You are in a maze of twisty little AirBnB rentals, all alike
February 11, 2020 1:54 PM   Subscribe

That night I knock on the doors of the other apartments in the building... standing at an open door, I notice something: the artwork on the walls is the same as in my apartment, so are the sofas, table and chairs. I return to my apartment, open my laptop and click on my host’s Airbnb profile. I count seven listings for the building I’m staying in, all with identical furniture, all with the same bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne.
posted by carter (158 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
Previously.

The core problem is ultimately Airbnb. The company refuses to actually police its users (why should it - they have set up a nice system of indemnification), and we pay the price.
posted by NoxAeternum at 2:00 PM on February 11 [46 favorites]


And, at its centre, is the scam’s crowning glory: what has materialised into a secret hotel built for short-term rentals. That building, planning documents reveal, has 24 units. When I look on Airbnb, I find 28 listings, each a confusing hodgepodge of all the others – the pictures, descriptions and property names ... blending into one. Some of these apartments don’t exist.

As is so often the case these days, I'm just sorry J.G. Ballard isn't here to see this.
posted by ryanshepard at 2:01 PM on February 11 [39 favorites]


Airbnb and Lyft and Uber are destroying ruining cities all over the world, and most local authorities unable or unwilling to do anything about it.
posted by PhineasGage at 2:06 PM on February 11 [19 favorites]


I was OK with this idea (a building full of identical rooms being rented out on AirBnB) right up until the point where the author ran into an exact duplicate of himself in the elevator.
posted by The Tensor at 2:22 PM on February 11 [91 favorites]


As is so often the case these days, I'm just sorry J.G. Ballard isn't here to see this.
Added Ballard and Gibson tags.

posted by carter at 2:25 PM on February 11 [12 favorites]


a building full of identical rooms being rented out

What if...someone had a purpose-built building full of rooms to rent? And they could hire someone to sit by the door and direct people, and they could hire someone to clean the rooms, and maybe they could run a van to the airport a couple of times a day and offer laundry services. The person at the door could even have, like, extra toothbrushes if you forgot yours, and they could do things like get someone to fix your lamp if it weren't working, or ask the people in the next room to quiet down. I bet it would be a lot safer, too, and they could have some kind of insurance in case, like, the ceiling fell in or you got bedbugs or something.
posted by Frowner at 2:32 PM on February 11 [244 favorites]


What if...

But what will happen to your stock price when the shareholders find that you're not externalizing the building costs, maintenance and taxes (etc.) onto your employees?

Why do you hate capitalism so?
posted by klanawa at 2:39 PM on February 11 [52 favorites]


We stayed at The Graduate in Seattle for new year's eve. There was a bunch of us. Three of us posted essentially the same photo on Instagram within a few minutes. Same framed "painting" Sir Mix-a-Lot. Same framed Citizen Dick jewel case. Same old-timey rowing crew "painting". Same couch. Same bed. It was quite disorienting.
posted by humboldt32 at 2:44 PM on February 11 [3 favorites]


This sounds very much like a place I stayed at in Oakland a couple of years ago. In retrospect, I really should have reported it -- but it never dawned on me that the absent "hosts" might have been outsourced call center employees. To be fair, the place wasn't in shambles like the apartments described here -- it was at least clean and looked like the photo.
posted by treepour at 2:57 PM on February 11


Apartment-hotel operations like Sonder, Stay Alfred and The Guild do this all over the country, though they are at least up-front about what they're doing. In Philadelphia, however, they're actively displacing long-term residents. I want to make a paperclip joke, but this isn't really funny at all.
posted by grumpybear69 at 2:58 PM on February 11 [11 favorites]


Is the limiting factor for above board hotels zoning? Is that what these operations are trying to get around?

They probably save a bunch on taxes, too, but I don't know the business well enough to understand it.
posted by keep_evolving at 3:16 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]


I realize the difficulties, impossibilities really, of context-sensitive global moderation at scale if you're a Twitter or a YouTube. But Airbnb takes a hefty cut of every booking and is clearly in a position to make sure the products they're selling actually exist. There's zero excuse for them being stumped by tricks as simple as "we'll just use the same photos on two different listings and mirror them." I've seen listings on the site that clearly just used the model unit photos from an apartment complex's website. Even something as simple as "go out to the street and shoot a continuous video that shows getting into the unit and a complete tour of every room" would deter a number of types of fraud with little effort.

But they don't care because they've tried to insulate themselves from all the consequences of what happens on their site.
posted by zachlipton at 3:18 PM on February 11 [19 favorites]


But Airbnb takes a hefty cut of every booking and is clearly in a position to make sure the products they're selling actually exist. There's zero excuse for them being stumped by tricks as simple as "we'll just use the same photos on two different listings and mirror them."

I guarantee you they've got a team of data scientists using machine learning to optimize all sorts of things about the site and conversions. They could very easily leverage such resources to detect and alert on things like almost-identical photos or descriptions if they cared about the problem.
posted by treepour at 3:30 PM on February 11 [13 favorites]


Is the limiting factor for above board hotels zoning? Is that what these operations are trying to get around?

Zoning. Health and safety regs. Fire regs. Staffing needs. Taxes. They’re trying to skirt pretty much every regulation that makes actual hotels safe and liable.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:34 PM on February 11 [113 favorites]


There are similarities between airbnb's behaviour here and that of uber and uber-alikes, in that they're simply daring existing regulators to police them, but the thing about land is that this kind of behaviour is also very old, as old as slumlording and doss-houses. There's a well-established set of tools that Councils have to deal with landlords (with potential fines to make your eyes water), it's just that there's a political question about benefit from land.

In NSW where I am it's a huge ongoing political battle, especially in coastal towns where summer and school-holidays tourism is a big economic factor. Small coastal towns have established hotel and serviced apartment owners, who absolutely loathe airbnb for obvious reasons, but they're set against established landlord and property investment interests who are entirely in favour of maximising returns no matter who gets hurt—and, because this is Australia, they donate to Councillors and dominate the policy process around land-lording and strata and renting. One solution is regulating airbnb-alikes, but another perfectly good one is using the existing tax and rates systems to nail operators who flaunt the planning system—it's just that the 'investment property' owners who benefit are better organised than the displaced renters. It's not primarily about the technology, it's about Governments making a choice between seeing housing as an extractive highly financialised industry (1980s–present) or as a shared social infrastructure.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 3:46 PM on February 11 [11 favorites]


Hotels have always been better. In almost every way.

But people want so-called “authentic” experiences. They have ironic misanthropic attitudes about “other people,” ie: other tourists. Which is just ridiculous.

And they want travel convenient. And above all — cheap. They want it cheap.

Doesn’t work that way. Never will.

We can’t complain that travel is too expensive AND want meaningful experiences that don’t negatively impact local cultures.

99% of my traveling we stay at hotels. And since we go back and forth to same dozen cities, usually the same Hotels over and over (shoutout to the Lloyd in Amsterdam!) the loyalty usually pays off.

I’ve used AirBnB a couple of times internationally. In Porto and Paris. But I either made sure the apartments were listed by the owner by recommendation or they were places I’d stayed before AirBnB.

If it’s a new city I stay in a hotel. Much fewer hassles and better for everyone. The obsession with apartment travel escapes me.
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 3:53 PM on February 11 [25 favorites]


And yet right here on this site we have people argue vehemently that using airbnb is ethical, indeed, the only way to travel. Kind of amazing. Make sure you take an uber to get there.
posted by maxwelton at 3:53 PM on February 11 [6 favorites]


I mean just because regulators or civil actions/arbitration can't do something doesn't mean law enforcement couldn't. This is happening in the US too. Fraud is a crime, correct? Tax evasion? violations of health codes? Anyone doing this is in the US is also likely guilty of RICO violations. Report to the police and other law enforcement agencies, make them get a warrant for airbnb. If they don't pursue it, go to the press or politicians who can put pressure on the LEA and police departments to do something.

Also I understand certain jurisdictions, failing to report a crime makes you an accessory after the fact. Like in Ohio, it's illegal to fail to report a felony, and I believe doing business in ohio requires airbnb to comply with ohio law (though I'm not a lawyer and this isn't legal advice). Authorities in ohio or another jurisdiction where failing to report a felony (which telecommunications fraud is in Ohio) is illegal, could charge Airbnb directly, and require changes as part of a settlement.

Make it too expensive for airbnb to permit this behavior and they will stop permitting it.
posted by gryftir at 3:57 PM on February 11 [3 favorites]


I've only ever used AirBnB a few times and it was basically for places that were actual bed and breakfasts and didn't want or need a website.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 4:05 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


They’re trying to skirt pretty much every regulation that makes actual hotels safe and liable.

Regulations that are, in a very real sense, written in blood.
posted by NoxAeternum at 4:16 PM on February 11 [36 favorites]


we have people argue vehemently that using airbnb is ethical

I don't think that hotels do a great job. I've used Airbnb to have places to stay when traveling. Hotels were terrible, poorly managed and expensive before Airbnb, and they still are today.

If cities are laid to ruin, Airbnb is probably not a main reason why — one could point to a whole host of zoning laws that probably make things it easier for developers to gentrify neighborhoods, enacted well before Airbnb came along.

I'm okay with regulating Airbnb to stop replacing one hotel operation with another, less obvious operation that uses the site as a storefront. I don't think I'd be okay with using the legal system to maintain a captive market, to keep a monopoly that benefits the hotel industry.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 4:18 PM on February 11 [11 favorites]


Also I understand certain jurisdictions, failing to report a crime makes you an accessory after the fact. Like in Ohio, it's illegal to fail to report a felony, and I believe doing business in ohio requires airbnb to comply with ohio law (though I'm not a lawyer and this isn't legal advice). Authorities in ohio or another jurisdiction where failing to report a felony (which telecommunications fraud is in Ohio) is illegal, could charge Airbnb directly, and require changes as part of a settlement.

And Airbnb runs a Section 230 defense, arguing that it's not their fault, but the fault of their users, and as such they're fully indemnified.
posted by NoxAeternum at 4:18 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


I only use it anymore to go stay in a specific house (like a lake house we’ve been to before, and even then I prefer VRBO). I’ve had bad experiences in Airbnbs that wouldn’t happen the same way in an equally-priced hotel—mice and no one in town to help, cheap or faulty locks on the door, etc.
posted by sallybrown at 4:19 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


Airbnb IS devastating cities. "Hosts" can earn so much more from a series of nightly rentals than they would receive from an annual renter, so they stop offering traditional rentals. It is not the only factor, but it is a major factor in the diminishment of basic housing stock in San Francisco, Barcelona, and many other cities.
posted by PhineasGage at 4:24 PM on February 11 [78 favorites]


But what will happen to your stock price when the shareholders find that you're not externalizing the building costs, maintenance and taxes (etc.) onto your employees?

It just about doubles over 5 years, if you are Hilton or Marriott.
posted by sideshow at 4:29 PM on February 11 [5 favorites]


Hotels have always been better. In almost every way.

Hotels are better if you are able-bodied and have a car. Otherwise, you may run into problems like:
* Hotel is nowhere near where you actually want to be, and travel is a hassle
* Hotel room does not allow for your dining needs - special equipment to sit or eat, food cooked a particular way, specific ingredients required
* Hotel beds, blankets, sheets the wrong type for you
* Hotel does not have office space; hotel room chair/table is wrong for computer work
* Hotel has wrong number of beds: one or two only; no option for three other than weird roll-out cots
* Hotel is loud because it's next to a freeway, or has bright lights even with the curtains shut
* You have small children and would really really like to put them in a room where you're not working, talking, or watching TV

...and so on. It's not that houses/apartments are generally better, but they can be better for any one person. Hotels are especially lousy if you have dietary needs that are essentially "must cook my own meals."

