What’s the one area in short term rental hosting where there is the most overt bigotry, judgement, and intolerance in the host community?
No, I’m not talking about discrimination based on race or sexual orientation — those issues that take up so much space in the news these days, those matters we are fervidly obsessed with in our discrimination-obsessed popular culture. Rather, I am talking about something much more innocuous, something much more benign — which draws a surprising amount of what one may describe as sheer bigotry in response. I am referring to the rageful responses to women saying no.
I’ve noticed a curious phenomenon in my years in participating in the hosting community: a good number of fellow hosts and guests alike seem to have significant difficulty with women saying no. Difficulty with women, in essence, who are trying to control their own space, an intimate space, the space in which they themselves live — by setting certain house rules for guests to follow in that space. It seems that both fellow hosts and guests too (of both genders!) can sometimes become enraged when women say no. I think it’s worth reflecting on this phenomenon, because I believe it might point to a level of entitlement, and perhaps male expectation of female accommodation of them and all their needs and wants.
We as Airbnb hosts are offering accommodations, and as such, it is expected that we will be accommodating to guests. This “accommodation” , when it applies to female hosts, fits into a context, and that context is that women (much more than men) have historically been expected to be accommodating. Historically, men demand accommodation, and women are the ones who accommodate. So all female hosts are in a sense “set up” by the expectations generated from the context of male-female relationships through thousands of years of patriarchal history. The expectations of guests (both male and female) may be conscious or unconscious, and while many guest’s expectations are reasonable for someone offering “accommodations”, others are not, and unreasonable expectations or demands may fit right into this long history of expecting women to be accommodating, and (male) rage as a response when women are not accommodating.
There is a powerful psychological issue related to our expectation that women be accommodating: the mother complex. Female hosts readily accrue a projection, from their guests/renters, of the “mother” archetype, particularly by those with a powerful mother complex. The mother archetype is very strong, very powerful — many people have powerful “complexes” (Jungian term) about “mother”. Eg — they themselves had a cold mother, absent mother, bad mother, breast-denying mother, critical mother, misattuned mother, etc. For everything that they did not get, in their psychological development, from a mother who couldn’t provide it, some people are “programmed” (just like computer programming!) to subconsciously “seek out” mother in the world.
I say this as someone who has just such an issue myself, by the way– the key difference being — I’ve been aware of it, so I can work with it, and be aware of the “mother” I have long sought out in others. (Being aware of this helps a lot in finding good mother “substitutes”!)
Women in significant roles of authority, or those providing some need, such as — employment , housing, accomodations — are easy fits to people’s (both adult men’s and women’s!) “mother complex” and thus, such people may lash out at the woman who essentially “is not a good breast, offering sweet milk”.
As additional important context on this issue — in First World nations even as in Third World countries and places where sexism and patriarchal values are more entrenched, men are much safer in public spaces than women are. The simple fact is that everywhere in the world, weaker people, those less capable of defending themselves, are more vulnerable to criminal predation, sexual harrassment and sexual abuse. Men may also have to worry about being robbed when walking home on dark streets at night, but women have to worry , as well, about being sexually assaulted. Men can ride public transit without much worry about their safety, but women are often leered at or groped on public transit. This happens a lot in Japan. It happens so much in Mexico, apparently, that there women have begun a campaign to install “penis seats” on trains and create videos and more videos showing unsuspecting men having their asses prominently photographed, to try to help men become more aware of the level of the problem.
Indeed in some nations, women aren’t even allowed to go out alone, and can be attacked if they do. Men can generally feel much more confident and less fearful of travelling alone almost anywhere in the world, but women are much less likely to travel alone, and more likely to be fearful if they do. As a woman, even as a particularly independent woman, I recall losing a relationship because my friend could not accept that I would go hiking alone at night.
I mention these things because, to the extent that women feel less safe in public spaces, their own home — a space which they can control and make safe —may become vastly more important to them by comparision. Men who dont’ experience feeling so unsafe in public places may have trouble empathizing or understanding the significance that this creates for women, and the great importance, of being able to control their own home space. Which may mean, if they are an Airbnb host, or have any renters in their home, coming up with “rules” and policies such that they can continue to guard and protect and keep safe their own private space. Men (and some womens’ ) inability to understand or respect a woman’s need to control her own small corner of safe space in the world can range from simply a failure to empathize, to smug dismissals of the right of women to engage in any hosting at all (a contemptuous and curt : “if you have such hangups , you’re not meant for hosting ” ) all the way to expressing contempt and even rage, and sometimes, even seeking to create laws which would violently intrude upon this private space by legislating open access to it.
One of the reasons, for instance, why I oppose all anti-discrimination laws as applied to private homes, is because such laws represent and in fact re-enact a patriarchal demand by males to access women’s space, and reify a patriarchal society in which women are forced to be accommodating, even if at the expense of their own sense of safety.
I am not saying that women have to be able to engage in illegal discrimination in order to feel safe. What I’m saying is that the boundaries by which a woman creates a safe zone in her home, and the methods of screening renters that she uses to remain safe, are violated by patriarchal laws which seek to appropriate her own property from beneath her, — to define it away from her by claiming that, in essence, if she is so financially unfortunate as to require renters to be able to afford her housing, then in essence her home is no longer hers and it becomes a public space that others — such as men — have a right to make demands upon. Such laws allow others to violently demand access to her home.
It took a while for me to see the phenomenon of hosts attacking “women who say no” in their own community.
The first sense I had that there was something curious going on, was the exceptionally strong response that some guests, as well as fellow hosts, had to hosts — particularly female hosts — who had “strict house rules.” Many hosts, including some who often bragged about their liberal orientation, their tolerance, their acceptance of “diversity” and different kinds of people, simply could not accept the diversity and difference implied by hosts who had more house rules, or ones that they didn’t like. Hosts could apparently accept guests of all ethnicities, all nationalities, different sexual or political orienations…but a host who wouldn’t allow guests to have their relatives over to visit? This was unacceptable to many hosts, who responded with belitting comments. In one recent situation on a host community board, a host revealed that she didn’t allow guests to have visitors, and posted that she was angry because a male guest yelled at her in response to her attempt to enforce this rule. Instead of recognizing the inappropriate behavior of the guest in this instance, fellow hosts berated her over her house rules.
Fellow hosts chided this host with statements such as: “you need to relax” or “rules rules rules over the top and in the first hour…hosts need people skills “(implying that this host did not have people skills). There were demands that she explain herself: “Why such a strict rule?” and hosts felt free to dismiss the idea that the host may have had this specific rule for a reason, instead empathizing with the enraged guest who booked a place without reading the rules, and then demanded that he be allowed to violate the rules: “As a parent I’d be pretty miffed too, to be told my child wasn’t allowed in the house”. Other hosts seemed unable to take in the problem created by a guest yelling at the host demanding to violate her house rules —“I dont’ see the problem” , even after the host explained the problem. Several hosts said things like “I think you should bend your rules a little”, which again shows an inability to respect this female hosts’ right to run her house as she saw fit, to realize that her house rules were most likely not created randomly or by accident but with intention, and to imagine that there is probably a good reason for every one of them.
Another host said “You made the choice to be confrontational”, which is a form of victim-blaming — like telling the woman who said no to the panhandler, and then got hit over the head by him, “You made the choice not to be nice. Now look what happened to you because of your choice. Can’t you just give him some change?”
The response of guests to “strict house rules” can be even more intense, enraged, and antagonistic. I recall reading an article by an Airbnb guest, directed towards other guests and giving instructions on how to find a place to stay, in which that (male) guest ridiculed hosts who had “a lot of house rules”. Then, instead of urging guests to find a listing which had house rules which suited them, he urged guests to simply violate the house rules when they booked a place that had ones they thought excessive. Two trends may coincide here: we live in an “entitlement culture” where an increasing number of people feel that they should be entitled to all kinds of things, and there is the old uncurrent, from ancient history, of men demanding that women accommodate their needs. And at the juxtaposition where those trends meet, is the female Airbnb host who says NO — and ends up excoriated for being so “rude” as to run her own home as she wishes, and control her own space.
One of the ways that a patriarchal, sexist culture dismisses women who try to control their own space and stand up for themselves, is by dismissing them as “crazy”. Some women attack other women who are trying to control their own space, by referring to them as “digusting control freaks” — and worse. Here’s a particularly venomous message that someone felt compelled to send to me, when they read my “Goodbye to Roommates” series:
As evidenced here, the language that some hosts use to excoriate other hosts who are simply trying to feel safe in their own home can be appallingly judgmental. Men are judged too, but based on my own experience with renters, and what I’ve seen in the host community, I am inclined to believe that the most atrocious judgment is directed at female hosts/landlords — and it’s both men and women who can be so intolerant of women trying to run their home in their own way.
One has to realize that with such intense intolerance, even to the point of rage, there’s something being triggered in the attacking host, by a woman who simply says no. Apparently this is an extraordinarily loaded thing to do. Which is why I suggest that more women do it. Women need to take up more space — their space — and I invite you all to do it. Of course, the biggest way of saying no is not having any renters at all, but many women have renters not because they want to be obedient to sexist demands that they accommodate, but rather, because they are in financial need. Women still earn only about 75% of what men earn for doing the same job. (See here ) And women have historically figured largely as proprietors of guest homes, lodging houses, pensions and boarding houses — in fact, this has been “women’s work” to such a great extent, that I also think it’s worth reflecting upon the extent to which the prevalent “anti-Airbnb” sentiment/activism in our culture, may be in part a sexist phenomenon, since most hosts are women (middle aged or older actually). Is there a significant degree of social intolerance regarding women controlling their own space, and other’s access to it?
When women are both inviting renters/guests in and also drawing boundary lines to protect one’s private space and the environment there, where it the world gets up in arms and outraged about just what lines women draw where in their own home.
After reading my articles about struggles that I had with renters who were exceptionally defiant of and disrespectful towards my (somewhat strict) house rules, one fellow host began using terms such as “crazy” to dismiss me and my efforts to control my own space. There’s a way in which male entitlement can only view women who refuse to accomodate them, as “crazy” or “mentally ill”, when in fact it’s the entitlement mentality, the unreasonable and invasive demands that men (as well as women, in a patriarchal culture) make of women, which is the actual dysfunctionality in the situation. Consider whether we are likely to call men “crazy” when they try to control their own space — no, we’re more likely to call women “hysterical” if they demand access to space that men control. But shift the genders, and when women saying “no” leads to male “hysteria”, suddenly it’s the men who are viewed as reasonable in their entitled demands, and the women who are setting healthy boundaries are being defined out of the realm of rationality by depicting them as crazy, nuts.
Apart from a rage when women depart from the accommodating role that men demand them to remain in, what could fuel this level of intolerance towards female hosts who show that they want to control their own space, and demonstrate, with their house rules, that they are quite capable of doing so?
I think one factor involved is the inability of many hosts to recognize that there may be power strugglesinvolved in the guest-host relationship, particularly if the host is a female who has signified in some way, (such as with “strict” house rules) that she intends to control her own space, and the guest is a male (or a woman conditioned thru the patriarchal culture to expect other women to be accommodating) who is threatened at some level (could be subconscious) by women who are controlling their space and may say “no” to them at one or more levels. Women tend to be more sensitive to power struggle issues, and intuitive about them, and so we can sense when a guest might be defying our rules intentionally, out of some deep need to reject our authority, versus little slip ups or omissions which everyone makes innocently.
It seems to me that many hosts are simply oblivious, or perhaps in denial, about the way such power struggles may unfold, and the potential importance to the host, of not allowing the guest to bully her in subtle ways. Because, like it or not, a guest’s continual and intentional defiance of a certain house rule, may amount to an insidious bullying. And each host has the right to respond to such bullying (or encroachment upon their own space, as the case may be) in the way they think best. Different personality types may result in different responses to the same phenomenon. No one style is right — there’s only what’s right for you. Why do some hosts have so much trouble tolerating someone else’s right to use their own style?
Some hosts may find that their preference is to just de-escalate the defiance by ignoring it, and allowing the guests’ actions to become futile in that they do not succeed in “getting a rise” out of the host. In other words to win over a guest’s attempt to subvert their authority by pure peaceableness. However, another host may feel that it’s just not workable for her to ignore continual intentional violations of house rules, even if they pertain to a relatively “trivial” issue. This may be doubly important if it’s not only the host who is bothered by these violations, but also another guest. (As far as that goes, let’s admit that more than one serious fight in a marriage has likely been started by no more than “socks on the floor” — which I mention to indicate that “everything is relative”, even fairly trivial situations).
For instance, I recall a post on a host community board, where a female host discovered that one of her two guests was violating the rules about keeping their personal items stored in areas designated for personal storage, and was continually putting their personal items elsewhere around the house. The extent of this was minor, but the host wanted the rule followed, quite likely because she was aware that the placement of the guest’s personal items around the house was not simply accidental, but had a symbolic meaning, and related to the guest “staking out territory and marking it” in the hosts’ home — much as a dog pees at corners of its territory to mark what it owns. Problem being, that the guest didn’t own any territory in the host’s home, outside the guest room she had booked.
When the female host posted about this situation on the host community, there was a surprising amoung of backlash from other hosts, against the host for enforcing a rule over a “trivial” issue, again including the sexist assertions that she, the host, was “crazy”. These hosts inappropriately judged and demeaned this host for handling a situation with insight and in the way she thought best. In fact, as that particular guests’ reservation drew to a close, the guest violated a couple other house rules in a more egregious fashion, with a likewise exceptionally entitled attitude — and this demonstrated to the host that she had been right about the undercurrent of defiance of authority involved with this guest.
A fellow host expressed her view of the guest- host relationship in this way, which I thought appropriate: “You as the host need to be the Alpha (as in — the Alpha dog, the head of the pack) in your home. If not, all is lost.” This comment demonstrates that beyond the simplistic and facile, superficial and sometimes cutesy-cloying depiction of the host as an “accommodating” person offering “accommodations”, there is another theme/issue potentiallly involved in the host-guest relationship, that of power issues and potentially a power struggle. This may not be there at all if the guest is a decent, respectful person and has no deepseated need to defy authority, nor any issues about going into uncontrollable rage when women say “no.” In fact, I have very rarely sensed a “power struggle” going on between myself and any of my guests. But I think that is in part because I’ve already done so much to communicate, via my listing description and house rules, that I am the Alpha Dog — albeit a kindly one. So my guests are already coming with that understanding.
But if there is a power issue involved, shouldn’t it be up to the host to decide how to handle that? Is it appropriate to judge the host about how she deals with power struggles in her own home?
My intention with this blog is to suggest that there is a relationship between how some respond to “strict house rules”, and how they respond to women who say no. And that with its themes that correspond to the long history of male demands that women be accomodating, this issue bears more thought and reflection than facile dismissals and judgments of women (or really any host, male or female) who have more house rules than you do.
There are some things that are more obvious about what makes a good guest: someone who is respectful, who communicates well, who cleans up after themselves. But there are other aspects of what makes for a good Airbnb guest, which may be less obvious to those who haven’t been hosts, or who haven’t participated in conversations about guests in the community of hosts. One of the most frequent complaints from hosts about guests, is that the guest is wanting something that the host isn’t offering – or not only wanting it, but expecting or demanding it. So in essence there is a mismatch between what the host is offering and what the guest is seeking, and this mismatch too often is lost on the guest.
Let’s take a concrete example so it may be clearer. Say you are going on vacation and want to rent a car. You look at the offerings of the local car rental company and decide to rent a compact car, say a Ford Fiesta or Toyota Corolla, because the price fits your budget. Then on the day you go to pick up the car and start your trip, you go to the car rental agency and express surprise that the Toyota Corolla isn’t larger, saying that you have 6 people in your party and you need more space. You demand an upgrade to a Dodge Minivan, but insist that you won’t pay more than for the Compact Car rental, arguing that any decent car rental should be one that can fit 6 people. Now the car rental company will most certainly refuse to give you a Dodge Minivan for the price of a Toyota Corolla. Why do guests expect Airbnb hosts to do any different?
Perhaps the greatest value of the many places to stay on Airbnb (literally millions now!) is the diversity of places to stay. There is something for everyone on Airbnb. Hence, it is really possible for guests to find exactly the type of space that suits them, particularly if they are looking sufficiently far in advance of their trip. There are small quiet spaces for one person, there are large homes for large groups. There are listings where no fragrances or smoking is permitted, and others which encourage guests who partake of Cannabis (see www.budandbreakfast.com). There are places featuring swimming pools, and encouraging families, encouraging recreating at the listing, and there are minimalist listings for busy adults, oriented to those who are going to be out a lot. There are listings specifically for certain interest groups, such as nudists on “nakations” . There are listings in treehouses, requiring climbing up a ladder to access, and listings on flat ground, suitable for those in wheelchairs. There are those featuring pet dogs or llamas and welcoming pets, and listings with hosts (or aimed at guests) who are allergic to dogs or cats and can’t accommodate them. There are listings in RV’s, tents, yurts, cabins, and yachts.
Precisely because there is such a robust abundance of types of listings and immense variety in places to stay, it always strikes me as odd, and not infrequently rude, when guests ask to stay at listings that clearly do not suit their needs or their expectations. Hosts who don’t’ allow smoking on the premises, too often report finding cigarette butts and ashes inside the property after the guest departed. Hosts who have a maximum of say 4 guests, often come to the host community to vent about how they saw 6 or 8 guests with luggage in tow departing the listing on check out day. Hosts who don’t’ allow pets report getting inquiries and reservation requests from guests with dogs or “emotional support service animals” asking to stay at their home. Hosts with a clearly stated price, get inquiries from guests who are asking for a 40-50% discount from that stated price. Hosts whose maximum stay is 7 days get guests inquiring asking to stay 3 weeks. Hosts who have strict cancellation policy, get guests who cancel and expect a refund which is not in keeping with the strict cancellation policy. Hosts who ask guests to read the house rules before booking, get guests booking and violating the house rules, later saying “I didn’t know about that rule: you should have told me about it in advance.” A host who specifies that their listing has a maximum occupancy of two, and may not be suitable for small children, reports getting a reservation request from an adult couple, who they accept, only to hear later from the couple that the couple plans to bring their two small children along.
One could view all these cases, as an attempt by the guest to force the provider to swap out a Toyota Corolla for a Dodge Minivan at the price of the Compact Car. Particularly in the case where the guests are bringing more people (sometimes many more!) than they stated at the time of the booking, they really are dishonestly seeking to get more for less. But given the huge number of such situations, as reported by hosts, as well as the fact that a person renting a car would have no luck in getting a Minivan for the price of a Compact just by claiming “I didn’t know” when they were booking it, we have to ask what is going on. Why are so many guests expecting something at the listing that not only they haven’t paid for, but in many cases is expressly prohibited by the host? Why are there so many mismatches?
I see three possible explanations for this problem, which are interrelated. One has to do with a common complaint of hosts “the guest didn’t read the description of my place!/didn’t read my house rules!” If a guest books without knowing what they are actually booking, there are bound to be problems. Sometimes, in order to try to avoid this type of problem, hosts will trim down their listing description or list of house rules, theorizing that there’s a better chance of the guest reading everything, if the amount they have to read is less. Unfortunately the problem with this approach is that something that was quite important to know, has been chopped out. As I like to tell hosts, when they ask, “What is the most important house rule?” – it’s the house rule that you left out of your house rules. It’s Murphy’s Law as applied to Airbnb hosting. You can be sure that the issue that will become significant during a guests’ stay, has to do with the house rule you decided to remove from your house rules, because you were worried that your house rules were becoming too much “like the yellow pages.” Eg…very long.
