and probably is not properly registered for property taxes and does not have the appropriate zoning variance to operate as a business in a residential area. AirBnB collects hotel taxes in a lot of jurisdictions, but that system DOES NOT, typically, hook into the property tax rolls (except in a very few cities like Chicago), and most absent AirBnB hosts haven't bothered to set their business up properly -- and given your inability to reach the landlords, I feel pretty sure your local AirBnB owners haven't. The city will get REAL INTERESTED, REAL FAST if they're being shorted on property taxes.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:18 PM on November 1, 2019 [18 favorites]


Recently I stayed at a place that was used for student housing during the school term but rented as Airbnb in the summer. That seemed OK for the local community

"It's good for students" is a line that our local Airbnb operator lobby uses a lot, and it's been directly contradicted by my university's student union on numerous occasions. Firstly, many students take Summer classes, or work at co-op or intern jobs in the same town they attend university. But also, many students would like the option of continueing to live in the city and not move back in with parents when they graduate. Third, there is a huge spike in traffic going in to town in the morning that is pretty heavily students commuting in from where their parents live in the country where they would in previous years rent a place in town. This is backed up by the pretty big drop once the Spring semester ends.
posted by Space Coyote at 6:18 PM on November 1, 2019 [4 favorites]


1. City tax on AirBnB
2. City purchase of significant portion of housing stock including using this tax base.
3. City leases this stock at fair rates that reduces housing speculation and price volatility.
4. Let AirBnB continue otherwise unhindered.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 6:22 PM on November 1, 2019 [1 favorite]


I've stayed at Airbnbs (it's hard to find a triple room AND it's weird negotiating out who's paying for the solo when traveling with three single people). They were fine unless they weren't.

However, I feel like staying at an Airbnb oftentimes misses out on the "Holy majoley, is this joint is secretly awesome and the people are awesome and the food is aweome AND CATS" or "For real, the old lady that runs this place who stares fixedly at you while you eat your toast in the otherwise empty "parlor" while tapping a large knife against the tablecloth in time to the Muzak version of 'Rule Britannia' playing at a strangely high volume is maybe an actual psychopath and maybe has some kind of blood cult going on in that garden shed behind the hydrangeas. And Holy Fuck, those are bloody fingerprints on this toile wallpaper. WTF?!" of the actual BnB experience.
posted by thivaia at 6:34 PM on November 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


I'm coming back to say that this discussion probably irrationally annoys me.

When I was 32, I was able to save and buy a small (500 square foot) apartment in Amsterdam. It was not in the canal belt, but it was not miles outside the city either. It was close to a grocery, tram and small train station.

Today the real situation in Amsterdam is that 32 year old me could NO WAY afford that same apartment. The prices have risen astronomically, but this is not true across the board. The prices have gone up at a normal pace for large apartments for rich people, but the small formerly affordable apartments have skyrocketed. And why do you think that is?

I'm currently looking to buy a small retirement apartment (circa 65-75 m3) in either Amsterdam or The Hague. My plan was to rent it out long term until I return to Europe. I'm lucky enough to have a decent amount of cash to chuck in so I can likely afford it. But as a data point, if I'd needed to get a mortgage for (say) half of the amount, I could not possibly pay my mortgage based on a normal long-term rental. The prices have gone up so much that only short term stays make it affordable for an owner to rent. The prices have gone up because corporations are buying to kit them out for Air BnB and even though there are laws, the platform absolutely refuses to cooperate with the local government for enforcement and so the landlords would rather take the risk of getting caught than follow the law. It becomes a nuisance fee that the bad guys can afford and the little guy cannot.

In the meantime, Amsterdam is incredibly population dense. The city had carefully balanced the number of hotel rooms and had done a great job making it feel liveable for residents. Now with so many short term stays, infrastructure is overwhelmed, every neighbourhood is a tourist neighbourhood. It's awful.

I DO NOT understand people who piously say they will never use Uber but continue to support AirBnb. Arguably neither are great, but the damage done by AirBnB is much much larger to the communities it destroys.
posted by frumiousb at 7:03 PM on November 1, 2019 [44 favorites]


Oldest daughter moving to Crawley, UK so need to find her some accommodation when she gets there in Jan, so looked at AirBnB. This discussion has confirmed my initial impression that the service was not that good.

My usual approach for vacation accommodation - I phone the hotel/hostel and talk to the booking receptionist.

As an accountant, I see people getting enthusiastic about AirBnB and then coming to the realisation that it ends up being work, and so much less enthusiasm.
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 7:17 PM on November 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


> there is in fact no fundamental difference between the two, just levels of honesty.

Fair enough. I was reading it more literally, but I agree with your point as well.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:20 PM on November 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


I've grown to loath AirBnB. Between the spammy listings and the often creepy or unclean houses, it's just not worth the nominal savings over a hotel. Plus hotels have better amenities (like lounges and bars) and are located nearer to public transportation (a huge plus while traveling.) I really don't see the value in AirBnB in the slightest.
posted by elwoodwiles at 7:33 PM on November 1, 2019


I've used AirBnB twice. Once was in Fairfax County VA. Dude was obviously skirting around his HOA rules. Place was nice, and we never saw him after getting the keys ( he lived in the small basement ) Second was a room upstairs in a furniture store in Loundon County. Also nice, but every item in my room was tagged for sale. Which was kinda odd.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 7:37 PM on November 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


I usually see the whole "resistance at the individual level is futile" thing in the service of economic exploitation - I haven't seen it trotted out in favor of eating at Chik-fil-A, for instance. A lot of people are pretty firm about not eating at anti-gay restaurants; why not be that firm about skipping as many labor-exploiting places as possible too?

Because most people - quite rightly - operate by weighing up their level of personal distaste (often substantial) and the practical impact of their resistance (vanishingly small) against the benefits for themselves.

Someone’s personal boycott of Chik-fil-A is futile at the individual level, but all decent people reject homophobia and it’s very little effort (for most) to eat somewhere else, so they boycott.

AirBnB has pretty significant benefits for some people (per this thread) and is not as uncomplicatedly dreadful as homophobia (like Uber, it serves a purpose, albeit in the shittiest possible way), so people’s attitude towards it is unlikely to be as negative, and it’s not necessarily a no-brainer decision to boycott. If your personal pros and cons more or less balance out, and you’re aware that your decision will have no meaningful practical impact, that may well be your reason for not boycotting.

Of course, if you have a particularly intense dislike of AirBnB and / or plenty of alternatives that work for you, your calculation will be different and you’ll probably boycott. Although it still won’t have a meaningful practical impact (other than on you).
posted by inire at 7:39 PM on November 1, 2019 [6 favorites]


Okay, note to self: If I ever use AirBnB, and I get a last minute text/email about "oh, there's a plumbing problem but hey I have another place for you," I need to say, "no thanks; I'll go with the original place and you can sort out the plumbing ASAP while I'm there. I'll talk to one of the neighbors about plumbing access for the first night. You probably won't get five stars, but you might get four if you are quick and efficient about it."

Then let them decide whether to cancel (and get hit with the fee) and refund my money.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 8:02 PM on November 1, 2019 [3 favorites]


I just spent two years living in an AirBnB, and it's hard for me to see the other people who used that particular AirBnB as exploitive, terrible people who were bad for the community. Most of them ended up staying there for the same reason I did -- they were moving to the city and needed somewhere to stay that was homelike (kitchen and laundry, especially), but they couldn't immediately sign a lease for various reasons.

In my case, my longer term housing options all fell through at the last minute, so I booked the AirBnB for a month to give myself a chance to find somewhere to live in a new city. I ended up staying put, because it was easier to stay than to actually find someone that would rent to me as someone who only had a term limited employment contract -- unless I wanted to live in student housing with a bunch of 19 year olds where 6 people all shared a single bathroom.

Over the next couple of years, I saw a lot of different people come and go from the other bedroom in the AirBnB. 2/3 of them were recent immigrants to Canada who were using the AirBnB as transitional housing for a couple of weeks or a couple of months while they looked for jobs or permanent housing that would let them sign a lease even though they didn't have jobs. For awhile I had an older couple who wanted to be near their grandkids for a few weeks at Christmas -- the grandkids lived a few houses over, but in a place without room for extra visitors, so having a place they could stay in the neighbourhood was a real bonus -- the nearest hotel was miles away.