Airbnb, like Uber/Lyft, is getting away with it because it's tapping into a huge unmet demand, and not all of that is "cheaper overnight stay."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 4:33 PM on February 11 [42 favorites]


They could very easily leverage such resources to detect and alert on things like almost-identical photos or descriptions if they cared about the problem.

If they are going to "detect and alert" on those problems, why not "detect and alert" on the fire safety, health services, zoning, and tourism tax problems as well? Or is the "fuck laws" attitude OK as long as its not something that's costing you money?
posted by sideshow at 4:33 PM on February 11 [5 favorites]


Airbnb, like Uber/Lyft, is getting away with it because it's tapping into a huge unmet demand, and not all of that is "cheaper overnight stay."

Let's be honest - the vast majority of it is, as it is with online livery (hence why that industry is trying to balance their books on the backs of their drivers rather than raise prices.) Pretending that the success of the gig economy isn't built on undercutting the competition by externalizing costs is just willful blindness at this point.
posted by NoxAeternum at 4:48 PM on February 11 [47 favorites]


Airbnb is sometimes bad. But, is it worse than zoning laws designed to prevent dense housing and the organic growth of cities? Or the hotel industry that exploits and abuses its employees at every turn?

It sounds like this person booked a hotel room and got a hotel room, then threw a fit for no good reason. The racist call-center rant doesn't make me like it any more. There are plenty of insightful things one can say about the impact on short term rentals on local economies. I can easily be convinced we need more regulation and restrictions on such things. This isn't a convincing argument.
posted by eotvos at 4:54 PM on February 11 [3 favorites]


Oh, it's absolutely externalizing the costs. It's throwing some of them onto the hosts, some onto the guests, and some it's just ignoring entirely and hoping that the law can't keep up with the shell game.

But none of it would work if there weren't swarms of people looking to rent under conditions that hotels don't make available.

Some of that is price - but some of the price issue is, "I don't need a large room with a queen-size bed and a 36+" tv and floor-to-ceiling windows attached to a balcony. I don't need access to a bar and restaurant. Twin bed, outlet for laptop, kitchen where I can microwave myself some popcorn, and I'm fine" - and hotels don't offer that.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 4:58 PM on February 11 [8 favorites]


The obsession with apartment travel escapes me.

I stay in hotels for work travel because I have to. For travel-for-pleasure, if I am staying somewhere for even a few days, I'd much rather have a place with a kitchen or kitchenette (i.e., apart-hotel). Eating out for every meal gets old fast, and I could happily never eat another hotel "continental breakfast" for the rest of my life.

Airbnb, like Uber/Lyft, is getting away with it because it's tapping into a huge unmet demand, and not all of that is "cheaper overnight stay."

I agree. Hotels mostly really suck; the expensive ones just suck differently. If you want something different (like a big house for a group of friends/family, say), you are going to be better served by AirBnB/VRBO/etc. than by traditional hotels.

That said, there's no excuse for them not doing a decent job of policing their listings, and hopefully cities start to better regulate what is going on. There are significant negative impacts that need to be regulated, mitigated, or prevented entirely. But it's like with Uber/Lyft, they are popular in large part because of how terrible taxi companies were (and maybe still are), not just because of costs.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:58 PM on February 11 [7 favorites]


I was sold on apartment tourism long before AirBnB. It's nice to stay in a neighborhood, shop at a local market. Cook some of your own meals and eat at local restaurants, not just the ones catering specifically to out-of-towners. It's great for family travel where everyone doesn't have to sleep in the same room for a week. It's comfortable to have a space to hang out in and play games or have other down time that's not just one big room with a desk and chair at one end. (Long term stay/suite hotels can provide most of this, too.)

But, yeah, the way AirBnB and VRBO do it is definitely icky. Seems like an industry where there's plenty of demand and not enough regulation, but if you want to rent an apartment for a vacation stay there's not really another way to do it anymore.
posted by rikschell at 5:04 PM on February 11 [9 favorites]


Airbnb, like Uber/Lyft, is getting away with it because it's tapping into a huge unmet demand
I think this is absolutely right, but not in the sense of demand from customer-guests; the fundamental demand that airbnb meets is an income stream to landlords that can skirt traditional development application processes (AKA zoning). To go back to NSW as the example, because I know it, local environment plans allow some things without consent (e.g. dwelling houses), some with consent (e.g. bed and breakfasts, home offices) and prohibit others (e.g. commercial, light industry, nightclubs). What airbnb does is give a plausible way of passing off one land use as another, in a way that simply wouldn't pass muster if the owner of a flat wanted to turn it into a nightclub, or factory, or petrol station, or shop, or whatever. Landlords always try to push the boundaries of what can be done, bending or flaunting the rules, it's a tension as old as planning, far older than the internet. Airbnb just does it at scale.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:05 PM on February 11 [28 favorites]


Airbnb is sometimes bad. But, is it worse than zoning laws designed to prevent dense housing and the organic growth of cities? Or the hotel industry that exploits and abuses its employees at every turn?

This sort of argument to defend the abuses of the gig economy - "but the old systems are worse!" - isn't a defense, it's a dodge. Just because our housing shortage is driven primarily by zoning and NIMBYism doesn't make it okay that Airbnb is pulling units out of the market, and the problems with hotels doesn't excuse Airbnb's abuses (in large part because those same abuses are there as well - you think someone operating an unlicensed hotel is treating their employees well?)

The gig economy sold itself on the promise that it would be better. It has not lived up to that promise whatsoever.
posted by NoxAeternum at 5:15 PM on February 11 [48 favorites]


If cities are laid to ruin, Airbnb is probably not a main reason why — one could point to a whole host of zoning laws that probably make things it easier for developers to gentrify neighborhoods, enacted well before Airbnb came along.

Rent-stabilized tenants are being illegally run out of their homes so that NYC landlords can illegally rent short-term on Airbnb. (Almost all NYC, especially Manhattan, Airbnb rentals are illegal.) This is really harming real people, like 80-year-old Chinese immigrant ladies-type people.

People who can't accept this just really need to stop pretending they care about what happens to other people outside their social circles. These kinds of rationalizations of the upper-upper-middle class are one of the least attractive features of Mefi, and I'm lucky enough to be reasonably securely housed.
posted by praemunire at 5:16 PM on February 11 [90 favorites]


Airbnb, like Uber/Lyft, is getting away with it because it's tapping into a huge unmet demand, and not all of that is "cheaper overnight stay."

they're getting away with it bc they're burning through literally billions of dollars of venture capital per QUARTER for the sole singular only purpose of destroying regulations for housing, for livery services, for anything and everything they can get their disgusting fucking filthy greedy hands on. all they want is to bribe everyone into helping them destroy society so that they can TAKE AWAY EVERY CONSUMER PROTECTION PEOPLE LITERALLY DIED TO PASS LEGISLATURE ON and then make every last one of us pay until we have nothing left. i hope they die and i get to see it.
posted by poffin boffin at 5:23 PM on February 11 [77 favorites]


But none of it would work if there weren't swarms of people looking to rent under conditions that hotels don't make available if capitalists hadn't dug a tunnel under the regulatory wall that's supposed to protect workers from exploitation.

Has anyone done an analysis of what Uber/AirB&B's bottom lines would look like if they had to pay hosts and drivers a living wage and pay for the maintenance of equipment? Or what the cost to consumers would look like? Or what the effect on share price would be?
posted by klanawa at 5:31 PM on February 11 [8 favorites]


it is a major factor in the diminishment of basic housing stock in San Francisco, Barcelona, and many other cities.

So I have a bunch of opinions on hotels vs AirBnB but the statement above is simply not true. SF continues to zone more and more office space and builds next to zero new housing. I love SF but the NIMBYs have turned it into a theme park. Plus for a bunch of reasons (a few good, mostly bad) SF is the most expensive place to try to build housing. AirBnB could not fuck SF up more than SF's civic leadership already has if they had a nuclear bomb and a Bane impersonator. Compare the change in, say, Bellvue WA or Toronto over the last few decades to SF. SF is losing restaurants year over year due to rent and zoning issues. The city is strangling itself - that it's the home of AirBnB is just a weird irony.

AirBnB is in some cases definitely providing an outlet for getting around laws and taxes that specifically target hotels. Not good. But hotels are also very much not perfect! There are lots of neighbourhoods where hotels just don't exist but where my family and friends live. Depending on the city it can be difficult or impossible to find a hotel with a kitchenette. If I'm travelling with family or friends it's better to find a two or three bedroom place, but again, often impossible to find in a hotel. I have stayed in plenty of hotels and they are sometimes great, sometimes shit. I have stayed in Airbnb places that are clearly just a random condo unit in an otherwise residential building and it does feel vaguely sketchy at times, but it can be so, so much more comfortable and convenient. Not every AirBnb owner & unit is the kind of weird hotel-not-a-hotel described in the OP.
posted by GuyZero at 5:41 PM on February 11 [6 favorites]


Has anyone done an analysis of what Uber/AirB&B's bottom lines would look like if they had to pay hosts

AirBnB doesn't pay hosts anything as far as I'm aware - hosts set their own prices and pay AirBnB a cut for bringing them users.
posted by GuyZero at 5:43 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


I'm curious if people think VRBO is as terrible as AirBnB since they offer basically the same service but somehow no one complains about VRBO.
posted by GuyZero at 5:46 PM on February 11 [5 favorites]


Just because our housing shortage is driven primarily by zoning and NIMBYism doesn't make it okay that Airbnb is pulling units out of the market

ok, I'm almost done, honest, but this is like saying the real issue is the dude over there smoking and not the tanker car full of diesel that's burning and about to crash into another train full of diesel tankers.

the only reason airbnb matters at all and isn't an insignificant drop in an ocean of housing is because civic planners are completely failing to do their jobs in major cities.
posted by GuyZero at 5:53 PM on February 11 [6 favorites]


Airbnb is the guy smoking a cigarette right next to the open valve of the tanker truck.
posted by PhineasGage at 5:56 PM on February 11 [9 favorites]


the only reason airbnb matters at all and isn't an insignificant drop in an ocean of housing is because civic planners are completely failing to do their jobs in major cities.

If civic planers were doing their jobs, you still wouldn't have an "ocean of housing", because that would be a problem as well, with oversupply. There is no sort of situation, even if the housing market was more stable than it is now, where what Airbnb does would be in any way healthy for a city - which is why cities have had laws restricting and banning short term rental of housing stock for decades.

This is why the argument is a dodge - Airbnb's conduct is harmful and unacceptable, period.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:01 PM on February 11 [22 favorites]


I'm curious if people think VRBO is as terrible as AirBnB since they offer basically the same service but somehow no one complains about VRBO.

Completely anecdotal—but I use VRBO or hear of others using it when I’m looking for more of a vacation-location house for a group, not the kind of unit that would might otherwise be used as an apartment in a city or as a hotel replacement. I’m curious whether other people have the same view though.
posted by sallybrown at 6:04 PM on February 11 [6 favorites]


If COVID-19 has 10% the effect that SARS had on the hotel chains in Toronto in 2003, there won't be a single ghost hotel left in this town. Airbnb will be fine, just the property owners won't. There are a lot of mortgages and rents in this city depending on being covered by Airbnb, and if the trade dips slightly, they're underwater.
posted by scruss at 6:08 PM on February 11


Is the limiting factor for above board hotels zoning? Is that what these operations are trying to get around?

They’re just trying to “maximize profits”. A short-term rental is more profitable than a long-term one even if it sits vacant half the time.
posted by Automocar at 6:10 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


I agree. Hotels mostly really suck; the expensive ones just suck differently.

