The Host Community Groups: History and Problems. Bullying and Poor Moderation.

This blog article is intended to be partly a story about the history of the host community groups, and partly an analysis of some problems that many such groups face at the present time.

Though discussion groups for vacation rental property owners existed before Airbnb came around, the “host community group” really took off as the rise of Airbnb brought many thousands more into hosting.  The first such Airbnb host community groups existed on the Airbnb website itself.   This thread http://globalhosting.freeforums.net/thread/2760/history-original-airbnb-community-groups
describes some of the history of the original host community groups.

Here are some highlights as described there:

Did you know ….

That when Airbnb started the host community groups in November 2013, hosts could create any group they wanted?

That there ended up being 440 host community groups, ranging from the largest ones, like Anecdotes, with over 64,000 members at the time of closing, to host groups that only had a handful of people?Airbnb old community groups 1 (2)

That there were special interest groups, like groups for Vegan hosts, and Motorcyclist hosts? Or Writer and Artist Hosts, or Photographers? For those interested in bushwalking, hiking and trekking?

 

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That there were regional groups for a huge number of world cities, in many languages —

That there was a Gay Friendly Hosts Community, and a “Bearnb” group?

A group for those offering long term stays?

A group for those interested in house swaps?

A group for modern art? For Yoga and Spirituality? For Nudists?

There was a group for the Airbnb Open, which continues onto the new Community Center.

From the start, Airbnb allowed any host to start a host group on virtually any subject.  This led to a proliferation of groups.  Some of the groups were larger and very active, some were small and had only 2 to 3 members.  Some were well moderated, others were not.  In fact, the phenomenon of poor or even non-existent moderation began early on, with some of the very first host community groups on Airbnb site!
Sometimes a host would start a group, and then drop out.  This could result in a group with virtually no moderation, and from nearly the very beginning, there were problems with abuse of the groups, not only businesses but also spammers scammers and phishing enterprises of all kinds, trying to exploit the “captive audience” and lure in unsuspecting hosts to their phishing sites or aggressively market their goods.  Those active in the early host groups, group leaders such as myself,  realized that in order to keep the groups clean of spam and ads, we had to quite regularly monitor the posts.  In groups such as Anecdotes  — which got its boost because the groups were initially arranged alphabetically, so as an “A” letter group it got more members really fast— it became a standing joke that due to almost nonexistent moderation, the group ended up being chock full of ads and garbage posts.  A great many hosts would join just to post an ad to their listing Anecdotes property ad 1 (2)

Anecdotes property ad 2 ph

or even just to say “hi” and then disappear. Anecdotes hi ph

The property listing ad posts never made much sense…if people want to stay someplace, they’re going to look for a place in the standard way…certainly they will not go to a host community group which has NO search function, and scroll down endlessly to look for ads, interspersed with normal posts, presented in a completely disorganized manner.

Feeling helpless in a virtually completely unmoderated group, some group members, out of frustration at seeing their group plastered with this crap, began to simply try to have fun with the inappropriate posts and ads, making jokes about them or those posting them.  See more about that here: http://globalhosting.freeforums.net/thread/2729/anecdotes-bogged-newbie-queries-hellos

Anecdotes property ad 3 ph

Anecdotes 4 ph

aNECDotes 5 ph

The joking got more frequent and eventually became a tradition of this particular group.

Anecdotes 6 ph
And
Anecdotes 7 ph

Though the property listing ads and other spam and ads were annoying, Airbnb itself was more concerned about another possibility that could occur in groups that were poorly moderated, or actually unmoderated.  And this was the possibility that hosts would post extremely inappropriate content there, which could reflect badly if existing on Airbnb’s own website.

There was in fact one incident that occurred on the group called “Hosting 911”, which changed the future of the host groups forever.  And this was when, in summer of 2015, a young host in Australia posted a thread on New Hosts Forum and Hosting 911 inquiring about “Boosting My ratings”.  When she didn’t like the advice she got, she became suicidal, and began posting threats on the Hosting 911 group, implying she was going to kill herself. Gii post Hosting 911 ph
Gii so much for advice 1

Gii saying she wants to die ph
Gii I quit everything ph

This incident resulted in Airbnb having to get in touch with its Airbnb affiliates in Australia, and contacting emergency services, and sending paramedics to this hosts’ home, who found that she had actually taken steps to commit suicide.  She was taken to a hospital and stabilized and her life was saved, but her Airbnb account was terminated thereafter.

Airbnb realized after this that it could unfortunately not afford the liability,  or public relations disaster, of host-led groups on its own website, which could have this kind of thing occur on them.

So Airbnb began planning to end the old host-led host community groups, and create a new “Community Center” on its site, which would be moderated not by hosts but by a Subcontractor or Vendor business.  Which is what you see today on the Airbnb site.  As they made this transition they worked with myself  and a few other of the original host leaders and regular participants on the old groups, soliciting our feedback for their design plans for the new Airbnb Community Center.  This group of about 20 of us were giving them a lot of feedback early on as they set up the Community Center that you see today…the first versions of it did not look as good! Our feedback helped them improve the site.
The old host groups closed in May 2016, and hosts in the various groups (though there were 440 groups, only about a dozen were very active) had to decide where to go from there.