AirBnB the corporation is horrible, and some AirBnB hosts are horrible, and some AirBnB guests are horrible, but not all hosts are horrible and not all guests are horrible either. Some of them are just trying to find a housing situation that actually works.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:16 PM on November 1, 2019 [13 favorites]


Expectations have changed - maybe due to cheaper flights or packaged holidays, maybe media or maybe living on debt.

But the luxury of nice hotels has always been just that: a luxury, enjoyed only by a few.


This is the kind of thing I think is really overlooked when people are talking about now vs then.
I'm middle aged and have traveled a lot for work, but I grew up in a time and economic class that still makes me feel like flying somewhere and staying in a hotel is an extravagance. As in, I've stayed in some of the higher end hotels in the world, but I can probably count the number of times I've paid for a hotel (motel) myself on my fingers. Probably the same with flights.
posted by bongo_x at 8:22 PM on November 1, 2019 [7 favorites]


not all hosts are horrible

Oh damn I need to rethink my opposition to the destruction of my community, some of these expploiters are nice when you get to know them.
posted by Space Coyote at 8:30 PM on November 1, 2019 [15 favorites]


...it is, after all, extremely important that different levels of disempowered people feel morally obligated to fight each other for not being sufficiently Good.

I find myself really at ease with holding people to the standard of "not actually breaking the law in a way that visits obvious and predictable harm on the community and disproportionately on the poor of that community just to improve the quality of their leisure time."

If you want to make it a pure issue of power, if you're (generic "you") comfortable trashing my home because you can get away with it, I'm comfortable thinking you're an asshole and not welcome here. (I recognize that not everyone, especially foreign visitors, understands the legal situation in NYC and is deliberately being a scofflaw, but there's no ambiguity or lack of information in this thread, just a surprising number of people who think their right to a cheaper vacation trumps, well, pretty much everything. Objecting to upper middle class people literally occupying the housing of the poor to bring the cost of their vacation down is not actually a defense of the petty bourgeois, as suggested.)
posted by praemunire at 8:52 PM on November 1, 2019 [26 favorites]


Well, it’s been a thread full of strong feelings, but at least we’ve managed to get through it without calling half of the posters assho...

never mind
posted by inire at 9:12 PM on November 1, 2019 [5 favorites]


Worth noting that a big part of the reason that Airbnb et al. are so nonchalant about the rampant fraud on their platforms is the massive liability giveaway they received from Congress in the form of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

This is a good description of a thing that is happening, though it is less a problem with the actual law and more a problem with courts often looking at similar circumstances in very different ways depending on who is asking the question. We somehow have no trouble endlessly harassing, fining, and even jailing people accused of copyright infringement based on user posts to websites they ran. What AirBnB and others who use the CDA to shield themselves despite their actual knowledge have that the pirates don't is only one thing: A corporate bureaucracy that looks like one, in part because the right lawyers were hired to do the paperwork.

For whatever reason, convincing a court that you're just part of an amorphous corporation changes the way they think about what the laws mean as they apply to you. A few divisions, departments, and vice presidents somehow drastically raises the standard for what constitutes actual (or constructive) knowledge. Apparently we are all assumed to be critically nearsighted, unable to understand words unless they are repeated many times, and completely unable to make even the simplest of logical inferences the moment we are working for an entity that looks like a corporation of any size.

That isn't a requirement of the law, that is a bias of the system and the people in it compelling the gullibility and propensity to use kid gloves in those charged with enforcing our laws when dealing with people that look and outwardly act in a certain way.
posted by wierdo at 9:31 PM on November 1, 2019 [4 favorites]


Win-win for everyone: pay me the difference between Airbnb and a traditional hotel and I will guarantee in writing (in legally significant writing) that I will not use Airbnb for a given trip. You are allowed to physically check up on my location, using an agent of your choice at a time of your choosing once per trip, one hour notice.

... for my upcoming trip bids start at $2500. Start ... now!

Winning bidders will also receive a written statement that I will spend 10% off their bid amount on lobbying opposed to Airbnb. For a further 50% fee I will guarantee that said lobbying will be conducted by me personally, with copies of all lobbying communications.
posted by aramaic at 9:52 PM on November 1, 2019 [4 favorites]


Like most technology things, all this stuff sounds great and there are a bunch of good stories from when the thing is new and mostly used by enthusiastic early adopters. Eventually the breadth of humanity gets involved, a bunch of whom decide they're more interested in making money than some kind of tech utopian room/car/personal information sharing scheme, and everything goes to shit. Facebook is awful for this reason (among others), Uber, etc. The trick to having a good experience seems to me to be on the thin edge of the wedge trying new things out with the optimistic early adopters and then GTFO before capitalism happens. Or just book a hotel.
posted by axiom at 9:53 PM on November 1, 2019 [9 favorites]


I've only ever had positive experiences in Airbnbs (although the last place I stayed was definitely an illegal hotel situation) and I've over ever had negative experiences in hostels, even in private rooms. I've had, on average, mediocre experiences in hotels, but even in good hotels, I've only once stayed in a place that was as pleasant to just spend time in as even the worst Airbnb I've been in. Maybe I've just been lucky - I don't travel a huge amount, and I used Airbnb early when it was mostly people renting out granny flats. I'm a lot warier than I used to be. (Checking out monasteries is an excellent call, and I will be sure to keep that in mind.)

People using Airbnb to run illegal hotels is one thing, and that's terrible, but I have to question what exactly we're paying for at a hotel given that it doesn't seem to go towards making the rooms nice, or the place safe, or even replacing the carpet every once in a while. Hotels are, everywhere I've looked, significantly more expensive - sure, there's cleaning staff and I hope they get paid well because it's a dirty job and they're key to the whole operation, but even then. Am I really paying $400 a night for insurance? How much would I have to pay to get a place to stay where the bed wasn't the central feature of the room?

Moreover, I don't know if Airbnb can be blamed for cities not investing in public housing. They were doing that before Airbnb. We can't be surprised that housing is unaffordable when we left pricing housing up to the market.
posted by Merus at 9:58 PM on November 1, 2019 [5 favorites]


Win-win for everyone: pay me the difference between Airbnb and a traditional hotel and I will guarantee in writing (in legally significant writing) that I will not use Airbnb for a given trip. You are allowed to physically check up on my location, using an agent of your choice at a time of your choosing once per trip, one hour notice.

Pay me and all my friends difference in rent between 3 years ago and now - less inflation, I'm a fair man, and it's a deal.

You in?
posted by Space Coyote at 10:20 PM on November 1, 2019 [29 favorites]


Huh. The answer to "Is Airbnb turning a profit?" appears to be:

Early this year, the company said it was profitable excluding interest, taxes, and other costs but did not reveal a net profit using generally accepted accounting standards.

Which makes it sound like they would be profitable, if only it weren't for the pesky little matter of paying taxes and abiding by regulations.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:27 PM on November 1, 2019 [9 favorites]


Like Uber, Lyft et al, AirBnB succeeds because it's meeting a formerly ignored demand.

This includes more than "short-term housing at cheaper than hotel rates." It also includes: Housing not miles away from your family/friends, access to full kitchen and maybe a yard, disability-friendly housing (not all disabilities), allergen-friendly housing (again, not all), not being stuck in downtown/city center noise and pollution, no crowds, etc.

Lots of reasons someone might want to rent a house or room in a house, and not all of them are "it costs less." A lot of them include, "it has features that you cannot pay for at a hotel." It's screwing over local communities because the reasons you can't get those features at a hotel, is because they're too expensive or liability prone. In a few cases, it's a matter of scale: a single-location bed & breakfast can offer amenities that a hotel chain just finds too inefficient, but mostly, it's that it's hard to make it profitable to offer those things, or to offer them safely.

And like Uber and Lyft, once the "omg you can DO that?" shock is over and the relevant laws start getting enforced, there's going to be a crash. Because no, you cannot do that, which is why AirBnB didn't exist 50 or even 20 years ago... AirBnB is playing dodgeball by refusing to protect renters, homeowners, or the municipalities in which they operate, and eventually, something's going to catch them.