I’ve never understood this argument. Hotels “suck”? They’re giving me a comfortable place to sleep when I’m not at home. Yeah, it’s not as comfortable as my own apartment. Travel is inconvenient. I do it because I want to go to a place, not hang out in a facsimile of my apartment. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
posted by Automocar at 6:15 PM on February 11 [19 favorites]


And before someone says “but the families!!!!111!” well, vacation rental homes have existed for a long time. They just mostly didn’t exist in cities because space in cities is at a premium and vacation rentals decrease housing stock for the people that, y’know, live there.
posted by Automocar at 6:17 PM on February 11 [9 favorites]


Hotels are especially lousy if you have dietary needs that are essentially "must cook my own meals."

I have travelled with someone with exactly these needs. We had no problem finding legal accommodation with access to a full and well-equipted kitchen. There are legal apartment hotels as well as hostels with private rooms.

Toronto put in some perfectly reasonable regulations that allow home-sharing while disallowing ghost hotels (and thus the eviction of long-term tenants that has been rife), but landlords are still fighting it.

Housing has to come first, before accommodation. My privilege to travel should not come before someone's right to a safe home.
posted by jb at 6:29 PM on February 11 [59 favorites]


If COVID-19 has 10% the effect that SARS had on the hotel chains in Toronto in 2003, there won't be a single ghost hotel left in this town.

Here’s hoping. I was working in tourism in Toronto in 2003 and felt the effects well. One day strolling down King Street past the King Edward Hotel, I ran into a department head there whom I knew slightly. We chatted for a couple of minutes about the cratering tourist trade and he mentioned the King Eddie’s drop (from memory, they were usually at 90% occupancy that time of year and this particular year they were around 35%). I thought about their ears, their size, did the math in my head and asked incredulously, “You guys are losing... a million bucks a week?”

“Million and a half.”

If the coronavirus fatally wounds AirBnB, my sadness for it will be finite.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:29 PM on February 11 [6 favorites]


From a planner's point of view (as I've started to elaborate upthread) the problems of airbnb-alikes are fundamentally about land use in a general sense, rather than housing planning specifically, and the problems aren't specific to highly developed cities. They cause problems here in the coastal towns of Victoria, NSW and Queensland, and in the Blue Mountains, which are generally small, have no tech or high-wage industries to speak of, and are as unlike London or NYC or SF as it's possible to be. It's hard to regulate because it's hard to tell exactly what the use is—as the confusion about them in this thread shows! Is it effectively an unregulated hotel? Serviced apartment, for business travellers? Student party beach house for New Year? An old-school lodging with a family? Is it a platform for genuine b&b operators to advertise? Is it a short-term boarding house? Farm stay? Is it just an informal sharing arrangement? The airbnb website covers them all, but they've got very different effects on places.
vacation rental homes have existed for a long time
Exactly! And in the tourist areas of Australia they've been established for most of the twentieth century as an understood land use, and taxed accordingly, on the understanding that a profitable seasonal business should be recognised as a commercial operation, and pay its way.

There is a relationship between housing scarcity in high-rent tourist-friendly cities, like Sydney and Toronto and San Francisco, and operations like airbnb, but the context is that housing is so financialised, and there are enough people whose livelihoods depend on the investment of real estate that that that kind of finance-property right is protected in the planning system—they're organised, they turn up to consultation meetings, they vote. Without a recognition that some/many airbnbs are commercial operations or a means of raising rates on the land use, it's a money tap for landlords.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:30 PM on February 11 [19 favorites]


I thought about their ears, their size, did the math in my head and asked incredulously, “You guys are losing... a million bucks a week?”

ears?

Not coming up with what this word is meant to be.

posted by oneirodynia at 6:33 PM on February 11 [7 favorites]


Airbnb, like Uber/Lyft, is getting away with it because it's tapping into a huge unmet demand, and not all of that is "cheaper overnight stay."

Hello! I like to pop up once in a while in these threads to talk about the time I worked for a travel search company, on which you could search for things like flights and hotels. Here is a rough sketch of a conversation I had with a coworker after a couple of months on the job.

Me: So, I have this idea for Hack Week, where we re-order the prices of hotel rooms to reflect the external costs--
Coworker: Not gonna work. It'll scuttle conversion rates so badly that you'll never make it out of the first day.
Me: Wait, what? I'm just re-ordering results, for people who ask for it, to emphasize the things that the users themselves asked for.
Coworker: *shrugs in resignation*

Reader, I tried that re-ordering. Turns out that user preference is more than 100% inclined to price. Literally when you display the cost per night/flight/whatever, 100% of the viewing public will grasp at it like a drowning man to a buoy, ignoring everything else your cunning UI tries to show. When two or more providers tied on the price they could offer, we let them bid on how much they'd pay to have their result shown first, because it evinced something like a 200% uptick in bookings, The effect is so strong that it hamstrung our efforts to improve the product in other, completely unrelated ways, because the moment you messed with how/where the price-per-night was displayed, you introduced a massive coefficient of fuckery. My greatest regret about that place is that I didn't add my own personal grasp at something that transcends cost: a vaguely-worded promise of sexual favors from the proprietor, or treasure maps to gold bullion buried in the back yard. I'm confident it still would have been annihilated by price.

All to say: if you leave capitalism to fix this, you will get a solution compatible with capitalism. Solutions compatible with capitalism are, pretty much by definition, amoral and sociopathic. I'm pretty much done leaving answers up to venture capitalists.
posted by Mayor West at 6:36 PM on February 11 [70 favorites]


That said, I mostly had schadenfreude while reading this essay, just like the earlier expose in Vice. Both reporters booked on Airbnb, knowing that it's completely unregulated and actively damaging rental markets. No one should get scammed, but they should expect to be potentially scammed when using such an unregulated service.

Now that travelling reporters are being hurt by short-term rentals, maybe something will be done - no one cared when it was just renters losing their homes.
posted by jb at 6:36 PM on February 11 [7 favorites]


Airbnb IS devastating cities. "Hosts" can earn so much more from a series of nightly rentals than they would receive from an annual renter, so they stop offering traditional rentals. It is not the only factor, but it is a major factor in the diminishment of basic housing stock in San Francisco, Barcelona, and many other cities.

Are SF and Barcelona devastated, though? In what way? AFAICT, SF is still a prosperous, nice place, and more people still want to live there than it can possibly accommodate, even if airbnb never existed.

Let's be honest - the vast majority of it is, as it is with online livery (hence why that industry is trying to balance their books on the backs of their drivers rather than raise prices.) Pretending that the success of the gig economy isn't built on undercutting the competition by externalizing costs is just willful blindness at this point.

You forgot one thing: willing participants. Undercutting the competition by externalizing costs? DUH.

People who can't accept this just really need to stop pretending they care about what happens to other people outside their social circles. These kinds of rationalizations of the upper-upper-middle class are one of the least attractive features of Mefi, and I'm lucky enough to be reasonably securely housed.

Housing insecurity is always a risk, particularly if you don't actually own your dwelling. This is reality. People need to accept it. It really sucks if you depend on a roof from an entity that isn't mandated to provide one. Holding your breath and stomping your feet about airbnb doesn't change it.

This is why the argument is a dodge - Airbnb's conduct is harmful and unacceptable, period.

Except that it isn't, really. There's little indication that short term rentals are "unhealthy" for a city. Unless, I suppose, you get to dictate what it means for a city to be healthy. I'll bet your definition would not be universally held.
posted by 2N2222 at 6:47 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


Housing insecurity is always a risk, particularly if you don't actually own your dwelling.

So all the poor renters get what they deserve, amirite?
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 6:50 PM on February 11 [35 favorites]


I'm curious if people think VRBO is as terrible as AirBnB since they offer basically the same service but somehow no one complains about VRBO.

The VRBOs in my area it seems tend to be places that would otherwise be sitting empty much of the time while the owners live their normal, non-vacation lives in their first home. Which is not to say that they are all just people renting out their own individual vacation home - I'm sure there are also plenty of commercial enterprises. But they don't seem to be impacting local housing availability quite as much, since those commercial enterprises would have been under-utilised second (or third or whatever) homes instead, so listing them on VRBO isn't taking them out of the local rental housing pool. As much, at least. I have seen a couple places that probably would have been reasonable rentals in some small town that likely has too few rental options to begin with. They seem to be the minority of VRBO listings in my area though.
posted by eviemath at 6:50 PM on February 11 [3 favorites]


The party not well represented here are the neighbors. Hotels are not only burdened with rules for sprinklers and exits and the like, they are zoned. You can't just drop one in anywhere because they are not great neighbors: people are coming and going at all hours, delivery vehicles stream in and out, there's parking and traffic overflow, light pollution and a host of other bothers. When I pick a place to live I am counting on zoning to keep commercial interests from ruining my place. This is not a simple commercial transaction between two people.
posted by Cris E at 6:56 PM on February 11 [44 favorites]


Housing insecurity is always a risk, particularly if you don't actually own your dwelling. This is reality. People need to accept it.

No, they really fucking don't, which is why the government officials they elected created regulations to limit or prohibit short term rental of housing stock. Cities where the working class who actually make the city run - the sanitation workers, teachers, and other workers supplying basic services - cannot afford to live in is a city that's on the verge of breaking.

Cities are not your playground - they are living things where people of all walks of life have lives. And making it impossible for the working class to have lives there creates an unhealthy city.
posted by NoxAeternum at 6:57 PM on February 11 [103 favorites]


I think AirBnb meets a real desire but there are two huge problems. The tech world operates at a speed test beyond city-level lawmaking, and cities don't have the manpower or budget to properly police owners once the zoning and other restrictions catch up. It seems like the solution would be to force some liability into Airbnb, so they'd have there financial incentive to self-police. If it cost them $50,000 every time one of the "hosts" was in clear violation, they'd pay a lot closer attention.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 6:58 PM on February 11 [5 favorites]


Dipping in again—the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) released a paper on this question, after doing quantitative research and interviews with property owners, in November 2018, looking at how it affects Australia's two largest cities. From the executive summary:
The findings suggest that STL [short term letting] platforms like Airbnb are probably not significantly worsening rental affordability across our major cities as a whole, but are having an impact on the availability of rental properties in high-demand inner city areas with significant tourism appeal...
...
Importantly, the findings suggest a need to recognise that the growth of STL platforms has not happened in a vacuum; rather, certain features of the Sydney and Melbourne housing markets have facilitated their uptake. In particular, the rise of STL can be seen as both a symptom and a driver of Australia’s deeply embedded culture of intense financialisation of housing, in which houses are often viewed as an asset as much as a home designed to meet long-term housing needs. Unregulated, these market changes are likely to contribute to growing inequality across our cities over time.
By providing additional means to monetise housing by those who already have access to it, and compounding the challenges facing those who do not, STL helps to reinforce this increasingly inequitable housing landscape in Australia’s largest cities.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 7:03 PM on February 11 [14 favorites]


Well, 2N2222, we rightly avoid ad hominem attacks here on Metafilter, so let me just gently suggest that you spend a minute empathetically considering the life situations of those who don't have your financial resources.
posted by PhineasGage at 7:05 PM on February 11 [41 favorites]


It seems like the solution would be to force some liability into Airbnb, so they'd have there financial incentive to self-police. If it cost them $50,000 every time one of the "hosts" was in clear violation, they'd pay a lot closer attention.

The problem, unfortunately, is Section 230. Thanks to the way the law has been interpreted by the courts, it has become a blanket indemnification for online services, as long as they can maintain a separation between themselves and their users. This is why Airbnb can not care about what their users are doing - the law says that they cannot be held liable for it.
posted by NoxAeternum at 7:10 PM on February 11 [3 favorites]


Not coming up with what this word is meant to be.

Ears — > rates.

