This is an article with tips for screening potential guests and renters from all platforms, whether Airbnb, VRBO, Craigslist, direct bookings through your website, or any other platform, and it’s oriented to obtaining renters for short and medium length stays, meaning, NOT standard tenants.
The main theme I want to convey, is that screening is not a matter of “black and white” issues, meaning, things that are definitive and clear, but rather is a matter of “gut sense”, meaning, things that register intuitively as concerns, even if you can’t articulate exactly why you feel concerned. This article is an attempt to help you turn vague “gut sense” feelings into articulable statements of concern, but the bottom line is that if you dont’ “feel” right about someone’s presentation, this is sufficient reason not to take that person. Trust your gut. There’s a lot of blather these days about “unconscious bias” which can undermine your own confidence in your intuition and your gut sense. Don’t let other’s “politically correct” ideologies interfere with your own innate wisdom. There’s a difference between blind prejudice and informed gut sense and accurate intuition.
(1) The first tip, is to use everything in the prospective renter’s communication with you to screen them, not just the content of the communication.
So, you want to look at things such as:
(a) how much or how little they share — eg do they seem to share too much, or too little?
Experience with renters will help you understand what is about the right amount of sharing. A message of from one to three paragraphs is about right. If someone sends you two pages describing themselves and their situation, this is oversharing, and you ought to tread carefully. Sharing too much is a sign of poor boundaries and other problems resulting from poor boundaries could result by taking in such a person.
If they send only one sentence, you’re going to want to ask them to tell more about themselves. Ideally, prospective renters should be able to tell you a little about themselves and their purpose for visiting your area, state that they have read your house rules, explain why they were interested in your listing, and ask any questions that they may have.
If it feels like “pulling teeth” to get a prospective renter to tell you about themselves, this is an indication that this could be a problematic renter. People should not resent being asked to share about themselves or answer questions if they want to stay in someone’s private home. If they prefer not to answer any questions, they can stay in a hotel, where this isn’t required.
Another thing to look at is, if they are a native English speaker,
(b) their grammar and capacity for professional communication.
Obviously if someone is not a native English speaker there could be some dificulties using English. But if they are an adult who has lived in an English speaking country their whole life and they can’t write well in English that is a different story. I don’t mean whether they had any typos or misspellings — we can all have typos or misspell a word — but rather, look for indications that this is a person who actually can’t or won’t use English properly. For instance, do they use abbreviations instead of typing out whole words, saying “I wd luv to stay ur house”? People who don’t communicate in a professional way, and come across as overly informal, may not be mature enough to rent a space in your home, or may lack respect for you and your home: their insistence on informality in a setting where a more formal approach is appropriate, could demonstrate entitlement. “The world revolves around me.”
As well, particularly if you have house rules or a house manual which requires guests be able to read and intelligent enough to assimilate what you present, in order to avoid creating problems, you may not want to rent to someone who literally can’t spell the word “to”, which I just experienced recently. I got an inquiry from someone who said “I’m coming too your area for business.” This wasn’t a typo, either, as I noted that in his Airbnb profile he had also written, “I love too travel and see new things.”
Dunces could be problem renters in many respects. Maybe not, but then, all red flags are a “maybe.” Will someone who can’t spell the word “to” be able to read and assimilate your house rules? If someone can’t spell the word “to”, is he really coming to this area for business? What business hires someone who can’t spell a simple word like this?
With many of these issues, these are not “definite” signs of problem, but simply red flags, meaning, something doesn’t look good. As you add up the “red flags” in the presentation, you will get a sense of what your “gut sense” about the situation is.
(c) A third thing to look for in the communication is the tone of the communication.
Ideally, you want a prospective renter who is courteous, respectful, upbeat, positive. Be alert for any indications of someone who is put off by questions you’ve asked them to answer, who has a negative outlook or is referring to negative situations. Eg, I recently had a prospective renter reply to my ad, where I asked a certain question, by saying “Well, if you must know….” That response shows lack of respect. It treats the property owner as inappropriately intrusive, rather than appropriately cautious, regarding the questions asked of prospective renters.