Maybe renters will file a class-action lawsuit in a nation that's not as pro-corporation as the US. Maybe someone will hit them up for fraud and/or copyright infringement over the pictures. Maybe some cities will enact more enforceable hotel tax laws, or carefully-worded anti-short-term rental laws that still allow for "Aunt Mary is staying in the back room this summer and paying $30/week for groceries while she's here."

Maybe some of the homeowners will insist they are employees.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:43 PM on November 1, 2019 [18 favorites]


I have to question what exactly we're paying for at a hotel given that it doesn't seem to go towards making the rooms nice, or the place safe, or even replacing the carpet every once in a while.

For all the talk on this site about unions and worker rights, you'd think there might be some awareness that paying workers decent wages, or any wages at all, requires money coming in on top of the building and land payments, upkeep costs, regulation compliance (pesky stuff like being able to accommodate people with disabilities and making sure things like food and fire safety rules are followed).

The idea that it's "poor" people renting their "extra" rooms kinda misses the point that most of us who work in hotels don't have the luxury of "extra" rooms to begin with, so we aren't getting "additional income" through renting all those spare rooms we have, we're trying to pay for whatever space we have, which is often made more expensive by AirBnBs, hitting us on both ends. A full staff, with many of the workers often immigrants who have limited majority language skills, and thus limited employment options, means having people there to fill a variety of needs at all times. With small hotels that might be a dozen employees, while at bigger ones with restaurants, bars, and additional services, many times that.

Running hotels isn't cheap in many places and its made more expensive and harder to maintain when they have to compete with people who don't have to follow the same regulations or worry about employing workers or other niceties. That all this "disrupting" is pushing things back towards models of existence that held during the Great Depression and before all the legislation that was adopted by lawmakers in order to improve safety and security, both personal and financial, just shows how desperate the situation is and how people are willing to forego societal good in the interests of getting a little extra for themselves. I'm personally not optimistic about that leading to good future outcomes, but then I'm usually not the one saving a few bucks since I can't afford the luxuries to begin with.
posted by gusottertrout at 10:53 PM on November 1, 2019 [35 favorites]


Win-win for everyone: pay me the difference between Airbnb and a traditional hotel and I will guarantee in writing (in legally significant writing) that I will not use Airbnb for a given trip.

Well, the communities are paying that difference somehow, aren't they?

Your glib remark about the local housing authority brings me back to my original case of Amsterdam. Amsterdam has a very very good public housing supply, very pro-tenant laws. The people who airbnb are gutting are middle class workers who are trying to make their first start on the housing ladder. Public housing is correctly limited to people who cannot afford a house, and the wait lists in high density areas are already very high-- even where public housing is very good.

So in this situation, where we have very limited land, a strong desire to not create wealthy ghettos, limited ability to build so we don't go into the greenbelt, Amsterdam should-- what?-- throw the green belt or the poor or the public infrastructure overboard so you can have a cheap vacation? Seriously? Seriously? Urban planning is not a myth, and there are not infinite resources. 55% of the total housing stock in Amsterdam is social housing.
posted by frumiousb at 10:57 PM on November 1, 2019 [28 favorites]


[Deleted several; you don't need to keep reiterating your argument in progressively snippier ways.]
posted by Eyebrows McGee (staff) at 10:58 PM on November 1, 2019 [2 favorites]


We're in Athens, Greece, and most all of our friends who don't own their own flats* have had to move from their long term rentals because landlords are switching them to AirBnBs, and then the locals must pay much more for a worse, more inconvenient place ... if they can find one. We haven't faced this yet, but I feel that drumbeat on the horizon, and am steeling myself for it. Exarchia isn't happy.

* Many (probably most) people who do own their own flats usually have them because they are passed down from their family; some who have them also haven't had work/income because of recession and austerity, and have AirBnB'd them to have some income. All this, combined with foreign buyers snapping up property, means things are getting pretty grim for housing for lower income, immigrants, and lower middle class, especially.
posted by taz at 12:28 AM on November 2, 2019 [21 favorites]


Which makes it sound like they would be profitable, if only it weren't for the pesky little matter of paying taxes and abiding by regulations.

Me too!

The weird thing about this stuff to me, among all the other weirdness we live in, is how renting out your spare room or running a boardinghouse came to be viewed as high tech.

The Future!
posted by bongo_x at 12:55 AM on November 2, 2019 [6 favorites]


Before Airbnb, it was possible to rent houses and apartments and rooms short time through services that were regulated and fair. I did it all the time! I still do, it's nice. I also let out a small cottage I own through a company that makes sure everything works and they pay my taxes directly for me. So I feel it's a bit disingenuous when some commenters set it up like it's a choice between more or less sleazy/expensive hotels and Airbnb.
In the beginning, I actually enjoyed all the new tourists in our area. I live in an area that most Danes believe is a very dangerous ghetto, filled with gangsters and hoodlums, dominated by scary people with dark skin. Airbnb normalized us a bit. But yes, the rents are going to a place where you can only survive here by letting out rooms illegally. My own apartment is rent controlled, but I'd like to move to a smaller place when the kids move out. However, the rising rents and house prices mean it is less likely the kids will ever move, and also that at this point a modest apartment half the size of the one I have costs the double. I could afford to help my eldest daughter buy an apartment 6 years ago, but that won't be an option now.
My upstairs neighbor lost his job, so he started letting out rooms in his apartment, meaning that our house is now basically a hotel. It's OK, there haven't been any serious incidents and we don't mind a bit of a party now and then, but it's far from when I could leave my door unlocked for the local kids to get in after school.
posted by mumimor at 1:29 AM on November 2, 2019 [17 favorites]


Yes, to be a bit less snippy about it, there are times when it's fine to rent outside the hotel system for a number of reasons like the size of your group and the needs that group may have among other things. It needn't be an all or nothing concept, but like so many things of socio-political importance, it is part of a larger connected whole, not something that is best viewed as a decision in isolation for one's own benefit alone.

If you support things like higher minimum wages, unions, and affordable housing and vote with those goals in mind, but then act to avoid having to pay for those things to save yourself money, then you are undercutting the very ideals you are claiming to support and may actually be making things potentially worse for many by increasing costs while cutting employment opportunities and housing.

Using companies like Amazon, AirBnB, Uber, and all the rest whose business model is to disrupt the regulations we've voted in and gut employment and responsibility for employees in favor of "independent contractors" and leave the rest of us to deal with the fallout can't work and isn't consistent with progressive beliefs. That isn't to say the old model of employment doesn't also need to change, but change in the way these tech company models of disruption would have it is a worse option, not an improvement. You're the only one who can determine what your values are and what the best way is to act on them, but I do hope that people try to be consistent between their ideals and actions as best they can be as life needs allow.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:44 AM on November 2, 2019 [16 favorites]


The root cause: capitalism. The results: ever-spiraling rents, need to monetize one's home, scams, lack of regulations, exorbitant hotel prices.

I'm using AirBnB during a long-term travelling jaunt primarily because I a) need kitchen access for health reasons b) can't share a room, again for health reasons c) have had a few bad hostel experiences. My stays have all been good to great and they now number in the teens. I'd prefer to use regulated services but, see above. Eventually I'll settle into a long-term rental.

I'm travelling through the Southern Cone countries (Chile and Argentina) and it's interesting to see signs that the ultraaggressive strain of neoliberal capitalism that has eaten the U.S. hasn't done so in the same ways here. There's still a beautiful old department store in downtown Rosario (remember those?), and even in Chile, the museums are fabulous and most of them are publicly funded and free of charge. Don't think for a minute, though, that people here have it great: there's a 21% tax on food here in Argentina, and, well, if you're not aware of what's been going on in Chile, check out TeleSur America's coverage.

Suppose everyone simply stopped using AirBnB either as a guest or a host. Do you think that spiraling rents and out of control hotel prices would reverse themselves? Would people be able to stop their side hustles because their awful jobs don't pay enough? Or do you think that, hydra-like, yet another "disruptor" would emerge to wreak similar havoc?

All of the individual choices in the world to refrain from this service and use that product instead will not stop the capitalist machine from grinding the whole planet into dust. There's a better way.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 4:04 AM on November 2, 2019 [6 favorites]


As someone who now lives beside what is essentially a hotel, I save my ire for the hosts.