Sorry. Big hands, small phone.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 7:34 PM on February 11 [11 favorites]


The ears are too damn high!
posted by captain afab at 7:46 PM on February 11 [29 favorites]


have travelled with someone with exactly these needs. We had no problem finding legal accommodation with access to a full and well-equipted kitchen. There are legal apartment hotels as well as hostels with private rooms.

There absolutely are, for those who can pay for them . And that’s kind of the problem. Everyone’s wages are depressed, so they can’t afford to live in a reasonable way, and so they have to make choices about how to preserve what little money they have so they can live and socialize. It’s not always jet setters, it’s often people traveling for weddings or family or work opportunities. And to focus on the people that use AirBnB as individual moral actors rather than on the factors keeping people too poor to be able to afford the regulated options, doesn’t really lead us to a real solution because it still keeps the need.
posted by corb at 7:48 PM on February 11 [12 favorites]




AirBnB doesn’t enforce any sort of safety standard at all. Or very rarely. Hotels Much more often do.

AirBnB doesn’t employ unionized labor or force any host to adhere to labor standards.

Hotels don’t always. But most of the ones I stay at do.

Twin bed, outlet for laptop, kitchen where I can microwave myself some popcorn, and I'm fine

Sigh. I stay at hotels with exactly these amenities all the time. I just did in Bruges. They’re not everywhere. But they certainly exist.

Like I’ve said. I do apartment or home rental travel For certain situations. Like if the family wants to all be together (We have rented a house in Costa Rica for a retirement party for 9 people). But usually not through an app If I can help it. I will use a short term rental only if I know the quality (and ethics) of it are certain.

I travel a great deal. Most of the time these days AirBnB experiences are a huge gamble. Dealing with problems when they happen are a massive headache half the time. The chances of bait and switch are high and other problems are not insignificant and you have no recourse. A fucked up Hotel reservation or room problem is infinitely easier to solve 99% of the time.

With AirBNb there are big property management groups that are gaming the hosting system, fucking up neighborhood rents, and all that IS a big problem. Ask anyone in New Orleans what they think of AirBnB.

And labor abuses? C’mon. The cleaning and maintenance staff for non-owner occupied AirBnB’s are treated worse than garbage, paid nothing, and it flies entirely under any labor regulations radar.

With reputable hotels there at least is an opportunity for consequences for abuse. There are at least unions. There are at least inspections and regulations.

Like I said before In the last travel thread: everyone instinctively wants to find a special exception for the ethics of something if it’s convenient or cheap enough for them. It’s always for someone else to bare the costs.

That’s why we need to legislate the shit out of gig economy shit like AirBnB. And inevitably when we do it will cost more. It will. Then we’ll see if it’s superiority holds up.

Where it costs as much as hotels I guarantee that suddenly all the other reasons people have to use AirBnB will seem much less important.
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 8:02 PM on February 11 [21 favorites]


note: now that my family is median income, we are taking a "fancy trip" to Hawaii: it will be the first time I've ever been to the tropics. We have 3 nights booked at a hostel (private room with an ensuite!) and plan to camp for the rest of the week.

There were apartments available for less than the hostel room, but I wouldn't book them because a) I don't want to be part of screwing someone local out of a place to live, and b) how do I know it's not a scam?

I'm willing to pay a bit more and have a bit less room to not contribute to hurting the local housing stock. And I have the peace of mind that where we have booked is a legal accommodation and the taxes have been paid.
posted by jb at 8:05 PM on February 11 [11 favorites]


Housing insecurity is always a risk, particularly if you don't actually own your dwelling. This is reality. People need to accept it.

Oh. FFS.
Cancer is always a risk too. But we should have a choice how much exposure to cancer causing agents we get. Like. I don’t have to sit next to a smoker in a restaurant anymore because we wisely decided that that shit was killing people so we made laws.

We CAN mitigate housing insecurity if we put forth the will to pass laws to deal with it.

It’s not some unmanageable force of fucking nature. It’s driven by PEOPLE.
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 8:09 PM on February 11 [46 favorites]


Everyone’s wages are depressed, so they can’t afford to live in a reasonable way, and so they have to make choices about how to preserve what little money they have so they can live and socialize.

And this is why it's perfectly reasonable for rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Toronto to have gone from 1500 bucks a month to 3800. Or 4500.

I have three friends who had to quit their jobs -- in one case, a good professional job -- and move to other towns; I have friends who have students who are sleeping in their cars; I know people who commute 4 hours a day. No-one can afford to buy, and no-one can now afford to rent, and how the fuck businesses are supposed to keep their staff I have no idea.

What I discovered when I went sabbatical apartment hunting is that at ALL rental units are now priced at 100-200 bucks a night, more if they're multi-room. Landlords are cranking the rents to Airbnb prices in part to stop supposed 'tenants' from profiting before they do.

But hey, it's cool and fun to live in your car, shit in your neighbourhood Starbucks and shower at a gym. Like camping! And if you complain you should have thought about this before you signed up for a job that paid less than 200,000 dollars a year, you peasant!
posted by jrochest at 8:12 PM on February 11 [32 favorites]


Airbnb is a symptom of the financialization of housing, not the cause
posted by GuyZero at 8:25 PM on February 11 [4 favorites]


gone from 1500 bucks a month to 3800

The same place I rented in 1989 for $115 a month is renting now $2200. The same god damned place. That is insane. And probably half the fancy new condos next door are AirBnB.

In 1989 I earned about $25 an hour with tips as a just out of college young working stiff. A pretty good wage back then. It wasn’t easy to save for a house down payment. But was certainly doable. I did it. There is NO way to do that now. No way.

Working class wages have not gone up appreciably since then. 26K a year for a 550 sq ft one bedroom? I have no idea how young people in my city live now.
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 8:26 PM on February 11 [13 favorites]


Oh. That reminds me. A property manager next door was just busted and fired for AirBnB‘zing vacant apartments at $200-250 a night, telling the owner they were rented, and pocketing the difference. He started trying to find ways to evict tenants to generate more money.

He was ratted out by a tenant who discovered the listings by accident and was lucky the owner even cared. Because most would go “great idea!”
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 8:31 PM on February 11 [17 favorites]


It’s capitalism on both sides of the equation: Hotels trying to extract maximum revenue for share holders is the key factor in hotel room prices (decrying regulation is an out). I mean they have to provide health insurance for full time staff, which in the US is also a for profit business. Likely their food is from a conglomerate maximizes profit also.

AirBNB is trying to make money (possibly for the same investors who own shares of major hotel chains also) so it needs to cut out those costs, which really are humans they need to pay for and provide services for in a situation where those things are also meant to be delivered at a profit.
posted by mrzarquon at 8:56 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


AirBNB is trying to make money ... so it needs to cut out those costs

There are plenty of ways AirBnB is terrible without making up stuff that is not true.

AirBnB is unlike Uber, Lyft, Postmates, etc in that it does not set the prices that property owners charge via its service. Airbnb gets a fixed fee per listing and that's it. When it comes to the price of a room, AirBnB has no costs to cut.
posted by GuyZero at 9:04 PM on February 11 [1 favorite]


The same place I rented in 1989 for $115 a month is renting now $2200. The same god damned place.

AirBnB was founded in 2008 and did not significantly expand beyond literally renting couches until about 2010.

So unless you're saying that most of that increase happened in the last 10 years and that the 31 years from 1989 to 2010 were fine I don't think AirBnB is the major issue here.

is shit fucked? Yes. Is it mostly AirBnB's fault? No.
posted by GuyZero at 9:07 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


I'd be interested to see the figures on how much of it happened in the last ten years, because here in DC a lot of it did.

But I also don't think "it's not entirely their fault" is particularly exculpatory. AirBnB didn't create this situation, but they're certainly exacerbating it.
posted by aspersioncast at 9:15 PM on February 11 [9 favorites]


When it comes to the price of a room, AirBnB has no costs to cut.

I meant Airbnb is cutting the cost of booking a room, so it’s competing by being the middleman in the exchange and trying to expand the adoption of that business so they have more transactions to get their cut from.
posted by mrzarquon at 9:24 PM on February 11


I'd be interested to see the figures on how much of it happened in the last ten years, because here in DC a lot of it did.

You may be right but there was one other minor event in 2008 in addition to the founding of AirBnB.
posted by GuyZero at 9:43 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


So unless you're saying that most of that increase happened in the last 10 years

Absolutely the rent increases accelerated more in the last ten years. I can say that with total certainty.

Did I say it was ALL AirBnB’s fault? Did anyone? No. Is it necessary for us to qualify to death every statement? Or is it possible we can discuss one thing without solving every other thing? I think so.

AirBnB hasn’t helped. At all. In fact this phenomenon has been studied rigorously and linked to right here on the Ol’ Metafilter. Give it a gander!
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 10:33 PM on February 11 [6 favorites]


If they are going to "detect and alert" on those problems, why not "detect and alert" on the fire safety, health services, zoning, and tourism tax problems as well? Or is the "fuck laws" attitude OK as long as its not something that's costing you money?

They are NOT "detecting and alerting" on these problems (fake rentals, etc). That was my point.

They could do so, easily, and without much incremental cost -- but they are not, as far as I can tell from this article and other anecdotal responses in this thread.
posted by treepour at 10:41 PM on February 11


I dunno why some people here think it's necessary to carry water for Airbnb. Obviously they are not the source of every housing problem that exists. Nobody's saying that. They however have exacerbated existing adverse trends in housing and have had an negative effect on the quality of life for many of our most vulnerable citizens. The homeless population in many major cities has skyrocketed in recent years while at the same time Airbnb and similar businesses have thrived by removing rental units from the market.

From thejournal.ie: " AirBnB has been shown to drive up rents overall – research has repeatedly shown a link between increasing AirBnB listings and increases in average rent in the same neighbourhood.

It is important to note that the effects were more pronounced in areas with less owner-occupiers, where apartments and tenancies would be rented out on a commercial basis year round. AirBnB has also reduced rental supply."
posted by xigxag at 10:53 PM on February 11 [31 favorites]


The appalling shit you can google about AirBnB.

For comparison I’m trying to imagine what would happen if word got out that owners installed spy cameras in rooms at the Westin. What that would that do to Starwood Hotel stock prices? And how fast executives would get fired.

But AirBnB has shit like that happens all the god damned time. And you’re lucky if they comp you a hotel room (irony) when you find out the host is a perv.
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 10:55 PM on February 11 [10 favorites]


Housing insecurity is always a risk, particularly if you don't actually own your dwelling. This is reality. People need to accept it.

So is my job insecurity, particularly if I'm not an executive with a golden parachute clause or independently wealthy. So is my healthcare insecurity, particularly if I don't own the means to pay for my medical bills or decent private insurance. So is my retirement insecurity, particularly when I haven't amassed enough wealth to guarantee that I'll be able have housing and medical care when I can no longer work.

This is reality. People need to accept it

WTF? No one needs to accept that fucking situation any more than they need to accept someone's fist landing in their face. Maybe many people have no choice. But that's different than saying "people just need to accept it and stop getting riled up about it."
posted by treepour at 11:03 PM on February 11 [13 favorites]


is shit fucked? Yes. Is it mostly AirBnB's fault? No.

If this thread was anything to go by, some people seem to think that Airbnb invented gentrification.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 11:10 PM on February 11 [2 favorites]


some people seem to think that Airbnb invented gentrification.

No they don’t. Any more than “some people” here invented The Strawman Fallacy.
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 11:16 PM on February 11 [29 favorites]


Living in the #1 least affordable city in the nation relative to median wage (as opposed to absolute highest average rent), I feel the need to highlight/reiterate this point:

Cities are not your playground - they are living things where people of all walks of life have lives. And making it impossible for the working class to have lives there creates an unhealthy city.

