Shooting the Money Cannon
June 16, 2021 2:19 PM   Subscribe

Airbnb is spending millions of dollars to make nightmares go away by Olivia Carville [CW: bad things happening to short-term renters, including assault, rape & murder]
posted by chavenet (38 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
 
Hi - something really weird seems to be happening to that link. I've repeatedly tried clicking it and get re-directed to an article about AirBnB and Olympic corporate sponsorship.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:22 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


Mod note: Edited the link to a direct link to the Bloomberg piece, seems like that should work?
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:26 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


Confirming new link works.

(Reading the article did not improve my mood, sadly.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:35 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


Sorry about that. Here's an alternate link in case you run out of Bloomberg views.
posted by chavenet at 2:40 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


Yet another reason I prefer to stay in a hotel.
posted by interogative mood at 2:59 PM on June 16 [13 favorites]


Reminds me a little bit about the odd occupation of the hotel detective.

Yet another reason I prefer to stay in a hotel.

Plenty of terrible shit happens in hotel rooms, and I guarantee you that IHG, Hilton, etc. all have teams of security experts and lawyers on hand to keep things nice and quiet.
posted by mr_roboto at 3:10 PM on June 16 [25 favorites]


Here they've refused to remove a listing for aproperty that was deemed unsafe to enter due to risk of collapse by the city (owner was unsafely digging an illegal basement expansion).
posted by sepviva at 3:11 PM on June 16 [10 favorites]


So the character arc for the reluctant VC here was to start by thinking rape and murder were bad but to learn they were just another wrinkle on the bottom line. Uplifting.
posted by biffa at 3:21 PM on June 16 [6 favorites]


Everything else about this company aside (and it's a big but), I'm glad they're seeing this as the cost of doing business, because it is. I have stayed in Air bnbs a few times for work but I would never, ever choose this for a vacation for these reasons. Dealing with strangers is just too risky. I know bad things happen at hotels as well but at a hotel I'm not in someone's home with god knows how many keys floating around whose pockets.
posted by bleep at 3:22 PM on June 16 [16 favorites]


I will always choose hotels because hotels have liability insurance, access to professional repair and inspection services, multiple doors between me and random strangers on the street plus trained staff with procedures to follow. This does not mean that nothing bad can ever happen in a hotel, but I am reminded of another metafilter thread a few years ago about someone who died at an AirBnB because the hosts had put a cute, twee swing on a mostly dead tree and the tree fell when someone was using it. Any plantings that hotels have are maintained by professionals and won't just sit around dead until something happens.

Further, at least some hotels are union and AirBnb is another poverty-creating platform service.
posted by Frowner at 3:31 PM on June 16 [88 favorites]


> Plenty of terrible shit happens in hotel rooms, and I guarantee you that IHG, Hilton, etc. all have teams of security experts and lawyers on hand to keep things nice and quiet.

There's some nonzero level of risk no matter what you do -- staying in a home you own, in a home you rent, at a friend/relative/acquaintance's place, in a hotel, in an airbnb.

It'd be useful to have a rough estimate of how the risk of staying in a property listed on airbnb compares to the risk of staying in a hotel. It makes sense that the risk would be higher staying in a property listed on airbnb -- even if airbnb want to reduce risk to guests, given how the business works they have very little control over the reality of the situation on the ground, since they're not physically present -- but how much higher would the risk be? 2x more risky? 10x? 100x?
posted by are-coral-made at 3:32 PM on June 16 [5 favorites]


and it's a big but
I like big buts, and I will tell you why

posted by kirkaracha at 3:38 PM on June 16 [16 favorites]


We've done a lot of Vacasa bookings. things like that, not sure, but haven't done AirBnB. Maybe when we went to Barcelona 8 years ago. Maybe when we went down to Santa Clara, and another group was in our place when we came back from dinner? I avoid AirBnB.
posted by Windopaene at 3:41 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


There are, obviously bad things in there, but I was expecting the company to come out of it worse, somehow. They do what they can to firefight bad things that happen, with the clumsiness that one might expect a company that size to have. They throw money at problems, because mostly what they have is money, and a need to avoid liability, because they are operating in a grey area regarding liability, that doesn't stand much scrutiny. I suspect their entire business model is as deeply flawed as that investor who begged off suggested it was.