I have sympathy for many of those who use Airbnb; travel can be a wonderful, mind-expanding thing, or it can be simply essential for family or work. Sometimes a hotel is too expensive or plain non-existent. And there are hosts who let out their spare room, or occasionally their whole home when they're on holiday themselves. In those cases I think home sharing is a fantastic thing, genuinely freeing up wasted capacity.

But again, to take my neighbours as an example: when their lovely long-term tenants left, they were desperate to get new people in because they depending on the rent for their income. So they decided to list their place on Airbnb for the very peak of tourist season in Edinburgh, August.

Three months on and they've clearly understood they can make far more money just keeping it on Airbnb permanently than getting new long-term tenants in. So they have just removed a home from the community because, well, they wanted even more money. Not just the extra money they would have gotten because of the natural, above-inflation rent increases occurring in Edinburgh, but perhaps 2x more money than that.

Now, I don't know their individual situation. Maybe they've suffered some unavoidable emergency and it's not about buying more luxuries, it's about survival. But in aggregate, I'm pretty sure it's just because they want more money. They have a choice and they've made it.

I don't know that it's productive trying to shame Airbnb hosts into changing their ways. Money tends to outweigh shame. But in functioning democracies, which I think we still have here, we have other methods of recourse, and though they grind slow, they will grind these illegal, immoral hotels exceedingly small.
posted by adrianhon at 4:26 AM on November 2, 2019 [13 favorites]



This is part of the reason why Marriott is launching an AirBnB product. The goal is essentially AirBnB, but with the quality guarantee and backing of a real hospitality organization.

I am a Marriott aficionado, and if they can bring their consistent service model into the short term rental market, all the better.
posted by tgrundke at 4:41 AM on November 2, 2019 [6 favorites]


I travel almost exclusively for work, and as a state employee, I'm not allowed to use AirBnB. Atlanta, GA is not a super touristy place, I didn't think (we're not NYC, Amsterdam, or Edinburgh), but having read this I decided to go look at the site and discovered multiple apartments, 1 airstream camper, and several entire houses for rent walking distance from our home. The houses are charging as much for a single night as we pay for a month's rent, so I see the appeal for the wealthy landowners, certainly. I also see why our rent is going up and why we'll never be able to afford to buy in one of the places that might have any appeal at all for tourists. When our rent increases so much that we have to move, we'll join the people of color and immigrants in the 1970s and 80s brick ranches in the suburbs.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:44 AM on November 2, 2019 [9 favorites]


Sometimes this kind of conversation makes me really anxious for the future, because I am worried that left-ish coalitions will fall apart the minutes anyone is asked to give up anything they enjoy.

Like, it's pretty clear that travel-as-a-popular-hobby isn't sustainable. It's bad for the environment and obviously the only way most people are affording it is by staying in AirBnBs which are totally fucking up the rents in popular destinations and driving out any residents who aren't rich.

Some of this could be mitigated by social change - state-run resorts, expanded hostel system, etc, so that people can travel for fun sometimes. But the very cheap, constant availability of hobby travel just isn't going to work. If you're paying the actual cost of travel, it's expensive. Even now with AirBnB, etc, hobby travel is so expensive that it's a middle class and up hobby.

So it's obvious that AirBnB is really, really fucking up residential neighborhoods in desirable destinations.

We could choose to travel less but better and/or put up with some inconvenience, but it's pretty clear that this isn't acceptable to a lot of people.

Harm from travel is a structural problem that must be solved substantially through regulatory measures, but how many people who don't want to give up cheap travel are going to back those regulatory measures? Are we going to discover down the road that the pro-labor, pro-working class policies needed are going to be sabotaged because affluent people don't want to give up their cheap holidays?

I just worry very much because I feel like everyone is left-wing until it involves some kind of personal inconvenience, even a relatively small one like having to cut back on hobby travel.
posted by Frowner at 4:46 AM on November 2, 2019 [72 favorites]


Frowner, my optimistic take is that here in Europe you're seeing a lot of people wake up to the need to take trains vs. planes. The infrastructure and laws required to support a fundamental shift will take years, which is maybe more time than we have, but it's happening. And while people always like to save money, flights have gotten so unbelievably cheap that paying a little more isn't the hardship it might otherwise have been.

Now, all we need is for wages to increase, and then we're all fine!
posted by adrianhon at 4:56 AM on November 2, 2019 [5 favorites]


Thanks for this. It's taught me to be even more discerning than usual when booking Airbnbs. But so far, I've stayed in Airbnb rentals in Brooklyn, Barcelona; Durham NC, Dayton OH, PDX, San Francisco and San Jose CA, and the only downsides were some weirdly hovering hosts in Dayton.
posted by emelenjr at 5:04 AM on November 2, 2019


This is such a depressing discussion.

And for what it's worth anecdatally, the Marriott that I'm currently staying in sucks in a number of different ways, and I wouldn't have been able to afford to book it for a week if my work wasn't reimbursing me. Even on the government rate, it's three times what I could be paying for a comfortable room with a well-reviewed host nearby.
posted by Gadarene at 6:11 AM on November 2, 2019 [4 favorites]


My understanding that the most profitable way to do airbnb hosting is to get a few places on a yearly lease, preferably furnished and rent them and ghost once the place is too damaged to rent anymore. A lot of these airbnb hosts have rented from an absentee landlord, or sublet from an absent tenant. I keep hearing about people who find their own condo listed on airbnb, which they have been renting out to a nice guy they only met once, who mysteriously had no maintenance issues whatsoever and never needed to get in touch with them after he got the keys. His references are the same people who have left great reviews on the units he has listed.
For these people a unit that is completely trashed by partiers is a standard business expense. If they rent to a bachelor party that leaves holes in the walls, a distant piss smell in the corner of the bedroom and cigarette burns through the upholstery in every room that's fine, they were going to have to give up the unit at the end of the year's lease anyway as it wouldn't pass the walk through.

Airbnb will eventually reach the tipping point where you can't find anyone who is renting out their own home, it's all property management companies.

One side effect of this is that property management is very much going down the drain too, as there is so much cross over that the appalling stewardship is being inflicted on the retired apartment building owner, as well as their tenants.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:18 AM on November 2, 2019 [7 favorites]


When our rent increases so much that we have to move, we'll join the people of color and immigrants in the 1970s and 80s brick ranches in the suburbs.

We have AirBnb in the suburban ranches, too. So far in the suburb where I live it’s mostly people renting out MIL apartments or basement bedrooms, but I’ve seen some listed that are full time, full house, by the room, Airbnb rentals. So you might need a different Plan B.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:46 AM on November 2, 2019


It makes sense for AirBnB regulated on a city-by-city basis. I live in a city that's not at all a tourist destination, and here AirBnB doesn't seem to cause any problems. It's just another option, more convenient for some travelers and some homeowners than their other options.

In more attractive, touristed cities that are suffering severe housing shortages, the dynamics are different. That doesn't mean that AirBnB is evil, any more than regular Bed & Breakfasts are evil. It just means that many cities need to take action to protect long-term renters from being pushed out by short-term visitors -- which at least in some cases I hope means increasing the supply of housing and efficiency of transit, not just banning/restricting short-term rentals ... though in some cases it might mean that too.

Anyhow, a future where travel is a luxury that only the very wealthy can afford seems like a grim future indeed. Travel has been a great joy in my life, the source of many happy memories and new insights, and it makes me terribly sad to imagine the next generation being deprived of that experience.
posted by Kilter at 6:50 AM on November 2, 2019 [5 favorites]


"Frowner, my optimistic take is that here in Europe you're seeing a lot of people wake up to the need to take trains vs. planes."

Europe is Europe already, though. Upper middle class people in America who want to go to Europe at least once a year will still require a flight.
posted by Selena777 at 7:35 AM on November 2, 2019 [2 favorites]


Sure, 10 to 1 you'll likely find good experiences with AirBnB.
... but all these "my experience was great!" posts are kind of pointless, IMO.


There are two different discussions going on here. One is the argument that using AirBnB is intrinsically unethical because of the effects of their business practices, which many have made a very good case for. But you can make similar cases against, for instance, the human costs of producing the devices we are using for this discussion. Where to draw the line on which parts of capitalism we can/should refuse to participate in is difficult.