I have personally been impacted by AirBnB specifically both in the sense of losing housing so the landlord could rent the place on the platform for a whole lot more money and in the sense of AirBnB guests in nearby houses often being rather loud and inconsiderate.

There have been abandoned or run down and unoccupied houses renovated for the express purpose of renting on the platform, so it has been a mixed bag for my neighborhood. Despite the tight rental market, nobody was fixing those places up anyway.

However, as I mentioned before, it has also pushed me and others out of housing and is helping to keep rents unaffordable, along with a whole host of other issues they aren't causing at all.

A properly regulated AirBnB that actually ensured their hosts were following the rules in their locality could be good for everyone. The disruptive "tech firm" that they are, however, mainly enables tax fraud and code violations of the sort that risk people's lives, not just the penny ante zoning violations you think of when you think AirBnB.
posted by wierdo at 12:04 AM on February 12 [19 favorites]


My privilege to travel should not come before someone's right to a safe home.

I wish I could favourite this a thousand times. I love travel, but am not so deluded as to think my pleasure should be at the expense of others. Seeing people here on MeFi and IRL contort themselves to justify how *their* travel is different, and special, and if I don't acknowledge that I lack empathy or something (see also air travel) makes me laugh. Your lifestyle is not more important than other people. Cheap holiday accommodation - even to attend a family wedding or whatever - is not a right. Everything has costs, and if you are willing to have those costs pushed on to others - people who can't afford to rent, neighbours dealing with noisy environments, environmental degredation - but not own them, you are not really participating in discussions in good faith.
posted by Megami at 12:14 AM on February 12 [27 favorites]


some people seem to think that Airbnb invented gentrification.

I'm not sure that "gentrification" is the right term for cities where a 500 sq ft one-bedroom costs 50,000 to 60,000 a year.

I mean, I get that for some people, 100K as the bare minimum survival base wage for a single person may seem reasonable, but I don't think you can build a city on that concept. As someone said above, cities aren't luxury gated communities or Disneyland.
posted by jrochest at 12:16 AM on February 12 [4 favorites]


A lot of people, including friends, complain about rents in Dublin and citing AirBnB (amongst others) as a reason for ridiculous rents. The most popular reason so many people voted for Sinn Fein in the recent elections was housing- rent caps, tax credits for renters and public housing being built. Airbnb helped get Sinn Fein elected. Airbnb are republican now.
posted by Chaffinch at 3:28 AM on February 12 [7 favorites]


Airbnb is my residential nightmare. I cannot imagine how annoyed (to put it very mildly) I would be if apartments in our building or adjacent buildings were rented to tourists. "Oh, a new group of drunk strangers wandering in late, pissing and smoking and yammering in our garden, stomping up and down our stairs, and stomping around in the upstairs apartment until late. Every night. This is fantastic."
posted by pracowity at 4:52 AM on February 12 [5 favorites]


you can check in any time you like
but you can never leave

(warm smell of Colitas is extra)
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 5:14 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Hotels have always been better. In almost every way.

I'll add here that (non-chain) hotels provide local employment and use local vendors, contributing to the local economic multiplier effect that raises prosperity and opportunity overall. AirBnb and nation chains basically suck most of the profit out of the community with return only to AirBnB and the property owner.

If cities are laid to ruin, Airbnb is probably not a main reason why

I've been following the housing crisis in Ireland. AirBnB has been an enormous factor in limiting available long-term rentals, especially in Dublin. As one person on a radio show just put it, "we have homeless people in hotels, and tourists in houses. Something's very wrong."
posted by Miko at 5:15 AM on February 12 [41 favorites]


TURN OFF LIGHT.

-YOU TURN OFF THE LIGHT. IT IS PITCH BLACK. YOU ARE LIKELY TO BE EATEN BY A GRUE.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:26 AM on February 12 [4 favorites]


AirBnB was founded in 2008 and did not significantly expand beyond literally renting couches until about 2010.

It may indeed have started as a cool website for people to rent out their spare rooms short term; it has now become a device for landlords to buy up neighbourhoods and turn them into unregulated and often illegal hotels. Just like eBay started as a website where people could sell their spare stuff, before it turned into a bulk selling platform for professional warehouses; and Uber spent a little while as a way for people to earn a little extra money from their cars, before it turned into a massive unregulated taxi enterprise and reduced cab driving from a trade to a commodity. In all three cases, the apparently intended original seller base has become an irrelevant minority.

'Disruptive technology' : literally disruptive.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 5:28 AM on February 12 [33 favorites]


Everyone’s wages are depressed, so they can’t afford to live in a reasonable way, and so they have to make choices about how to preserve what little money they have so they can live and socialize.

How dare you presume I want to socialize. I want to preserve that money so I don't have to share a fridge with Issei Sagawa.
posted by Cardinal Fang at 5:33 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


You may be right but there was one other minor event in 2008 in addition to the founding of AirBnB.

We are talking, of course, about CERN firing up the LHC for the first time and shifting us into the crapsack timeline. Don’t believe me? 2008 is also the year the terms “mansplaining” and “dumpster fire” were first recorded, btw.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:48 AM on February 12 [18 favorites]


Every time we have a post about airbnb, we all say almost exactly the same. What I think is new in the article is that new build developers are deliberately planning for airbnb. In my neighborhood, there a new highrise, and they have some studio apartments that are only rented out to students. But the prices are so high you can't possibly rent one as a student, and the layouts are deliberately made to avoid sharing. I've really been thinking a lot about it, until one day I was discussing it with my nephew who is studying, and we realized that if you let out the apartment on airbnb for one or two weeks out of a month (and move back in with your parents) you can afford to pay the rent. The developer/landlord is speculating in this. I bet if the city planners has stipulated no subletting, the apartment rent would have been half of what it is.
posted by mumimor at 5:51 AM on February 12 [14 favorites]


If you let out the apartment on airbnb for one or two weeks out of a month (and move back in with your parents) you can afford to pay the rent.

At college back in the 80's there was a tale of a student who spent his entire maintenance grant on a block of hashish and supported himself by dealing from it for the whole year.

How we have progressed!
posted by Cardinal Fang at 6:05 AM on February 12 [6 favorites]


nation chains basically suck most of the profit out of the community

This isn't entirely true. Most chains, even most of the "good" ones, are franchised at least in large part. Mostly to relatively small (less than 20 locations), relatively local, franchisees. Some, like Best Western and Super 8, largely have franchisees that run one or two hotels.

Granted, those franchise fees aren't cheap and most of the permanent stuff that goes into said hotel has to be purchased from the vendor of the franchisor's choosing, but the profits largely stay near the area.

There are, of course, Hiltons owned by Hilton and such, but they are the exception, not the rule. Next time you stay, look for a little sign on the wall next to or behind the counter that says "operated by Foobar Hospitality, LLC." If you're not staying at a flagship property, chances are that company will be based within the state or one very nearby.
posted by wierdo at 6:19 AM on February 12 [7 favorites]


But the prices are so high you can't possibly rent one as a student, and the layouts are deliberately made to avoid sharing. I've really been thinking a lot about it, until one day I was discussing it with my nephew who is studying, and we realized that if you let out the apartment on airbnb for one or two weeks out of a month (and move back in with your parents) you can afford to pay the rent.

I forgot an important detail: the scheme wouldn't appeal to rich kids with paying parents, because those parents can afford to buy apartments in better locations for their kids. So the prospective renters will be enthralled to the landlord and airbnb.
posted by mumimor at 6:39 AM on February 12 [1 favorite]


100K as the bare minimum survival base wage for a single person may seem reasonable, but I don't think you can build a city on that concept.

It really depends on what you mean by 'city' unfortunately. There are multiple suburbs with greater than 40,000 in population with median incomes double $100k. If that doesn't quite qualify as city then Loudon County Virginia has a population of 400k and a median income well over $100k.

In places that do regulate hotel and short-term rentals, hotels have almost surpassed sales tax as the #2 source of city income, and is growing dramatically. Short-term rental tax is not quite at that point yet, but cities have almost no reason to curtail it because visitor tax rates are not an untouchable 3rd rail. More money and less expenditure on city services = locals on the low end looking for affordable rents are SOL.

There was actually a huge hotel building lull for a solid decade, which caused prices to rise, hotel quality to fall, and AirBNB was able to capitalize on that. It's mostly over now. Cities that have had allowed significant housing and hotel growth and do tax short term-rentals (admittedly a pretty small subset) have not seen them become a significant source of revenue, but again, my point above. The regulations are going to be mostly toothless.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:14 AM on February 12


Also the rules that govern construction of apartments vs hotels in the US at least - locations is the biggest driver of difference, and then minimum room size. Most of the safety requirements people have mentioned (sprinkler systems, ADA compliance, handicapped availability, elevators, egress) are exactly the same, and the construction companies that build them are exactly the same.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:18 AM on February 12 [3 favorites]


locations is the biggest driver of difference, and then minimum room size

Sorry to keep throwing salt in people's wounds, but cities regulate apartment roomsizes to be larger than hotel rooms (and plenty limit the number of 1 bedrooms apartments) mostly to limit the number of low-income people renting in their city.

I'm saying there are lots of rules that need to change to make cities livable for wide income ranges.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:39 AM on February 12 [4 favorites]


My wife has used VRBO to find places when we go on vacation. When we visited San Diego and then Edinburgh she found the listings on VRBO but then searched out the actual property managers/owners (they were legitimate businesses with their own websites and traceable records IRL). Now, she did that because she found it was cheaper to book direct but I think it has saved us from having the sorts of issues described in TFA. Coincidentally, she has tried to use AirBnB a couple times but never has because the situations always turned out wonky (odd date availability) or otherwise sketchy (weird owners) so she never followed through on booking. YMMV.

Short-term rentals are a legitimate part of the housing makeup of any city. People have brought up reasonable explanations why they work better for their situation versus a hotel or hostel situation. That said, they need to be regulated (like any business) so the demands of capitalism don’t overwhelm the citizenry. AirBnB is (imho) a case study in how lack of adequate regulation can distort markets and how capital is incapable of “doing the right thing” with regards to externalities to their business model.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 7:52 AM on February 12 [9 favorites]


Everything has costs, and if you are willing to have those costs pushed on to others - people who can't afford to rent, neighbours dealing with noisy environments, environmental degredation - but not own them, you are not really participating in discussions in good faith.

I think it's really important not to make - even though it's super tempting - assumptions that we, each individual poster, are making the hard, moral decisions, while the other people who are not making the specific hard moral decisions that we are making are morally less worthy, or participating in bad faith. There is no ethical consumption under capitalism. We are all making choices and compromises to live. Every single one of us. There is no way that by just making harder and harder moral choices that we will bring about a different world. That's not how it works - these problems are systemic, not individual.

And it's always easier to examine other people's moral choices than our own. People upthread talked about the benefits of hotels being a largely unionized workforce. That's somewhat true and real and is an argument I'm very sympathetic to - but it's worth noting that the extra cost of hotels is not purely because the workforce is unionized and the owners of these hotel chains are still extracting a massive amount of profit on top of that, while using regulatory capture to stop other people from undercutting them.

It's also worth noting that it's extraordinarily difficult, and I doubt most people do it, to ensure that all of your consumption comes from union supply. Is your food harvested by union members, are your clothes sewn by union members, are your games made by union members? What about the internet you're accessing to read Metafilter? Are the employees of your ISP unionized? Unlikely. Those are choices that definitely, collectively, harm people, as companies get away with union busting. But again - we all live under capitalism, and the amount of effort, let alone money, in ensuring that everything that comes into our home or goes out of it came from a union shop is prohibitive.