On that note – I have heard a good number of people say that they will not book a place that “has a long list of house rules”. I find this odd, because house rules very rarely anything more than a sincere attempt by a host to prevent potential problems and ill fitting expectations, by communicating clearly about what they are offering. House rules are also very often a result of experience – they reflect the fact that the host has learned from experience (eg learned that a short list of house rules is inadequate) and now is communicating in a more complete way. So for a prospective guest to say, “I don’t want to book there – they have too many house rules” is sort of like saying, “That host communicates too clearly – I would rather they communicated poorly – and they are too thoughtful—I would prefer they didn’t have the experience and wisdom that they have. Also the host does too much to protect their own property – I’d rather that they were less able to protect their property and themselves from liability.” That is what guests may be saying when they argue against hosts communicating what needs to be said.
As well, to refuse to book a place with “lots of house rules” is often presumptuous — presuming that the intent of the rules is punitive. But hosts don’t make rules like “Don’t have fun here! Snap to it, sit in the chair in a corner with a dunce cap on!”
Have you ever seen that? No, rather the rules tend to be little more than common sense, such as “don’t’ put on hair dye and then lie down on my expensive linens.” Hosts ourselves really don’t’ like it that we have to write a dozen or two dozen statements which are little more than common sense, but intelligent guests will take this more as a comment about other people’s lack of common sense, than the hosts’ punitive personality.
When guests refuse to book at a listing that has “a lot of house rules” what they are often doing, without realizing it, is devaluing an experienced host, and showing preference for someone less experienced & perhaps more naïve – who may in fact not be able to adequately ensure/protect the guests’ own quality of experience. If a guest books a place that has no set quiet hours, perhaps they will begin to realize the wisdom of having more house rules when another guest at the same house makes too much noise after midnight, and the host finds it difficult to do anything about this, saying “this is a chill house, I didn’t want to write too many rules.”
But for those who really are allergic to “long lists of rules” — there is a simple solution. Don’t book at a place with such rule lists! Like any decent match, this should be easy enough to do, and yet it surprisingly frequent that hosts report guests booking and then not following the rules. In fact, I even saw one blog by what looked like a well-experienced Airbnb guest, which actually encouraged people to violate host’s house rules if there were too many of them. This goes way beyond an accidental mismatch or one resulting from laziness or inattention, and becomes an intentional act of disrespect and rudeness, even bullying of a host. Instead of “book a place because it’s a good match”, we are seeing some guests booking or trying to book, precisely because they dont’ match the host or the listing. As I’ve written elsewhere, I think this exceptionally rude approach can be linked to our contemporary entitlement culture, which focuses heavily on people’s “rights” and minimizes the duties that come with respecting one another.
The second potential explanation for this difficulty in mismatches, which I think is related to the first, is that too many guests don’t view an Airbnb host or their listing in the same professional way, as a solid business, as they would view a car rental agency. I contend that many guests come with an expectation that Airbnb hosts aren’t actually businesspeople doing business, but are “just plain folks” who can potentially be manipulated/unseated by a pushy or aggressive approach, or who are likely to wobble if shoved. And unfortunately guests may be right in this assessment of hosts, as we can see in all the situations where hosts, perhaps desperate to get a booking, tell the guest that “I don’t’ ordinarily allow children/pets/emotional support llamas/smoking/guests with 17 suitcases/4 month long bookings, but I will permit it in this case…” And then the wobbling begins. I urge hosts to think of themselves as a business, act as a business, develop policies and rules, and stick to those. You may think you are doing guests (and/or yourself) a favor when you make exceptions, but when you do that, you are also teaching guests that hosts’ may not always mean what they say, that they can be manipulated, their rules overcome with enough prodding.
The third explanation for this type of problem with guest mismatches, is that the system itself (Airbnb’s policies and booking system) doesn’t sufficiently penalize those who knowingly book a space that doesn’t match their needs or expectations, and hence, guests who book a Toyota Corolla and then become abusive with contempt that they didn’t get a Dodge Minivan, may find that far from themselves being penalized for their failure to book an appropriate listing, the system actually allows them to penalize the host for not delivering up a Minivan. They can complain to the host while at the premises, and threaten to contact and complain to Airbnb, which may side with them, particularly if they have not heard the hosts’ side of the story. They can write a “revenge review” after the stay, marking the host down from 5 stars to 1 or 2 stars, for not providing a Minivan for the price of a Compact Car. Airbnb at this time unfortunately doesn’t have a policy of removing reviews which are factually, materially false, because it has no method to ascertain what is true or false.
What is a good Airbnb guest? A good guest is not only someone who is respectful, clean, and communicative but also is someone who is careful to make sure that the listing where they are booking, is actually a good match for their own needs and expectations, and those of the party they are traveling with.
In order to support more real matches, and less frequent problems with guests in essence paying for a Motel 6 and expecting the Ritz Carleton, guests must put in more effort to read the entire listing description and amenities offered, as well as the house rules. To encourage this, hosts should ask guests to read all of this before they allow someone to book (Instant Book by its nature does not allow this step in the process, and hence I discourage anyone from using it) As well, Airbnb would do better to support hosts when guests book at a place that their needs/expectations do not fit, such as by allowing the host to cancel such a guests’ reservation without penalty, and/or by being able to remove reviews which are clearly “revenge reviews” whereby resentful and irresponsible guests seek to punish hosts for not provide or permit what they never claimed they would provide, and what the guest was wrong to presume would be permitted.
I think it was in 6th grade when I was first introduced to some of the different “logical fallacies” – errors in reasoning which are rather common in popular culture, and which one can find now listed on websites oriented to Philosophical Reasoning, such as this one or this one. Our 6th grade assignment was to create cartoons that illustrated the use of logical fallacies in TV commercials. For instance, through deployment of “Appeal to Authority” , the local Coal Industry Corporation can create TV commercials saying that Coal mining doesn’t harm the environment, because The Catholic Pope said so. Well the Pope is certainly an authority, but in the area of the Catholic church, not in the realm of carbon dioxide emissions or global warming, or any of the environmental sciences.
Or one could deploy the “Argumentum Ad Captandum” or “Argumentum Ad Populum” (types of appeal to popular presumptions) and argue that people should buy shoes from you and not from your competitor because “they are out of step with the times”. Populist political leaders make great use of such Argumentums when for instance throwing out baseless accusations that there were millions of people who voted illegally in the recent election.
In essence, there is a lot of faulty thinking out there…and as a sixth grader I found it fascinating to contemplate the huge number of logical fallacies in our everyday environment, not to mention TV ads. I am now deploying my never-failing enthusiasm for this subject in the hopes that there are some adults out there among you, who might be capable of rousing yourselves to as much passion and intellectual curiosity as I had as a young middle school student.
For the purposes of our discussion here, let me point out that there is a difference between fallacies involving reason or the thinking process, and those involving law. In fact, the idea that law itself should be honored and viewed as right, simply because it is the law, is itself a logical fallacy. This is a fallacy both because laws are not philosophical truths but social constructs, and because laws are constantly in a state of flux and change, and shift with the times. Thus, —to give an example –the male-to-female transgender individual who produces a driver’s license and states that they are in fact a woman because their driver’s license declares as much, engages in at least three Logical Fallacies — the first, being the Appeal to Authority, which seeks validation for a point of view from the wrong authority. I think most who think about it for a few moments will understand that truths about things like gender and sexual orientation are not dictated by government, at any level. Even those realms which could be viewed as providing authority on this question — such as philosophy and science — seem to fall quite short in seeking to explain such mysteries as gender.
The second fallacy, we may call the Argumentum Ad Bureacraticum, namely, the argument that what a government does in the name of expediency, or for some perceived common good, either represents some philosophical or ontological truth, or — that the law is simply right because it’s the law. (There’s an example of the Circular Reasoning fallacy). There’s also a cherry-picking type of logical fallacy involved here — this same individual who eagerly points to the fact that the government has validated her gender, would probably not be so quick to cite government’s possession of truth when it comes to government in North Carolina and the infamous “restroom bill”, HB-2. This we could call the “Argumentum-As-You-Please-Em” – the idea that you can be free to cite a particular authority (government) when that is convenient for you, but at other times, feel free to reject the authority of the same entity.
In this blog, I want to contrast two types of arguments, which though classed as Logical Fallacies in that landscape of Pure Philsophy, when carried into our practical landscape of short term rental hosts and government regulations, come into contrast with each other and become like two characters in a story, each freighted with a substance beyond the purely rational. There may be ethics involved — there may be pragmatism, there may be issues of freedom, or social order and harmony. You decide what you think as the forces of Argumentum Ex Necessitate battle with Argumentum Ad Bureaucraticum, in streets, alleys and apartment buildings of neighborhoods near you!
Let’s line up the two characters of our story and see what they have to say.
First, there is Argumentum Ad Bureacraticum, an “Uncle Sam” who is telling people, or groups of people, or corporations, what they have to do. Sometimes Sam protects us from injustice or dangers, sometimes Sam causes injustice. Whether Sam is good or bad depends upon your perspective and the situation, but one thing we can say with certainty is that Sam is powerful, Sam is strong. There is no one else who can push you around or push around that group or corporation that pushes you around, quite like Uncle Sam. Sam has penalties, fines, courts and prisons on his side, and you don’t have any tools to fight back when Sam decides to fine you, incarcerate you, put a lien on your home. For you or some group or corporation may have honor and right on your side, but right doesn’t matter when Sam has the law. Sam is loved by the law-abiding, or sometimes just by those who aren’t in temperament so law-abiding, but find the law convenient to their enterprise. Sam’s followers, those of this Argumentum’s camp, often claim to believe that because something is the law, it must be right. It seems that they dont’ question the law and they don’t question their government. Although I have to wonder how it is that so many people who argue, for instance, that people shouldn’t be doing short term rentals because it’s illegal, are the same people who have those “Question Authority” bumper stickers or posters on their car or on their wall.
I think that if we look deeply into it, we are likely to find very few people who actually believe that any law is right, simply because it’s the law. Most people ardently support the law when the law expresses their own values, but not otherwise. So the Argumentum Ad Bureacraticum can be viewed as a composition of various other types of fallacies: sometimes the Argumentum- -As- You- Please- Em (Cherry Picking one’s support for the law as truth) or an Appeal to Authority (waving one’s hand in the general direction of municipal codes and statutes when it is convenient to do so), or the Circular Reasoning fallacy — the law is true because it’s the law — or perhaps the Paternalism fallacy, which seeks to summarily dismiss those who would question the law or the moral authority of the law, as childish, immature, “crazy libertarians”, or selfish people who have no concern for the common good which is supposed better represented by blind adherence to the law (when convenient, on a cherry picked basis).
On the other side, we have the Argumentum Ex Necessitate. This character is very similar to the one styled the Argumentum Ad Misericordium, an appeal to one’s empathetic nature. In the Argumentum Ex Necessitate, the argument is that one has to do something, or be permitted to do something, because of one’s need. Hence, the need of the individual is counterpoised to the forces that would oppose the individuals’ action, such as those of law or ethics. One might view the character of this Argumentum as a humble being, small and not very powerful, who is threatened in their existence by powerful surrounding forces which they have little to no ability to abate.
In our times, we are seeing an increasing number of people or groups of people who find themselves in this Argumentum Camp. Whole nations are being transformed by this Argumentum taking place in Europe, as thousands of refugees pour in, from Syria and several African or Middle Eastern nations, demanding or hoping for asylum and some “exception” to a nation’s standard immigration policy, on the basis of their need. In the US, we have had migrants from Central and South America crossing our southern border for decades, under the same Argumentum: namely that their need should take precedence over immigration laws.
In the US, homeless individuals have long struggled with the fact that municipal codes and laws seem to have been designed without giving thought to their dilemmas. Hence, laws which would prohibit people sleeping in public places, when alternate shelter does not exist, have been found unconstitutional on 8th Amendment grounds . In Berkeley California at present, there is a group of homeless individuals who are protesting what they view as a lack of suitable shelter in that city (they insist that all homeless should be given permanent housing), and their Argumentum seems to be that since they are people in need, they have a right to camp anywhere, including street medians in the middle of thoroughfare. (They also partake of the Argumentum Ad Lazarum, which states that something must be true, because it is argued by a poor person) The City of Berkeley has other views on this and continues to move them out of street medians, upon which the fervent advocates of the homeless (as well as an array of entrenched anti-authority forces) will heave down as far as they can into this Argumentum, and portray the police who remove the homeless from camps in the middle of the street, as an array of militaristic- imperialistic forces.
Indeed, the housing issue is one where we are seeing a great deal of this Argumentum appearing in our times. There is a real crisis in affordable housing in many areas of the nation. In many urban areas, artists have long sought out creative ways of living that offered affordable alternatives. Some of these settings have been commerical warehouses, which they “illegally” renovate and reside in. This has worked for them for many years, but a recent catastrophic fire in an artist warehouse community in Oakland, the Ghost Ship Fire caused the Argumentum Ex Necessitate to collide full on with the Argumentum Ad Bureaucraticum. The supporters of Ad Bureaucraticum drew on the very size of this catastrophe, wherein 36 lives were lost, and the grief of parents, relatives and friends of the victims, to pressure the city to do more to ensure that fire inspections and building inspections were carried out as required, to help avoid such tragic loss of life. Yet at the same time, the artists in their corner had Ex Necessitate, arguing that it was owing to escalating housing costs, gentrification, loss of affordable housing, that they had to live in warehouses, which were, in fact, probably the only place left for them to live in the entire city, unless they slept in their car.
The lawsuits which followed lent strong support to Ad Bureaucraticum, demonstrating how the concentrated power of government and state and law, regardless whether right or wrong, can often grow in an exponential manner, simply through the power of the lawsuit to shape outcomes.
In the days following the Ghost Ship Fire, many warehouse artist’s communities in the Bay Area and around the nation, began to recieve eviction notices, (and here )as the warehouse owners were duly frightened by Ad Bureaucraticum, seeing how lawsuits were flying, and realized that they could easily lose their property in such a suit, should a fire break out in a warehouse they owned, and it be demonstrated that they had known of people residing there illegally.
Artists then amped up for a direct challenge of Ex Necessitate to Ad Bureacraticum, complaining to cities about these eviction notices, even asking cities to stop the inspections, which they viewed as causing them to lose their housing.
I present all of this to set the stage for the discussion of the Argumentum Ex Necessitate as it effects those doing Airbnb Hosting or short term rental hosting. Even though those doing Airbnb hosting — being people possessed of real housing — are clearly not as down and out or poor as the homeless, or comparable to artists living in a warehouse because they can’t afford area rents, they still come under the umbrella of this Argumentum to the extent that they may find that their options for housing and/or for generating income have grown more limited in recent times, while financial pressures on them have increased.
The way that Airbnb renting is presented in the media, it often seems as though it is only tenants in a city who can legitimately stand behind the banner of the Argumentum Ex Necessitate. They will use this Argumentum to push for things like Rent Control, or expanded rent control, or for more restrictive regulations on Airbnb renting (which, they are certain, is causing the cost of housing to increase). They may even support the city government to engage in violations of the 1st Amendment and 4th Amendment when it would punish people for advertising, or would allow warrantless searches of people’s homes under the argument that “that is the only way” that we can enforce the law on short term rentals. (an End Justifies the Means style fallacy)
But there is a fallacy in the view that only tenants can be in possession of the Ex Necessitate fallacy. This is the fallacy of Affirming the Consequent, namely, “if A, then B; B, therefore A.” We can say that if someone is a tenant A, they are at the mercy of increasing housing costs B — but we cannot turn around and then draw the conclusion that if someone is at the mercy of housing costs B, they must be a tenant A. For homeowners too are sometimes quite afflicted by housing costs and the increasing cost of living.
When they hear of homeowners making the argument that they should be permitted to do short term rentals so that they can afford their housing, tenants sometimes express incredulity and anger, and respond that the homeowners could simply do long term rentals, and preferably to rent to a renter like me, someone in need of permanent housing, instead of doing short term rentals. This argument is fallacious on two grounds — one is the argument we often see in the media, which seeks to tie together two phenomena which happen to have arisen simultaneously, and draw a causal relationship between them where none exists. This is the Cum Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc fallacy — the assertion that Airbnb rentals are responsible for the loss of housing, even when studies such as summarized here and this one show that there is no causal link here. The second fallacy is the Non Sequitur — the idea that simply because one is in need of something, that some random person should be obligated to provide you with that. Of course, there is also the third fallacy — we might call it Argumentum Ad Nauseatum — the bizarre idea that a property owner would ever choose to rent to a tenant who tried to bully his way into that person’s home.
Many of the things people are now arguing for, Argumentum Ex Necessitate, based on their presumptive need, are things which involve space or area that the public has a claim to (as in public space that the homeless seek to appropriate for their own campgrounds) or lines that the public has drawn which protect the nation as a whole (immigration laws, asylum laws, limits on numbers of immigrants or sites for refugee camps) . Some , such as warehouse artist collectives, are arguing to be permitted to live in spaces where people aren’t allowed to reside, and which cities could be subject to liability if they reside, because of their abundant Ex Necessitate, as well as what we might call the Argumentum Ad Eximia, or the argument that owing to being a Special Snowflake one doesn’t have to follow the laws that other people are subject to.
By contrast, the struggling middle or working class homeowner who wants to engage in short term rentals is not asking for public land, is not asking for changes to laws that would effect their whole nation, and is not asking to create a situation which could result in liability, or fire dangers, for the city, or their neighbors. It may be more difficult to see their Ex Necessitate because they have a house, which others may not have, but it is also easier to see that they are not pushing so hard for a toppling of Ad Bureaucraticum.. Many cities in fact have not had clear rules/laws about the difference between long or short term rentals. Some cities allow such rentals in some parts of the city, but not other parts. Viewed from the outside there is often very little difference between renting to people on a longer term basis, versus renting to people on a short term basis: particularly when such rentals are occuring in a freestanding home, as opposed to an apartment in a multi-unit building,. and when the homeowner is living there, along with the renters/guests — and as issuing from Ex Necessitate, this is the kind of circumstance we are looking at — not that of an Airbnb “Tycoon” or Investor who owns many properties, but rather the homeowner who owns just one, their own home.
One of the least compelling arguments from the Ad Bureaucraticum side, (and the most fallacious) is that a law is right simply because it happens to exist. The argument for the law is much more compelling when one can demonstrate a good reason why it exists. The fact that a mistake may have been made a few years ago, or a century ago, is no reason to continue with that same mistake today. A good many of the laws which prohibit short term rentals, could, if studied through the lens of Logical Fallacies, be demonstrated to be constructed on a whole edifice of numerous fallacies.
(1)There is the Exception Fallacy, which is when the city government, hearing about a problem with loud parties at one Airbnb rental, decides that this one problem situation is more characteristic of Airbnb rentals than the other 3000 Airbnb rentals in the city where no problems exist.
(2) There is the Cum Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc fallacy as mentioned before, whereby cities reason quite lamely that since Airbnb arose at the same time that an affordable housing crisis became intensified, therefore, ipso facto ergo propter hoc, Airbnb has caused this housing crisis.