I've never done an AirBnB, though I did do something similar through a hotel-booking site because I didn't notice the tell-tale signs in the ad. It was actually very nice, but I did feel like I'd lucked out - there were so many petty things to go wrong quite apart from the all-out danger - for example, the fact that the person renting the flat didn't speak any English at all worked out in this case, but with a different person it could have been much more challenging. Given I'm usually only staying one night, I'd rather a basic business hotel or even a halfway-decent hostel.
posted by Grangousier at 3:46 PM on June 16 [4 favorites]


Having not read the article, my base takeaways seems like it would be… good? I want AirBnB to pay lots of money to try and make things that go wrong right. Maybe it isn’t enough money (hard to pay enough for rape or murder), but otherwise it sounds fine. Time to read the article and discover why I’m wrong, of course.
posted by Going To Maine at 3:46 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


So the character arc for the reluctant VC here was to start by thinking rape and murder were bad but to learn they were just another wrinkle on the bottom line.

Not saying it is right, but the value of a life has been evaluated as a dollar amount in many contexts, including those:

How Government Agencies Determine The Dollar Value Of Human Life
SARAH GONZALEZ, BYLINE: There is kind of an official price tag on human life. We can tell you what it is. One human life is worth about US$10 million. And here's the guy who helped us come up with this figure.

KIP VISCUSI: I've gotten a lot of criticism, and I still do.
Longer-form podcast: Lives Vs. The Economy | transcript
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 3:47 PM on June 16 [7 favorites]


Hotels have risks, too. I know. But often overlooked: hotels have front desks where you can receive packages and store luggage, usually for free (plus a tip of course). I won't get into boring details but we traveled to Europe for a friend's wedding one time. Another friend stayed in an Air BnB and the airline lost her luggage. Guess who had to stick around her crummy Air BnB for eight or so hours waiting for her luggage to be delivered? There's more than risk of physical safety when renting an Air BnB.

Plus a lot of Air BnB is basically unlicensed hotel rooms where people buy properties and rent them out for income. And hire undocumented cleaning staff who get underpaid in cash.
posted by SoberHighland at 3:50 PM on June 16 [13 favorites]


at least some hotels are union

On that tip, UNITE HERE lists some unionized hotels (in the U.S. and Canada).
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 4:09 PM on June 16 [15 favorites]


We’ve had pretty good AirBNB experiences. Saving money, having more space, and having a full kitchen is nice. What I’d like to see emerge from this bad PR are more keyless manual deadbolts or catches. They’re not unheard of, but every listing should have one in addition to the key or code lock.
posted by michaelh at 4:45 PM on June 16 [6 favorites]


I've had good experiences with Airbnb in the past, but I've never stayed in a major tourist destination—more like, my kid and I in a room in a house for $30/night in a little town outside Indianapolis where he was having a gymnastics seminar, or my long-distance girlfriend and I renting a mother-in-law apartment convenient to nothing in a house owned by two nice gay men and a dog, for a weekend get-together.

For the same reason, I never felt quite like we were direct participants in the way Airbnb displaces rental housing. (Indirect? Sure.)

The places we've stayed all had better security than "we leave the keys under the mat," or the equivalent. Keypad entries were more common, and those can be changed quite easily between guests.

All that said, in the few years since that particular girlfriend, I've become disabled, and routinely use either a chair or a mobility scooter. Some things you can pretty well count on in hotels that you can't in Airbnbs include wide hallways, wide room doors, grab bars in bathrooms, specifically set-aside accessible rooms with more space for maneuvering, and, often, staff who are happy to help with your stuff for a moderate tip. When and if I start traveling again, my Airbnb days are pretty well behind me.
posted by Orlop at 5:14 PM on June 16 [17 favorites]


How Government Agencies Determine The Dollar Value Of Human Life.

Sheesh, this article's framing bothers me, though it gets a little better at the end. The VSL (value of a statistical life) is not the same thing as the value of "a life" - it's a way to assign monetary values to risk. Like the kind of decision I might make in deciding whether I want to buy a car with extra safety features - what's that extra safety worth to me? Capturing those societal preferences when deciding how to spend government money. It's misleading to say that the government is valuing one person's life at $10 million.
posted by Emily's Fist at 5:17 PM on June 16 [7 favorites]


I'd encourage anyone to do a quick YouTube search on something like "hotel under door tool" before concluding anything about hotel security.
posted by zachlipton at 5:32 PM on June 16 [4 favorites]


The way I learned that AirBnB was illegal in New York City was one morning when the superintendent and two maintenance guys of the building barged into the place my kids and I were staying. My terrified children were awakened by the ruckus and cowered in their pajamas as the maintenance guys began to work on a lengthy, disruptive, and entirely fake "repair" . Meanwhile, the superintendent grilled me about whether I'd paid to stay there.