But the other discussion that is more closely related to the linked article is how likely are you to get cheated or have a bad experience if you use AirBnB. Is it 10 to 1? 100 to 1? 3 to 1? And for that discussion, people talking how often they have had a good experience with AirBnB seems pretty relevant--the more anecdotes the better--unless someone has access to some actual data on the issue.
posted by straight at 7:35 AM on November 2, 2019 [10 favorites]


FWIW, I've had a far wider variety of negative experiences in hostels or Motel 6-level accomodations (getting stuff stolen! One half of it had burned down and they were still putting people up in the unburned building next door, overlooking the ruins! Next door to a rowdy strip club! Finding molding food under the bed!) than with Air BnB. Air BnB is definitely my last choice, but I've made it when I literally could not afford other accomodations. The three times I've used it, the cheapest hotel room I could get, sharing a tiny room with a non-romantic travel partner, was $450/night. In each case, Air BnB offered me a two bedroom apartment with full kitchen, sitting room, and bath, for $100/night. Like, it's impossible not to pick the latter.

I would be happy to stay in more cheap motels or hostels if they didn't feel like as big a roll of the dice as Air BnB.
posted by TwoStride at 8:29 AM on November 2, 2019 [5 favorites]


straight has it right on.

And I'm not sure how it's blaming the victims to say that it's pretty easy to ensure yourself a very positive Airbnb experience personally (larger ethical considerations aside regarding negative externalities, so Frowner's point is well-taken) by sticking with properties 1) hosted by Superhosts; 2) with a large number of effusive, genuine-sounding reviews from past travelers; and 3) with a five-star average review, or close to it. (Experience has taught me that even, say, a 4.6 average usually presages some significant annoyances or deficiencies in the stay, but 4.9 or higher is almost always a stellar experience.) I'm as pro-consumer as anyone -- legitimately, I did my Master's thesis on how businesses exploit consumers' boundedly rational behavior, and Elizabeth Warren is my damn hero -- but learning to avoid red flags when making consumer decisions is something that we have to do in every facet of our lives. The onus is partly on us to recognize that between a property with 50 five-star reviews with people repeatedly saying the host was so responsive and explaining in detail why it was an incredible experience, on the one hand, and a property with a 4.3 rating with people complaining about issues with ventilation or cleanliness or whatever, on the other, that the first is much much much more likely to offer a pleasant and satisfying stay. That doesn't excuse outright fraud as detailed in the Vice article, of course, but as straight says, I think it's very relevant to the "quality" or "you'll just get ripped off" critiques of Airbnb that great and genuine places to stay run by great and genuine people (a number of whom I'm still in touch with) are abundant and plentiful, and vastly outnumber the jerkass scammers.

By contrast, if anything, I feel like saying "of course you had a bad experience on Airbnb, what did you expect?", as a few people have done in this thread, is blaming the victim a bit.

I dunno. This is a hard discussion because there are multiple vectors that are getting conflated. If you put aside the moral dimension of using the service to begin with -- and I understand and respect the posters who can't do that because it takes so much primacy for them -- it is a separate question whether one's personal experience with Airbnbs is likely to be satisfying (for a combination of price, space, amenities, memorableness, flexibility, what-have-you) than hotels or hostels. And to that question, the fact that my personal experiences have been positive by an overwhelming factor does seem relevant.
posted by Gadarene at 8:42 AM on November 2, 2019 [5 favorites]


Yeah, to TwoStride's point, I have had more bad hostel experiences than good ones, and I'm still frankly surprised that I only got bedbugs once, given the cleanliness of some of them.

I was just in Mexico City and plumped out $100/night for a private room at a boutique hostel which was a thoroughly bare-bones and unpleasant experience, from the cement walls to the non-existent sound insulation. (I was checking in late and didn't feel like doing the legwork of finding a suitable Airbnb with lockbox or keycode entry.)
posted by Gadarene at 8:49 AM on November 2, 2019


Unless you also enjoy going to bed at 7PM and remaining silent all evening, sharing a hotel room with your child(ren) is MISERABLE.

Favorited this comment while sitting in the dark in a hotel room and trying not to make a sound while my 19-month-old is taking a nap not 10 feet away.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 9:43 AM on November 2, 2019 [13 favorites]


I think to be so dismissive of hobby travel, as some have been, is to be equally dismissive of the idea that some people live thousands of miles from friends and family (and no, sometimes you can't stay with the people you want to visit) or that, you know, people deserve some joy in their lives and sometimes that joy is travel, even if they don't actually want to go into debt to do it. Do I regret using an AirBnB to visit the country of my parent's birth to see aging relations for the possibly the last time? Absolutely not. Do I regret using AirBnB to go to a 20-year reunion to reconnect with friends? Nope, would do it again in a heartbeat.
posted by TwoStride at 10:13 AM on November 2, 2019 [4 favorites]


Frowner: "I think that people who can do so should avoid using the platform services."

I agree, but I think there's an additional step suggested by your excellent post: we can call for public services that meet everyone's needs. And I believe those of us who can find the time and energy and money to make those calls should do so.

It's a harder ask to push for lodging for travellers, which is often seen as a luxury (although it should be clear that people often have need to travel, for family matters or medical care especially, but in the Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communism future I want to see, it will be accepted that travel is a good thing that should be available to everyone); it's easier to make the argument that health care should be available and affordable for everyone (thinking of the discussions in this current thread about discrimination in health care) and that transportation should be available and affordable for everyone (thinking of every Uber thread on Metafilter ever).

People often rightly point out in Uber threads that the (legit, licensed, regulated) cab service in many places is abysmal and discriminatory and not especially affordable either. While we're making the individual efforts to direct our money to regulated businesses with union labor, let's also take some time, if we can, to envisioning a world in which everyone gets livable wages and solid worker protections, and everyone gets access to lodging, and housing, and transportation, and health care; and let's make the phone calls and do the organizing - contribute in whatever ways we can - to bringing us closer to the world we want to live in.
posted by kristi at 10:44 AM on November 2, 2019 [9 favorites]


I am worried that left-ish coalitions will fall apart the minutes anyone is asked to give up anything they enjoy.

John Michael Greer's Archdruid Report mentioned this a lot - that the collapse of the industrial era is enhanced by the people who are absolutely convinced that the solutions don't require any level of privation or discomfort. This is likely to mean that, instead of settling into a roughly 50s-era tech level (with fewer cars, more trains), we may wind up in a 1920s-esque future, or even an 1850s-tech-level society, with better medicine (we won't stop knowing how germ theory works) but with large parts of the continent uninhabitable for various reasons.

Like, it's pretty clear that travel-as-a-popular-hobby isn't sustainable.

Not at the speed and with the conveniences we have it now. It works fine--if people are willing to spend a month on travel, instead of a week. Or a week instead of a weekend. Travel by train or ship; explore by bike and on foot. And while that sounds expensive, that's only the case because (sigh) we have billionaires sucking money out of the economy; put that wealth back into use, add health care for all, subsidize work we actually need to get done instead of corporate profits, and a two-month visit-foreign-lands vacation becomes a luxury but not a once-in-a-lifetime thing.

There's a saying: "Americans think 200 years is a long time, and Europeans think 200 miles is a long distance." Americans will have to re-learn that 200 miles is a Long Ways Away. And in the meantime, even most progressives are fighting hard to insist that, if we strip the money from the billionaire class, we can all live like today's $100k/year tech startup employees.

AirBnB feeds that myth - "You can travel thousands of miles in an afternoon and enjoy the comforts of (a) home for a modest fee and with only a few minutes of prep time. You don't need to know the community or the surrounding culture at all." Some of that is very useful, for reasons many people have described here. Some of it, however, is based on propping up the illusion that "profit" is more important than communities.

There are ways to reduce scams at AirBnB - like, not allowing landlords to upload their own photos; they can use Google Maps street view, the official floor plan of the building, and pay a fee for an AirBnB investigator to take pictures. Have a transparent complaints review process. Require proof of ownership or sublet-allowing lease to be on file for all properties. Require business licenses in areas that need those (like, all of the US). And that's before we get to the complex options, like "be generous with refunds" or "require homes to be zoned as a B&B" or "change tax laws so they have to report income for people who made less than $20k AND 200 rentals in a year."