(3) There is what may be called Argumentum Ad ControlFreak whereby petty bureaucrats become alarmed when they see people doing something which they dont’ know about and can’t control — such as, what people do in/with their bedrooms– and then get hysterical about needing to control those people who have the nerve to do what they want in their own home. We might also call this the “Argumentum Ad Invidia” or argument from jealousy, since I suspect that petty bureaucrats who have boxed themselves into living a narrow little cramped-in type of life, have a great deal of resentment and jealousy towards those who live more freely.
(4) There is the Argumentum Ad Populum, whereby city officials play on or exploit public prejudices to regulate against innocuous activities — such as by characterizing those who welcome guests into their home as “engaging in commercial enterprises in a residential area” (not true: renting accomodations is a residential, not a commercial use of property), or playing on provincial xenophobia by saying hosts are “bringing all kinds of strangers into our neighborhood” who “will disrupt the social fabric and destroy the character of the neighborhood”.
(5) There is the Argumentum Ad Traditionem, the argument that since there are existing laws on the books which are “old” or “have been there for some time”, or “that’s the way we do it”, that these must be right. Some of these supposedly right and honorable laws, for instance, express considerable bias and prejudice against single individuals and living arrangements which are not nuclear family arrangements. Many cities for instance have zoning laws about what is permissible in “single family residential neighborhoods”, and those laws incorporate an inbuilt bias in favor of married individuals with children (“single family residence” is a term which contains this implicit bias) and against single individuals. For instance it may be perfectly fine for a married couple with 10 children to live in a “single family dwelling” , while it would not be permitted for 6 or 7 unrelated adults to live in that very same home. A friend told me of such a case in Connecticut: 6 unrelated adults bought a home together, because, guess what, housing is expensive and pooling resources is the way of the future. Well, their neighbors sued them, alleging that they had no right to live in their own home, because they weren’t a “single family” but just a group of unrelated adults. The neighbors would have won, save for an obscure law that authorized live-in servants. So the only way these 6 adults were able to legally live together in the house they collectively owned, was to characterize 4 of their number as live in servants. It strikes me that such laws are just as perverse and wrong as the old race based property covenants which forbid owners to sell to non-white individuals. Now the “those people” that some want to keep out, are those who aren’t nuclear families!
I think you’ll have gotten my point that there are numerous logical fallacies, as well as prejudices, in the various arguments which would disallow short term rentals.
On the Ex Necessitate side, some claims are more convincing than others. It’s not very convincing when a wealthy real estate investor argues Ex Necessitate in favor of their being able to do short term rentals at all their 25 properties. It’s too easy for people to say they must be confusing need with greed. Also, when the tenant living in an expensive apartment in an expensive city like San Francisco, argues with this Argumentum that she must be permitted to do short term rentals in violation of her rental agreement with her landlord “because how else can I pay my high rent”? I think many would see a Cart Put Before the Horse type of fallacy as well as the A Priori Argument fallacy in this case. However, some may also have trouble understanding why a homeowner who is in need of rental income to afford her home, couldn’t just as well rent to long term tenants.
To understand that question, it helps if we know something about landlord-tenant laws, and how they impact landlords. Yes, homeowners can rent to long term tenants, but for many, particularly those who have experienced serious problems with long term tenants (see my 7-part “Goodbye to Roommates” series here on this website) , that’s sort of like saying, “Yes, you can build your house anywhere — as long as you build it on the sand.” Giving people a right to do something that too often results in situations that make them miserable, and decrease their autonomy in their home, and in essence undermine their ability to live in freedom and comfort in their own home, is not adequate. If homeowners (or tenants who have permission to sublet) have other choices than renting to long term tenants, who in their experience too often begin to become possessive about their homes, why should they be limited by the law to those which make their life harder or pose more legal problems for them?
In Summary — in many places in the nation, the Argumentum Ex Necessitate is in the ring, squaring off with Argumentum Ad Bureaucraticum. Airbnb hosts are arguing from their necessity — and Airbnb too continually puts out PR statements supporting the right of “middle class hosts” to make a living (even though, by so doing, Airbnb may be engaging in the Half Truth fallacy, since a good number of its “hosts” are real estate investors.) This argument may be more “politically correct” (Argumentum Ad Populum and The Politically Correct Fallacy, #78 inthis list of 116 logical fallacies) when these middle class hosts are not white middle class hosts — but not less compelling in terms of Ex Necessitate . Both sides have their supporters and their opponents. Yet notwithstanding these multiple caveats, it’s my view that there is much more moral authority to be found in the Ex Necessitate, than in the Ad Bureacraticum argument that something is right just because it’s the law, or because “we’ve always done it that way.”– as well as in the whole cascade of errors of reason that lead to city prohibitions on short term rentals in the first place.
Also, since today is Christmas, I am reminded of something once said by a wise man, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” In seeking to find our way forward on these questions, I hope that we dont’ simply try to force round pegs into square holes, as if the there is virtue in retaining antiquated approaches to new issues — or as if human beings were created solely to fulfill the purpose of The Law. I hope that in particular for those finding themselves in the boxing ring with Ad Bureaucraticum, that flexibility, ingenuity, and a focus on the pragmatic and beneficial may win over stale custom and empty shibboleth.
This blog will describe my experience both in a trip to Los Angeles, and at the Airbnb Open in Los Angeles, in November 2016.
Instead of flying down, my plan was to rent a car for a week, stay at an Airbnb in Los Angeles, and use the car to do some sightseeing both in Los Angeles and in Southern California, before returning home. Okay I’ll come out and admit it — I was less interested in attending the Airbnb Open than in going to LA to just visit friends and tour around. As I’ll go on to describe here, I think that apart from the opportunity to meet other hosts and have those fun personal connections (which in my view was the best part of the Airbnb Open!) there is a limited degree to which one more “Be the best/most excited host you can be!” type of talk can benefit experienced hosts.
So I drove down highway 5, in the Central Valley, from Northern to Southern California, and enjoyed the colors of dusk as I neared the GrapeVine pass.
I arrived at my Airbnb rental in the West Lake district of Los Angeles, unpacked and enjoyed the quiet. The place was like a secret island retreat in the midst of a dense urban area!
The next morning, I went up to Mulholland drive to a host get together, and enjoyed the opportunity to take in the views from this reknowned scenic drive on the hill above the Los Angeles basin.
I did some walking along Mulholland Drive, and found a park with some dirt trails. Going off trail, I actually found a large deer antler, there in the center of this mega-city!! Also, while walking along Mulholland road itself (which apparently almost no one does…and there are no sidewalks!) I also found a turtle shell just lying there, 4 ft from the busy roadway! Who was this turtle, how did it get there? Curious minds want to know!
After the host get together, I headed out to go for a hike near the Hollywood Sign, on a route suggested by one of the hosts, a route that would pass a place called the “Wisdom Tree.” There is a rough dirt trail that ascends up this hilltop, between the sprawl of Hollywood and the Los Angeles basin to the south, and the San Fernando Valley with Universal City to the north. I found a very intriguing scene when I summited the hill — Wisdom Tree is a site where people — mostly, young people — come to leave wishes, prayers and blessings written on scraps of paper, and placed under one of dozens of rock piles that cover the hilltop. It’s a pilgrimage site of sorts, and I felt there was a fantastic positive energy there. Gosh, doesn’t every city needs a mountaintop as a pilgrimage destination? It needn’t be Christian or Hindu, and it needn’t be associated with any particular religion. Because the urge to make a pilgrimage to a holy site, to pour out one’s heart, is a deep spiritual archetype and truth residing in our souls, and it’s there regardless what religion we are, or even if we have no religion. So I give thanks for LA’s Wisdom Tree mountain, for being this place for people.
A chest containing many notebooks with more prayers and wishes sits just below the tree. At least 20 young people were present, enjoying the warm evening, and reading some of the notes or writing their own. Further down the trail, I came across another group of young people making a video. The energy among all these folks was just so buoyant and positive — I was so impressed!
After that, I quickly hiked over to the top of the Hollywood Sign, at “Hugh Hefner Overlook”. Apparently Hugh Hefner and Ann Getty bought this land and preserved it, thus protecting this ridgetop and its magnificent views and indeed, its importance now as a spiritual destination, from the sprawl and growth that characterizes the city of Los Angeles. See that “H” in the Hollywood sign in my photo below? I’d later found out an interesting fact at the Museum of Death on Hollywood Blvd — an actress named Peg Entwhistle leapt to her death from the top of the “H” in 1932. Prudently, the H and the rest of the Hollywood sign are now fenced off from hikers and sightseers.
The Forest Lawn Cemetery from the hills above:
The next day, November 18th, the Airbnb Open officially began. We headed downtown to register and obtain the programs which provided choices of different events and talks all day from 9am to 5pm.
We each got a gift bag, and a wristband which not only identified us as paid attendees, but also had some techhy tricks that it could do. The wristbands had little LED lights in them, and the local Airbnb wifi network was controllling these lights. So, about 5 minutes before each talk began, the wristbands would beep. There were other tricks the wristbands could do — they could foster connection. A host told me that there was a water filling station in one place where if one host touched one pole, and another host touched a different water pole, then when the two hosts joined hands, water would emerge from the spigot — but only when the two hosts made contact.
The gift bag also contained a gift book — written by the famous “Senior Nomads” who are traveling the world in their senior years, and have stayed at over 150 Airbnb’s in their more than a year on the road. The book is a good guidebook both for guests who intend to do major travel, as well as for hosts who want to know how best to set up their home for such guests. But the book doesn’t describe much about what the Senior Nomads actually experienced on their travels, so in that sense it disappointed me, because that’s what I am most interested in. Not how were the Airbnb’s set up but what did you see, think, feel, while you were traveling? In what ways were you delighted, how were you challenged, what were the funny/sad/scary stories from your trip?
What was on the menu for the talks?
Talks were to be offered at 4 different venues located within a couple blocks of each other, all on Broadway in downtown LA. (The Orpheum Theater, The Theatre at Ace Hotel, The Downtown Palace Theatre, and Los Angeles Theatre). As well, there were a number of other sites downtown being used by the Open — Clifton’s, a 3-story “Cabinet of Curiosities”, featured glass boxes containing entire stuffed bear, deer, and a large artificial tree with a fireplace at its base. This was a hangout spot to get food or drinks, and to chat with Airbnb staff or drop in at tables with information for hosts. There was a “share your story” building where hosts were encouraged to engage in artistic ways of telling their hosting story. There was a bar that held “peer to peer” sessions, and there was the Oasis, a bandstand and the site for the musical events of the Open.
Here were the events offered the first day:
Creative Living Beyond Fear with Elizabeth Gilbert
Designing for Success by Chip Conley, and others
The Downtown Story — about the revitalization of downtown LA — Blair Besten, Brigham Yen, Mister Cartoon and Trevor Kale
Feed Your Creative Imagination — with Brian Chesky, Brian Grazer, Frank Gehry and others
Finding your Inner Happy Host — Elizabeth Bohannon and others
Expand Your Business, Host for Others — Suana Wang and Andrea Diamond
Beyond the Home: The Future of Airbnb — Joe Zadeh (JoeBot) and others
Sucessful Remote Hosting — Alex Nigg, Tammi Sims, Adam Bilter
Connecting with Hosts around the world
Building a Brand on Airbnb
To Win Big, Go Local
The Making of a Movement for Home Sharing
Creating the Ultimate Guest Experience
New Host Tools for 2017
Working Together with the Travel Industry
Making the Best out of your Listing
Universal Belonging — with Eric Holder
Leaps of Faith: Strategic Risk Taking — Chip Conley
Building Relationships with Landlords and Neighbors
The Small Business Effect
Community Driven Business and Brand
Protect your guests, protect yourself
Designing the Mobile app for home hosts
Optimize your listing
Host your passion
Be a 5 star host
The Beauty of Travel
Host Life Balance Workshop
As you can see, there is quite a lot of focus on being a better, and better, more successful and yet more and more successful host. This gets tiring after a while for many of us, particularly for experienced hosts who’ve already learned a lot about hosting, and who have reached our limit as to how much more we can do to improve, improve, improve and be better, better and best. How about just some mindfulness focus on just being happy where we are instead of always trying to reach for more and more?
The bell of mindfulness rings today and it says “whatever/wherever you are right now, is enough.”
I started out the day with Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk on Creative Living beyond Fear, which was quite funny if not necessarily closely related to the hosting business itself. Gilbert is a writer (author of the bestseller Eat Pray Love) and it was hilarious to hear of her adventures traveling around the world for her book talks and carrying out her self-imposed task of asking various strangers, “What are you most excited about right now?” She came up with this question to ask strangers, because she wanted to stay authentic, and have real connections with people, real intimacy, and thought this would do the trick — even if the question was a bit invasive. (I would find it invasive — but nevertheless, Elizabeth would get to know me if she put this question to me, because I’d give her a what-for through my response, which would then open up to some authentic dialogue).
When I heard this question I saw the link to Airbnb, as “excited” is a word that hosts will know shows up in just about every email we get from Airbnb. We’re excited to be hosts, we’re excited to have guests, we’re excited to be part of Airbnb and drink the koolaid, and, hopefully, with all that koolaid, we’re still excited when the guests break our TV or violate our house rules.
That said, I have to admit that I tend to be an “excited” person myself. Yep, I’m not a Millennial — I’m not even Gen X — gosh I’m actually a Baby Boomer, a real oldie — but….I’m nearly always “excited” — and not because of corporate hype!. It’s related to my own style of creative living which began years ago — actually over half a century ago, at age 2, as I recall — when I first just started doing whatever the heck I wanted and ignoring all the social pressure to conform. I recall standing at age 2 in my backyard and having a couple other 2 -year olds peer at me and say “you’re different”. Yes, hon. And I still am. And it’s exciting.
All those attending Elizabeth’s talk were given a copy of her new book, Big Magic, where she explores the creative process and what supports it.
One of the most interesting things Gilbert said, was when she presented her idea that
“Ideas are a conscious force in the universe, spending time circling the world, looking for a human being to help them take form. It is one of the holiest, most mystical experiences you can have, to say yes to an idea.”
Gilbert views this as “magic”, and as she says in her book, she really means magic in a Harry Potter way. I find this personification (or spiritualization) of ideas quite fun and exciting, but for me this has more to do with my art and writing projects than my Airbnb hosting. That said, Airbnb hosting does give rise to a good number of anecdotes that can be used for creative storytelling! And one Airbnb host from Hollywood has started her own comedy mini-series on the theme! See the trailer for her show here .
I read Gilbert’s book Big Magic during my trip, and I found it quite inspiring and energizing. It seeks to break apart many of the misconceptions we have about the creative process, and thus make the creative journey available to more people, presenting it what it really is — our birthright, as well as our hardwiring. We’re all hardwired to create. We just need some help removing the obstacles to accessing this!
Next, I attended the talk about the revitalization of downtown Los Angeles. Downtown LA has been being revitalized for about 12 years now, since 2004, and while one of the speakers pointed out that for LA (as for San Francisco) “there is a massive housing shortage in LA”, the revitalization of downtown should not be viewed as “gentrification” because it’s not involving pushing people out. The residential SRO’s, the single room occupancy units where the low income residents of downtown can live, have been preserved — this in distinction to San Francisco, where the residential SRO’s have not been preserved, but have been lost to new development. Brigham, an Asian man from Utah, said that LA has the title of homeless capital of the nation, but he insisted that we need not give up on this issue and resign ourselves to the perennial nature of homelessness. He pointed out that in Taipei, in the city his parents are from, there are no homeless, and one can wander the streets at 3am and feel perfectly safe. As I reflected on this, I thought that elements of Asian culture probably mitigate against homelessness in a way that elements of American culture do not. For instance, the values of shame and honor play a much greater role in Asian culture than in American culture. And family bonds play a greater role in Asian culture as well.
At 11am, I went to listen to “JoeBot” talk about the new direction Airbnb is going — and this was one of the biggest media stories about the Open — Airbnb is going to offer “Experiences.” See one of the media stories about that here . What are “experiences”? They are basically any type of activity, workshop, or tour that a host wants to organize and invite guests to participate in. Guests can book an “experience” just like they would book accomodations. The idea of the experience is to help guests get to know the local area more intimately than a standard tourist could do — so Airbnb is in some sense imagining these experiences as the antithesis of standard, boring “package” tours. In fact when the first hints of the experience offering were first revealed, Airbnb’s advertisement was “Don’t “DO” Paris…LIVE in Paris!” ( see the Airbnb ad here )and was trying hard to recreate itself as a Superbrand that imagines travel in a whole new way, a way that it hopes will appeal to the Millennials and younger folks.
So, an “experience” might be…going mountain biking in Marin County. Taking a class in doing star photography at night. Learning how to brew your own beer. Learning how to do burlesque dancing. However, unlike accomodations listings, it would seem that in order to list an “experience” , one has to live in a certain place — only 50 cities presently offer experiences — and one has to get Airbnb to help create the ad. Each “experience” has its own “movie poster” type listing photo and comes with a “movie trailer” type video which seems to be made by an Airbnb photographer/videographer. Airbnb is calling this experience project “our largest and most ambitious project.” Those who dont’ live in one of the 50 cities that presently offer experiences, can apply to do an experience nonetheless, at this site . JoeBot says that hosts in cities which have enough applicants may be able to do experiences.
I am not yet sure what I think of Airbnb “Experiences” other than thinking that this is still another type of packaged experience. And something about real experience to me, is that it resists packaging. Experience is unpredictable and enjoyable experiences arise at times we might not have expected — they werent’ paid, scheduled events. Authentic experience seems to need imaginative space around it….for me, experience arises out of space. If I have empty space ….which often means, time to just do nothing….this gives birth to something. An idea, an adventure. It’s more difficult for an “experience” to arise when time is scheduled, programmed…packaged.
Also…I don’t know about you…but…my guests dont’ tend to come to my area with open schedules. They pretty much have their plans set before they arrive. And if they have open time, they tend to want to wander — and wandering and being spontaneous, doing something unplanned, — again, the open space in life often provides a better experience than engaging in a packaged experience.
JoeBot said, “Experiences are what people are collecting now (as opposed to material things) but it’s too hard for people to get those experiences.”
Why is this hard? Let’s go back to Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk, on Creative living. Wake up, open eyes, plug brain into head, disconnect robotic cultural programming, and engage imagination. And there you go…you’re on your way to having genuine experience.
I went for lunch at one of the recommended downtown spots, and enjoyed some views along the way. The architecture of the Open was probably much more fascinating to me than the talks themselves.
There was so much beauty in these old art deco hotels!
I hardly had time to explore them all.
As several hosts commented, even the bathrooms were stunning. We had not previously experienced going to a restroom solely to admire the architecture and the stunning detail — lights, tile, fixtures, mirrors — really amazing. When I went to the restroom in one of the event sites, perhaps it was the Palace Theatre, the first room I came to was a large oval lounge, as big as a ballroom. This was the restroom lounge! A whole ballroom of space just to sit and adjust your makeup or tighten your belt! Then, off the lounge was a huge mirrored room that looked like a hall of mirrors in an amusement park. There must have been two dozen mirrors in the room. Then from there, enter the restroom itself, which was also surprisingly gorgeous.