I told the host the building administration was onto him, got a full refund, luckily found an affordable hotel room a few blocks away. All's well that ends well and the whole thing ended up being a funny anecdote--but after reading the story in the OP, not so funny. JFC.
posted by Sublimity at 5:53 PM on June 16 [13 favorites]


My experiences are a few years out of date by now, but if you're travelling with kids then hotel rooms won't always work. Discount sites don't accommodate anything other than rooms designed for 1 or 2 adults, and they don't have a process for booking adjacent rooms. There are some places where you can book "suites", but not everywhere - and they can be really expensive. AirBnB seems like it would be a great solution for that. Yes, this story is alarming, as were some earlier reports, but there really is no other good alternative.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:09 PM on June 16 [4 favorites]


Discount sites don't accommodate anything other than rooms designed for 1 or 2 adults, and they don't have a process for booking adjacent rooms.

Hotels vastly prefer you book direct from them and there's a good chance that will get you a) a better rate and b) adjacent rooms if you so desire.
posted by hoyland at 6:49 PM on June 16 [8 favorites]


Not only adjacent but also adjoining rooms.
posted by Mitheral at 7:29 PM on June 16 [5 favorites]


Hotels vastly prefer you book direct from them

Disclosure: I have not had to do business travel in like five years, but at the time this did not seem to be true -- if I contacted the hotel directly I got the generic list rate (the rate that everyone quotes when they're trying to tell you how much you save by booking through Website XYZ). If I went via a travel site I got 25-50% off that rate, pretty routinely. I once mentioned that to the reservations person at the Chicago Omni, and their response was basically "yeah, well, we charge $X if you call us, I dunno what the resellers charge. Anyway, shall we make your reservation for $X?" (the answer was no, although I did still get one of their rooms via a website).

...have hotels gotten more on the ball lately? (because that would be nice, it was pretty irritating at the time)
posted by aramaic at 7:30 PM on June 16 [9 favorites]


Hotels vastly prefer you book direct from them and there's a good chance that will get you a) a better rate and b) adjacent rooms if you so desire.

My experience was more like Aramaic's. I suppose their booking systems might not have been designed to locate adjacent/adjoining rooms, but in any event the staff didn't seem especially interested in accommodating us. I was never able to get a good price either: if you think about it, why should they discount adjoining rooms when they're the only people that can supply them?
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:36 PM on June 16 [6 favorites]


Think about the average person. Then think about sleeping in a bed they have made in a house that they maintain. Yeah I'm good thanks.
posted by turbid dahlia at 7:52 PM on June 16 [14 favorites]


I have been straight up turned away in-person at the hotel front desk, and had to go to a coffee shop to book a room using some 3rd party website (for a room at that same hotel, to be clear).
posted by ryanrs at 10:41 PM on June 16 [7 favorites]


I've had good experiences with two kinds of Airbnb:
a) Small-town getaway hovels, usually where the host is living nearby on the same property. There are a couple once-a-year friends we've made this way, and are welcome to arrange a stay even though they're not on Airbnb anymore.
b) Big houses rented for group retreats, usually with 4-10 of us going in all. There just aren't really good ways to do this /other/ than airbnb, so far as I can tell.

Both of these use-cases are extremely low risk, afaict.

A couple of times I've used airbnb in cities and ended up in places that were clearly part of some underground hospitality empire... That's the case where it seems like a hotel is obviously better.
posted by kaibutsu at 11:11 PM on June 16 [2 favorites]


Having not read the article, my base takeaways seems like it would be… good? I want AirBnB to pay lots of money to try and make things that go wrong right.

Is forced arbitration "...good"?

Are gag orders that deny the consumer the right to speak openly about their complaint "...good"?

Is a company that only deals with a problem after a massive, foreseeable issue slams it in the face "...good"?