Of course, all of those options would reduce AirBnB's profits, so they'll fight like hell to avoid them.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:52 AM on November 2, 2019 [24 favorites]


Not to defend Airbnb or to promote it, but we were able to get a room with a kitchenette in the heart of Paris for half the price of a hotel room. The hotel bathroom walls leaked unusual liquids and was just as cramped. I was able to visit butchers, cheesemongers, and fruit-and-veg shops in the heart of the city and use the Airbnb's kitchen to make a wonderful and memorable one-pot dish from fresh chicken, thyme, shallots, garlic, and fresh mushrooms, in a full (French) cream and Lillet sauce. Couldn't make any of those memories in a hotel room. There's a place for a system that lets you rent spaces like these, whether it be Airbnb or something else.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 11:13 AM on November 2, 2019 [2 favorites]


if people are willing to spend a month on travel, instead of a week

How does this realistically work given most people's current employement requirements?
posted by TwoStride at 11:14 AM on November 2, 2019 [8 favorites]


It's great that everyone gets to have their authentic experiences via Airbnb but as a renter somewhere where they have taken over whole buildings I say you are part of what is destroying those neighborhoods.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 11:28 AM on November 2, 2019 [33 favorites]


I own my home on my street and often see people rolling their suitcases up and down the hill to places or to the bus stop up the hill. Airbnbers in my neighborhood don't bother me, as an owner, so long as they are respectful of our space, and so far they are. If this changes, I may change my mind. Ymmv of course, but I just want to offer a different perspective. Not everything must be 100% black/white terrible and not all cities are the same. Hotels do not deserve a monopoly on temporary accommodation — that kind of monopolistic control was given to taxis to predictable effect.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 11:36 AM on November 2, 2019 [1 favorite]


Family trip for a wedding - hard to beat finding a whole house set up for guests, on vrbo. Business travel, going to an event - hotels are a great place to have a safe, clean, secure bed where I can over-pay for wifi. I like to camp, my Prius is perfect for car camping, so most vacations do not involve hotels, except for those few days in Vegas, and my friend used airline points. Having been there once, I am unlikely to go again.

I live across the road from a lake, there have always been a ton of summer rentals, mostly being converted to year-round homes, so I'm kind of swimming upstream. Airbnb is pretty terrible for the rental market. Rich people accrue money and want to make more, buy property, hire a property manager, maximize rental profit. They don't care about the neighborhood; they live in another state. Vacation travel can be pretty bad for the environment, so if your airbnb is just a town away, maybe that's a bonus.
posted by theora55 at 11:46 AM on November 2, 2019


> if people are willing to spend a month on travel, instead of a week
How does this realistically work given most people's current employement requirements?


It doesn't; it posits a change in employment and tax setups so that most people have substantial vacation time, adjust working hours downward to acknowledge higher productivity, have more companies with 5-hour workdays and/or 4 weeks of vacation time a year, etc.

I'm not saying, "oh, people should just vacation for a month instead of a week." I'm saying that, if we lose easy/cheap plan travel because of the environmental costs, and have to cut back on a number of other expensive leisure trends, leisure travel is still possible. It does take a not-insubstantial shift in how employment works, but... we're kinda heading for that anyway. (As in, we are going to face some horrific collapses in the next couple of decades. Might as well start looking at what good can come out of them.)
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:39 PM on November 2, 2019 [7 favorites]


Reading these comments has been fascinating. Look, people have been renting out spare bedrooms short term since spare bedrooms were invented. AirBnB did not invent the concept Once upon a time it was through word of mouth, newspaper ads, something posted at the train station. A lot of companies tried digitizing and centralizing those ads in the 90s, but for some reason AirBnB took off. People renting out spare rooms short term is not the issue, nor is the whole house vacation rental (which has also existed for decades if not centuries). The issue is that when it became big rather than niche, people started figuring out how to industrialize it for massive profit in a way that destroyed the rental housing market – and neighborhoods into the bargain. (That cool hip neighborhood is now 100% tourists staying via AirBnB!) Regulations with teeth would help the issue.

There are a lot of all suites hotel chains in the US. Candlewood Suites, Staybridge Suites, Marriott Courtyard, Embassy Suites. Many of them do great weekly rates.
posted by rednikki at 1:02 PM on November 2, 2019 [10 favorites]


Barring regulatory action AirBnB will only reform if its customers demand it forcefully enough. But who are its customers, the property owners or those renting the property? It seems there is little incentive for property owners to change and the renters don't seem to care so long as they have the illusion of saving a few pennies.

Perhaps it is up to neighbours to take up pitchforks and flaming torches or, the modern equivalent, start reporting properties to local authorities and the taxman.
posted by epo at 1:07 PM on November 2, 2019 [4 favorites]


There are a lot of all suites hotel chains in the US. Candlewood Suites, Staybridge Suites, Marriott Courtyard, Embassy Suites.

Embassy Suites are Doubletrees, or apparently Hiltons, now.

Neither Doubletree/Hilton or Marriott Courtyard have actual kitchens in my experience. They are a good solution if all you need is two rooms, they are not a substitute for apartment or house rentals.

I tried Sonesta recently, which was some other long term stay place before it rebranded, and it was grim.
posted by snuffleupagus at 1:50 PM on November 2, 2019 [1 favorite]


I fully support hotel chains getting a clue and offering a diversified range of properties and room types. I tend to not use AirBnB in big touristy cities because a) there are more hotel options and I can often find what I need in hotel form and b) I know how AirBnB is impacting residential neighborhoods in cities where there's high demand. I have used it for locations where there are literally no hotels and in smaller cities that have few hotel options. I would have given my eye teeth for an AirBnB option when visiting my sister in law in deepest Atlanta suburbia because the hotel stay last Christmas just about killed me. There were no suite hotels (not even a fake "suite" hotel that doesn't offer room divisions but at least has a place to cook some pasta for my picky kid) and two adults and one first-grader crammed into a single hotel room for a week was just untenable. I overheard my husband talking to his sister a couple weeks ago and I think he's been tasked with asking me whether we can make that trip again this year and I just ... I can't. Which I think he knows so he's procrastinating asking.

While driving down there, though, we did stay at a Home2 Suites that was pretty good. There was an actual door in between the "master" bedroom and the spare bed and sitting area and the kitchen was nice (though actually unnecessary for our short stay because there was also free breakfast). So, if there's one of those around, I recommend.
posted by soren_lorensen at 2:05 PM on November 2, 2019 [4 favorites]


soren_lorensen, the last time we visited the inlaws at their holiday home before we divorced, they had asked their neighbor if we could rent their place for the week. It couldn't save the marriage, but it was a vast improvement on earlier solutions. Those neighbors didn't normally let out their home, it was something they did specifically to help my inlaws. Maybe something like that could be a solution? After all, someone in your SIL's neighborhood must be going away for the holidays.
posted by mumimor at 2:27 PM on November 2, 2019 [1 favorite]


If you're wondering why there aren't hotels, hostels, or bed-and-breakfasts near the residential neighborhoods you'd like to visit, it's probably because it's illegal in many cities. It's illegal to build anything other than a detached single-family home on 75 percent of the land in most US cities. That generally also applies to using them for any purpose other than as a standard dwelling.

Legalize apartments and lodging facilities in other parts of cities, and you'll eventually get a wider variety of places to stay, long-term and short-term.
posted by asperity at 2:31 PM on November 2, 2019 [29 favorites]




two of my oldest friends got evicted so the landlord could rent their apartments as AirBnb. they eventually left town.

please don't stay in AirBnbs, as they make bad landlords into horrors. I miss my friends.
posted by eustatic at 6:17 PM on November 2, 2019 [21 favorites]


I haven't stayed in one yet, but I was very excited to discover Sonder in the last couple weeks, which seems like the perfect balance between the benefits of an AirBNB and the reliability and predictability of a hotel.
posted by FlanaganYamhill at 6:37 PM on November 2, 2019 [1 favorite]


Suppose everyone simply stopped using AirBnB either as a guest or a host. Do you think that spiraling rents and out of control hotel prices would reverse themselves?

Rents in NYC would not cease to go up. But there would be a substantial number of people in NYC who would not lose their homes to landlords who broke rent-stabilization laws to turn them into illegal hotels. These are real, actual people, mostly lower- to middle-class, and they really exist, and until you are willing to accept that and accept the consequences of your actions when you use AirBnB to unambiguously break NYC's laws, stop pretending you're talking about morality.