Out around town, there were other sights to see — there were some “Rent Responsibly” folks interviewing hosts —
There was Clifton’s, the “Cabinet of Curiosities” and host hangout spot.
While I was out and about at mid-day, it so happened that a button I was wearing got some attention by a couple folks. This button was designed by a host and handed out to a few friends, to give some voice opposing Airbnb’s “infants come for free” policy which has been on and then off, now seems on again.
While I was walking along the street, a woman next to me inquired about this button, and it turned out she was a reporter, and was interested in hearing more about things that hosts don’t feel so “excited” about with Airbnb. Well I thought she’d know some of those since she’s a host herself — and there are certainly no lack of complaints on the Airbnb Community Center, either! Later, I went to give “feedback” to Airbnb staff up on the 3rd floor of Clifton’s, and one of the staffpersons noticed my button too and I explained it and he photographed it.
So let me explain this again here: Airbnb has lately set up a drop down menu so that when guests go to book a place, they have to indicate how many infants and how many children they are bringing. But, under the improbable claim by Airbnb that this is giving hosts “more controls”!!, it is doing no such thing, since the dropdown menu tells the guests that “infants are not counted as guests.” Not!
Not only does this remove the control the host needs to be able to charge for that infant guest, but it does its best to set guests at battle with hosts when Airbnb is telling them one thing (all the while saying in their TOS, “Airbnb has no right to run the host’s listing…”) and host is saying another, namely, yes there IS a charge for that infant! Also, if the infant doesn’t count as a guest, a host who has a max of 2 guests could end up arguing with 2 adults who want to bring 3 infants, about just how many are in their party. Hint: the infants are not invisible, immaterial, disembodied beings. Yes, they are guests.
While on the subject of children, I mentioned to the Airbnb staff that it’s been in the news lately that Airbnb hosts have been sued for saying “no children” in their ad. They hadn’t heard this. I suggested they get right on the subject and find out. Doesn’t this seem important for Airbnb to know, particularly when for quite some time they’ve encouraged hosts to come right out and state in their ad that they dont’ accept children, all in violation of the Fair Housing Act? Get informed!
That afternoon, I attended “Universal Belonging”, in which Airbnb Chief of Legal Affairs officer Belinda Johnson interviewed Eric Holder. I was hoping to hear something interesting about the nondiscrimination policy, but Holder was there mainly to chat about his experience as US Attorney General.
One of the more interesting elements of this talk was a topic introduced by Johnica Reed Hawkins, who is a journalist who studies and writes about race and travel. She’s traveled to Cuba and written about race/travel issues there. She said that Airbnb appealed to her in large part because it offered a “democratization of travel”, and one thing she really likes is the idea that a “travelogue” or travel article, no longer need issue from a place of privilege. It’s now possible for minority voices and the historically non-privileged to tell their own stories of travel. Well, it’s not like people were ever prohibited from writing their own personal stories of travel, regardless their race or social status, and we do now live in the age of the blogger-travelogue — something that wasn’t available to the non-genteel classes in the 19th century. But I think she has a point that the culture is changing as far as what stories gain traction.
There were a few others who spoke, but none really spoke to Airbnb’s nondiscrimination policy, other than in nice sounding generalities such as Johnson’s statement, “We have more work to do to make sure every single person can belong.”
Everyone can belong? I thought that statement was fairly ironic. Because, at the very same time Belinda Johnson was trying to make sure every single person can belong, reporters had apparently interviewed Brian Chesky about how many hosts had refused to sign on to Airbnb’s new “Community Commitment” where they either formally signed onto the nondiscrimination policy, or would be booted off the site. When asked how many people refused to sign on, Brian said, “A lot.” Okay then Brian, there’s a clue that Airbnb is ensuring that every single person cannot belong! Many clearly are being explictly told they cannot belong, if they refuse being coerced to sign onto Airbnb’s new Community Commitment agreement. So it seems not quite true, this hype about everyone belonging. Rather, I’d say Airbnb is communicating that it will pick certain ones it wants to have belong, and saying the others can just get lost.
As a reply to the prevailing “politically correct”perspective on diversity, which is shallow because it’s often only skin deep, I’d like to offer my own view of diversity which I think is more complex and has more depth. In this view, diversity means, you respect people who have a different point of view. Where have we gotten the idea that diversity should be only about skin color or difference in sexuality or gender, and not about anything else??? I think it’s dishonest to say we celebrate diversity, while at the same time we boot out of the room anyone who disagrees with us. Also — isn’t this a great way to employ creativity and imagination? I mean, talk about exciting — this really excites me — the idea that we can be challenged by new ideas, and possibly grow as a result of the alchemy that results from our contact with them!!
Imagine things like — people who disagree can actually be in the same community, and it wont’ kill us!! It can make us richer, more complex — and we can grow through the challenges this tolerance and acceptance of diversity brings to us. Lovely! And this can bring the social and political healing we all need so much.
When this talk closed, and Johnson indicated that the conversation on this topic of the nondiscrimination policy would continue at a restaurant down the street, I went there, hoping I might run into one or more of the speakers and present them my concerns about how the means Airbnb may use to enforce the nondiscrimination policy could negatively impact hosts. However, there was no one there at the restaurant to speak to. Ha! Fooled again! This reminded me of the “disappearing customer service line” at Airbnb….the word is …that there is a customer service phone line at Airbnb. But…if you’re a new host especially….good luck finding it! It’s in hiding.
I also attended a talk on “New Host Tools for 2017” by Donna Boyer, and found it somewhat informative , but it was a short talk, only half an hour. She said that co-hosting is available for only a few cities now and more will be available for 2017. She said that messaging on the app has been improved, and that now you can search messages by keyword. Great! Also, saved responses are now available on the app, which you can use to answer frequently asked questions. That’s very useful…as up to now I’d have to tell guests that they need to wait until I get home and am at my computer, before I can send them certain info. You can also send photos via message — which can be helpful if for instance you want to show a photo of the flowerpot under which you’ve hidden your keys. Ii like that…have had to do just that at times! Calendar is redesigned to see dates available and blocked — and you should be able to accept a reservation alteration via the app.
After this day’s events, I decided to have an unpackaged experience, and walked 2.3 miles from downtown, along Wilshire Blvd to the Airbnb listing where I was staying in WestLake, a largely Hispanic neighborhood to the west of downtown. At the Corner of South Alvarado and Wilshire, I found many people had set up tables and there were selling some clothes and supplies in bulk quantities. Large bottles of Head and Shoulders shampoo, liquid handsoap, or gallon jugs of Tide were available here for sale off card tables on the street, as well as an assortment of tennis shoes and mens’ shirts. There was a whole card table economy running here! If I’d had more time and energy, I’d have loved to ask these folks doing these small businesses, some questions about their micro-economy here at the street corner.
I decided to “skip class” the next day and go sightseeing in LA instead of to more talks. But for those who are interested, these are the talks that were presented on the 2nd day:
Hospitality Moments of Truth
Building Empathy through Community
Expanding your mind through Travel
The Joy of Hosting
Optimizing your listing
Stategies for Entrepreneurs — Ashton Kutcher and others
The Power of Community — Host Connections around the world
Cultivating the Art of Taste and Style
Insights from World Travelers
Building Cross-Cultural connections
Q&A with the Founders
Local Business, Local Hospitality
Interior Design Tips
Host as Concierge
In the talk by Ashton Kutcher, a Code Pink protester ran on stage and began yelling, something about Airbnb listings in Palestine — but apparently it was hard to hear her. I wasn’t there but heard from others who were that Ashton spoke to her and attempted to speak reasonably with her, and ultimately she just screamed more about Palestine and then was escorted offstage. Read more about that incident here . See the video of the Ashton Kutcher talk, including the Code Pink protester, here .
Later, that evening I spoke to another host who I was staying with in my Airbnb in WestLake. She had attended a talk where one of the founders, perhaps it was Nate, or maybe even Brian, had been speaking about all that Airbnb was doing for refugees. Said this host in her charming Birmingham UK accent, “He ended the talk and the bloke was standing there with his arms spread wide like ‘e was Jesus Christ!”
I think she had an opportunity to glimpse something that many of us feel a little uneasy about — how Airbnb often seems to take itself so seriously, that it can feel like a cult or a religion. That’s the koolaid aspect, the excessive hoo-hah and rah-rah, the Tony Robbins Airbnb. Well I can’t deny that there’s a high that we can feel when many Airbnb hosts are all in one place. It definitely is fun. We understand each other, we support each other, we’ve shared stories with each other…and it’s a true community we have.
But…we dont’ need to turn Airbnb hosting into a religion to have that sense of comraderie and enjoyment of our small business. Many of us would simply appreciate a modest corporation that had a well-functioning website, which allowed us to do what we needed to do on it to advertise and obtain business. We would rather not continually find new “improvements” which interfere with our ability to do business — such as the most recent, where search results have a defacto setting to show only instant book listings! (This may have just been a very bad beta test…let’s hope so anyhow).
On Saturday, I visited Hollywood Boulevard, the Hollywood Wax Museum, Ripley’s Believe it or not Museum, and even the Museum of Death. If I had had more time, I could also have stopped in at the Guiness World Records Museum, and the Museum of Broken Relationships. That latter sounds like a good pilgrimage site for the recently broken up. But you may want to skip the Museum of Death! I was expecting something cockamamie and campy, but let me put it this way…the deformed animals in jars of formaldehyde were the “light” aspect of the museum. What was the “heavy” side, I dont’ want to even describe. I had to close my eyes and pass through rooms trying to shield my face from what was on display there. Suffice to say the place is a Goth Mecca pilgrimage site!
At the Wax Museum, I enjoyed the horror alley, which was indeed more plain old halloween like fun.
There was an interesting Mona Lisa painting at the wax museum! And at Ripley’s , it was fun to meet the world’s tallest man. He would stay seated until you went up beside him and then he’d stand up and you could compare your height to his. In this video I indicate my height (5 ft 7 inches) compared to his (8 ft 11 inches). He’s a full yard towering over me. World’s Tallest Man
I also visited Venice Beach with another host — we got there to enjoy the evening clouds and sunset, and walk along the boardwalk a bit.
There was unusual architecture and several murals along the boardwalk —
Interesting people —
The next day, after the Airbnb Open had ended, before leaving Los Angeles I went to see the Watts Towers, the famous folk art site in South Central LA, and from there, to what may be the polar opposite — to see a bit of the opulent homes in Beverly Hills.
The Watts Towers are a “folk art” or “outsider art”, created by Simon Rodia, an Italian immigrant, between 1921 and 1954. Simon felt within himself that “I’m going to do something, something big.” Then he followed this inner prompting, and out came the Watts Towers, over many years, created with found objects. Rodia’s beautiful and striking creation exemplifies the value of being courageous and dedicated enough to follow the promptings issuing from a deep place within.
The Watts Towers are sometimes compared to another work of folk art in California, the work known as Salvation Mountain, created by Leonard Knight, over by Slab City and the Salton Sea. Both are quite large, beautiful mosaic expressions made with found objects.
Beverly Hills privacy hedge:
I found it interesting that in Beverly Hills, there were no people out walking. The road were completely empty, except for luxury cars rushing here and there. No one walking, no one out in their yard. Many of the roads were quite beautiful, wide and lined with large trees, really perfect for walking. So I got out and walked and I was the only one doing this. A “see the stars’ homes” tourist bus passed me by and tourists stared out at me, craning their necks to see what movie star I might be. I thought I am disappointing them by not waving and fulfilling their dream of a real live movie star who waved at them from Beverly Drive.
As for my move star sightings…. I went on a couple truly random drives through some of the more “hidden” of the Beverly Hills routes. I saw the former homes of Lucille Ball, Rita Hayworth and Prince. (I wasn’t that impressed with any of them…I think we have nicer homes in the Berkeley hills in the East Bay — less ornate fluff and stuff, more original style) I may have passed by a couple real movie stars, but I’m not sufficiently immersed in pop culture to recognize them easily, and they wear sunglasses to avoid detection. As in one case where I was driving down a very narrow road looking for Bette Midler’s house, which was notated on one of the “Maps to the Stars Homes!” which I had bought on Hollywood Blvd. But, I think Bette changed the numbers somehow to avoid detection — apparently Anne Margaret did the same, as her street number was nowhere to be found either — and I ended up scooting along a very narrow street while a very attractive young man wearing sunglasses walked his dog along the street. Okay so there was ONE person out walking in Beverly Hills! I would not be able to say if he was a movie star or not. As I passed him by, he looked up at me with interest — was he wondering which movie star I was??? It’s an odd phenomenon of mutal movie star seeking that one gets caught up in, in Beverly Hills.
I also stopped in at a shop called “Wacko” in East Hollywood, which had a colorful display among its wacky goods. There I bought a gift for a friend, the “OCD hand rinse”. The directions on the back were that, after washing, one should place the cap back on the bottle, then check to make sure cap was fastened. After checking if cap was fastened, check again to make sure cap is fastened. You get the picture.
I stopped by the Scientology Church, on Hollywood Blvd, the world headquarters of the cult, where svelte ladies dressed in black (“they dress like airline stewardesses”, said a local who lived around the block) patrol the sidewalk to seek hapless victims to invite to their “free movie” or a “personality test”. I hadn’t realized that the Church of Scientology is really the Church of Science Fiction, until I talked to this local man who I happened to encounter on the sidewalk near the big blue church. He told me that they believe that an astral being named Xoltan will come and beam them up to other planets to live when they get sufficiently spiritually evolved. They dont’ talk about any of this stuff on their website — they just solicit you to come to their free movies, or do their personality tests.
After being solicited by the agents of astral travel, handed a “free movie” flyer by the mysterious ladies in black with the predatory eyes, I zipped off to Pasadena to visit another host friend, and stayed the night there. It occurred to me that Pasadena has what most of the rest of LA doesn’t have — earth. It’s right up there in your face, the mountains before you. In most of LA you can drive for miles and miles without feeling like you’re on the real, actual planet earth. It’s all paved over, built up. And barely a tree or blade of grass pokes through anywhere. But out in Pasadena, at least, there are streets full of trees, cute gingerbread homes, and the San Gabriel Mountains rising up in front of your face. You can’t miss noticing the earth is present here. Which is so important for someone like me with an earth-based spiritual path.
The funniest part of the trip occurred at this Pasadena visit: at dinner, my friend’s young son looked up at me shyly and said, “Can I ask you a question?”
Yes of course.
“Why do you have a man’s face and the long hair of a girl? Are you a girl or a boy?”
Oh kids are wonderful!!! I thought my god if only adults could be this honest and innocent (for there was no jibe in this question, no meanness or contempt) , we’d have fewer problems with discrimination. Everyone would just come out and say what they thought the other person looked like and ask why. I laughed, responding that I had a masculine spirit but that I always liked long hair and in fact I was “a girl.”
Actually on the way down to LA I’d had a similar experience with an adult, but she responded in the adult way. I was at the Coalinga-Avenal rest stop off highway 5, in California’s long Central Valley, and was just walking out of the women’s restroom, when a woman walked towards me to use the facilities. She took one look at me and stopped dead still, a look of shock on her face. I knew what she was thinking. She was wondering if she was heading into the men’s restroom by mistake. I find this amusing — do people really not know any gay folks?
The next morning I took off into these mountains and immediately began to feel much more at home than I had amidst the mega-city. I felt I could cut loose and breathe deeply again and be fully me. The earth always has this effect on me!
From the Los Angeles Crest Highway, I dropped down into the Lancaster Valley and enjoyed the desert sights there.
I stayed the night in a hotel in Mojave, CA — the humble “Desert Inn” just off the main drag, which was very quiet — my main concern. I hate hotel rooms where you just hear people in the next room over talking loudly to each other, or you hear their TV loud and clear in your room. No worries here. Everyone I met who was staying at this hotel — three other people, three men — said, when I asked them about their travels, that there were here because their vehicle broke down. So they were more sad and glum than the usual hotel guest which seemed to make for quiet nights.
The first two men said their transmission was shot and they wondered if they had enough to pay for a hotel room. I surmised that between them they don’t own a credit card and scooted away from them before I ended up being asked if I would please chip in for their room. The thought occurred to me that if they can’t afford a $50 a night hotel room then it’s not likely they’ll be able to replace their transmission, and in time the desert will collect another abandoned husk of a car, a nice target for desert plinkers.
Then I met a man pulling in on a motorcycle, who I greeted — but he too had a glum face and he also was broken down. He had sleeping bag and baggage attached to his motorcycle. He said, “I drove the last 8 miles on a flat tire. I hope I can get the tire fixed in town.” These men, their plans wrecked, made quiet hotelmates. In the morning, when I headed out at 8:30am, there was the motorcyclist, asking if I could give him a ride to the next town over, because there was no one in this whole town who could fix a flat tire. Unfortunately I wasn’t heading in the direction he needed to go.
I had tried to stay in an Airbnb n Mojave instead of a hotel, but there were none in town except for one listing by a “host” who didn’t quite get the concept — he was listing a vacant apartment with no furniture and no bed for $55 a night on Instant Book. The original name for this listing was, suitably, “Apartment for Rent” .
After I settled into the hotel room, I went over to the “Family Dollar Store” across the way to get a snack — when I emerged, I found a wraith floating around in the dark in front of the store. No, not a supernatural being — he was human, but he had wide, lost eyes, kind eyes really, and so he looked like a tall baby animal far from home. He stood, about 6 ft 3, a giant of a man, but something soft about him, an innocent face, and wrapped in a large blue blanket like a baby. He floated about a bit in front of the store, and I watched as someone, clearly a “local” greeted him as a friend and told him to “stay warm.” It was about 38 degrees out and lowering. I thought, what an unfortunate place to be a homeless panhandler. But perhaps he does have a home and simply panhandles late into the night.
The next day, I emerged late, relishing the warmth of the hotel room and enjoying the time to write. What I realized is that you don’t need a spiffy, creative perfect place to write or create. You can do just fine in a very modest, extremely basic hotel room, as long as you’re comfortable!
I visited Red Rock Canyon State Park, which had some spectacular sights.
Including “Window Rock”
I found that I wasn’t quite hip to the way to camp down in Southern California. I thought camping meant a tent and sleeping bag. But everyone else in the campground, with the exception of one other man about my age ( I guess those of us who were born in the 60’s and 70’s still recall tent camping) was camping here in an RV or camper van. Some of the thirty foot long RV’s were toting large trailer boxes full of god knows what extra campground necessities…flat screen TV, stereo, outdoor BBQ grill…well I did see some of the camping necessities later in the day, as they were driving around the campground. Several dirt bikes zipped about, as well as a bright yellow dune buggy. Until I put a stop to it by walking up to these folks in mid-zip and informing them that I was here to enjoy the quiet and not listen to off road vehicles zipping circles through the campground. Later, I found out that they weren’t even camping overnight, they just came to use the campground as a racetrack — very odd since the entire State Park is very heavily devoted to off road vehicles. Why not go out just about anywhere else to zip around? Why use the campground? Ironically, they have just one little short trail for hiking and the rest is all dirt roads for 4WD or ORV use.
It was a chill night camping out there — though daytime temps were in the 70’s, at night it was below freezing and when I woke I had to scrape ice off the car window.
I had to leave for home the next day, but it was time, because I was coming down with what would be a bad cold and so I needed to go home and plop into a real bed and rest.