Most of the original group leaders were not interested in participating on the new Community Center for hosts, for two reasons primarily.

First was that whereas the original host groups had been open only to hosts, and were not visible to the general public, Airbnb intended most of the new Community Center to be viewable by the general public, with the exception of the “Host Circle” and the Regional host groups.  This created the problem that anything any host posted could be linked not only to their profile and listing, but could be seen, and linked to those, potentially by anyone in the world, including that hosts’ guests or potential guests.  Most of those who had participated in the original host groups saw the value of this relative privacy and were concerned that if they posted about a concern with a guest, the guest they were posting about could see their post.
Secondly, hosts had valued the groups that had formed under their leadership and they had built up these groups with a lot of time and effort, and they wanted host leaders and moderators, not some third party contractor to be moderating the groups.

So, when the Airbnb Community Center took off, it really saw a whole different group of hosts populate it– only some of the regulars from the old groups stayed on.  The rest went to various offsite host groups.

Though there were some efforts to create non-social-media offsite groups (my forum at www.globalhostingforum.com being one of those, and www.airhostsforum.com being another), these were not as popular as the Facebook host groups.  For some reason, everyone loved Facebook, in spite of the fact that there were notorious privacy issues involved with using Facebook.  There were several other drawbacks to Facebook — such as that hosts were expected to use their real name,  and that the content on Facebook groups is not easily searchable, and that social media groups tend to be less supportive of thoughtful posts/explorations than snippy and sometimes dismissive one-liners.

As the host groups moved almost entirely to Facebook groups, we’ve seen a certain “social-media-ization” of the host groups.  In addition to the perennial problem of posting of ads and spam in groups, in many host groups (some more than others) we see regular bullying and dismissive posts, as well as poor moderation by the group leaders.

One of the most common forms of bullying, is hosts berating other hosts for having certain decisions/styles in their approach to hosting, or for being upset by things others insist must be viewed as “the cost of doing business.”  I referred to this in the introduction to another recent article, see here:
https://globalhostingblogs.com/2019/05/26/house-rules-thermostat-settings-duvets-and-keurig/

Here are a few examples of this phenomenon as mentioned there:

Examples of such “touchy” issues — Thermostat settings. Yes, some hosts will insist that you cannot set limits on thermostat settings on your own property, that if you do, you’re the Grinch who ruined Christmas. Coffeemakers. There have been strident lectures delivered to hosts who use Keurig setups, that through proliferation of disposable plastic containers, they are responsible for the destruction of the planet. Duvet covers, when to wash. Some hosts adamantly insist if you do not wash every duvet cover after every reservation you should just pack up shop and close your business because you’re lower than pond scum. Never mind that hotels do not do this. Screening of guests and asking for photo of guest. Some hosts insist there can be no possible good use of a photo of the guest to a host, and that if you want to see a photo of a guest before they book, and dislike Airbnb’s new policy that prevents that, you’re probably a Klan member or other discriminatory and hateful toad just waiting to reject people on the basis of their race.  House rules, perhaps most touchy of all….did you know that “Long rules…Bad host!”

For instance, here’s a comment that one host made towards another just this week: Blacklist reported comment May 31

Now I don’t know about you, but I expect polite and respectful adults to make some attempt to clean up if they pee or poop in their bed or in the tub or on the bathroom floor, and not to leave the explosion that occurred in the toilet for the next person to find.

In some groups, there is no room for disagreement.  Hosts are expected to take the “correct” approach to some hosting issue or topic or Airbnb policy, and there’s no tolerance for those who take a different view.  For instance, here’s a thread on Airhosts Forum where someone upset that Airbnb is hiding guest photos before booking, is basically told by more than one regular forum participant (including at least one of the groups’ moderators) that they must be an uptight,  precious princess or disgusting discriminatory racist if they don’t like this policy:

https://airhostsforum.com/t/protest-airbnbs-ridiculous-new-policy-preventing-hosts-from-choosing-their-guests/32019/8

Airhosts forum on hiding photos 4 (2)

Airhosts forum on hiding photos 3 (2)

Airhosts forum on hiding photos 2 (2)

Airhosts forum on hiding photos (2)

This is very bad moderation, to express that kind of contempt for a host with a very legitimate concern.  Reading the above posts, you’d have no idea that there are an enormous number of Airbnb hosts upset with Airbnb’s policy on hiding guest photos, and that it is actually possible to respect their concern, as Airbnb itself did with this meeting on the subject:

In the early days of the host community, there was more tolerance of hosts doing things their own way, and there was more support of hosts who were facing problems with guests.  As well, and I think this is relevant, there were more in-home hosts, true homesharing hosts, whose situation and expectations of guests is naturally different than the large real estate company “hosts” we see now, who run their listings more like a standard hotel, who are now more commonly participating in host groups.