This is a really well-reported and sharply written article, well worth reading in full and very damning. Thanks for the post.
posted by mediareport at 2:48 AM on June 17 [12 favorites]


^ The key words in the sentence you quoted are Having not read the article...

Easy to miss all the bad stuff if you don't look at it.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 7:11 AM on June 17 [2 favorites]


This all kind of ties in with the Boarding House discussion as well as a conversation I was having last night about rideshares. All of these things should be good. If the main purpose of capitalism wasn't mindless fleecing, they would be.

The reason these services are popular (or intriguing, in the case of boarding houses) is that they solve an existing problem that a lot of people had/have, and that they allow people to earn an income who might otherwise not be earning an income. They fill a need and provide jobs. This is supposed to be "how it works," man.

Because of where we are in our society, though, they fill a need with a side dose of abuse and danger; and they provide jobs that are objectively pretty terrible.

It should tell you how badly people need simple transport and inexpensive lodging that they're willing to risk the assaults. And how badly people need the jobs/income that they're willing to put themselves in a position of liability and open their homes to total strangers.

I don't know what the short term answer is, but the long term answer is burning capitalism to the ground and salting the earth where it grew.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 7:16 AM on June 17 [8 favorites]


The only time I've used Airbnb was on a big group trip to Japan a couple of years ago. We had some great experiences and some not as great but positive overall. I don't have as much problem with this sort of model where it's renting out a full house to a bunch of people, something that hotels are kinda bad at. And illusion or not the feeling of 'safety' in a country like Japan helped get me on board with the idea.

The stuff in the article though.. yep that's always been my impression of just how bad an idea Airbnb is even on paper. The actual reality just drives home how it needs to be ended. Even without assuming bad actors involved there's just no way it can be reformed as a company to my mind.
posted by cirhosis at 8:22 AM on June 17 [2 favorites]


The VSL (value of a statistical life) is not the same thing as the value of "a life"

And yet, it can save so many lives.

It s a political decision to use this or not, lives are often valued at zero unless this is implemented.

In Cancer Alley, USA, EPA allows a cancer rate for one in ten thousand. Anywhere else, the US EPA allows one in one million.

Our lives are worth one one hundredth of the rest of the country, due to the chemical lobby.

It s distressing to know these things, but having the statistical guidance at least makes all the childhood leukemia make sense.
posted by eustatic at 1:28 PM on June 17 [5 favorites]


This the boot of capitalism gently stomping us into the ground. I mean, what do you want AirBNB to do? Throw up their arms, say "whoops we didn't think that would happen" (which, of course this is to be expected on sheer statistics alone) and shut down? Which means... we'll read the same article about VRBO a couple years later? In a similar vein, I'm sure Uber has been giving out money to passengers who were molested by Uber drivers left and right (I'm less sure about them giving money to drivers assaulted by passengers). I'm also sure many more cases go unreported.

After I win the lottery, I can afford to stay in hotel suites with kitchens in my jet, and will make sure its cleaned by unionized cleaners, but until then I'm going to keep staying in Airbnb's.

There is no ethical consumption under capitalism. I have no idea how much misery was involved in my t-shirt that I'm wearing, but I'm sure the amount of slavery involved is non-zero. I want to leave but i'm not sure where to leave to.
posted by fragmede at 3:56 AM on June 18 [1 favorite]


I mean, what do you want AirBNB to do?

I think this is a completely valid question, same as the boarding house discussion. Do you all think that people only die in Air BNBs?

Happens in regular hotels too, often:
March 8
March 21
April 21
April 26

How much cash do you think these places are going to throw at the victims? Do you think forced arbitration and gag orders after big cash settlements are going to be their biggest complaints?

Do you think that regular hotels don't have crime problems? You know there is an entire section of the hotel industry that enables sexual assaults. The next line of hotels up from that have bulletproof glass to pay for your room. In most cities, a few hotels account for close to 10% of the local crime problem. Here's a law firm in Chicago that specializes in sexual assaults occurring in hotels.

None of you have ever stayed in a hotel that's door didn't even lock? Lousy hotels are literal tropes of television and real life.

So yeah, asking what AirBNB should do to make their services be safer than a normal hotel is a huge and valid question. They should be defacto banned is a stupid answer.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:08 AM on June 18 [3 favorites]


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