"Hyperfocusing on individual consumption rather than systems can lead to distraction from what we actually need to change" is a true point. "Life is morally compromising," also. Neither is a license to do whatever you want because, hey, changing individual behavior doesn't matter and nobody's perfect!
posted by praemunire at 6:37 PM on November 2, 2019 [27 favorites]




I just worry very much because I feel like everyone is left-wing until it involves some kind of personal inconvenience

We are all Phil Ochses now.
posted by non canadian guy at 7:27 PM on November 2, 2019 [3 favorites]


Not to defend Airbnb or to promote it, but we were able to get a room with a kitchenette in the heart of Paris for half the price of a hotel room. The hotel bathroom walls leaked unusual liquids and was just as cramped. I was able to visit butchers, cheesemongers, and fruit-and-veg shops in the heart of the city and use the Airbnb's kitchen to make a wonderful and memorable one-pot dish from fresh chicken, thyme, shallots, garlic, and fresh mushrooms, in a full (French) cream and Lillet sauce. Couldn't make any of those memories in a hotel room. There's a place for a system that lets you rent spaces like these, whether it be Airbnb or something else.

The things is, these places have always been available. I've been staying in bed and breakfasts or short let apartments in Paris for twenty years. In a small French city close to the French border, they restored a 14th century astronomer's tower in the heart of the city as a hostel exclusively for hikers. The kitchen and laundry are shared, but the rooms are all private. There has always been a flourishing net of places to stay outside of the standard hotels.

The big difference is that these places are *licensed*. There is a difference in the required safety level between hotels and B&Bs, but licensed short let homes still have to show they are licensed, maintained. The neighbours are aware they are there and there is a clear contact person in case of complaint. If they exist in an apartment building, the other apartment owners need to approve. The cities are able to manage the supply and demand on the infrastructure and adjust the necessary numbers.

Don't you get it? The reason these places are so cheap is not because they are that cheap. It's just not you who is paying the price. It's the taxpayers of the city; it's the people forced out of their houses (pro tip: not rich people!) by their landlords; it's the licensed B&Bs who actually go through the right process to adhere to city standards.

Let me create a metaphor-- it's like someone creating a very cheap computer which they are able to manage because they dump all their waste into a river. It isn't really cheap-- it's that the cost is displaced onto others, generally the people downstream who can least afford to pay.

Air BnB isn't inherently bad as an idea. It's a very old idea. What is *terrible* is their absolute refusal to work with city planners (and outside the US there is a lot of city planning!) to make sure the hosts stay within the rules. The opposition isn't coming from rich hotel owners, even though it would be pretty to think it is.

I don't think there is anything wrong with Hobby travel. But I do think there is an obligation to consider the harm you do. Don't go hiking on a fragile trail which the government is trying to close. If someone asks you to bring your own garbage out, do it. Don't help US technology companies get rich by poisoning the well of the charming city you want to visit. Maybe you need to plan your trip a little further in advance. Maybe you need to accept a hostel. Maybe you need to do a home swap. But isn't it worth a little bit of empathy when you plan?
posted by frumiousb at 8:37 PM on November 2, 2019 [58 favorites]


I wonder how these Airbnbs are going to do in the next recession or whatever the next big economic shift proves to be.

At least here in New Orleans, the most disruptive and most lucrative rentals are the entire multi-bedroom houses and apartments, which mostly cater to bachelor(ette) parties and girls/guys trips.

It feels like the fact that that's a big enough market to disrupt real estate markets and neighborhoods is tied to this weird economic situation where people are stably enough employed that like eight friends can schedule paid time off for the same time, but it still makes more sense for middle-class+ adults to buy cheap Southwest or Spirit tickets than try to save to buy property or have kids.
posted by smelendez at 11:42 PM on November 2, 2019 [4 favorites]


I have a question regarding AirBnB's affordability. I've never stayed in one, but the few times I have looked, everywhere that seemed worth looking into farther had a substantial deposit and cancellation penalty attached, often with prepayment of some or all of the charges, which were themselves usually nonrefundable at least in part. Is that just bad luck on my part? If not, how exactly am I supposed to be finding this affordable compared to a hotel where I'm on the hook for at most one night, and that only if I can't be bothered to cancel beforehand, prepayment of any kind usually isn't required, nonrefundable reservations are rare outside of Priceline, Hotwire, and the like, and even the payment card hold for incidentals and such is almost always negotiable?

I get it in the case of group/large family travel situations where multiple rooms add up quick (though VRBO addresses that niche, I think?), but for one or two people I have yet to find a situation in which it would be cheaper or better than the alternatives, except perhaps in one city I stayed in for a couple of weeks for work in which extended stay hotel rooms were forbidden by local fire code from having cooktops, where having the option of preparing a couple of meals would have been nice.
posted by wierdo at 12:07 AM on November 3, 2019 [4 favorites]


@wierdo, different properties have different rules on cancellation, for better or worse. Some only require the party (host or guest) who cancels to pay Airbnb's generally nonrefundable cut, while others have a limited or no window to cancel. Cleaning fees and deposits also vary substantially, from reasonable costs and precautions to clear attempts to disguise the total rental cost.

It's really important to read all of the fine print before booking an Airbnb, because there's very little minimum standard of amenities or terms a property must offer. You can rent a place to pitch a tent, or a camper with no plumbing, or a bedroom with no kitchen access, or a four-bedroom house with a fridge full of beer and cold cuts.

Read the reviews carefully and definitely don't assume anything that's not explicitly promised will be included.
posted by smelendez at 12:32 AM on November 3, 2019


[One deleted; no “fuck-you”s to other members.]
posted by taz (staff) at 6:53 AM on November 3, 2019 [3 favorites]


Sorry AirBnB always gets me mad.

As an ex-resident of an AirBnB infested street in a residential neighborhood...

F**K AirBnB they’re just free riding this thing and absolving themselves of all the problems.

And if you’re a user please reconsider renting AirBnBs in residential apartment neighborhoods. You really become part of the problem when you do this.
posted by WaterAndPixels at 8:36 AM on November 3, 2019 [4 favorites]


For those saying build more lodging in residential neighborhoods, there was lots of it around from short stay to places specially set up for longer stays. They used to advertise those in the elevator in my building. But there is so much money to be made in Airbnb that it made no difference - entire buildings that were rentals shifted to that until the city stepped in. This pattern has been repeated worldwide where Airbnb has entered the market.

Your holiday in such places comes at a cost. Not just in terms of lost revenue to cities in taxes that they need to make the city livable, but to residents who get displaced. in my building I am among the few who could afford to move and stay in the area: my neighbours would not be so lucky and given the housing situation would really struggle to stay in the city at all.

The giant new highrises that are replacing hotels around me are either very expensive rentals or fancy condos, so you don't even gain from them closing.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 9:37 AM on November 3, 2019 [7 favorites]


Knocking down existing hotels isn't all that common (they're usually built to standards that make them better candidates for a gut and remodel than for a full demolition.)

While Airbnb isn't especially interested in helping cities enforce local regulations, if a city has the will, it's possible to force some kind of compliance. I was not sorry to see these Denver Airbnb landlords face felony charges for falsely claiming that the house they were renting out was their primary residence.
posted by asperity at 10:22 AM on November 3, 2019 [3 favorites]


While Airbnb isn't especially interested in helping cities enforce local regulations, if a city has the will, it's possible to force some kind of compliance.

This is an extraordinarily weak defense of using AirBnb. Why should a corporation require extraordinary legal maneuvering to, you know, obey the law? This is again shifting the burden onto the victims of a crime, not onto the criminals running it and their accomplices.
posted by maxwelton at 10:38 AM on November 3, 2019 [5 favorites]


Wait, did I sound like I was defending Airbnb? Definitely not my intention. I would urge everyone to work on getting your local cities to fix this shit in addition to not using this service. Because a personal boycott from each of us is insufficient to keep Airbnb from sucking the life from our cities, even if we were all on board with that in all circumstances. (I am: I have close family members in the hospitality industry.)

Also, tip your bellman and housekeeper.
posted by asperity at 11:53 AM on November 3, 2019 [1 favorite]


Not at the speed and with the conveniences we have it now. It works fine--if people are willing to spend a month on travel, instead of a week. Or a week instead of a weekend. Travel by train or ship; explore by bike and on foot.