In the old days, if a large real estate company “host”, which was in essence really a hotel, showed up on the Host Community Groups like New Hosts Forum , they would be shown the door.  We were clear these were groups for hosts, not hotels.  This situation has nearly reversed itself today.  I have observed that in many host groups, homesharing hosts are in the minority, and not only do large-scale offsite hosts sometimes show impatience to in home hosts, (eg, that we don’t just “get with the program” and run our homes just like hotels) but increasingly it seems that Airbnb has less interest in the concerns of homesharing hosts as well.

Also, there is an innate problem to social media like Facebook, which is that it encourages short and snippy, witty and perhaps dismissive comments, as opposed to thoughtful and complete self-expression.  I’ve been told more than once, in a host Facebook group, that my posts are too long, and hosts dont’ have time to read all this.  People like making snippety comments on Facebook, and I think group leaders need to realize, politeness may be passe in some groups.  Mean and rude comments that stir up heated arguments can actually be more interesting to some people.  I get the sense, observing how much activity there is on threads which get into nasty arguments, that people get intrigued and attracted by the drama and nastiness in these posts…somewhat like in the old days when in Roman arenas, slaves were required to fight to the death, or innocents were tossed to the lions. Thrown to lions

There is a certain bloodthirstiness in human nature, which seems to satisfy itself in seeing people attacked and ridiculed.  To some extent, we may all experience this at least in some small way.  Shows like “Judge Judy” or “Survivor” play to this part of our nature, the part that likes to see others insulted or ridiculed, as Judge Judy does, or see someone axed, as occurs on Survivor show.  Then too, this lasciviousness to see others ridiculed or held in contempt, fits in well with the new “righteousness culture”, what we might call a type of fundamentalism that can occur on either side of the political divide, where one side simply smugly congratulates itself on having all the correct answers, and views the other side as subhuman “deplorables” or racists or  snowflakes, or whatever the snappy dismissive term-du-jour happens to be.

So , this “righteousness culture” seems to have inserted itself into various host community groups, such that (as in the example above about the Airbnb hiding photos issue) no other viewpoint or way of doing business is acceptable.  One host I know calls the Airhosts forum the “Mean Girl group”, because of this nasty streak it has.  A few host Facebook groups have the reputation of being stomping grounds for nasties and bullies, and the group leaders of these seem oblivious to the problem.  I recently made the mistake of posting my new blog in one of these groups, and the first two comments on my post were dismissive, bullying responses to a thoughtful article. p Jennifer Allen and Jennifer Costa attack my blog post on AFH ph

In groups oriented to the discussion of problem guests, in spite of rules that ask that members respect the host posting about a problem issue, it’s common to see dismissive replies.  Hosts will reply that that wasn’t a real problem, you’re too much of a princess or you should not be in business if you can’t handle this.  Other hosts will object because they identify with the guest for one reason or another.  The guest happened to be black, so the host suggests the real intent of the post was something racist.  Or the host mentioned the guests’ nationality, in telling their story, and someone from that country is offended and takes it out on the host, assuming the host is implying everyone from this country behaves like this problem guest…even when they have said no such thing.  Or the guest is middle aged, and a middle aged host takes offense.  Or someone upset at a guest that caused serious problems for a host, is venting at the guest, poking fun at them in some way in order to try to bring relief through levity, and someone takes offense at the levity.  Or a host complains about a problem that some hosts insist is much too minor, and the host is attacked on that basis.  It goes on and on.

The result is, quite predictably, that some hosts no longer feel safe posting about nearly anything in the host groups, and some will come right out and say so.

One host recently posted in a Facebook host group, that she is quite reticent to post in the group because of the amount of the abuse in the group.  She stated that she has flagged or reported the “trolls”, but to no avail, the “piling on” still occurs.

Internet troll

Another group member contacted an administrator of a group and privately conveyed that he was not willing to post in the group, because “the group seems to have taken an ugly turn, to be honest.” He indicated that “even one of your admin/moderators belittled someone recently for posting.” He indicated that there were multiple ways he had seen group members be rude to those posting, including making fun of the host’s home!  He summarized that therefore he would not be posting.

In another host group, a host member was actually kicked out of the group for trying to warn other hosts about some young people apparently planning an illegal party at an Airbnb listing in that region.  Which is a growing problem, something that plenty of evidence for can be found on social media posts.  But this particular host group was marching in lockstep to the “righteousness culture” and had apparently collectively decided that all the warnings about young kids (who happened to often be young black kids) planning illegal parties at Airbnbs, were actually “fake” posts created by racists just to keep black people down.  So they would not take legitimate threats to their business seriously, and were content to scapegoat and reject someone who was sincerely trying to help them.  Such is the power of fundamentalist thinking and groupthink!

It’s not easy to moderate any kind of group, and host groups are no exception.

There is probably no such thing as a perfect moderator.  But I know some people, including a few long time members of the host community, who come close and to whom I could give a Gold Star award!  Some people have excellent mediation skills, but have a very hard time taking a firm approach to rulebreakers.  Some people have an easier time taking a firm approach to those breaking group rules and common courtesy violators, but do not have as many strengths in mediation and diplomacy.  To be an effective moderator, it helps a lot both to know oneself, and to know human nature.  It helps to be kind and have a good sense of humor, but it also helps to be able to say NO and draw boundaries.