So let's not morally judge other individuals, here, who are all a part of the working class, for the problems the capitalist class has brought upon them. While we fight about this, they laugh.
posted by corb at 8:02 AM on February 12 [12 favorites]


One of the things Airbnb (et al, they're not alone) is doing with all that venture capital is lobbying and litigating on a massive, massive scale. They're deliberately destabilizing communities to tip the scale, and laws, and regulations in their favor, they're wooing developers, and they are bedfellows with just about every real estate "investment" scheme that wants similar pieces of pie.

They're not helplessly standing by all Oh Noes, We Can't Help Being Popular. They're aggressively working to move ownership out of the hands of individuals, and people sitting back all "got mine!" on their home ownership should be aware that investment entities are buying entire neighborhoods and you may not even realize they're forcing you out until they've already bought off your city council and state legislature. Attend those meetings, as much as you can. See who's showing up.

It is also true that hotels have slept on providing amenities people want, like kitchens and living rooms and bedrooms with doors. Airbnb and Expedia Group (VRBO, Homeaway, Trivago) may have accidentally stumbled into that market on the way to wholly corporate-owned housing supplies, but it was a hell of an accident. Like Uber, they showed up offering something people extremely wanted and had a hard time getting, and thanks to the all-encompassing mandate of MAXIMIZE SHAREHOLDER VALUE need to be severely regulated to prevent them from being obligated to the path of destruction they're on.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:33 AM on February 12 [13 favorites]


It really depends on what you mean by 'city'

I certainly don't think anyone takes city to mean Loudon County, which is for one thing an entire county and has a population density of like 600/mi^2. I mean Leesburg isn't even a city in the administrative sense. Inner parts of both Loudon and Fairfax counties are probably still dense enough to count as 'urban' in some sense, but even in big parts of these we're just talking wealthy suburban enclaves and odes to unchecked development like Tyson's/Crystal City, interspersed with "ethnoburbs" like Annandale.

(I'm now curious about whether those giant towers in Crystal and Pentagon City have 'no AirBnB' clauses.)

There are financial benefits from being next to the Fed and the weird legal zone of the District, while being administratively separate from the whole mess. There are similar rich burbs around every major city, although built and physical geography come into play (e.g. in SF or Manhattan). Add in the knock-on effect from historic white/financial flight out of cities. The lack of density and public transportation in those places, along with a difference in housing stock, makes them less likely targets for certain types of hotels and AirBnB rentals.

But that seems sort of tangential, I'm curious about how the existence of wealthy suburbs relates to the rest of the point about hotels. Was there a larger point about deregulation?

Most of the safety requirements people have mentioned (sprinkler systems, ADA compliance, handicapped availability, elevators, egress) are exactly the same, and the construction companies that build them are exactly the same.
Doesn't that vary heavily by jurisdiction? SRO laws certainly do.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:33 AM on February 12


So let's not morally judge other individuals, here, who are all a part of the working class

Travel, even to family events, is not a necessity, and as such, should only be done if it can be done ethically. There isn't a single shred of evidence that the choice to use airbnb is ever an ethical choice, given everything we know about it. At this point, using it is acknowledging that the user's personal gain is more important than all of the hurt using the service causes.
posted by maxwelton at 8:33 AM on February 12 [6 favorites]


The party not well represented here are the neighbors. Hotels are not only burdened with rules for sprinklers and exits and the like, they are zoned. You can't just drop one in anywhere because they are not great neighbors: people are coming and going at all hours, delivery vehicles stream in and out, there's parking and traffic overflow, light pollution and a host of other bothers. When I pick a place to live I am counting on zoning to keep commercial interests from ruining my place. This is not a simple commercial transaction between two people.

People, in this thread even, constantly tout this as a feature. As a way that AB&B is inherently better than hotels because they are in a neighbourhood rather than a commercial district. Yet I'd bet the majority, if not vast majority, of AB&B users who hold this view would be ticked right off if a weekly SRO or homeless shelter opened up next to their home or even an actual no dodge hotel. The people in who live in neighbourhoods generally don't want short term renters in their neighbourhood and it is crazy ironic that people use authenticity as a reason to flout local zoning laws.
posted by Mitheral at 9:03 AM on February 12 [21 favorites]


Travel, even to family events, is not a necessity, and as such, should only be done if it can be done ethically.

Leaving aside the issues of for whom family interconnection is a necessity, for whom it's a privilege, and the relative socioeconomic status of both groups, I'm going to note that very few things are true "necessities", and this argument is equally as bad when it's trying to shame people for enjoying things and not living the life of an ascetic as it is when it's trying to point out that people aren't really poor because they have a nice cellphone and god forbid branded sneakers.

Unless you know the suppliers and transport operators in every link of the chain of the goods you use, you are creating harm and hurt in the world. To focus on travel, on freedom of movement in the world, as the thing that should be avoided unless able to be done ethically, while leaving everything else untouched, is moral Puritanism - the discomfort with pleasures, and the pleasure of believing that everyone is more immoral than you.
posted by corb at 9:04 AM on February 12 [14 favorites]


we realized that if you let out the apartment on airbnb for one or two weeks out of a month (and move back in with your parents) you can afford to pay the rent

An acquaintance *bought* an apartment a couple years ago using exactly this logic. They can only afford their mortgage (on a one-bedroom in a rapidly gentrifying but as yet not-very-sexy part of town) by putting the place on Airbnb every summer and commuting from their parents' place in the outer-outer suburbs. I'd be very surprised if they were the only one doing this.

Then again, at least they're obeying the city's rule that you can only put your primary residence on Airbnb. Meanwhile in the past several years, we've lost over 20 000 rental units to Airbnb, with an estimated 20% of rental stock in the hypercentre and upscale western neighborhoods being given over to internet-platform short-term rentals. The prices of which are on average no lower than traditional midrange hotels and are in turn 2-3 times normal market rent.

I frankly don't understand why landlords here continue to rent at all, with Airbnb offering a constant revenue stream and virtually none of the responsibilities that come with having actual, leaseholding tenants.

Airbnb doesn't need to singlehandedly drive gentrification or zoning practices to be harmful. It's bad because it takes the moral hazard inherent to being a landlord--pressing your existing economic advantages to generate even more wealth for yourself, by charging others as much as possible to fulfill a basic human need--and turns it up to 11.

This is to me a particularly painful symptom of a much larger problem, that is to say relying almost entirely on the private sector for the bulk of our housing. It's ridiculous.
posted by peakes at 9:08 AM on February 12 [10 favorites]


You can't "no ethical consumption under capitalsim" your way out of the consequences of being a willing participant in a directly harmful arrangement, sorry.
posted by Space Coyote at 9:12 AM on February 12 [12 favorites]


Travel, even to family events, is not a necessity, and as such, should only be done if it can be done ethically. There isn't a single shred of evidence that the choice to use airbnb is ever an ethical choice, given everything we know about it. At this point, using it is acknowledging that the user's personal gain is more important than all of the hurt using the service causes.

You can't "no ethical consumption under capitalsim" your way out of the consequences of being a willing participant in a directly harmful arrangement, sorry.

I appreciate that it's tempting to try to pin the broader harm caused by Airbnb on a single Airbnb user, but it's also morally illiterate nonsense.
posted by inire at 9:25 AM on February 12 [6 favorites]


[Hi, please stop. In a lot of recent threads, people have pointed out how "it's simple, you must individually do/stop doing x or else You're The Problem, let's fight" is a simplistic response to large scale social problems, and furthermore it's the kind of re-centering that can disproportionately target marginalized people, who may need x more because of life circumstances that don't apply to dominant group members or who may have fewer options for avoiding x. (For example: just boycott Facebook; just don't drive a car; just don't travel internationally; just pay more for a hotel or cab; etc.) Here we are again at this same place! Please stop and just skip this repeated conversational cul-de-sac.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:27 AM on February 12 [22 favorites]


I appreciate that it's tempting to try to pin the broader harm caused by Airbnb on a single Airbnb user, but it's also morally illiterate nonsense.

It's a simple statement - "no one pebble thinks itself responsible for the avalanche, no one raindrop thinks itself responsible for the flood." A lot of what makes the gig economy so powerful and so harmful is how they're capable of directing the action of millions of users without directly involving themselves, which has created a diffusion of responsibility that they wield as a shield. To fix this, we have to combat it in both directions - hold gig economy firms liable for how they shape user conduct, and also get users to consider the full impact of their actions.
posted by NoxAeternum at 9:42 AM on February 12 [13 favorites]


It's a simple statement - "no one pebble thinks itself responsible for the avalanche, no one raindrop thinks itself responsible for the flood."

As is very often the case with simple statements, it takes a good point that applies in particular circumstances and tries to turn it into a universal maxim, with predictable results. I'm all for discouraging individual use of Airbnb, but would like to see moral disapproval applied where it's actually warranted. Appreciate that's harder than 'Airbnb users are morally wrong', but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
posted by inire at 9:58 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]


I wrote in the previous thread about how the guy living above me lost his job and now rents out to live. His roomies right now are longer-term (exchange students and other people with a low income), but it started as airbnb. I may soon be in the same situation as him. I don't think we should blame people who are at the very bottom of the wealth pyramid for trying to survive in a gig economy.
Structural problems should be solved by political means, they cannot and should not be solved by individuals.
A lot of people don't know how efficient planning can be (if it has political backing). If the municipality decides that a certain area can only be low-density, low rent housing, the value of that area will fall dramatically. It hasn't happened much after the Reagan/Thatcher fiesta for the rich, but it is still an option.
posted by mumimor at 10:04 AM on February 12 [4 favorites]


No one should get scammed, but they should expect to be potentially scammed when using such an unregulated service.

A whole lot of people do not realize that Airbnb is unregulated, or rather, that what few regulations exist are not enforced. They don't know that the website's assurances that you'll get to use the actual room depicted in the listing, can be false, and that if it is, there's basically no recourse - you're stuck in a distant city with no place to sleep.

"How dare those morons not realize that they're being scammed by the company that's spent millions (billions?) on advertising and propaganda" is not a reasonable approach to the problems here.

As we've gone over in the political threads, the "average American" (or "average world citizen") is not on Metafilter, and doesn't extensively research every new aspect of politics and business to figure out who's probably being scammed by the changes.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:13 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]


I'm going to have to say that it would be nice to be pinning a lot of blame on Christian Baumann for running the property like this, and a some blame on Chris Millington for not doing due diligence or not caring about who the property manager is.

And it would be lovely to pin the blame on David Cameron, whose austerity project means that Wandsworth Council has no means at all to enforce the planning breach by Christian Baumann and James Swift and Urban Stay.

As far as I can tell, the only person involved in this specific instance who's been blamed in thread is James Temperton, the author, because he booked the room in his home town, closer to the city centre than he can afford to live, in order to do this investigative journalism, in order to make it clear exactly what's behind this specific type of AirBnB corruption.

I think this article's doing a useful service, because it seems to have been lost in this discussion that this was an unpleasant and uncomfortable place to stay. And, having looked at the planning application and seen where it is, and, coincidentally, having nearly been knocked off my TfL hire bike (I won't use Jump or Lime, for similar reasons) there in December, it feels like a site where it'd make more sense to have a hotel than housing. So we should be looking for an environment where things like this are getting planning permission honestly, without fraud.

And in the case of AirBnBs which are smaller, more honest operations, everyone can make their own judgement calls about whether they trust the people running them, and the impact they have on the city.
posted by ambrosen at 10:34 AM on February 12 [11 favorites]


God damn. People are not "bad people" for using AirBnB. Okay. Let's dispense with that. But you have to admit these issues with AirBnB are real. Something needs to be done. You can't morally defend AirBnB.

So. Should people boycott or reduce using AirBnB? Yes. Probably.

Because, unlike the last discussion about flying, there are tons of equally efficient or better alternatives to AirBnB. We don't have to invent anything. It's already there. And let's be real here, it doesn't cost that much at a hotel (many times less), it doesn't soak up that much more time to research or use another rental option.