This does assume that the airline industry can't work out how to run jets on renewable resources. Atlantic crossings on electric aircraft would be tricky, but shorter flights on electric power are within the realm of possibility given strong enough incentives. Whether or not they're worth doing compared to high-speed trains is another question - flights to the Caribbean are unlikely to be supplanted by train trips, but it's unclear whether it'd be cheaper and easier to build a high-speed train from New York to Chicago instead of buying a whole lot of low-capacity electric planes.
posted by Merus at 2:40 PM on November 3, 2019


two of my oldest friends got evicted so the landlord could rent their apartments as AirBnb. they eventually left town.

please don't stay in AirBnbs, as they make bad landlords into horrors. I miss my friends.


There are a lot of stories like this in the thread, about landlords evicting people to create AirBnB spaces. And that's bad! And it's definitely on AirBnB for creating this perverse incentive, and I agree with the call to boycott!

But it's also on the landlord for responding to that incentive, and doing this. Turning a bad landlord into a horror just means the bad landlord was waiting for an excuse to become a horror. As landlords do. There's a solution here, too, though not everyone might like it.

The origin of the term "boycott" is interesting, and possibly relevant. It derives from the name of the local agent of an absentee landlord, evicting tenants to put the land to more profitable use. From the wikipedia page:

The word boycott entered the English language during the Irish "Land War" and derives from Captain Charles Boycott, the land agent of an absentee landlord, Lord Erne, who lived in Lough Mask House, near Ballinrobe in County Mayo, Ireland, who was subject to social ostracism organized by the Irish Land League in 1880. As harvests had been poor that year, Lord Erne offered his tenants a ten percent reduction in their rents. In September of that year, protesting tenants demanded a twenty five percent reduction, which Lord Erne refused. Boycott then attempted to evict eleven tenants from the land. Charles Stewart Parnell, in a speech in Ennis prior to the events in Lough Mask, proposed that when dealing with tenants who take farms where another tenant was evicted, rather than resorting to violence, everyone in the locality should shun them. While Parnell's speech did not refer to land agents or landlords, the tactic was first applied to Boycott when the alarm was raised about the evictions. Despite the short-term economic hardship to those undertaking this action, Boycott soon found himself isolated – his workers stopped work in the fields and stables, as well as in his house. Local businessmen stopped trading with him, and the local postman refused to deliver mail.
posted by kafziel at 9:51 PM on November 3, 2019 [5 favorites]


To airbnb's credit - I will say that the detail involved in their filters for accessibility needs kick butt compared to any hotel information or VRBO or any other platform I've ever seen online. There are 27 different options you can filter for, from bed height to a pool lift to a disabled parking spot.

This can be an incredible help for vacationing, yes (especially internationally where different ADA-type rules may or may not apply), but also for shorter- or longer-term local stays if one's normal place is no longer accessible. I've used it for that purpose when I couldn't find an accessible apartment using any traditional tools, and it was hugely helpful to have that option.
posted by mosst at 11:00 PM on November 3, 2019 [4 favorites]


The origin of the term "boycott" is interesting, and possibly relevant. It derives from the name of the local agent of an absentee landlord, evicting tenants to put the land to more profitable use.


This kind of “Boycott” intended to shame or isolate an individual is a form of the much older practice of ostracism, and is less relevant considering that the effectiveness of that original Boycott involved the rest of the business community and even government agents participating.

The US Postal Service is not going to refuse to deliver a landlord’s legal notices. Wells Fargo is not going to unbank them. Quite the opposite.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:47 AM on November 4, 2019


But it's also on the landlord for responding to that incentive, and doing this. Turning a bad landlord into a horror just means the bad landlord was waiting for an excuse to become a horror. As landlords do.

A large part of how we keep potential bad actors honest is through systems that hold them accountable, so that the price of bad behavior is higher than the gain. This is why the gig economy is so destructive - you have well funded actors who actively tear down those systems because they get in the way of profit.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:57 AM on November 4, 2019 [9 favorites]


Or to come back to another real estate example, this is why Facebook should be held to the Fair Housing Act when it comes to housing ads (a position they routinely argue against) - because their refusal to uphold the FHA enables bad actors and makes enforcement into a game of whack-a-mole.
posted by NoxAeternum at 8:02 AM on November 4, 2019 [11 favorites]


I fully support hotel chains getting a clue and offering a diversified range of properties and room types.

That'd be lovely. Right now, many hotels don't even have accessible rooms with two beds - if the room is designed for a wheelchair, it has one bed; a person with a wheelchair can't travel with a caregiver unless they either sleep together or get separate rooms. They generally have one choice of bathing arrangement: Either a walk-in shower, or a tub; never choice. (Usually shower, for accessible rooms.)

If they can't provide "two beds on the room with the walk-in shower," they're a long, long way from providing "One queen and two twin beds, for parents with kids" or "one queen bed, and use that extra space for two desks, several electric outlets, and four chairs for small business meetings." And that's still in the realm of standard hotel furnishings, before we even think about kitchen access and its nightmare set of liability issues.

A big part of AirBnB's success is the number of people frustrated with just one aspect of standard hotel features, but that aspect, whatever it is, isn't adjustable.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:49 PM on November 4, 2019 [5 favorites]


I wasn't aware that hotels (in the US I guess) are so bad. For years I travelled in Europe and the Middle East with my disabled grandmother and two small children, and we never found it hard to find the right accommodation at fair prices. Only once did we try an AirBnB listing, and it was a huge disappointment, though it was ok. We had hoped to be able to cook for ourselves, but the kitchen was a Potemkin kitchen. So we went back to hotels where the service always compensated for any spatial shortcomings.
Come to think of it, the one time Gran and I went to the US (sans kids), it was harder.
posted by mumimor at 10:16 AM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


Most US hotels aren't that bad. Some of the problems are in "bargain" hotels, where the lower price doesn't just mean "no fancy electronics, no complimentary breakfast, no shuttle to local airport, smaller room, cheaper furnishings," but "we don't actually keep the place clean" or "we don't have enough security to keep your car from being broken into when it's in the parking lot."

And some of the problems are that even fancy, expensive hotels are often abysmal at individualized accommodations. If you like whatever the Hilton's normal room arrangement is, you'll be fine. If it has problems for you - because you have mobility issues, or you need the temperature to be in a particular range, or you're traveling with kids, or, as noted, you need food that's not available in the hotel diner - your experience is going to be poor.

Mostly it's okay - you pay between $75 and $175 a night to sleep in a deeply unnatural-feeling room, and you go about whatever business brought you to the area and try to ignore the room itself. However, there is generally no option for "pay an extra $25-$50 a night to fix the thing that bothers me most."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:54 AM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


I just worry very much because I feel like everyone is left-wing until it involves some kind of personal inconvenience, even a relatively small one like having to cut back on hobby travel.

This is so true, and travel is a relatively small thing. What happens when the rubber hits the road on climate change and we have to build political coalitions around people giving up their cars? People will fight tooth and nail to keep from having to lose an iota of their privilege, even (especially?) liberals. Humans just seem to have an extremely hard time with the idea of giving something up personally to make things better for everyone. It's enough to make you despair.
posted by zeusianfog at 1:53 PM on November 5, 2019 [5 favorites]


> "we don't actually keep the place clean" or "we don't have enough security to keep your car from being broken into when it's in the parking lot."

Or "there teeny tiny sandwich bags for teeny tiny sandwiches under the bed," as I found in the last cheap motel I stayed at, when camping plans went sideways. (I slept in my sleeping bag, but at least I didn't set the tent up in the motel room.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:04 PM on November 5, 2019


> People will fight tooth and nail to keep from having to lose an iota of their privilege, even (especially?) liberals.

Why especially liberals? The research I've found in a half-assed look makes it seem like the opposite might be true (or might not, it's not that clear cut).
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:08 PM on November 5, 2019 [2 favorites]


I intended to say but did not actually say that it's worse coming from liberals because I expect them to know better and it's hypocritical. But I fear that it may be a human nature problem. It's hard to build a political movement where you're telling people they have to give something up. You see it in so many spheres. But often the moral thing to do is, in fact, to give the thing up! Like cars! Or meat! Or tax dollars!
posted by zeusianfog at 5:42 PM on November 5, 2019 [3 favorites]


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