En route home, to liven up the long drive and set myself some interesting stops along the way, I did a little geocaching, which is an outdoor treasure seeking game. People hide geocaches in various places — could be someplace interesting, could be someplace very plain. And then they post the GPS coordinates of the cache online. Then you look for the cache — a little plastic container with a logbook in it — and sign it, proving that you were there. Then you log your finds. There was one geocache called “Coming Soon” which was not too hard to find when you spotted the landmarks—
And that is just a little bit about my experience of Los Angeles, So Cal and the Airbnb Open in 2016!
You can hardly have missed the news — read nearly any story about Airbnb today and it is likely to contain a statement about how Airbnb is dealing with allegations of racism and discrimination. There have indeed been a few notable cases of overt discrimination on the Airbnb platform — yet, particularly given how very many guests are staying with hosts every day of the year, (hundreds of thousands) there have been few publicized cases of overt discrimination. There may of course be many cases which have not been publicized. Of those we have heard of, not all of these have not had to do with race. A couple incidents had to do with sexual orientation — This story and this one .And one incident involved a transgender guest, here . There has also been one instance of overt racial discrimination on the Airbnb site in the US, and apparently another in Scotland. Then, in addition to these cases of overt discrimination, there are a number of publicized allegations guests have made (there may be many more which have not been publicized), generally black guests, saying they felt discriminated against, because they were declined several times without explanation. In at least one case, a black guest asked to stay with a host using a picture of himself, and then when declined, reapplied using a “fake profile” with a photo of a white man, and was accepted. This black guest (Greg Selden) then filed a federal class action lawsuit against Airbnb alleging discrimination.
As well, there was a research study done by Harvard University researchers in January of 2016, which studied the relative success of those with “black sounding names” and “white sounding names” in obtaining Airbnb rentals. Please note that though this study did NOT actually study the effect of race on obtaining rentals, only the effect of user name, it is widely being quoted as a study about race and Airbnb rentals. It should be obvious that studying the effect of “black sounding names” is not the same as studying race — any more than we would consider a study using “white sounding names” like “Billy Bob” and “Peggy Sue” to be a study about whites. (Read more about this study and some of my observations on it, at the end of this blog in the “Addendum”, below)
At this point there have doubtless been hundreds of articles pointing a finger at Airbnb, (see the list below at the end of this blog ) casting blame and allegations of racism. Even though it has never been Airbnb itself, the company, which has been doing the alleged discriminating (since it isn’t Airbnb which accepts or declines guests) , but rather the hosts, some have even gone so far as to suggest that “Airbnb is known to be unfriendly to black people”.
A couple individuals even seized the opportunity created by the many allegations of racism thrown at Airbnb, to start up their own alternative short term rental platforms, which ostensibly will be more “inclusive” (presumably more inclusive of guests…not clear if they will be more inclusive of hosts…..) One of these sports the correct name…Innclusive. The other is called Noirbnb . At least one of these sites seems to have interest in pressuring hosts to accept all guests, while simultaneously treating hosts with distrust, by refusing to give the host the name or photo of the guest until after the guest books. (as stated in this article) Innclusive also stated in one interview that they would not allow a host to accept any guest for dates they declined another guest for. Hence they are punitive towards hosts for declining anyone, even when there are legitimate reasons for having to decline — eg the guest states that they intend not to follow your house rules. I imagine bad guests in particular — the rude, the disrespectful, those who have damaged others’ property — will be happy with Innclusive since it will pressure hosts to accept them. I suspect that such policies also will cause many hosts to feel excluded from participating in Innclusive.
Not wishing to miss out on the dogpile and yet another opportunity to scapegoat Airbnb, legislators have also seized the opportunity to throw their punches at Airbnb. In this article , two black members of Congress are “pressuring” Airbnb over alleged racism. Civil Rights Attorney Kristen Clarke makes suggestions to Airbnb about how they can combat racism in this New York Times op-ed .
Airbnb has responded to this intense pressure by hiring Laura Murphy from the ACLU (see also this NYT article ) and by hiring Eric Holder to help them craft a “world-class anti-discrimination statement”. They had already hired David King, the “Director of Diversity”, to promote diversity in their company. Fired up with their new mission, Airbnb issued a a blog about the discrimination issue and their commitment to ” doing everything we can to fight bias and discrimination.”
So– many of you are asking….”Isn’t this all a good thing? Isn’t it good to be against racism and discrimination? I don’t discriminate in my hosting….at least not on the basis of race, or sexual orientation….I may discriminate against the liars, and the disrespectful…those with bad reviews or who indicate they wont’ be able to follow my house rules, or who are “waving red flags” when they inquire…but not on the basis of race or any category. So what’s all this got to do with me?”
It’s got a lot to do with you, because Airbnb doesn’t seem content, as I’d think it should be, to simply address instances of overt discrimination on its platform. When Airbnb states in its blog that “I sincerely believe that this is the greatest challenge we face as a company”, you would do well to ask why it is a challenge to take action on very easily reported instances of overtly discriminatory statements, and realize, that it’s not. Taking action on such cases is no challenge — guest reports the incident, Airbnb investigates, and if there are overtly discriminatory comments in the message thread (which Airbnb can easily review) then the company can easily act. So why is this “the greatest challenge”? That question gives me concern and it should also give you concern. The concern is, that Airbnb apparently intends to do more than simply address overtly discriminatory statements which, at least in the USA, are already illegal to make in advertisements for housing or in communications with a prospective renter. [NOTE: See this explanation of how it is illegal to make a discriminatory statement in a housing ad. Nationally, it is illegal to make such statements on the basis of race, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, disability. Some states such as California also prohibit discriminatory statements on the basis of sexual orientation, or other categories. ] Just what Airbnb may or may not intend to do, and how it may take action that encroaches upon or threatens the freedoms hosts have to decide for ourselves whom we wish to invite into our own homes, is where our concern should be.
One of the things that, from my view, is important to understand about the discrimination issues , is that by making claims that they were “declined because of their race”, or declined based on their sexual orientation, or for any other such reason, guests are in essence implying that they are entitled to access to someone else’s private home. Indeed, in her New York Times op-ed on the issue, Civil Rights Attorney Kristen Clarke well illustrated the saying that if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail — and made her access to other’s private homes into a Civil Rights issue, which it is not. The law recognizes as much, and the nation’s Fair Housing Act, as well as Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, exempt owner-occupants of typical single family homes from discrimination laws. This means that US law states that it permits those who live in the same home where they rent out space, to discriminate on any basis. The exact exemptions vary from state to state, as indicated here , but in general the law is clear — and sensible — those seeking to rent to someone in the same home where they themselves live, are permitted to chose the kind of person they want to live with. And really, we should all be asking — as should Kristen and others who seem to be demanding access to other’s private homes — how else could it be? How well would it work to insist that a homeowner must take into their home, someone whom they dont’ want there? Would this work for either party, the host or guest? How will the guest feel, to be insisting on staying with someone who had indicated they would rather not have them there? Or with a host who, if silent on the matter, may radiate a discomfort in the guests’ presence? I want to suggest that anyone who insists that they have a right to someone else’s home, is not a “victim” of discrimination, but could be viewed as a bully.
Such awkward scenarios are no idle fantasy, since among the suggestions this Civil Rights Attorney makes for how Airbnb can “eliminate racism from its platform”, are the suggestions that it can withhold the guest’s identifying information (name and photo) from the host, so that the host can’t see who they are communicating with , and has to decide whether or not to accept the individual without seeing them! Another of the Civil Rights activist’s suggestions, is to make instant book mandatory — in other words, to completely remove the hosts’ ability to screen prospective guests.
There are signs that Airbnb is actually moving to test out mandatory instant book, potentially to force upon all hosts — many new hosts have had their accounts set up with mandatory instant book and they are unable to remove this feature. See forum post about this issue.
Kristen also urges Airbnb to investigate hosts who are “suspected” of discrimination, and presents an idea for a trap that Airbnb could set up to try to catch hosts in: “Airbnb should actively audit hosts who are suspected of discrimination.By having users whose only perceived difference is their race attempt to make reservations with the same hosts (much like in the Harvard study), the company can identify those who discriminate. ”
I hope it is clear that each one of these suggestions for how to “fix” an alleged problem which is alleged to be widespread, but for which we have as yet seen little evidence — involves some measure of curtailment of host’s freedoms to engage in their business — and would impose what many would view as inappropriate investigation, combined with (in the case of mandatory instant book) what could be seen as corporate expropriation of private property. Our homes belong to us — not to Airbnb. One thing that Kristen Clarke has quite wrong in her op-ed, is the idea that Airbnb is one big hotel chain — as if we the hosts are simply subsidiary hotels. To view things this way is certainly convenient for those demanding access to our homes, but again, simply the fact that your only tool is a hammer doesn’t make me a nail, and the fact that you are a Civil Rights Attorney doesn’t make my private home a place where you can pry my door off its hinges with Federal Civil Rights laws. Our homes are not hotels, we are notowned by Airbnb, and we are not subsidiaries thereof, or even independent contractors. Under the IRS tax law used by Airbnb , we are third party retailers, and our posting of our advertisements on Airbnb website is very similar, if not identical, to the way property owners post ads on Craigslist.
Quite apart from the legal issues involved in viewing host’s homes as part of a theoretical big Airbnb hotel chain, this perspective is nauseating to hosts who, quite naturally, find it appalling or chilling that anyone would insist on having access to their own home…where they live, where they have their possessions and valuables stored, their sentimental items, their personal and family history, their pets, their follies, their foibles and their whole personal life. If there is any place in the world where a human being feels that they have the right to be free, it is in their own home. This suggestion led one NYT commenter to make the following remark:
This article scares the bejesus out of me. To seriously suggest that the Federal government should be dictating to us whom we are required to have as guests in our own homes… Chilling…
Instant booking would make me leave Airbnb. This is my personal home where my husband and three children live. My paintings are on the wall. My grandmother’s china is in the cupboard. Our clothes are in the drawers. I need to know that I’m renting to a family that will be respectful of my home and my neighbors. This just isn’t the same as a hotel. I am deeply sympathetic to the issue of racial profiling. But Airbnb is much more nuanced than renting an anonymous hotel room and, in the end, the hosts have to feel safe and comfortable with their guests.
So what should be done about the problem of discrimination in Airbnb?
How much discrimination is there? We the general public dont’ really know…Airbnb will know more about this. In some sense, the actual number of cases of alleged discrimination on Airbnb is less relevant than what actions or policies are being suggested as a result of them. We can probably expect that the amount of discrimination and racism/heterosexism etc in Airbnb renting, is the same as it is in the world at large — and the same amount as occurs on Craigslist, VRBO, or any other property rental website.
A number of “anecdotal” stories of alleged discrimination have arisen, where guests are saying things like, “I can never get an Airbnb rental for the life of me” or “I get rejected by hosts most of the time”. Well even if we consider that the Harvard Study did actually measure the degree of race discrimination on the site, the difference between those with black sounding names and those with white sounding names, was no more than 16%. It was not 50% or 100%. Which means, that for those who are claiming “I can’t get an Airbnb for the life of me”, there is very likely something other than race which is keeping them from getting accepted.
It happens to many guests or prospective renters, regardless of their race, sexual orientation, age, etc that they face a lot of declines/rejections before they are accepted. This was referred to on the comments section of the Op-Ed article by Kristen Clarke. People who do not have experience renting out a room in their home may not understand much about the business, but — particularly if one is offering a place that is inexpensive and conveniently located, it’s common both to get quite a number of interested parties, as well as a number of inquiries that are clearly not a good fit. Prospective renters can be easily offended if they are not given a legitimate sounding reason for a rejection — I recall one Craigslist inquirer who implored me to tell him what he was doing wrong, as apparently he wasn’t hearing back from anyone he contacted — but need to realize that those offering accomodations dont’ want to get into arguments. Also, particularly in a litigious nation like the USA where people can literally make a living filing lawsuits — homeowners are wary of being tricked into saying something that could be twisted to use to try to accuse them of discrimination on some basis.
I believe that in many cases guests are not presenting themselves as well as they could to have success in finding a place. On the NYT Op-Ed there were also several comments by persons who said they were black and never had a difficult time finding an Airbnb. If one looks at the photos that some guests are choosing to use to present themselves, one may see, in some instances, that the photos could be better. Just as hosts have to learn to present themselves professionally, to make a good impression on guests, guests also need to learn how to present themselves….and they are at the disadvantage that unlike hosts who have a community to learn hosting skills, they have no community to learn these things.
What if guests have done all they can to improve their presentation, and are still getting declined without explanation?
Another skill guests need to learn, is similar to what hosts have to learn when they learn to screen guests. Just like hosts are looking at guests with the goal of selecting those who would fit in their home and with what they offer, guests need to learn how to appropriately select hosts and listings whom they think would be a good match for them. One thing I do when I look for a place to stay, is look for someone whose home is decorated either something like mine, or in a way I could imagine redecorating…..someone who has similar tastes in interior decoration, I reason, may have some similar soul qualities…besides which, their home looks like a place where I’d feel comfortable. If someone wanted to set out to “prove” that Airbnb was racist , or that there were “racist” hosts out there, or that as a black person one faced a horrible world of hateful home sharers, there would probably be no easier way to “prove” this than to select the hosts and listings that were the inappropriate matches for oneself, and then ask (or better yet, demand!) to stay there. I’m not suggesting all guests who complain about not getting accepted have done this…but to make the point that this is possible to do.
I’ve just been to Morroco and Tokyo, Paris and Cancun, staying at $700 a night hotels…now I’m coming to your $45 a nite thrift shop shack …get ready for my review!
For instance — if you’re a high fashion guest, jet-setter, sporting pearls, make-up, elaborate hair style, designer clothes, and look like you would fit well in one of the most expensive of five-star hotels, your inquiry to stay at an inexpensive, worn-out little old neighborhood home with thrift-shop character, and a host who is dowdily dressed and offbeat, might strike her as inexplicable. She might feel she was being set-up for what among hosts is known as a “revenge review”…namely… the guest who expects the Ritz Carleton in Paris or Manhattan at the price of a Motel 6 off the freeway in Scranton…and rates the host down viciously for not providing what she never said she would provide. Particularly given the frequency at which guests book places to stay without even reading the descriptions hosts provide (so that we often hear stories of a guest who is allergic to cats, arriving at a home with a host who has cats, and demanding “why didn’t you tell me”, when in fact the host mentioned the cats 2-3 times in their listing), hosts are naturally looking not only for someone who says that they want to stay with them, but who seems they would fit.
I bring this up because, given the investment that some individuals have in “proving” that there is “a lot of racism out there” , it stands to reason that at least some such individuals would either focus on places where they are not likely to fit well, or provoke situations, which they can then use to support their own agenda. In fact, there was something bearing some resemblance to this recently happening in Chicago, when a number of Airbnb hosts began to recieve “inquiries” from several black individuals, who presented in a truly unacceptable and threatening way, somewhat as if they were collectively playing a practical joke on hosts. The problem being, that when white or non-black people feel that they are being intentionally set up to look like racists, and particularly if they feel that their actions are being overseen by a corporation which condemns racism and perceives it as its “greatest challenge” to root this out…this joke isn’t funny.
Particularly given the heavy social opprobrium that is connected with the allegation “racist”, and the very serious consequences that individuals can face for racist/discriminatory behavior, such as loss of status, community respect, loss of job, even loss of career, I think it is very important not to make accusations about racism without solid evidence. Since we can never know why a particular host declined someone, unless they say so explicitly, no one should be accusing an Airbnb host of “racism” or any other type of discrimination, merely because they were declined — even if they were declined with a black photo and accepted with a white one.
As well, it bears pointing out that we have two cultural trends in this nation which influence this issue: first, we have Identity Politics, which is oriented towards viewing people through superficial forms of “identity” such as skin color or sexuality, and towards valuing victimhood. Second, we have in this nation, an obsession with discrimination and racism in particular — it’s worth noting that although there were slightly more publicized instances of overt discrimination in Airbnb against gays and transgender individuals than against black individuals (though we have no idea what instances exist that have not been publicized) , we are seeing a large amount of articles in the media about “racism on Airbnb” and very little about homophobia or transphobia in Airbnb.
There are also people very highly oriented to using the term “racist”, and dismissing people as “racist”, and in our culture, this dismissal tends to be rather effective. Once maligned as “racist”, (when immersed in a culture which in many cases has more empathy for robbers and swindlers than racists), I challenge anyone to find a means to dig their way out from under this accusation. (I think Airbnb is at this moment strenuously trying.)
So again…what to do if an Airbnb guest has done all they could to have a good presentation, and is inquiring at listings and with hosts with whom they feel some connection or feels they were declined solely because of their race? In a situation of covert (as opposed to overt ) discrimination where the host simply declines the guest, but gives no reason for the decline.
I want to present an idea about this that will seem remarkable to many, because they have never heard this before. Particularly, as I say, in the context we have in this nation, where race and racism and discrimination are very important topics to many we see articles about these topics in the media almost daily, and we see new efforts by corporations to do sensitivity training, we read about the value of diversity, we see cities and corporations encouraging diversity, and trying to uproot discrimination wherever it rears its ugly head.
So here is my revolutionary idea about what we can do about covert discrimination on Airbnb: absolutely nothing. We can, and in fact, probably should do nothing about covert discrimination on the Airbnb platform — meaning, situations where hosts are declining guests for discriminatory reasons, but not stating this overtly.
Well, almostnothing…a fellow host recently had a good idea….which she shared with me…..I think Airbnb could clarify, that “Airbnb listings are the properties of private individuals who have sole discretion about whom to invite into their private homes.” Such a statement would help clarify, to those who are pointing fingers and scapegoating Airbnb, that as a third party it is not and cannot be responsible for the choices of its hosts…who are not running hotels, but offering space in their homes. Instead of accepting the accusations of racism/discrimination as a challenge, a tech problem to figure out how to solve, and rising up to meet this challenge with world-class consultation and technology, in my view Airbnb would have done much better to clarify that hosts, not Airbnb, are accepting guests, and hosts have freedom, and they aren’t obligated to accept anyone.
The principle I am employing in this statement that it would be better for Airbnb not to take action to try to address covert discrimination, discrimination in decision making, is that you, as a random person in this world, have no right to access my private home. You have no Civil Rights to access my home, and you have no Airbnb guest rights to access my home, and in fact, you have no rights at all in my home — except in the instance when I take the active step of actively welcoming you into my private home by accepting your request to stay here. Thus, you have only the rights which I, in my position as sole owner of my private home, my home which is in fact a home and not a hotel(simply using a home for short term rentals does not render it, ipso facto, into a hotel), choose to bestow you with. If I allow you to smoke in my home, you can smoke — if I dont’ allow this you may not. If I allow you to bring friends into my home, you may do so — if I say you may not bring others into my home, you may not. I would like to welcome many guests into my home — I enjoy being a host and having people stay here, and in fact, I accept almost all comers and hate to turn anyone down because I hate the thought that I might hurt someone’s feelings, and am so honored when someone wants to stay at my house.
But when they come, guests will notice, that my house doesn’t look like the Hilton down the street, or the Marriott downtown, or the Motel 6 off the freeway. My home is unlike a hotel, because it isn’t a hotel — I live in it and it has my things in it. My belongings are in my home — my elementary school finger paintings, my comic book collection, my antique furniture, and my pet birds. I dont’ want just anyone here — but I do invite most who ask to come.