Perhaps the greatest problems exist in groups where the group leaders are not even aware of or bothered by the problems that are causing serious concern to their group members.  If you are running a group and not even aware that people are avoiding your group because it’s gained a reputation as a hangout for bullies and nasties…this is a problem.  If you notice a heated argument in your group, and insults starting to fly back and forth, and as the moderator your response is to smile and go “Hee Hawww!” and grab for some popcorn and start to place bets on who will win….well you may have some room for growth.  Don’t convince yourself that your group is successful because it has a lot of members in it…as I described above in regards to the original host groups, one of the most dysfunctional groups, Anecdotes, was the largest host community group with over 64k members. However, the vast majority of those members didn’t regularly participate.
And in terms of who will win, well it’s likely to be the nastiest person with the thickest skin. The more sensitive ones are the ones who will lose out, because sensitive people avoid fights and unpleasantry, while the crude folks seem to thrive on just that.

To be an effective moderator, it will help if you can put yourself in the shoes of all kinds of group members, and try to see things through their eyes.  Wisdom is called for, ideally, but how much is wisdom valued at this time?

Moderating is not just about removing spam and ads from groups.  It is about mediating between members, and recognizing problematic dynamics…such as how it’s not really a good thing when the most popular posts in the group, the ones with the most activity, turn out to be the ones with the nastiest comments on them.Bullets fly from mouth

Some moderators will diligently remove nasty comments from the group, but are averse to removing the repeat perpetrators thereof.   This is not sufficient, as it teaches those who repeatedly behave rudely and engage in bullying (and some who use offensive putdowns which may be racist or sexist), that they can do so with impunity.  If the only consequence to their actions is that their posts end up deleted, then eh, so what. They still were able to get the satisfaction of having their rude or nasty comment read..  They are free to hate on others over and over and over again.

This situation is not dissimilar to the bad Airbnb guest which Airbnb refuses to do anything about.  Just as we would not want a bad Airbnb guest, who repeatedly causes problems for hosts, to be enabled to continue their malicious behavior, out of some misguided idea that they are valuable to the Airbnb community, so also, host group leaders ideally should not view those continually making nasty and rude comments as essential to the host community, and allow them to continue their nasty campaign, possibly until the group is ruined because no one has had the brass to put an end to this unacceptable repeat behavior.  The amount of damage that nasty comments and nasty group members can do to a group, should not be underestimated.  Keep in mind that this damage may not always be visible.  You will see some of the fights and heated arguments in the group, but what you may not see, until it’s too late, are all those who either decide not to participate, or who leave the group, because they are disturbed by the nasty behavior they have seen in the group.

Some suggestions for host group moderation: 

Just as you would for guests in your home, have a screening process for applicants to your group, and dont’ accept just anyone.  Vet your members.

Not only ask that group members treat each other courteously, but spell out specifically what is considered discourteous or unhelpful.  Making unconstructive criticisms.  Telling another host that they shouldn’t be hosting, because of something they said.   Having a common practice of seeming to wait in the wings, waiting to leap out and police others’ language, the terms people use, finding fault with attempts at gentle levity, accusing other members of being racist or discriminatory or having the wrong views on whatever political issue.  Repeatedly being contemptuous or dismissive.

Seek to cultivate real wisdom and a sense of the whole range of possible thought and views on any particular subject and/or in courteous disagreement.  This will help you find a comfortable balance between allowing a discussion to get too heated and argumentative on the one hand, and on the other hand, allowing threads or conversations to be frequently shut down by people who seem to want to bully others by claiming to be “offended.”  In this particular era, it needs to be recognized that it is quite possible to bully others by repeatedly claiming to be offended.

Being friendly and interactive in your group.  Being a model of good behavior in the group.  Praising members and their posts when you can.  Deleting inappropriate comments or posts as quickly as possible, and speaking to members privately when they repeatedly post inappropriate content.  Having a clear procedure you articulate to other moderators, about how to handle repeat problems with the same group members.

It may also help to be aware of how some group members behave on other groups.  On more than one occasion, I’ve seen people request to join a particular host group, and be declined, based on one or more moderators’ awareness of that individuals’ behavior on other host groups.  So just like guests who behave badly in someone’s home, may end up with a review on their profile that warns other hosts away from them, some host community group members may find that their reputation precedes them.  Reputation precedes you

We might say “good riddance” in both cases.

 

 

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House Rules, Thermostat Settings, Duvets and Keurig

Quiz: what do all these four things have in common?