But once again Metafilter penchant for individual shaming and sanctimony has seized hold and we lose sight of the only real solution that matters: Legislation and Regulation.

AirBnB is only the symptom of the disruption movement that allows people to displace their responsibilities. And we can't just stop using AirBnB alone and expect that movement to go away. Because there are going to be a thousand AirBnB's out there.

We need to legislate and regulate the shit out of the entire movement. Admitting AirBnB is fucked up is only the first step.
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 10:51 AM on February 12 [19 favorites]


we lose sight of the only real solution that matters: Legislation and Regulation.

I suspect one thing that happens is that a lot of people have lost all hope of that legislation and regulation ever coming to pass, and start seeking other possible solutions because the urgency of the problem seems to not allow for the possibility that it won't be addressed. And American ideology is all about demanding systemic problems be solved by individuals one-by-one deciding to behave more ethically, so that is the proposed alternative produced.
posted by PMdixon at 10:55 AM on February 12 [4 favorites]


I suspect one thing that happens is that a lot of people have lost all hope of that legislation and regulation ever coming to pass

That's where I am - regulating Airbnb means going after one of the greatest sacred cows of the Internet.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:08 AM on February 12 [7 favorites]


And American ideology is all about demanding systemic problems be solved by individuals one-by-one deciding to behave more ethically, so that is the proposed alternative produced.

Yes. I'm very sympathetic to that impulse. Sometimes it works really well. Sometimes you spark a movement that creates a tipping point just on individual outrage. But I think the system is wise to that. I think in this case you get cities to pass laws and force AirBnB to spend a fortune fighting them until they cave or go out of business.

Anyway, god, "American ideology." I'm beginning to think that whole thing was a terrible mistake.
posted by Everyone Expects The Spanish Influenza at 11:09 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]


For the most part, AirBnB visits are not taxed like hotels. Hotel taxes pay for a lot of tourist amenities.
posted by theora55 at 12:49 PM on February 12 [8 favorites]


That's where I am - regulating Airbnb means going after one of the greatest sacred cows of the Internet.

And in California we're seeing from Uber, Lyft and DoorDash that even when you DO manage to successfully pass regulations on these companies they just engage in open law breaking. These folks have declared they will spend $100 million on a campaign to overturn AB5, but in the interim they intend to simply continue breaking that law.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 12:51 PM on February 12 [5 favorites]


A whole lot of people do not realize that Airbnb is unregulated, or rather, that what few regulations exist are not enforced. They don't know that the website's assurances that you'll get to use the actual room depicted in the listing, can be false, and that if it is, there's basically no recourse - you're stuck in a distant city with no place to sleep.

"How dare those morons not realize that they're being scammed by the company that's spent millions (billions?) on advertising and propaganda" is not a reasonable approach to the problems here.


That's a good point, but I still just don't have that much sympathy for educated reporters who have a lot of cultural capital being surprised when the unregulated, shady business they are choosing to be customers of turns out to be unregulated and shady. (Though, as pointed out, the writer in this case was doing an expose, expected a scam and found a scam - so he's not a victim and doesn't need my sympathy).

Booking an Airbnb takes more tech-savvy than booking a hotel. I don't even know how to do it; I can assure you that my relatives who have only a high school (or less) education wouldn't know. But they do know how to book a Holiday Inn - or a cheap small hotel or b&b.

Of the people I know personally, the only ones who have ever used AirBnB all have PhDs. I know that's a small sample, but given that it often requires having a smart phone and data, the customer base is probably skewed up in education and socioeconomic status (as well as down in age).
posted by jb at 1:09 PM on February 12


Actually, a question from someone who has never used it: does using AirBnB always require a smart phone? I know that Uber et al do (which, of course, means that many older people who often rely on taxis can't use them).
posted by jb at 1:11 PM on February 12


I had to check the date on the article because I am pretty sure I read something with a solidly similar scam last year some time - call centers, interlocking/identical companies, people getting placed into whatever was available rather than what they booked.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:19 PM on February 12


It might be worthwhile to log on and actually, you know, see how easy it is to book a stay on Airbnb before one claims it's beyond the skills of the average person. Hundreds of thousands of people are doing it every year, which is why we are having this conversation.
posted by PhineasGage at 1:54 PM on February 12 [13 favorites]


Of the people I know personally, the only ones who have ever used AirBnB all have PhDs.

AirBnB claims that 2 million people stay in AirBnB rooms every night. Your data sample is grossly unrepresentative. These rooms aren't eating up 2% of available apartments in major metros with PhDs. AirBnB's IPO is valued around $35 billion (21, 42, pick you favourite number) . You don't get to $35 billion by only having PhD graduates as your primary user base.
posted by GuyZero at 1:56 PM on February 12 [8 favorites]


does using AirBnB always require a smart phone?

Web browser or app. So no.
posted by GuyZero at 1:57 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Booking an Airbnb takes more tech-savvy than booking a hotel. I don't even know how to do it; I can assure you that my relatives who have only a high school (or less) education wouldn't know. But they do know how to book a Holiday Inn - or a cheap small hotel or b&b.

Have you actually tried recently? Because anyone who can shop on the web (admittedly not everyone but certainly not just PhD level intellectuals) can book a room with AB&B.

Also smart phone penetration in the US was 81% in 2018, up from 35% seven years earlier. 96% of Americans had cell phones in 2018. It's probably in the high 80s/low 90s now considering the trend.

Also Wow, I love when a new to me cohort pops into my view. I only know 2.5 people IRL with a PhD (.5 'cause one of the electricians I work with off and on has a History PhD but I'm not sure he rises to the level of know personally).
posted by Mitheral at 2:30 PM on February 12 [3 favorites]


I love when a new to me cohort pops into my view. I only know 2.5 people IRL with a PhD (.5 'cause one of the electricians I work with off and on has a History PhD but I'm not sure he rises to the level of know personally).

I'm a research assistant to scientists. We have over a dozen people with PhDs here, including a couple of the research associates. You get used to it - turns out, they are remarkably like any other professional, and still get easily beaten at general trivia by our librarian.

Yes, my sample is small and skewed. But I'm pushing back against the narrative that AirBnB is being used by primarily by lower-income people who can't afford hotels - it's used by a lot of people who have other options, but everyone likes to save money.

I also know many low-income people, including several on disability (my family has people in the 5th and 95th income percentiles). The poorest don't use any accommodation, because they only travel to family (and stay with that family) - and those who can afford to stay not with family book in hostels or university residences if it's off-term.
posted by jb at 3:26 PM on February 12 [8 favorites]


Private rentals also show up in search results on all of Expedia's platforms. You only need to be online enough to book a flight/hotel/car through one of dozens of online travel aggregators to be able to book a non-hotel accommodation with almost exactly the same amount of steps, usually there's one or two more steps but that's it.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:21 PM on February 12


There are PhDs walking among you on Mefi - quite a few of us, in fact.

And this is a very much delayed response, the vegetables, but I said:

100K as the bare minimum survival base wage for a single person may seem reasonable

and you began talking about places with a median household income of 100K. There is a massive difference between "bare minimum survival base wage" and "median household income".

The point I was making is that rent inflation on this level means that 100K a year becomes, effectively, the poverty line -- which of course is untenable.
posted by jrochest at 7:01 PM on February 12 [3 favorites]


The site linked from the article, insideairbnb, is fascinating.

Here's a current look at Portland, OR information. It includes links to local press about airbnb, text of relevant laws and so much more.
posted by bendy at 7:04 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Uh, using people with PhDs to push back against the narrative that mainly poor people use AirBnB...

I know a lot of well off people who take the the penny-wise thing too far and are total suckers for "deals" like AirBnB rather than spend more on a proper hotel. Then complain about the AirBnB.
posted by porpoise at 7:17 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Reinforcing jb's point that AirBnB's target market is not "poor people." It's situationally broke but aspirationally sophisticated young people, and fairly wealthy people. I don't know about you but since i've used the thing a handful of times over the last few years, I'm painfully aware that it's not uncommon to find properties, even small ones, for $250-450 a night. In places where hotels are actually cheaper. AirBnB is NOT cheap unless you only choose the "somebody's couch" option, which at this point is a tiny fraction of the properties offered. It's a way of accessing limited and aspirational properties.

When you are on a permanently limited budget, you use budget hotels when you're going somewhere you don't know anyone, and you stay with friends and family everywhere else. My family never ever did any travel involving any kind of rented accommodation until I was about 15. Prior to that every single other vacation was at a relative's home.
posted by Miko at 8:52 PM on February 12 [10 favorites]


But once again Metafilter penchant for individual shaming and sanctimony has seized hold and we lose sight of the only real solution that matters: Legislation and Regulation.

I'd argue that it's the AirBnB apologists presenting personal stories to defend their use of an obviously broken and corrupt system that have led to this so-called "shaming". Most of the critiques of AirBnB in this thread were originally presented in a generic sense, only becoming specific when responding to people insisting that these entirely valid points don't apply to their own very special and unique situation.
posted by Go Banana at 9:49 PM on February 12 [8 favorites]


I'd argue that it's the AirBnB apologists presenting personal stories to defend their use of an obviously broken and corrupt system that have led to this so-called "shaming".

I'm not sure that a comment engaging in individual shaming and sanctimony is an effective argument against Metafilter having a penchant for individual shaming and sanctimony, tbh.
posted by inire at 3:13 AM on February 13 [2 favorites]


and you began talking about places with a median household income of 100K. There is a massive difference between "bare minimum survival base wage" and "median household income".

But my point still is that there are large areas of the US and abroad where enough wealthy people have gathered such that $100k is below the "bare minimum income survival base wage", without making some relatively extreme sacrifices. In a place were the median is touching $150k, only like 20-25% of the population earn below $100k. So yeah, that means that like 75% of the general population of the US is excluded from living there.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:19 AM on February 13


But those are suburbs, or parts of other cities; places that don't have to house their own teachers and cops and city maintenance workers and retail salespeople and less-than-middle management office staff.

This is completely offside the discussion of AirBnB but a city where about half of the necessary working population is sleeping rough, or in cars, or in dormitories, isn't a model for a viable economy.
posted by jrochest at 7:36 AM on February 13 [2 favorites]


Over time I've kind of gotten to think that it is legit to say, "use this harmful service as little as possible or not at all" and that the kind of "but in this case it's really necessary" stories we tell are functionally harmful even if they're broadly true.

To clarify what I mean by "functionally harmful even if true": Consider that metafilter has evolved a norm of not re-posting bigoted or traumatizing content in fine detail because repeating it doesn't do any good and can be derailing or traumatic. Like, if I hear something horribly bigoted on the bus, I'm not going to post a comment that says, "I heard a guy say "-----------" because it doesn't help any of us or forward the discussion any to read those terms. It's not like bigotry is some kind of surprise or mystery, or like we're going to be "shocked" into rising up and smashing the state at this point.

Even though it's much less intense and immediate, I think that our rapid slippage into "but what about this time when it was really necessary" narratives is bad because it shifts the focus and is normalizing of something which should not be normalized. These services are bad for society, the social equivalent of ultra-processed food - produced and distributed under the worst conditions, designed to appeal to the worst of our selves when we are stressed, broke and in a hurry, making enormous profits for people who themselves pay for luxury and health instead.

Society should not be set up such that if you are disabled and broke and you need groceries delivered, you should pay someone sub-minimum wage in an incredibly shitty job to bring them to you. Society should not be set up such that if you are broke and absolutely must travel, you need to stay in a janky, dishonest tax-dodge of a scam apartment or you can't afford to go.

