Airbnb, the short-term rental platform that's become a bit of a bête noire lately, particularly for San Francisco progressives and housing activists, has just published a Community Compact and pledged to play nice with city governments around the world, saying they have "more work to do" to become "constructive partners with regulatory agencies and policymakers."
Wired characterizes the move as Airbnb "dialing back its attitude" in the wake of the defeat of San Francisco's Prop F which would have greatly curtailed short-term rentals in the city and "trying to look like an ally, not a rebel." That is probably smart given the heated debate that erupted over the last year regarding short-term rental hosts becoming responsible for helping to worsen SF's housing crisis by keeping units off the long-term rental market and Airbnb's unwillingness to help San Francisco enforce an existing, recently passed law against this practice.
Now, as the Chron reports, the company is promising to do a number of things it had previously refused to do as it expands across the globe to other metro areas with their own housing shortages. Airbnb says it will begin by educating hosts about responsible home-sharing, and especially "where housing prices and availability are a critical issue," they will be making sure hosts "agree to a policy of listing only properties that are permanent homes on a short-term basis."
Also the company pledges to collect hotel taxes, crack down on illegal hostels and hotels, and share anonymized information about short-term rentals with local governments.
Local activist Sara Shortt characterizes the move as Airbnb "running scared" saying the Community Compact is "clearly a preemptive strike, not a sign of sudden enlightenment on the issues." She points to the "too-close-for-comfort" margin in the defeat of Prop F, 56 to 44, after the company spent over $8 million on the No on F campaign.
That may be partly true, but it's also true that the company couldn't possibly hope to skirt these issues as it deepens its presence in thousands of cities with legions of local housing tensions of their own. Airbnb's policy head Chris Lehane tells the New York Times, "Given the size of the Airbnb community, this just seems like the right time for us to be very specific about the types of commitments we’re willing to make."
Airbnb currently operates in over 34,000 cities around the world, listing over 2,000,000 properties.
Meanwhile, another new legal issue came up for debate concerning Airbnb this week via a tragic piece published on Medium by journalist Zak Stone. Stone's father died while staying at an Airbnb rental home in Texas via a rope swing attached to a dead tree a swing that had been used as part of the photo array advertising the property, and which was clearly unsafe. Whether the company bares any liability in the safety of the host's property is a fair question, and Stone points to a 2012 piece in the Times that asserted it was "only a matter of time until something terrible happens."
Well, terrible things have happened, certainly, and not all of them make the news. In another twist on the liability question, a college student was kidnapped and sexually assaulted by his Airbnb host in Spain over the summer. And when he called his mother for help, she was unable to get Airbnb to help her do anything about it, or help her call the police in a foreign country. Also, there was a death at an Airbnb property in Taiwan, which turned out to be an illegal hostel, caused by carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty water heater.
As the Chronicle reports, via the company's Airbnb Open conference in Paris which is playing host to some 5,000 "top hosts" Airbnb is also unveiling a new set of programs for hosts geared toward safety, and safety training. These include free home checks in San Francisco by SAFE, to improve safety from criminal activity.
Says the company in a statement, "Nothing is more important to us than safety and we are constantly innovating and investing in new programs and services that help make hosts and guests safer."