House Rules
Thermostat Settings
Duvet Covers
Keurig Coffeemakers

Answer: all four of these, when discussed in most any host community group, can result in a firestorm of tumult, tension, heated argument and calls for people to just bow out of hosting because they are sadistic meanies and lower than pond scum. Pond Scum cartoon (2)

In the several years I’ve been part of various host community groups, I’ve noticed that there are a few “touchy issues” which invariably, when they arise, result in somewhat tense disagreements. Generally the reason for the tension or heated discussions that ensue, is that some hosts cannot seem to refrain from judging other hosts and implying that they know better than that host, how that person should run their own private property and/or their business.

Examples of such “touchy” issues — Thermostat settings. Yes, some hosts will insist that you cannot set limits on thermostat settings on your own property, that if you do, you’re the Grinch who ruined Christmas. Coffeemakers. There have been strident lectures delivered to hosts who use Keurig setups, that through proliferation of disposable plastic containers,  they are responsible for the destruction of the planet. Duvet covers, when to wash. Some hosts adamantly insist if you do not wash every duvet cover after every reservation you should just pack up shop and close your business because you’re lower than pond scum. Never mind that hotels do not do this. Screening of guests and asking for photo of guest. Some hosts insist there can be no possible good use of a photo of the guest to a host, and that if you want to see a photo of a guest before they book, and dislike Airbnb’s new policy that prevents that, you’re probably a Klan member or other discriminatory and hateful toad just waiting to reject people on the basis of their race.

And of course, House rules, perhaps the most touchy of all!!

It’s quite common to see some hosts bash any host who has “longish” house rules. Because, apparently, they all know that there can be no possible reason for this except wanting to torture people!! . A surprising number of hosts will be completely dismissive of anyone who has discovered (often to their own dismay) that there is just no way around saying what has to be said. These will insinuate, in a simplistic and demonizing way, “Long rules! Bad host!” Completely failing to realize, apparently, that generally, the only reason a host has “long rules”, is because…surprise..they’ve had bad guests!!  (Or, they’ve wisely become proactive after reading about other hosts who had bad guests).  And they are now trying to protect themselves from more bad behavior.

There’s one article about this here: https://globalhostingblogs.com/2017/04/08/house-rules-why-warum-por-queзачем-pourquoi/

Now most of you who are naturally polite and considerate folks, would think a sign like this has no purpose:

Bathroom rules

After all, wouldn’t this be common sense? Wouldn’t everyone just have common sense and not need to be told anything like this?
One of the most important things a person learns when they open up their home to others to stay in, is how widespread is the lack of common sense and good judgment.
And how surprisingly many people have no idea how to clean up after themselves.

So you can take a couple approaches to this.

One is that you can avoid having signs in your house or longish house rules, and just resign yourself to toilet seats left up,  people wiping their hands on your curtains because they can’t be bothered to reach under the counter and replace the paper towels, or using paper towels in the toilet and clogging it because they can’t be bothered to reach in the cabinet and get another roll of TP.   And resign yourself to coming along and cleaning up afterward, each and every time a guest doesn’t do that.  Because, well, they are busy.

OR:

You can post some specifics instructing people about how actually to clean up if they dont’ know how.

Well if you only have one party of guests at a time, and you’re the only one inconvenienced by someone’s lack of ability to clean up or use common sense, then you may be more disposed to be patient.  But if you have one or two other guests, and the problematic behavior of one is impacting the others, you might be aware that by failing to do anything to either prevent or mitigate these problems, you could get bad reviews from your other two good guests, who will be blaming you for the behavior of the inconsiderate guest.

More detailed house rules is one way of trying to avert such problems…though of course it’s imperfect, as are all ways of dealing with this.

And more and more details sometimes do end up being required, in spite of our own wish that this would not happen.  Because, truth be told, hosts with “long house rules” actually do not want long house rules.  We want short rules.  Actually, like many of you, we wish we could just say “Be cool” or “Be respectful” and then sit back and find that all guests are stellar and we never have any problems.  But repeat problem experiences with guests have made this no longer possible for us.

So I thought I’d share an example of why our house rules end up getting longer and longer…

As has been written about elsewhere, (for instance, here: https://globalhostingblogs.com/2017/11/15/mail-and-the-boomerang-guest/      ) allowing guests to receive mail at your home can introduce problems. Not always, or course, but there is the possibility of problems. So for that reason, many hosts myself included will create a rule to help eliminate potential problems.  If guests getting mail or packages at your home is not a problem for you, that’s great, but please don’t dismiss other’s experiences Bee in Bonnet

and other’s reality and come in like a raging fury with a bee in your bonnet screaming at other people about how they should run their own home.  The irony is lost on such folks: they are reprimanding at other hosts, calling them “controlling” or whatnot, but then they themselves are indicating that they seem to need to control how others run their private home.

Okay now for the story of how house rules grow longer in spite of all that we try to do for this not to happen.
When I started, it was a simple two words; “No mail.”

No mail

Then, I discovered people thinking that “mail” did not include packages, and they were ordering packages.  So I had to say “No mail or packages delivered to my house, please.

But then, I found that while not ordering mail or packages, guests were using my address in ways they should not and which would cause trouble for me…eg open bank account with my address.  Guests staying as few as 3 days, were opening a bank account using my address.  Just nopey-nope!!