I think it's better to keep our eyes on the ball rather than parsing out the finest grains of exigency and when it is actually okay to, eg, buy something from a national delivery service whose workers routinely become disabled or die in their warehouses.

We do what we absolutely have to do. If you absolutely have to use a platform service, fine, we all have to live. But IMO the more we talk about "but it's okay when", the more slippery "if we absolutely have to" becomes, and the more it moves from "this is an emergency, there is no other way that I can obtain this necessary product" to "this is convenient and it is good to save money".
posted by Frowner at 8:06 AM on February 13 [30 favorites]


In a place were the median is touching $150k, only like 20-25% of the population earn below $100k.

No that’s not how median works. The median is the point where half the population is above and half the population is below, by count.

Edited to add: I see now that you are saying 25%ish earn less than 100k, not the median. This is what I get for trying to correct someone after a long day at work.
posted by LizBoBiz at 10:30 AM on February 13


But those are suburbs, or parts of other cities; places that don't have to house their own teachers and cops and city maintenance workers and retail salespeople and less-than-middle management office staff.

There are entire counties in this country in which it absolutely is the case that people making median wage can't afford housing. A lot of them, actually. The absolute figures are lower, so they get less attention than the most expensive places in raw dollars, but the problems are even worse for the service industry workers that often make up a huge chunk of their economy.
posted by wierdo at 3:08 PM on February 13 [2 favorites]


Mayor West - I find your comment really intriguing but I don't actually understand it. Could you please explain exactly what change you made, and how that affected user behavior, and whether you actually did that as a live test on the live site?

Thank you!
posted by kristi at 5:27 PM on February 13 [1 favorite]


To open another can of worms entirely: I live in an area that's in the middle of a rezoning to increase density. There is no question that the city that I live in needs more housing, and that market rate housing is unaffordable for the majority of people who live here.

NIMBY-ism is terrible, but there's a certain strand of naive, utilitarian YIMBY-ism that insists that all development is good development, because all you need to do is increase supply to meet demand, and then boom, affordable housing! Thanks, invisible hand!

It's a facile trickle-down theory that doesn't pan out in practice, and that refuses to acknowledge that most of the developers around here are acting in bad faith. If developers are left to their own devices, we're going to end up with a ghost city full of underoccupied luxury high-rise condos that are used to launder money, accented by a sprinkling of scammy, purpose-built fly-by-night hotels like the one described in the FPP.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 4:24 PM on February 14 [5 favorites]


No, development at the high end does lead to more housing all along the affordability spectrum:
How Luxury Units Turn Into Affordable Housing
Building more high-end apartments doesn’t sound like a quick fix for the affordable housing crisis. But maybe you just have to look harder.
A new working paper by economist Evan Mast of the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research may help move the ball on this issue. Mast’s work suggests that even expensive new units in wealthy areas help relieve pressure on rents across the market, including in less-affluent neighborhoods. And that process doesn’t need to take years to unfold.
posted by PhineasGage at 4:46 PM on February 14 [3 favorites]


The New York Times also had a piece about how adding stock at any level expands the housing base:
Ms. Trauss was a lifelong rabble-rouser and former high school teacher, who’d recently become a full-time housing activist. She made her public debut a couple of years earlier, at a planning meeting at San Francisco City Hall. When it was time for public comment, she stepped to the microphone and addressed the commissioners, speaking in favor of a housing development. She returned to praise another one. And another. And another.

In backing every single project in the development pipeline that day, Ms. Trauss laid out a platform that would make her a celebrity of Bay Area politics: how expensive new housing today would become affordable old housing tomorrow, how San Francisco was blowing its chance to harness the energy of an economic boom to mass-build homes that generations of residents could enjoy. She didn’t care if a proposal was for apartments or condos or how much money its future residents had. It was a universal platform of more. Ms. Trauss was for anything and everything, so long as it was built tall and fast and had people living in it.

The data was on her side. From 2010 to 2015, Bay Area cities consistently added many more jobs than housing units — in some cases at a ratio of eight to one, way beyond the rate of one and a half jobs per housing unit that planners consider healthy. In essence, the policy was to enthusiastically encourage people to move there for work while equally enthusiastically discouraging developers from building places for those people to live, stoking a generational battle in which the rising cost of housing enriched people who already owned it and deterred anyone who wasn’t well paid or well off from showing up.
posted by NoxAeternum at 5:16 PM on February 14 [2 favorites]


Yeah, but it's not adding to the rental stock if the units sit empty. Unlike houses, condos don't deteriorate if left empty, so why bother with tenants?
posted by jb at 6:19 PM on February 14 [6 favorites]


THat's where I'm stuck. The CityLab piece says:
Accounting for possibilities like units sitting vacant, out-of-town movers filling the units, or units being used as second homes/pied-a-terres/safe deposit boxes in the sky, Mast’s model still indicates that for every 100 new market-rate units built, approximately 65 equivalent units are created by movers vacating existing units.
The cities studied were: "12 of the largest metropolitan areas in the United States: New York City, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Washington, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Boston, San Francisco/Oakland, Denver, Seattle, and Minneapolis." Not only would I say that these cities are not particularly representative, especially of cities with high tourism but limited other industries, where the AirBnB effect is greatest, the conclusion admits a couple of important caveats:

...an important caveat to these results is that I focus on quantity-based metrics rather than prices. This a particular concern for housing that is already extremely low-cost, as market mechanisms cannot induce for-profit landlords to lower prices below marginal cost. Vouchers or policies that reduce the marginal cost of providing housing (such as property tax or utility rate reductions) may be necessary to lower prices in this segment of the market. In addition, while I focus on regional effects, new buildings could have very different effects on their immediate area, where they may change amenities or household composition in ways that affect prices"

I translate this to mean that adding more luxury apartments does not relieve any pressure on housing if the population that actually needs housing there cannot afford them (an effect readily visible where I work in New York City, where we have a surplus of luxury apartments but almost nothing available for low and moderate-income people across large swaths of the central city infrastructure). Which is really the critical issue that people looking at this problem care about - does this housing help anyone in this area who lives on a limited budget? I'd say that taking some of the US's largest cities that are experiencing long-run growth as the data set also creates problems - moving from within those cities to other addresses in those cities probably represents upward income mobility, not just an expansion of housing resources or "new household formation, "while people with lower income resources end up moving to inner and outer ring suburbs instead. Also, as noted, the presence of these kinds of buildings can cause other nearby buildings' rents to rise as the neighborhood develops attractive features to other higher-income people.

Near where I live, a seasonal beach resort area, dozens of high-rise condo towers with luxury apartments have gone in over the past 10 years. They seem to be 90% unoccupied - some of them sit empty as investment properties, tax shelters or money laundering; many many others are AirBnBs. They are not housing anyone, so they don't free up any housing pressure anywhere i our entire region. And there are no movers "vacating existing units" in these towns, because none of the condo owners - I do mean absolutely none of them - ever lived in housing in those towns, or anywhere near them. And the people who do live there, for the largest part, cannot dream of affording one of those luxury units, even if they wanted one - and not sure if they would want one, because a place that's designed to host big groups of people in an open plan apartment with three bedrooms and a glass wall ocean view and no storage is really honestly not the kind of place everyone needs to live or have their family live. I think there is more of this going on in the real estate industry than anyone has really noticed, acknowledged or studied. Mast hints at that in a footnote on pages 18-19:

This topic is hotly debated. A number of investigations have found that high numbers of new condos are either owned by shell corporations or do not claim tax exemptions as a primary residence. Logan (2018) finds that only 36 percent of units in 12 new Boston buildings claimed the city’s property tax exemption for a primary residence. Solomont and Sun (2019) find that 16 percent of units in Manhattan condo buildings with over 30 units are owned by shell corporations, while over 30 percent did not claim a tax exemption for primary residences. However, these reports are unable to determine if such units actually sit vacant or if they are rented out. Scanlon et al. (2017) estimates that 70 percent of foreign-owned apartments in London were rented to locals. The city of Vancouver reported that 2,538 units in the city were subject to its “empty homes tax” in its first year, which is only about 3 percent of the 68,000 units constructed in Vancouver between 2000–2016.

I'm not sure how much we can reasonably conclude from those last attempted-countering facts, given that rich landlords and condo owners are good at dodging taxes. It's kind of what they do.

And though he finds no major difference in vacancy rate comparing "block group" to block group, he does footnote: "Because Infutor has imperfect coverage, I cannot use it to calculate the vacancy rate in a building." Which seems to me the critical thing to calculate in this argument! New luxury buildings might sit in "block groups" that have the same basic density as other block groups, but with style, amenities, and above all costs that are dramatically different from the housing that surrounds them, they are not occupied in the same way, by the same people, or at the same rate.

On the whole I'd say this paper is interesting but the study does not - and cannot, given the limitations of its dataset -really argue that adding luxury housing stock makes the city more affordable to middle and low income people. Which is the heart of the question.
posted by Miko at 6:38 AM on February 15 [4 favorites]


moving from within those cities to other addresses in those cities probably represents upward income mobility, not just an expansion of housing resources or "new household formation, "while people with lower income resources end up moving to inner and outer ring suburbs instead. Also, as noted, the presence of these kinds of buildings can cause other nearby buildings' rents to rise as the neighborhood develops attractive features to other higher-income people.

This is exactly what is happening in Atlanta, where both wealthy newcomers and upwardly mobile residents are moving to the new luxury condos inside the Perimeter (as we say), forcing working class and poor people to the suburbs outside the Perimeter.

But those suburbs are still politically controlled by powerful, wealthy factions who moved there 30 or 40 years ago so their kids wouldn't have to go to integrated schools. As a result, the new residents have no access to public transit or social services. There aren't even sidewalks, and if there were, there's very little they could access on foot. And most of the jobs are still ITP, requiring long, miserable commutes.

But don't worry, they're building more luxury condos in town. Surely, one day, that benefit will trickle down.
posted by hydropsyche at 11:16 AM on February 15 [1 favorite]


Miko has done a better job of laying this out than I can, but from a quick scan of that Upjohn Institute article, I think it might kind of make my point.

The study starts from the assumption that each city is a closed market. As such, it excludes a bunch if the realities and externalities that my city is seeing on the ground, even though it's one of the cities in the study: the securitization of vacant units, the conversion of residential apartments to Airbnb vacation rentals, the construction of giant buildings that cannot be maintained affordably if and when the market tanks, migration into and out of the city, the luxurification and warehousing of retail units, the increasing segregarion that comes with luxurification, etc. So I think it is a pretty good example of saying "all things being equal, it's a simple matter of supply and demand!" to a world in which all things are not equal.

It also raises the question of why, if we need to increase the supply of affordable housing, we aren't just building affordable housing, which would be the straightforward solution.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 3:41 PM on February 16 [2 favorites]


Well, if that question really needs answering:
- land values
- cost of securing permits (e.g. protracted legal battles with NIMBY neighbors)
- cost of construction (often driven even higher by requirements to use better-paid union labor)
- financing costs
- inadequate public funding to overcome those factors above
posted by PhineasGage at 4:27 PM on February 16


In my city, there is some of both. The smaller scale luxury developments are almost all being leased, which has somewhat reduced pressure on rents in some more middling neighborhoods where the people moving into these new buildings were previously living, somewhat reluctantly.

Then there are the giant luxury sky penises, which mostly sit unoccupied or used for AirBnB, doing little for the local economy after construction, thanks to the property tax breaks the huge ones all get. At least we sometimes extract amenities from them.
posted by wierdo at 9:00 PM on February 16 [1 favorite]


And don't let's forget that they also extract "amenities" from us - in the form of energy delivery, utilities, required emergency services, and other infrastructure support. Even sitting empty, they are sucking money out of public funds and the local economy.
posted by Miko at 4:36 AM on February 17 [2 favorites]


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