But what if there really is a pattern of discrimination that can be discerned, and black guests or gay guests really do have a hard time finding a place to stay? Is it fair that they should be kept out of what is coming to be quite a large segment of public accomodations?
These questions lead to other questions — “If someone is declined by a particular host, would it be right to forcethat host to accept that person?” because in essence this is what we are saying when we express concern about the “fairness” of someone experiencing numerous declines. We are saying that someone, or perhaps everyone, who didn’t want that guest in their home, should have to accept that person in their home. And isn’t this a form of bullying?
If a hypothetical lesbian guest named Monika, who traveled often, felt frustrated that she was generally declined by 5 out of 6 hosts she inquired with — suppose that those 5 out of 6 hosts’ listings were no longer available — would that improve Monika’s situation in seeking a place to stay? My argument is that it would not, and that having more hosts & more listings — even hosts which do not accept all comers, or who decline Monika for whatever reason — can only help rather than hinder in availing someone of a place to stay.
As well, we should realize that when a person is declined a stay in someone’s home, in a situation where there is no chance of that person really being accepted, then we have to ask…what is the damage done? The damage is not that they didn’t get a place to stay — because it wouldn’t have worked out for them to stay in a home where they weren’t wanted or the host thought they wouldn’t fit. That is not an option. So the only “damage” if we can call it that, is that their feelings are hurt. And if we are so very concerned about people feeling hurt when they aren’t invited into a person’s private home, then what if that person actually has to face some serious challenges in their life…how will they cope? I am concerned that our laws and policies are potentially creating weak people who can’t cope with everyday experience. As one commenter put it —
If I can’t say “I don’t like the look of this person, I don’t want him in my house with me, my wife, and my kids” then I have basically no freedom of association. If I can’t say “I’m looking to rent out a room, if anyone’s interested” on the internet, then I have basically no freedom of speech. And if anti-discrimination laws are designed to prevent hurt feelings, then we live in an absurd, emotionally immature, and unsustainable society.
I want to volunteer myself as a person who is part of a minority group, who does not take offense at being “discriminated against” in private housing. I am a gay person, and I want to offer, as an example for other gay people, another way to respond when someone declines my request to stay in their private home. Instead of calling up the media and filing a complaint with Airbnb about being declined, instead of going on talk shows and radio programs to talk about how it felt to be declined, or starting a twitter post for #AirbnbWhileLesbian, here is what I would do if I were declined: I would look for another place to stay. Sound simple? I thought so too. As a gay person I support the right of any individual to refuse to accept me as an Airbnb guest on the basis that I am gay and they don’t want gay people in their home. I would find this disappointing, and consider them small minded and probably not very creative or whimsical, but I would realize two important things: their limitation was their problem, not mine. And their home is theirs, not mine.
It’s also a mischaracterization of the claims about discrimination relating to Airbnb hosts’ homes to speak of them as “public accomodations.” Private homes are not public accomodations — see this forum post on this issue — this is something that seems to be misunderstood by many of those who are demanding access to other’s houses. While a case can definitely be made for ensuring that blacks and gays/lesbians any other category of people are not discriminated against in seeking long term permanent housing for themselves, private stand-alone apartments, it’s my view that anti-discrimination laws are inappropriate for private homes, and should notbe applied to private homes, since property owners must retain the ability and the right to live comfortably in their own homes.
It would be disrespectful to propose that people should be forced to live with someone they dont’ like, or are uncomfortable with, in their own homes. Rather, their own home is their last refuge of freedom, in a world where they may be uncomfortable most anywhere else. I know this as a woman, since women often dont’ feel quite so safe out there in the world at large. For women, I contend, it is particularly important that we feel safe in our own homes. And that we are free there. If we are not free in our own homes, where are we free?
Freedom is to a great extent correlated to a minimally intrusive government, which is why people with a libertarian bent tend to appreciate smaller governments and smaller books of rules. Although I don’t oppose all anti-discrimination laws, it is actually typical of Libertarians to oppose anti-discrimination laws in the private sector — as is discussed in this article by David Bernstein. One of the concerns that many Libertarians have about discrimination policies, is how they can proliferate, as he explained here:
The proliferation of antidiscrimination laws explains why libertarians are loath to concede the principle that the government may ban private sector discrimination. There is no natural limit to the scope of antidiscrimination laws, because the concept of antidiscrimination is almost infinitely malleable. Almost any economic behavior, and much other behavior, can be defined as discrimination. Is a school admitting students based on SAT scores? That is discrimination against individuals (or groups) who don’t do well on standardized tests! Is a store charging more for an item than some people can afford? That is discrimination against the poor! Is an employer hiring only the best qualified candidates? That is discrimination against everyone else!
This idea of the malleability and proliferation of anti-discrimination laws is exemplified by the a new category included in such laws: transgender status. Some are now arguing that to hold a philosophical viewpoint in which you dont’ agree that someone can literally “change gender”, is ipso facto discriminatory on its face — failing to use the right pronoun or gender term for a given individual could in some instances cost a person their job. And more…there has been a proposal in Canada to make it a CRIME to fail to use “genderless” pronouns when referring to someone who will not accept being called either “him” or “her” but prefers the genderless “they”. I bring this up because like David Bernstein I see a slippery slope from anti-discrimination policies to a totalitarian forcing of philosophical and political views upon others.
Discrimination laws cover things like race, national origin, sex, religion. …but there are other groups lining up, eager to be covered by anti-discrimination laws. .There are now, for instance, people who generously tip the scales, who are pining for “fat discrimination” to be added into the list of categories of persons one may not discriminate against. See this recent article about such a fat activist. I think it suffices to say that many Airbnb hosts would have a care for their furniture if discovering that, through an Airbnb tech experiment or new policy to prohibit discrimination, they were not permitted to know until their guest rang their doorbell that she weighed 450 pounds.
The forcing of any kind of anti-discrimination policy upon a private home or a private homeowner, could be viewed an expression of contempt for the freedom of that private property owner, and an expression of disregard for their need to be able to be comfortable in perhaps the only place that they have for this in the world.
Some argue that since it is a fact that there are groups of minorities who have experienced discrimination, there is no other way to provide redress to this, and promote equality, than by forms of affirmative action or anti-discrimination policies. I won’t argue that it’s of no value to pursue equality of access or opportunity, as it certainly is. Yet regardless the sufferings or oppressions that any particular person or group of people has experienced in their life or in history, many will feel that their private property is not available to either the government, or to any private corporation, to make amends to solve such issues. Governments or private corporations wishing to help redress historical or socially systemic wrongs, may offer their own private property for that purpose, but it would not be right to expropriate other’s private property for that use.
As a thought experiment….consider what would happen if the government (or a private corporation!) wished to solve the (ever-increasing!) problem of homelessness, by forcing private homeowners to take in and house a homeless individual, against the homeowner’s wishes. An argument could be made that it would be far less of a burden for a homeowner to house just one homeless person, than for that person to have to live on the sidewalk. This argument is not as far-fetched as it may seem, since the various rent control laws which exist do to some extent accomplish the same end of forcing private property owners to provide charity to others, against their wishes.
Another consideration is as regards the implications of a global cultural imposition of anti-discrimination laws of an American corporation. It’s one thing to set up anti-discrimination laws in a nation which is already very familiar with this concept. It’s quite a different thing to expect to apply those laws to other nations and cultures which may have very different values. To illustrate this point, let me tell a story.
When I was young, when I was young and lesbian, a very free and freespirited young lesbian I was. I was an activist, an organizer of other gay activists, we sometimes had fun going on an outing to a suburban shopping mall in a very “straight” area and being very blatantly “gay” there…in all kinds of “drag”. It was fun when I was young to be “in your face” in public places sometimes… especially since in the 1970’s and early 1980’s gays were very narrowly known and it was pretty widely thought that gays were freaks, perverts. The response of many, when we talked of gay marriage, was to exclaim , “what next, will people want to marry cows or horses or sheep? ”
Fast forward to 35 years later….it’s not a thing to do for gay people to go in drag to suburban shopping malls any more— instead of getting a rise out of being “in your face” to homophobes, they would be viewed, particularly by the young teens, as delightfully providing everyone free entertainment.
So what to do?!?! The young folks say …we are bored and must know!! I know! We’ve heard that Airbnb is passing an anti-discrimination policy! Great…this means, that those nasty Christian fundamentalist homophobes, can’t turn down gays anymore! So I have an idea, let’s deluge a bunch of random people in a ho hum southern town with inquiries from random young urban gays (our Airbnb profiles loudly proclaiming that we are QUEEEER) wanting, inexplicably, to stay with a quiet heterosexual couple/family in a southern town far from anyplace that could possibly interest us. We can collect up a bunch of declines, and then publicize it and force them all off Airbnb! Or….
And if this technique is effective in the South, imagine how effective it would be in getting hosts banned when deployed in Saudi Arabia or Russia, — in the latter it is a crime to “propogandize” about homosexuality to minors, or engage displays of “perverted” affection.
And in Saudi Arabia…well…if your goal is to really push the agenda there…you just might not ever return home… regardless how welcoming your host is. Your host can’t control their nation’s culture and its values. And in some nations, they could put their own safety in their community at risk if they are perceived as supporting or encouraging what there are viewed as unacceptable American/Western values. As well, some nations have laws which on their face conflict with Western anti-discrimimation policies. As I understand it, in Saudi Arabia it’s prohibited by law for a woman to give shelter to a single man who is not a relative of hers. Perhaps that is why in the only listing I could find in all of Saudi Arabia where the host is female, states that she will accept single women and couples. So what would she do if Airbnb forced her to abide by an anti-discrimination policy that prohibited discrimination against guests on the basis of sex/gender, when her nation requires that she discriminate on the basis of gender?
As clear as it is that some places in the world have challenges ahead in the area of human rights and civil rights, I don’t think that the way to address this is by a campaign of American social engineering transplanted through ordinary person’s guest – homes. I think this would be misguided. If a company is going to have a global anti-discrimination policy, but not apply it in places where it’s inconvenient to do so…that would seem hypocritical, and pointless as a global policy. Recall too — the experience of being declined by several Airbnb hosts that prompted Kristen Clarke to write her Op-Ed was one she had in Argentina…yet she quoted American Civil Rights laws…as if she intended to impose those on a foreign nation. I think we should avoid American politically correct hubris and realize that the pace of change of human cultures and values is not always our perogative to rush.
But, you may argue — “even if I agree that people should be free, in their own homes, to make their own choices about whom to invite there, can’t something be done by Airbnb merely to convey its own values, values which it expects hosts to uphold, values of not discriminating…and, geez, do we really want racists on the Airbnb platform??? Are you saying that’s okay??!”
Though one could try, with intrusive and liberty-curtailing techniques to “root out discrimination” in a particular activity, it is not possible to keep “racists” off Airbnb, or off a plane, or out of your neighborhood or the local bar. Because, whatever being a racist is , it has to do with the contents of one’s mind and heart…and Airbnb with all its tech expertise, lacks a way to do thought screening to vet hosts. They haven’t yet figured out a tech geek way to peer into the most private thoughts one thinks when alone and find the thought crimes there.
When it comes to changing people’s hearts and minds, and opening them up –if that is our goal (and I think always a worthy one — in fact, the most worthy goal I believe any human being can have) — we can help open up people’s minds and hearts in many ways….but rules and policies, investigations, efforts to “root out” certain folks who have different values/philosophies, or who dont’ accept a guest, aren’t among those. For a corporation to state a set of values that they hope hosts would share and incorporate would be reasonable, but in my opinion there should be no “force” applied to hosts to accept those values.
Airbnb wishes that hosts would be “welcoming” — and “belonging” is its trademark, its brand. “Inclusive” is a term very similar to “welcoming”, and most hosts want to be welcoming. That is why we are hosts! We love to be welcoming people, including others and helping them feel cared for and that they “belong.” Even so, there is a big difference between the host themselves making the postive move to “include” a guest in their home, or welcome them, versus that host feeling pressured or forced to be “welcoming” to that guest. The end may be exactly the same — whether a host freely welcomes a guest or feels forced to take someone in — the guest is still taken in. But I contend that the difference in lack of liberty is crucial. A welcome doesn’t mean anything if it isn’t freely offered, if it isn’t genuine. Since the Airbnb discrimination/racism issues began to make the news, I have heard hosts express fear that they now will have to worry about declining a black or gay guest, out of fear that if they dont’ accept the person they might be perceived as discriminating. No one should have to have this fear hanging over their head — worried about being spied on as they run their private business.
As well, there is something about not having a right to insist on staying at someone’s home, but rather being dependent upon being accepted by the host, that I think makes guests more appreciative and grateful when they are in fact accepted — and this can bode well for harmony in their stay there. Many Airbnb hosts, having heard about the allegations of racism and discrimination against Airbnb, have actually been moved in a spirit of kindness and generosity to extend a “special welcome” to those guests who they feel might not be getting the full message of welcome. Imagine one of those hosts extending such a “special welcome” to a guest, — and how taken aback that host would feel to open their front door and find that guest standing at the door with a hammer in her hand, ready to break the door down if she hadn’t been welcomed in. (I speak metaphorically and figuratively — referring back to Kristen Clarke with her “hammer” of Federal Civil Rights Laws) A grateful attitude rather than an entitled one in the guest really helps the whole stay be more comfortable for all involved.
Welcome me in or I break your door down: your choice.
As well, there have been many, many stories of serious problems that hosts have had with guests — too many to count — running the gamut from guests who refused to follow house rules, or were disrespectful to hosts, to those guests who threatened or even physically attacked hosts, or vandalized, damaged or stole their property, sometimes to the tune of many thousands of dollars in loss. A few of these stories are documented here . As much as we would like to be compassionate and welcoming to many people, and extend a genuine sense of “belonging” to as many as we can, it would be facile to deny the real risks that hosts face, and — as could occur if Airbnb made instant book a mandatory feature for all hosts — not only disrespectful but dangerously arrogant and neglectful to deny hosts the opportunity to protect their own homes. And the best way to allow hosts to protect their homes, is to guard their freedom to be the sole arbiters of who will have entry there.
To summarize —
I believe that, in considering issues of discrimination, Airbnb should act on instances of overt discrimination, as laid out for instance in the Fair Housing Act in US law, here: https://www.craigslist.org/about/FHA. As for the rest — the private decisions hosts are making about whom to invite into their homes — this should be off-limits to government or corporate policing and investigation. Airbnb and all of us should respect that a person’s home is their sanctuary, and that is perhaps the only place in the world where they are totally free to be themselves. Hosts should not be obligated to accept any particular guest or type of guest. Many women, for instance, feel safer in accepting only female guests, and that ought to be their perogative. Some hosts are busy and accept most all comers, others do hosting quite part-time and are very selective in who they take in. People who take any guests at all can only be advantageous for Airbnb and for guests, availing all of more options of where to stay. There are so many wonderful places to stay now, and so many different kinds of hosts, I feel confident that every sincere person who looks for a place to stay will find a home to be welcomed into, where they too can feel “belonging.”
Do you have an opinion on discrimination and Airbnb?
Airbnb has indicated in its blog on the issue that it would like to hear from hosts. So I encourage everyone who would like to be heard about this to contact them at the email they have given for this purpose:
Taking a look at some of the complaints that have arisen in the media lately, that there is racism on the Airbnb platform. Here are some of the articles that have been published on this issue — one need not read all of these (the first link is to the Harvard study that many other articles refer to) but I want to list them here to show how very much attention this issue has been getting in the media.
The first link takes us to a Harvard University study that intended to research the effect of race on obtaining accomodations on Airbnb. I say “intended” because, quite surprisingly, the Harvard study did not actually study the results for black guests vs white guests in obtaining accomodations, but rather, they studied the difference in results for those with “black sounding names” versus those with “white sounding names.” (For the purposes of the study, no photos were used for these “fake” guests). I was shocked that a university as prestigious as Harvard, would produce such a flawed study. Because to study the results obtained for those with black sounding names, is not to find results for black individuals in general!! Individuals with “black sounding names” are a subset of black individuals, and “black sounding names” may produce connotations and reactions that are not identical to the reactions had towards black individuals in general.
There are two significant problems in equating “black sounding names” with black people as a whole. One is that stereotypical “black” names tend to be perceived as an indicator of someone from a lower socioeconomic class than those with “standard” names (I would not call them “white” names). Secondly, those with “black sounding names” may be perceived as being black individuals who are either more militant or more political about their black identity — so that in addition to being an indicator of race, their name is now potentially also an indicator of a political stance. Thus, the use of “black sounding names” introduces 3 variables, at least, into the study — not only race, but now also lower socioeconomic class, and perceived militancy/political stance on one’s racial identity. A very basic tenet of scientific studies is the need to reduce the number of variables in a study, in order for the outcome to be meaningful. WHen you are studying 3 different variables you cannot find a result which gives you results about only one of those variables. So the Harvard study in my opinion is seriously flawed.
Hence, the study that was purportedly about black individuals, may actually have produced results which provided more information about the effect of one’s perceived socioeconomic status on Airbnb renting. One could well ask, if the “fake” white renters had been given such “white sounding names” that also suggested a lower socioeconomic class, such as Bubba, Billy Bob, Betty JoLean, Peggy Sue or Mary Sue, would they have faced similar levels of discrimination?
Even with these 3 variables involved, the fake renters with “black sounding names” were accepted 42% of the time by hosts, compared to those with “white sounding names” being accepted 50% of the time. So the difference in acceptance, relative to the base acceptance rate, was 16% less acceptance for the “black sounding named” guests. When we consider that 3 variables were involved, and that hosts could have been reacting to any of these, it is reasonable to think that the percentage rate would have been lower if the study had in fact measured acceptance rate relative to black individuals only. It is not surprising to find somewhat of a lower acceptance rate for black individuals compared to white ones given that racism does exist in our society.
There were some interesting results in the study — surprisingly, both black and white hosts were found to “discriminate” against black guests. In fact the most “discriminatory” hosts were black males, and those they most discriminated against were other black males. These hosts accepted white males (fake renters with “White sounding names”) 24% more often (64% of the time) than they accepted black males (fake male renters with black sounding names )(40% of the time) . (See Table 4 on page 30 of the Harvard STudy ) By contrast, black females were the “least” discriminatory, and actually declined other perceived black females less often than any other type of guest. Males with black sounding names were more often declined than any other type of guest, and females with “white sounding names” were most often accepted. Intriguingly, the study showed that the type of host who was most discriminatory was also most discriminated against…and that black males having less trust of other black males was a highlight of the study.
In addition to the Harvard Study (which both created “fake” profiles and sent out “fake” inquiries — something which users are actually not permitted to do on the Airbnb system), other Airbnb users have given anecdotal reports of their experiences as black guests trying to get a reservation on Airbnb. Several black users report being declined many times. One woman named Quirtina Crittenden started a Twitter account called #AirbnbWhileBlack to write about this. One man named Greg Selden did his own “experiment” and sent out an inquiry to a white male host, was declined, and then created two other “fake” profiles using photos of white men, sent those, and was accepted for both of those cases. He concluded that the host was a cowardly bigot and that “racism happened.”