So then it became “no mail or packages may be delivered to my house and do not give my address to any business or institution, except immigration authorities as required or a cab driver perchance.”

But then, the whole issue of what to do when guests broke this rule arose. Because in spite of having stated crystal clearly that guests could not get mail or packages sent to my house, and actually reminding guests of this  in about 3 different ways, (once in the house rules before they inquire, once after inquiring in the Airbnb messaging with them, and again after arrival in the house rules placed on the table in their room) they would have mail or packages sent to my house!!  (“Oops! I didn’t know!“).

So now, I had to add to the rule, what guests could expect if they did this. Because I had already tried handing them the item they had sent to my home,  and scolding them, only to find this didn’t work…because guess what. They found out that they could keep ordering packages and say “Oops!” Oops! Didn’t know about that rule. Oops! It came here by mistake. Oops! It was Amazon or Pottery Barn’s error, etc.  Endless oops.  Besides…I have a quality in me…some of you may share.  I just don’t like to see guests benefit when they break my house rules.  If I’ve spent time dealing with mail problems and package problems…I want what I say to have some effect.  I don’t like being blown off.

Also, something that is helpful in doing property rentals, is understanding human psychology. I have learned that for some folks, one of the best motivators to follow house rules in host’s home, is that there are some kinds of consequences for not doing so. Such people lack the basic respect which would motivate them just to behave as asked in a property where they are an invited guest. Rather, they are responsive to consequences. This may be fear of getting a bad review, or it might be a fine for rule violation (unfortunately Airbnb and some other platforms do not allow for this…a shame because it would be very effective). Or it might be that they see they are not able to benefit from breaking the rule.

So…now I have to take another approach, and also tell guests about this in advance, so they would not expect that if they violate my house rules they can benefit from that. So….if guests have mail or packages come to my house…I state I’ll return to sender, or throw out. As many of you know or should know, first class mail can’t be thrown out, that you have to return to sender…you can hand it to the postal carrier for instance “Wrong address.”  But packages are not subject to the same legal requirements and there is no obligation upon you to return any package that was not signed for.  (See more on this issue below at the end of this article….)

But then, as you might expect….that wasn’t enough either—- to just say mail or packages would be returned or tossed!!…Because now  — as some of the more astute of you may have guessed   —, when they dont’ get an item that they had delivered to your home in violation of your rules…guess what…not a few will blame YOU for this! Eg….“Where’s my package!!!” So now I had to also state that I will not be liable for any items sent to my house..!!

And so you see how things can just go on and on. Yes if guests could “get it” with a simple 2 word statement all would be well. But the nature of some renters seems to be trying to find excuses or ways around the rules.  Well, yes, there is a different approach we could take, other than lengthening our rules and expanding the details.  We could just throw up our arms and give up and  let guests do as they will. Sometimes this may be the only option, short of evicting someone.  But in terms of trying to prevent a repetition of the issue in the future…well…we may end up with longer and longer rules, continually trying to close the loopholes or sew up the ambiguities and bring things back to crystal clear.

And then…as if that were not enough….some guests also seem to have an expectation that you explain the “why” of all your rules…as if not realizing that this would increase the amount of required reading for prospective guests by a significant amount.

And then we have…to our own dismay….” the yellow pages book of rules”.

Yellow pages

More about packages….and your responsibility (or not) for things that end up on your porch

So to continue a subtopic introduced in this article…if you don’t allow guests to get mail or packages at your house, what do you do with said items if they arrive at your house anyway? I refer to situations in the USA, where I live…I can’t speak to other areas.

As most are aware, for first class mail delivered by the US postal service, laws apply that state you need to “return to sender” those items, rather than just throw them out.  However this only applies to first class mail, as third class and junk mail, cannot be returned to sender.  Those can be thrown out. Also, some may not realize it, but as common sense would dictate, you cannot be held liable for opening mail that you did not realize was not addressed to you.  See here for information about that:

https://thelawdictionary.org/article/what-is-the-federal-law-for-opening-mail-not-addressed-to-you/

A reader sent me this explanation of his approach to mail:

“Now I don’t know about you but I am farsighted.  This means that unless I have my reading glasses on, (which are really thick and unsightly)  Thick glasses
I can never see the name (or address) of any envelope I am opening.  And since I forbid guests from getting mail at my house, naturally I expect everything in my mailbox to be for me and open all of it.  Generally I do this without my reading glasses on, because they are sitting on a distant counter and I’m too lazy to reach for them, and besides, without the right glasses on, I might not even be able to see them.
At the same time that I’m opening my mail — without my reading glasses on, mind you —  it’s my habit to shred all the envelopes to use for nest material for my pet ferret.   If I discover something isn’t for me after I’ve opened it by mistake, it’s too late to return it, as it’s now been opened, and the envelopes all vaporized.”
That solves the mail problem.

Now for package problem…. the same laws do not apply as apply for mail.  As far as I can tell (but I am not an attorney so none of what follows can be taken as legal advice) you are actually not legally obligated to try to return any packages to your home that should not have come there, though as a matter of courtesy most of us would try to return packages that for instance should have been delivered for instance to the house 2 doors down or 3 streets over.

As well,  particularly if like myself you’ve already told each guest 3 times in various ways not to have packages sent to your home, and they do this anyway, you may find that you completely lack any energy or desire to put in the work that may be required to return those packages.  Because in this case, it’s not a simple matter of saying hello to a deliveryperson who comes to your home every day like the USPS does.  You would at the very least have to make a phone call, possibly an appointment, or even drive the package somewhere to return it.

What is your legal obligation, if any, with these “misdelivered” packages?  ( The term misdelivered is appropriate because they went to the wrong address….your address, one that was not permitted to be used)   I found that this was hard to figure out as there is not that much online about this particular type of misdelivery issue.  The discussions that do exist online are mostly about different scenarios, eg, a company sends something to you (with your name and address on it) that you didn’t order.  Or a company sends something to someone else at another address, but it ends up on your porch. Or someone else who used to live at your address, but doesn’t any longer, orders something and accidentally forgets to update the delivery address.   But in the case of hosts that prohibit guests getting mail, it’s not  any of these.  It’s a package with someone else’s name coming to your address….and there was no “accident” by that buyer, rather a use of what was not theirs to use.

There is another aspect to this issue of guests getting mail or packages at your home. For all guests (or roommates) renting a room in your home, as opposed to a whole separate unit, as far as I can tell, there is NO legal obligation for you to provide them mail service/privileges.  While there is a legal obligation of landlords to provide mailboxes for standard long-term tenants renting an entire, separate unit, this seems to not be the case for roommates, and is certainly not the case for short term guests.  Such individuals cannot demand any “right” to receive mail at your house if you refuse them this privilege.  They can be told, as my guests are, that they need to use a post office box or UPS box, etc, to receive mail or packages.  In fact, you as a homeowner are not even required to have a mailbox at your house for your own mail. You could remove it and get all your mail at your PO box.  And if you do have a mailbox at your house, you can make it clear that this is for your mail only, and no one else is entitled to use it.  Any mail that is delivered into your house or your address, that is not for you, can be “refused delivery.”  While it is more difficult to “refuse delivery” of items that have already been delivered, this can still be done.

 

shipping

In researching this issue, I did find this:

https://www.consumerreports.org/consumerist/amazon-sends-me-someone-elses-order-why-dont-they-care-if-i-send-it-back/

In this case, we have something more similar to our host situation:

Bobby, who didn’t realize until after the box was opened that one of the Amazon packages they received this week was actually intended for someone who had previously lived at their address.

So Bobby had a package delivered to his house, with his address on it, but it was for someone else.  This actually isn’t exactly our situation either, since in Bobby’s case, the person who ordered it obviously made an error in the delivery address they had on their account– they didnt’ enter their updated residence address.  In our case, the issue was different: the buyer entered the address he thought was correct, but he did not have permission to use that address.  So this would be a bit more like someone who decides that instead of having their items delivered to their own home, they’ll have them delivered to their neighbor’s house or the local UPS pick up store, without ever asking permission to do that.

Bobby was a good Samaritan so he tried to return it.  Yet what happened  next as he tried to do this, will demonstrate how even those hosts who want to try to return packages that guests have delivered to their home, may have difficulty doing that.

Bobby contacted Amazon’s chat customer support, and gave the rep the order number of the items involved. The customer service rep then tried to generate a UPS return label for the package, but because the ordered items weren’t associated with Bobby’s account, the links to print out the return labels did not work.
Instead, Bobby got a message reading, “Error Occurred: This Amazon account is not associated with the return label or authorization you are trying to access.”
At this point, the rep told Bobby to just keep the items.
“I’m sorry but since it’s from different account we are not able to access it,” reads the transcript shown to Consumerist. “You can just keep the items or donate. Since you are not been charge. Thank you for trying to return the item.”
So is this just a case of a rep not wanting to figure out how to send a shipping label that Bobby could actually use? Probably not, as federal guidelines say pretty clearly that Bobby has every right to keep unordered items — and that Amazon could get into trouble for pushing a customer to return something they didn’t order.

So…..as you can see from Bobby’s experience, Amazon’s own policies made it impossible for him to return the misdelivered item!!  Apparently, bizarrely, Amazon has not incorporated the concept of the misdelivery into its whole way of doing business.  And that in fact they may be blocked in doing so by “federal guidelines”.

The link to FTC guidelines on this contained in that article, doesn’t seem though to really address Bobby’s situation, or our hypothetical hosts’ situation.  It simply states this:

Unordered Merchandise
Whether or not the Rule is involved, in any approval or other sale you must obtain the customer’s prior express agreement to receive the merchandise. Otherwise the merchandise may be treated as unordered merchandise. It is unlawful to:

(1)Send any merchandise by any means without the express request of the recipient (unless the merchandise is clearly identified as a gift, free sample, or the like); or,
(2) Try to obtain payment for or the return of the unordered merchandise.
Merchants who ship unordered merchandise with knowledge that it is unlawful to do so can be subject to civil penalties of up to $42,530 per violation. Moreover, customers who receive unordered merchandise are legally entitled to treat the merchandise as a gift. Using the U.S. mails to ship unordered merchandise also violates the Postal laws.