The problem with the individual anecdotal reports, is that one can never know exactly why one was declined by a host. When I looked at the photo of Quirtina Crittenden, I immediately saw a reason I would tend to decline her, and it was not her race. She looked like a “glamorous” type of individual, a fashion-conscious type of woman, and my experience as a host has been negative with such women, who I have realized do not fit well into what I offer. The most negative and even viscious reviews/ratings I have ever received, have been from such women. I have learned not to make that mistake again. I prefer dowdily dressed middle aged men and women, or serious and scholarly young people, or those more interested in what is inside a person than the clothes on the outside. I tend to be wary of fashion. I doubt this is something Quirtina would think about when she received a decline from me.
As well, It does not “prove” anything if Greg was declined with his own photo, and then found that the two white male profiles were accepted — there are potentially any number of reasons why this could have happened. Looking at the photos that Greg used on the 3 profiles, the one on his own profile is a photo taken from a closer distance than the other two. Hosts may respond viscerally to the perceived proximity of a guest in the photo — one that appears very close may appear more confident, more interested in engagement with the viewer/host, but also perhaps more threatening or more “in one’s space.” A guest who takes a position further away may appear less confident or less interested in engagement with the host, but also suggests someone who may be more interested in their own space and privacy and more of an introvert. Then too, in the photo of Greg, he is not smiling, and hosts tend to react more positively to a guest who is smiling, as this can help build trust.
There are any number of personal reasons why a host may react more negatively to one photo than another — perhaps one reminds him of a colleague that he was in conflict with recently, or a relative or neighbor who he doesn’t like, or someone who was rude to him at the grocery store or in the parking lot, or his “ex” who he is not fond to see again. PErhaps a host responds positively to another photo because the individual looks like his father, brother or son, or like a friend, or represents a favored self-image.
The least “scientific” and most inconclusive of reports, are those from black guests who state things such as , ” I get declined all the time” or “I can’t rent an Airbnb for the life of me….I gave up and got a hotel room.” As frustrating as this sounds, it’s really hard to tell what was going on there that caused these declines. What kind of listings were these guests inquiring at? Do the guests present themselves well? Do they use professional photos? Do they say enough about themselves when they inquire, or are they presenting so little information that the host doesn’t feel comfortable renting to them? Were they inquiring at listings with hosts with whom they shared any interests? WEre they inquiring at listings with hosts of a similar age or lifestyle? Were they inquiring with hosts who had full-time offerings, or who only rented part-time? I have heard of some hosts who are not interested in renting very often, maybe only two weekends a month, and they take very few comers. One host wrote that he declined 90% of those who inquired to stay with him. Some hosts are very picky about who they take, and may even cater to a relatively narrow group of guests, such as families with young children. (Some hosts worry about guests having parties, and reason that a family with young children is much less likely to have wild loud parties).
I think it’s important that people not accuse hosts of being racist for declining them, when they simply cannot know other’s motivations. It is irreponsible, and unethical, to hurl such accusations at people without any solid evidence. Even if it could be proved that a host declined a guest based solely on race in one instance,that does not mean that they will make a similar decision every time — because people are complex.
I think it’s also important that guests not view any potential race-based discrimination that occurs with Airbnb hosts, as a responsibility of Airbnb. Airbnb is simply the bulletin board where millions of entrepreneurs list their offerings. The rules about discrimination which apply to these advertisements, are the very same laws on discrimination which apply to all advertisements for housing, and are summarized here:
In essence, as on Craigslist and elsewhere, for the most part, those who are renting out space in the same home where they themselves live, can discriminate on ANY basis, including on the basis of protected categories such as race, religion, sexual orientation, etc — but cannot make discriminatory statements, in states which prohibit those. AIrbnb adds a policy to this and prohibits discriminatory statements in ads even in states and nations where laws may allow those.
Airbnb cannot be responsible for the choices that these individuals make, and for the existence of sociological circumstances — such as racism, sexism, heterosexism and other issues — -which have existed for many years before AIrbnb ever came to be.
This month I celebrate three years as an Airbnb host. It’s something of a milestone: many hosts don’t last three months. I’ve been steadily booked since I started hosting, and I have dozens of great reviews. Three years ago, I embarked on an entrepreneurial journey — and I have succeeded at it.
Whether the benchmark we reach is one year at a job or five years in a marriage; whether we graduate from high school or retire from work; it’s human nature to want to celebrate what we’ve accomplished and to assess what we’ve learned. Mark the occasion! Tradition even tells you the appropriate gift for each year’s wedding anniversary. I’ve been hitched to Airbnb for three years, and the traditional three-year gift is….
Does this mean I should celebrate by outfitting my Airbnb studio with new leather club chairs?
My guests would love them, but even if I raise my rates, it would take another three years to offset a pair of leather club chairs.
But they would look beautiful! Think what they’d add to my guests’ experience!
My immediate thoughts on “Leather” show exactly the priorities I have as an Airbnb host. First, what would my guests love? Second — in a split second: WHAT WILL IT DO TO MYPROFIT MARGIN?? And then I’m right back to the leather club chairs.
I can’t stop thinking about them. I would love a pair of chairs in a comfortable faux leather, perhaps a deep red shade to match the curtains in my studio. Something sturdy yet inviting, where guests could take naps between sight-seeing adventures. I’d have to get a special cleaning solution for them — or do chairs like that have Scotchgard? The legs should be a dark wood…but I don’t want anything that looks too stiff or traditional. I have some throw pillows that would match my fantasy chairs, but I’ll need more…
I realize that, somewhere along this three-year road, I’ve figured out exactly the best lesson for me.
Pay attention to detail.
What a cliche! Can’t I come up with something more profound? Don’t I have any brilliant, original lesson to pass on to new hosts?
So many important points come to mind, and they’re common knowledge among veteran hosts.
***Write clear, comprehensive house rules, and stick to them.
***Make sure guests communicate clearly regarding their arrival. Have a self check-in system in place, so you’re not left waiting around for guests who don’t respect the agreed upon time frame.
***Have backups of sheets, towels, and bath rugs.
***BUY IN BULK!
***Talk to your neighbors! Make sure that they know you only accept quiet, considerate guests. Let the neighbors know that they can talk to you with any concerns.
***Update your listing and photos from time to time.
And of course,
***PAY ATTENTION TO DETAIL.
That’s it. That phrase that every job seeker includes on a resume, that truth behind each item on your hosting to-do list: that says it all. Every good host knows the importance of attention to detail. I’ve obsessed over the little things since I first decided to list my space. I frantically dusted the tops of doors, usually twice. I straightened the bedspread and topped off the already-full shampoo bottles. Then, at some point, I realized that I had calmed down; I didn’t need to worry. It’s not because I stopped paying attention to the little things. It’s precisely because I DID continue this attention that I became calmer and more confident. I began to enjoy hosting more, and I noticed that the guests seemed friendlier.
Of course, the guests didn’t magically become friendlier over the last three years. If anything, I’ve had more not-so-friendly guests as time passed. What changed was my attitude. I was PART of their trip. No, I didn’t go sightseeing with them, and I only occasionally joined them for a cup of coffee. Yet, something about that attention to detail brought me into their world a little more. My small efforts became part of the fabric of their trip.
I’ve noticed that there’s one moment, as I prepare to greet new guests, when I feel completely relaxed. That moment occurs when I’m seeing to details. I always do a final check after the I’ve cleaned the studio and stocked the supplies. As I polish up the already polished stainless steel sink, I feel content, and I’m proud of the gleaming little sink. Sometimes I’m almost glad to notice that the bathroom curtain is looking a little dusty. I take it down, hand wash and iron it, and hang it up again. I get a such a sense of satisfaction you’d think I had tatted the lace myself. All this calm satisfaction came to me unawares. And I feel involved in the process.
What’s most interesting, though, is that it doesn’t even matter whether the guests notice the neatly folded towels and shiny flatware. I guess that’s because I know that some guests,at some point, will notice. And, more important, I feel that my attention to detail creates a positive overall impression. The whole studio is greater than the sum of its tiny shiny parts.
I’m really surprised that I don’t care if guests notice! I thought I was the type to worry about what others think. I thought I had those normal human responses. You know, when you feel that no one notices how hard you work or how great you are? I’ve suffered that at times, in other areas of life. But when it’s my home and my guests, I just don’t care if no one notices my efforts. That’s because my obsession with detail is already doing a lot for me, and at least a little for my guests.
Also, there’s that increased pride in one’s own home. I’ve become more connected to my home, even though my Airbnb studio is a separate unit. I think this satisfaction holds true whether you rent or own. When I had an apartment, I loved preparing the place for visitors. Now, I own a modest triplex on the edge of a great neighborhood, and I even have a big back yard. That yard isn’t left out of my little detail-oriented attention. Overall, my yard is overgrown and unkempt. But there’s such joy to be had in arranging little river rocks just right, or finding the perfect spot for a potted plant.
It’s gratifying, as a host, to hear guests exclaim how lovely my studio is and how inviting the yard looks. I take this feedback as a reflection of the little things I’ve done well. But, I know I’m providing a great experience whether I hear compliments or not. I’m on the trip too.
Maybe this positive feeling will change. I’m three years in, and I can pat myself on the back and keep shining the flatware in my Airbnb. But, how will I feel about all this detail work at, say, the five-year mark? Will I still have pride in the little things and feel part of my guests’ journey?
I hope so. I’ve met lots of wonderful guests, and I’ve really gotten to know someone — myself.
You’ve probably seen the slogan, maybe even on a billboard somewhere:
In this blog we will explore the importance of your house rules for your short term rental hosting, and by the end I hope you will understand why it’s very important that you have a set of comprehensive house rules which are crystal clear, and which address all areas of guest behavior and guest use of your house, which are important to you.
The mistake that is too often made by those who are new to hosting, often those who are new to renting out property, is that they start out with a very erroneous presumption. That presumption is that everyone else in the world has the same psychology, values and view on life that you do. So new hosts will not have house rules, but will simply say, “Be respectful” or “Be cool”, as if such statements meant anything at all. These are useless statements, for the simple reason that not everyone in the world has the same viewpoint, values, or ideas of what is respectful or cool, that you do. And even if they did, how would they know if “being respectful” means they can bring their pet or bring visitors over? So please don’t have a one sentence list of house rules which invites your guests to treat your house the same way they treat their home. I guarantee you that some people treat their home quite badly, and you wont’ want them to treat your home the way they treat theirs!
Some hosts figure that they can simply have a few primary house rules such as “no smoking in the house” ,”no pets”, and “please clean up after yourself” and then address other issues as they arise. Such hosts may not realize that when a guest books a stay at your home, they are entering into a business contract. A great many hosts are, unfortunately, individuals who either have no previous experience renting out property, or no experience running their own business, and therefore lack an understanding of the nature of a business contract.
When you have someone book a reservation at your home, the terms of that reservation are those which are written in your Airbnb listing combined with your house rules. Those are the terms the guest is required to abide by, and you are not permitted to add terms to that later on. You can’t change the business contract that both parties have agreed to, after the contract is “signed”, which is in effect what happens when the guest books. This means that if you don’t want the guest to have overnight visitors, this is something you have to state ahead of time, and have in your house rules — you can’t just change the rules in the middle of the guests’ reservation. As well, it makes things awkward if the guest arrives to your home expecting to be able to do something (such as have a party with 10 of their friends over) and then you tell them they can’t. You really want the guest to be able to fully understand what he or she can do at your home, and what is not permitted, and the only way to make this crystal clear before the guest books, is to have adequate house rules.
However, having a robust set of house rules doesn’t do much good if you aren’t prepared to enforce them. A very sizeable number of people who begin doing short term rental hosting, are not prepared for the unpleasant task of having to confront someone who is in their home abusing their hospitality or violating their house rules — sometimes with a broad smile on their face, dismissing the host who takes issue with the violation, and saying, “It’s not a problem, really.” If you let your guest violate your house rules with impunity, because you are afraid to confront them or put down your foot, or find that too unpleasant, dont’ think that this is only your problem. No, by not confronting your guest’s disrespectful behavior, you may unwittingly be creating a problem for other hosts who accept this guest in the future. You are teaching this individual that you don’t really mean what you say in your rules, and so the guest is free to ignore them or blow them off, and if they get away with this at your place, why wouldn’t they continue this behavior at the next place they stay, and the one after that, until someone finally lays down the law?
So in consideration of other hosts and the host community you are a part of, it is valuable for you to be able to put a stop to any rule violations that occur with guests. By standing up to guests who violate house rules, you will also feel better and be less likely to burn out as a host or feel like a depleted doormat.
Some of the primary areas you may want to cover in house rules:
Smoking in house: allowed or not
Pets: allowed or not
Parties: permitted or not? Define what a party is — eg max # of guests permitted.
Additional guests — do guests have to let you know if additional guests will be staying, beyond those they paid for? I suggest you only allow in your home those guests who have been named and paid for in advance.
Guest visitors: permitted or not, any limit on number of visitors or number of visits, day time only visits or overnight visits allowed
Cleaning up after using kitchen or bathroom: may need to specify what “cleaning up” means — eg, has guest cleaned up if they have washed their dishes but left food crumbs all over counters and grease splattered all over stove?
Quiet hours — do you have any ?
Shoes — on or off in house?
Amount of belongings guests may bring — do you have any limits? Beware that a few of us as hosts have had the experience of guests moving to our area and trying to bring all their worldly belongings into our home. I suggest limiting guests to 2 or 3 suitcases, and not permitting guests to bring furniture or appliances into your home.
Showers and laundry — any hours when these aren’t permitted? Can guests do laundry at 2am? Take showers at 3am?
Areas off limits — do you have any areas of your house off limits to guests?
Mail — guests often ask about receiving mail at hosts’ home. Will you allow this? I suggest you make this very simple and state that guests may not receive any mail at your home, to avoid problems such as guest getting on numerous mailing lists and ending up having mail for them come to your home long after they have left. One package from Amazon is generally okay, but problems can arise when guest asks for “one package from Amazon” and then takes the liberty to order more packages from companies that will put them on a mailing list.
Guest doing business at your home, having clients over — will you allow this?
Guest storing their items in your common areas — will you allow guest to leave their things randomly around your house? Do you have designated storage areas?
Guest borrowing your belongings — can they borrow your things?
Guest use of your kitchen and your food.
Having a good set of house rules is a difficult project, and an ongoing project. It is a constant learning process and we are always seeking a balance between having too few house rules so that we forget to cover something essential, versus having too many so that we are off-putting to prospective guests. Sometimes hosts ask me “what is the most important house rule?” The most important house rule is the one that you forgot to include! So make sure you are thorough.
A surprisingly common house-rules related problem that arises, occurs when hosts have as a guest, an individual who is also a host. Unfortunately, too many hosts make the assumption (which I state above to try to be aware of and avoid!) that everyone else either DOES think the way they do, or SHOULD think the way they do. Hence we have hosts who go to stay at another hosts’ home, who say they agree to this host’s house rules, but inwardly, they really don’t. Honestly, they believe that all hosts should have the same house rules that they do, and that they are doing something wrong if they dont’. This dishonest and arrogant attitude can cause awkwardness, for instance, when the guest who is also a host, fails to depart by check out time, and then presumes to lecture the host who is prompting them to go, that “When I have guests over at my house, I always let them have a leisurely day — I don’t push them out.” It is particularly galling when the host doing such arrogant lecturing is a twenty-two year old student, who rents out a room in her apartment, and yet has the nerve to be scolding a 5o or 60 year old host who owns their own home and has over a dozen years experience with renters. But unfortunately one will find this in the world of short term rentals — individuals who are “hosting” with someone else’s property, are now lecturing long time property owners about the property rental business.
Finally — it may not hurt to state in your house rules, that you will not make any exceptions to your house rules. I have fairly strict house rules, but I literally cannot count the number of times that I have been asked if I would permit a guest to have an “exception” to the rules, or do something which is not only not allowed, but which I state quite forcefully, “will not be allowed under any circumstances.” I have a house rule in which I make it abundantly clear that I do not allow guests to have visitors/friends over at any time, for any amount of time. I also am very clear that my rooms are single occupancy only. I recently had a guest book a stay at my house, and before she arrived, she asked for an exception to the house rules, wanting to have a friend come over not just as a day visitor, but to stay overnight with her for two weeks! I was flabbergasted that she would even ask for such a huge exception which would be so totally contrary to my rules. After I said no and told her to please not ask me for any exceptions to my house rules, she then wrote back a week later, asking if she could have mail delivered to my house — she wanted to get a driver’s license and give my address to the DMV !! I was quite appalled not only that she was asking for another exception, but that she would have such poor judgement as to think it would be permissible that someone who doesn’t want to be bothered with receiving guest mail, would think that putting in my address as her official address with the DMV would be remotely possible. This all just goes to show, that sometimes even strict house rules aren’t quite enough, for some guests who are incredibly lacking in good judgement. I got on the phone with this young woman and gave her a piece of my mind and I think she understood after hearing my annoyance in my voice, how out of line she was. But I shrink at the thought of what would have happened with her, had I not had these rules at all. Likely she would have gone ahead and signed herself up with the DMV with my address and it would be hell to get out of that….visualize the host standing in the long line at the DMV trying to wipe someone else’s name off her address….
I’m not sure who came up with the term “Sharing Economy” , but I have found it to be more of a misnomer than an accurate description of many microentrepreneurial businesses. As well, in the minefield that is the landscape of modern day short term rental politics in many cities, it is a term that is actually often used against short term rental hosts.
As defined on Wikipedia , the term Sharing Economy is clearly linked with “peer to peer economy”, which would have been a better word to use. In this Wikipedia article, it’s stated that this economy,
” refers to peer-to-peer-based sharing of access to goods and services (coordinated through community-based online services). “
The term that is problematic here, and which I think boomerangs against us, is “sharing.” I think most of us have realized that when we have riders in our car, or guests in a room in our house, we are not “sharing”, we are “renting” or “selling.” The term “sharing economy” has confused not only our riders and guests, on Lyft/Uber and Airbnb, but also our local governments, and those neighbors or community members observing our “sharing” businesses — some of them quite clearly experiencing contempt for us, that we should make any income at all,
since in their view, we should be “sharing.” !! Indeed, it’s the view of many, that if we were really decent people, and if we really sincerely wanted to just meet a lot of different people from around the world like we say we do, then we wouldn’t be charging money for folks to stay at our house. We would let them in for free. Isn’t that what sharing is all about? So these people, dismissive of our need to actually generate income for our work, say that if we were really caring, we should be sharing!
Airbnb should be all Puppy dogs and ice cream!
There are other consquences of this unfortunate misnomer, which is that the hosting business is perversely seen,( not only by many who oppose it but also by many hosts!), as just about the only kind of business in the world, where the less money you make from your business, the more virtuous you are. Really, name me one other type of business where the prevailing attitude is that you shouldn’t be earning much money at it!
If we had simply termed our business, “peer to peer economy”, rather than “home sharing”, we might not get those strident individuals who stand up at City Council meetings and insist that people who rent out a room in their house shouldn’t be allowed to do so all year long, but should be limited to a certain number of nights per year, like, say, 60 nights a year. “After all, dont’ they say they are ‘sharing’?” I heard one bitter woman argue in a local City government meeting. No, I didn’t say I was sharing, Ma’am!