This article is also helpful and has lots of comments about people who’ve experienced getting “misdeliveries” of various kinds, and their decisions about what to do about them:

https://lifehacker.com/what-to-do-with-amazon-packages-you-didnt-order-1825205083

I think this one comment on that article  is spot on:How to return package not (2)

So, as to “the package problem”, what I glean from the above information can I think be summed up this way:
(1) If anything other than standard first class mail is delivered to your home, you are under no legal obligation to return it, and in fact, returning it may be quite difficult to do.  In some cases, it may be impossible.  (For first class mail, see my gentle reader’s approach, as above. )
(2) Anything that is “misdelivered” to your home — whether items with your name that you did not order, items with someone else’s name and another address, or items with someone else’s name and your address — can be legally considered, under FTC law, as “a free gift” to you.

So…as a host you might take the approach that if guests break the no-package rule, all well and fine…more free gifts for you! 

But if you feel uncomfortable with that, and still feel like you’d rather diligently and dutifully try to return the items…

Supposing you do wish to return the items,  with packages delivered by UPS, one is able to drive a package to a UPS office and drop it off, saying “I refuse delivery” . Ditto with packages delivered by Fedex.  As with packages delivered by USPS.  But Amazon is now using its own special contracting service with a delivery service called “Logistics” to do some deliveries.  And they have no office you can drive up to and return items to.  I actually called up Amazon and asked specifically about this issue of how to return items that someone had delivered to my house without permission.  What I found is similar to what Bobby found, in that basically that there is no way to return any package directly to Amazon if you are not the one who ordered it and bought it!!

Here’s what I recommend that you do. 

First I’ll mention what I think are less optimal solutions to this problem of what to do with packages that the guest orders in violation of your rules.

(1) If you just give the package to the guest, perhaps with a scolding, they will be happiest, but you may have a lingering frowny face.  They benefit from breaking your rules, and you experience yet another instance of your authority and rules being blown off.

(2) If you say “Mail? What mail?” or “Package? What package?” when the guest asks about their goods, they may snort that Amazon sent them a photo proving it was delivered here! (Yes, some Amazon delivery services do that now) So now where issssss it!!!?!  Particularly in urban areas like mine, where package thieves have a huge business— every week there are posts on my neighborhood group about stolen packages….this is another problem for hosts and reason why it may be better for you not to allow package delivery.  In fact as this article describes, and this one shows in an that sometimes it’s the Amazon delivery people themselves who are the ones stealing the packages they deliver!!  Here is a video showing an Amazon delivery person “caught in the act” of stealing the very package he is supposed to deliver! Note how he first places the package behind the gate, photographs it in place to “prove” it was delivered, then takes it away again, stealing it! Amazon driver steals packages

Nevertheless, guests may blame you if they don’t get an item that was “proved” to have been delivered, or which in fact was stolen.  “Where’s my package!!!!”where my package

(3) If you tell the guest you’ll be returning to sender any packages that come for them, you will find this burdens you with a lot of work, and they will resent you and say “Why didn’t you just give it to me if it came here for me…I won’t do it again.”  Okay but I’ve had now about 100 people do this and each  one said they wouldn’t do it again.

And if you realize you don’t’ want to be burdened with returning all the guests’ darn goods…

(4) If you tell guest you will either return or throw out any packages that come for them, and suggest it is arbitrary which option you choose, they may be furious, insisting (in spite of the fact that guests are not really able to book a reservation without checking a box stating that they have read the house rules!) “I didnt’ know” and then if they think you’ve shredded the whatnot and put it in the garbage, this appears as a hostile gesture.  They may say “you stole it” and imply you did something illegal.  Which in fact, as you see if you examined the information above, is false, because legally you are allowed to keep any misdelivered packages as a “free gift” to you.

So here is what I think is the ideal solution:  
In addition to stating that guests may not have mail or packages sent to your home,  I recommend you say is something to this effect:  “any items delivered to my home in violation of this rule will be either returned to their sender or disposed of , in keeping with applicable law”

This way , you are not clearly stating that you would throw anybody’s 📦 stuff away,  you are stating that you would follow the law which applies to your situation. And the guest does not need to know that in the case of packages , you are (almost) never required by law (in the USA) to return them to sender.!! (As far as I am aware, the only instance in which you’re required to return it to sender if it is a package sent through first class mail, which is delivered by USPS and no one else, and which is placed in your mailbox or very close to it)

Value of this approach : it can be more diplomatic and copacetic for the guest to assume that you’re just returning everything even when you’re not.

If they try to get into discussion about it eg “Where is my package??  How long till you return it?? The company says it was not returned!!” etc. you can just reply that also in accordance with your policy you will not be getting into discussion about this matter:

No mail, no packages, no discussion, end of story .”

End of Story