City government leaders and community members alike often have the perspective, that there is something slightly gross or just wrong, about a person who rents out a room in their home on a full time basis. Notwithstanding the fact that people have rented out rooms in their home for decades — for centuries even, including to those staying on a short term basis. To hear the view of many civic leaders, it’s fine to run such a business part time or occasionally, but certainly not full time, because, by gosh, “then they would be running a business!!” As if renting out a room for any amount of time wasn’t running a business?
This view about the virtue of not making very much money at your business, also affects the Airbnb host community itself. Of course there are those super-coach type hosts, the shiny motivational speaker types, who write the Get Rich Quick guides like , “Turn that dark, dingy unused hallway closet into a guest room and make a million dollars this year!” — so of course there is that segment of hosts who believe in making money, and lots of it, even if their idea of how much you can make is somewhat exaggerated.
But there are also a good number of hosts, often those who signed up in the early days of Airbnb when it was less glitzy and ritzy and more clearly focused on room rentals, who think there is something shameful about those hosts with — gasp — “multiple listings.” As if having more than one room in your home that you rent, or more than one apartment that you rent, made a person into some type of demon. It’s true that in some places in the world, hosts aren’t allowed to do short term rentals of entire apartments that they dont’ themselves live in. Notably, New York, San Francisco, and a few other cities where housing is tight. But politics are not the same everywhere, and in places like Bali or Singapore, Russia or Namibia, I doubt that there are the same regulations as in New York City. So, one can’t make broad generalizations about those listing multiple apartments.
I’ve read laments on the host groups, where hosts decry the direction that Airbnb is going, now that people are using it to list entire apartments, when apparently they “should” be listing only a room in their own home. Others self-righteously lecture other hosts (see for instance one such lecture in this post ) who have many listings, insisting that they “have contravened the spirit of Airbnb” and “Airbnb was not set up for people like you.” In fact there are no statements one can find anywhere on the Airbnb site that state that one cannot list several different properties, or that Airbnb was “not set up for” people who happen to own or manage such properties and want to use this website to rent them out. It’s true that in early days the “atmosphere” or culture of Airbnb was palpably felt as a place for those renting out rooms, opening up their homes to guests, and much of the language in the Airbnb ads and website promote that culture. But this culture is not policy, and not mandated for hosts, and I think it’s presumptuous for hosts to insist that Airbnb is more than a short term rental listing service, which struggles to wade the treacherous waters of regional regulations which often either outdated, or evolving in response to political pressures.
The sharing-economy term having led to the concept that we are really all supposed to be “sharing” I think in this way influences hosts who offer rooms in their home, or “just one separate unit, but it’s on my own property”, to look askance at those whose offerings are not as homey, and spite them as being not as altruistic — they aren’t really hosting, as some would have it, they are just “doing a business” or “listing many properties.” Well what the heck is wrong with that? People who own or manage many properties naturally are going to rent them, right? What else are they going to do with them, put them in frozen storage?
So I am suggesting that one of the consequences and end results of the term “sharing economy”, has been that we have this insidious moralizing and judgementalism infiltrating this business of doing short term rentals. The moralizing stems in part from the use of “sharing economy”, but also stems from the fact that this business (which is really a very OLD business) is new to the present time, and those engaging in this business often feel put upon to defend it to the critics, particularly critics in local government. So there are many efforts afoot to show that we as hosts are doing something virtuous, doing something generous, doing something hospitable…not just making money! God forbid we should be making money when we rent out our property, that many of us have obtained not only thru investing our life savings, but blood sweat and tears to boot.
So my point in this blog, is to take note of the moralizing that surrounds our business, the inappropriate expectations that we should be sharing, rather than making an income, and the various kinds of judgmentalism which arise from the host community itself, regarding other hosts. Particularly in an environment where hosts are seeing an oversaturation of hosts in almost all areas, and growing competition, I think we need to recognize that part of this moralizing is self-serving: we’d like to eliminate much of the competition so that we could get more business ourselves, and one of the ways that people naturally seem to do that is by judging other hosts and self-righteously deciding who should and who shouldn’t really be an Airbnb host.
Yes, it’s true that some hosts are violating local laws with the listings they are offering — but as far as that goes, people by the millions have violated federal laws when they ran across a national border at night, when no one was looking.
Many of us heavily criticize the former but look kindly and compassionately at the latter group of law-breakers. Apple Corporation right now is violating federal law and defying court orders by refusing to hack into an iphone for the FBI. Yet I think you and I and most of us who aren’t Donald Trump or the other Three Stooges running for Republican nominee for president, would applaud the “scofflaw” attitude of Apple, because it is so important a position for our collective rights to privacy. Not all laws are created equal and particularly when you have cities that haven’t developed short term rental laws that suit the modern times, not all laws are up to date and fair. So I suggest that we hold back on our impulse to judge others, and temper our stridency or any obsessive qualities of our love of the letter of the law, and focus on how we as short term rental hosts can work collectively to promote our collective interests.
Airbnb calls its Superhosts “extraordinary” and “outstanding.” Travel websites refer to Superhost status as a badge of honor, as the crown jewel of Airbnb. Yet, as many hosts know, the Superhost badge doesn’t actually mean much. That’s partly because it’s just too easy for new hosts to get.
Why should I worry so much about keeping my Superhost status whenso manynew hosts can get that badge in their sleep?
I call myself an Airbnb Superhostage. I’ve hosted successfully since June of 2013, and I’ve held Superhost status since the company re-instated the program beginning in September of 2014. As a Superhostage, I’ve been proud, indignant, confused, desperate, silly, and boastful. Whenever my next “evaluation” approaches, I check my Airbnb Inbox every five minutes, I pore over my Superhost statistics, and I overreact. For example, I was puzzled by the recent “Overall” ratings for my studio:
Great work! Your last 2 ratings were each 5 stars!
Only the last 2 ratings??Strange. Great work??I think not…I have144reviews for that listing. Some recent guest has given me just 4 stars for “Overall Experience.” Who were these guests, and what had I done wrong with them? However, that kind of thinking wastes my energy. I’ve never polled my guests, but I’ve heard other hosts say that their guests don’t even realize the Superhost program exists.
Yet, the Superhost advantages remain. We come up higher in search results. Guests can filter their searches to show only Superhost listings (I suspect that filter isn’t used much, but it’s there.) AND, the greatest advantage, in my view, is that, as a Superhost, you can call Airbnb Customer Service and beconnected almost immediatelywith a staffer. This is huge.I rememberpainfullylong wait times, before the program was re-introduced. Yes, Airbnb Customer Service has flaws, but I can usually get help with basic questions on specific reservations.
To gain Superhost status, a host needs to maintain at least an 80% average on overall ratings and a 90% or better response rate. You must have no cancellations. AND – you must have hosted ten “completed trips” in the past year. ONLY TEN. I see a problem withthat.After ten sets of guests, you’re still a newbie, and you don’t have a proven track record.
I don’t want to diminish the efforts of those great new hosts who have put in the time, research, and money to develop a beautiful space and a well-written listing. Yet there are SO MANY “Superhosts” who have only a handful of reviews, or have only been on Airbnb for a few months. With such limited experience, how competent can a host be? Have these hosts gotten lucky with easy-to-please guests? Perhaps. But, for most, I think their Superhost status will disappear at the next evaluation.
The majority of newbie Superhosts need topay their dues. It’s evident in their listings.
I examined 30 Superhost listings with twenty or fewer reviews, mostly in my home town of Los Angeles, but also from other major American markets. 24 of the 30 listings – that’s80%— had serious problems in their descriptions, photos, and House Rules. Surely some prospective guests would worry: Is this host flaky? Will s/he clarify these unclear statements? The reviews look good, but can I trust them? And, does that Superhost badge really mean that I’m staying at a decent, clean, well-appointed place?
These new Superhosts themselves will likely face problems down the line, if their information is unclear or the House Rules inadequate.
So what’s wrong with the listings I’ve looked at? First,so many are poorly written!These days, we shouldn’t be surprised at the lack of good English writing. In the listings, I found so many grammar errors that I lost count. I saw complete lack of punctuation, weirdly placed capital letters, and clumsy, confusing phrases. Some excerpts:
Under “About This Listing,” one Superhost only wrote:
“its 2 min walking from Hollywood blvd bunk bed 1 level”
That’s it. A prospective guest might wonder whatelseis unclear at this place, such as the WiFi password or parking instructions.
Generally, this Superhost has good reviews, but there is one which reads:
“did not like at all”
Another Superhost repeated an entire paragraph fully three times, at different points in her listing:
“Beautiful large private bedroom/private bathroom in a 2bd/2 bath apartment… [Etc.]”
“Beautiful large private bedroom/private bathroom in a 2bd/2 bath apartment… [Etc.]”
“Beautiful large private bedroom/private bathroom in a 2bd/2 bath apartment… [Etc.]”
Wouldn’t a guest question that host’s attention to detail?
Here’s what another Newbie Superhost wrote, in describing his neighborhood:
Note to Newbies: Airbnb blocks out links. READ YOUR LISTING AFTER YOU POST IT.
What about “House Rules?” Here’s an entry:
“Be kind to the house.”
Most people will understand that they’re expected to take care of the property, but what about the guest who takes it to mean “Paintrainbows on the walls!?” I hopethis Superhost rewrites his House Rules before some guest destroys the place.
Another host has “House Rules” almost as brief:
“I don’t like rules…just be respectful.
smoking outside only…”
That host really sets himself up for problems.
Here’s a House Rule from a Superhost whose landlord just might not be in the loop:
“Do not talk to neighbors”
What happens if a guest does break that house rule? How would the host know?
Some of my Newbie Superhosts have pretty good photos, but others have shots that are blurry or even sideways. It’s hard for a guest to know what they’re in for. And, among these Superhost photos, I saw some really dirty floors and cluttered rooms. Outstanding?? Jewels in the crown?? I think not.
Shouldn’t the Superhost title mean something?
No. For all that Airbnb gushes with pride about Superhosts, the company does not endorse them. Airbnb claims to personalize encounters for travelers, but Superhost status is automated. A host meets certain measurable, mathematically calculated criteria, and the Superhost badge automatically appears on his or her profile photo. Or, a host meets the criteria, and the Superhost badge shows up three weeks later. Either way, no one from Airbnb is looking at actual reviews, listings, or photos. No Airbnb staffer will see that Superhost with the four-word review: “didn’t like at all.” Nor will any Airbnb employee notice the Superhost with three listings, active only since August of 2015, who has only three stars for cleanliness on one of those listings.
I find it ridiculous that Airbnb hands out Superhost status but doesn’t endorse the Superhosts. I mean, THEY PLACE A BADGE ON YOUR PHOTO. How is that NOT an endorsement?
If Airbnb doesn’t have the manpower to confirm whether these Newbie Superhosts really deserve that badge, the company needs to alter the criteria. At minimum, hosts should have to go through twenty sets of guests, not just ten, to qualify for Superhost status.
Think of the hard-working veteran hosts who have hundreds of positive reviews but may fall just short of that Superhost mark. Not only have they earned lots of money for Airbnb, they have also stuck with the company through its years of sudden growth, bad press, and failed ad campaigns.
Those veterans get to stay on hold for forty minutes while Airbnb Customer Service helps Newbie Superhosts.
Lots of improvements could help the Airbnb Superhost program. Certainly Airbnb should increase its minimum completed trips criterion. Airbnb will better serve its guests AND show more respect to its talented veteran hosts.
Should I call Airbnb Customer Service with my idea? Maybe. It probably won’t do any good, but at least I’ll get through right away.
I am not getting as many bookings as I had this time last year…I’m getting a lot of views but no bookings…I have had to drop my prices to get bookings….I’ve noticed there are a lot of new hosts in my area…what to do?
Indeed, what to do. I first noticed this problem being mentioned about a year ago, among hosts in London. Later, I read about it happening in Seoul, South Korea. Hosts were finding that they were getting fewer and fewer bookings, at the same time that they noticed the number of hosts in their area or their city, rapidly increasing. The number of hosts in many cities has doubled in the last couple years. For instance, within 1.5 years, the number of listings in London has increased by about 300%, and is now around 29,000. And Airbnb has been eagerly trying to sign up new hosts — lately I can’t write a review for a guest without getting a popup box on the screen when I’m done, telling me I will get a bonus if I sign up one of my friends sign up as a host. At the Airbnb Open in November 2015, in Paris, Brian Chesky spoke excitedly of how in the future there will be an Airbnb listing on every block in every city.
But wait — don’t you see — Brian — there are already 3 Airbnb hosts on my block. And there are 2 on the block around the corner….Brian, wait…don’t you think…it’s possible to have too many hosts? Brian, wait a minute….Briiiiannnn!
Yes, it is true that Airbnb is signing up more guests as well as more hosts. Most of the guests who stay with me are first time Airbnb users, for instance. So there are new guests all the time. But for each new hostwho signs up, you’ll need multiple new guests. For instance, say you have a host who rents out a room that is booked half the time, or 180 days a year, and who depends on that income to pay their mortgage. A typical guest probably only stays in an Airbnb listing 3 to 10 days a year, lets’ say 7 days on average. So for each new host who needs 180 days a year to be booked, there would be a need for 180/7 = 25 new guests.
So if the number of hosts doubles over a given period of time, has the number of people using Airbnb as guests , increased by 25 times?
A whole slew of people, eager for the easy cash they expected, signed up as hosts and listed their places on Airbnb for the Superbowl in the SF Bay Area. The result demonstrated clearly that when too many people are hosting because their eyes are lit up by dollar signs, this will ensure less income for all: Many Superbowl Listings are Sitting Empty. As this article states,
There are simply too many rooms and not enough guests. “You get a flood of people listing their places and nobody looks at it,” says Ian McHenry, a co-founder of research firm Beyond Pricing, which sells rental hosts a service to help calculate how much they should charge. “There’s way too much supply in the market.” Of the nearly 10,000 currently active Airbnb listings in the Bay Area this weekend, around 60 percent are still available, according to the San Jose Mercury News.
When I first started as an Airbnb host 3 years ago, I saw a lot of hosts bragging about how much money they were making, and I also saw some hosts start to write books about how to make a bundle on Airbnb. I read articles in which property owners said others were suckers for not using their properties to do short term rentals, since they would make so much more money. I could easily see where this was going. Which is where we are getting to now.
Residences — now all ATM Machines?
People were going gaga over the prospect of making huge amounts of money — so much so, that an increasing number of folks who had space, somewhere, anywhere, were looking to cash in on it by stuffing guests into it.
Though property rental has generally been a business for those who own property, one could see that the lure of easy cash was blurring the understanding of rental agreements. A perusal of listings available in major cities on the US Coasts will reveal a rather large number of offerings by twenty-somethings. When one considers that people in this age range typically do not yet own property, and landlords who own apartment buildings typically do not allow subletting, one can see how the stories of easy money could lead tenants to forget that the space wherein they live, doesn’t actually belong to them and hence is not theirs to rent out.
Those blessed tenants who did have permission to sublet were quick to sign on as hosts, and many of those folks, renter or homeowner alike, who had never considered having roommates, and didn’t need to, were now all agog at the prospect of having guests.
An attitude of entitlement prevailed in some quarters. I recall overhearing a conversation, where one host was complaining that his landlord had stopped his hosting career, and was looking for a new apartment to rent out so he could be a host again. Another host, a homeowner, said that in her view hosting was primarily for homeowners. The first host snapped back that he couldnt’ afford to buy a house, but he didn’t feel that should mean he couldn’t be a host. There seemed to be a sense of a right to be a host. In my imagination I envisioned someone borrowing a car from his next door neighbor and then, without getting permission from his neighbor to do so, insisting on his right to rent out his neighbors’ car for profit, since “it’s too expensive to buy my own car, and I have a natural call to be a car rental agent.”
But I think that it’s Airbnb that has contributed to this sense that many have, that people sort of have this right to be hosts, quite apart from legitimately having any property that they have legal authority to rent to others. As Airbnb presents it, hosting is something quite different from being in the property rental business — and that misrepresentation is the cause of innumerable problems, (as I describe in this blog – Dont’ Be An Airbnb Baby ) because hosting most definitely is part of the property rental business.
I realized things were getting all gaga, last July, when I went hiking in a local park. and had this experience for the third time: As hikers passed me on the trail, I heard their excited conversation, “….well we can just Airbnb it…..Susan does that and she…..” I realized that if I had heard hikers on these trails talking about Airbnb-ing their places out, three times already in a year, that meant that things were getting crazier. Nuttier and crazier and more and more Airbnb everywhere.
This last winter business got really slow. I saw some 20 to 30 posts in various host community groups lamenting how “slow” business had been. Hosts were asking others if they were slow as well. Hosts were asking for tips in getting more business. I was thinking to myself that eventually many of these hosts were going to give up. The amount of available business was insufficient to support the number of hosts in certain areas, and so that available business was being stretched too thin.
I had predicted this would happen, not long after getting started in hosting, when I started seeing people blabbing about how much money they were making. I couldn’t believe that people didn’t realize that blabbing about how much money they were making, would ultimately lead to them making a lot less money. As for me I kept my mouth shut, but I also wasn’t interested in maximizing profits. I was interested in being comfortable in my own home — something I had never been able to achieve with standard roommates.
It was easy for me to predict, 3 years ago, what would happen with Airbnb hosting — as more and more people got wind of making “easy money” as Airbnb hosts, more and more would sign up to be hosts. This would have numerous consequences that would ensure that hosts would from then on make less and less money. First that there would be less business available for everyone since areas would become saturated with hosts. Secondly, people would sign up as hosts, do well during the first month during which all hosts get artificial promotion over existing more tenured hosts, and then some would start to flop as time went on, when they had to start competing with other hosts. Many of these hosts would then quit hosting.
Third, prices would drop overall, as competition increased, and eventually this would bring things to the point where short term renting was no longer more profitable than long term renting — in fact in many cases (particuarly in cities where rents are already high due to other market forces) it would be much less profitable than standard long term renting.
Fourth, affordable housing advocates and Airbnb foes would be sure to rail against Airbnb and hosts alike, the more they heard about hosts making easy money or lots of money. I don’t know about you, but it’s been my experience as a human being on this planet, that if someone is making good money in any endeavor which has the slightest element of controversy about it, those who aren’t making that money or who can’t, are going to get envious and resentful and will go what they can to put a halt to others’ success. It seems to be in human nature, that people don’t like to see others doing much better than they are, and that those who are miserable, tend to like to try to make others miserable. Then too, it is predictable that those who are finding their lives made more difficult by increasing rents and housing scarcity, are going to be pretty resentful of those who they perceive as profiting from their hardship, or who they perceive as profiting in ways that cause their hardship — particularly if these Airbnb hosts are flaunting their success. And when enough renters are upset and experiencing housing hardship, city governments listen, and Airbnb hosts may find their opportunities correspondingly curtailed.
Moral of the story: If you are successful as an Airbnb host, don’t brag about how much money you are making. Because, if you have some foresight (or long sight, as the case may be) you will realize that the more you flap your jaws about how much money you are making as an Airbnb host, the less money you will eventually be making as an Airbnb host.
Which ultimately I think is fine. Since in my ideal world, people aren’t buying up or renting out numerous investment properties just so they can make more and more money — they are hosting guests because it’s something that they like to do, they like meeting people, it is stimulating and brings good energy to their home or property — and besides, for many of us — it is somany times better than having permanent tenants or roommates!