Those who are offended by or show any reluctance to or resistance to any question you ask, are essentially conveying that they believe they have a right to your property, and that you don’t have a right to screen renters and protect yourself. This is entitlement of a potentially quite dangerous kind.
You also want to be wary of those with a negative tone in their communication. Yes, it could be quite possible that this is someone who’s had to deal with something negative in their life: but it could also be someone who attracts negative things in life with their negative outlook.
For instance, I just had an inquiry from someone presently living in a gorgeous town in my area, who is expressing a desire to move because of the bad air from wildfires in the state. Well, the bad air from wildfires is diminishing rapidly, and unlikely to be around for more than another week or so. So for a person to want to pull up and move due to a temporary situation that isn’t likely to last more than a week, doesn’t really make sense. Something else is going on there.
And this gets into part two, which is exploring the content of what the prospective renter is communicating.
(2) What concerns are presented within the content of what the prospective renter is communicating?
(a) The first thing to examine, is whether the individual’s story appears to be coherent, and makes sense.
So for instance, it makes sense for a person to say that they are moving to your area, and need a place to stay for 2 weeks while they search for a permanent place to live. It does not make sense for someone to say that they are moving to your area and need a place to stay for 6 to 8 months while they search for a place to live.
It makes sense for a person from out of state to say they are coming to your city for a few days for vacation or work. It makes less sense for someone who lives in your city, or within 20 miles, to say that they want to book a stay of 2 weeks at your house “to relax.” It may be the case that someone in your city legitimately wants a “retreat” at your place in their same city (I have had more than one person do such a stay), but I encourage you asking more questions and getting more information to verify if you think this is true.
If someone is coming to your area to work in a city 30 miles away from you, does it make sense for them to book a stay in your city, rather than in that city 30 miles away where they will be working each day? Sometimes prospective renters may make a mistake and not fully understand where they are booking, so it is important for you to suss out any potential problems you see in their plans, so as to pro-actively avoid situations where the guest has to cancel because they made a mistake.
Take a look and see if the various parts of the guests’ story and presentation make sense as a whole. For instance, within the last few months, I had an Airbnb inquiry from someone who in her profile, touted herself as a highly successful entrepreneur, CEO of a company she’d founded, and name-dropped some celebrity names. At the same time, she was seeking to book, not an entire place, but a room in my house, for exactly 30 days (big red flag: that is the amount of time which bestows tenancy rights) and asking for a big discount on that room to boot. An online search of her name (she gave her full name in her message) turned up her “starring” in some poor quality/pointless videos on YouTube. The presentation as a whole screamed “scammer.”
Scammers aren’t always intelligent. This one seemed to want to impress with what I believe was a fiction about being CEO of a successful startup, but by asking for a discount, was showing signs that she wanted to find a place to squat that had a low entry bar in terms of the cost to get her heinie in the door. An Airbnb booking will offer a lower cost entry than a standard rental, as the person only has to pay 1st month’s rent, no last month’s rent or security deposit, and also does not involve the standard reference and credit checks.
Also, use all the information that you have in the prospective guest’s profile, reviews, and previous stays, to get information to compare to what they are saying in their messages, and see if it all adds up. For instance, I recently accepted a guest who said that he needed a place to stay in my area because he was “between housing.” I get a lot of such stays: students who are between apartments is common. However, in this case, further investigation would have revealed this guests’ statement was not quite true.
If I had looked further, and seen that this guest’s last 5 reviews over the last couple months were all recent and all in my area. Which indicated that this guest was not actually “between housing”. In fact, a Google search of this guests’ full name turned up a GoFundMe page in which this guest was soliciting funds “to save me from being homeless.”
This brings up our next area of concern with content in the prospective guest messages:
(b) Avoid guests who are in a desperate situation.
Many hosts and property owners make the mistake of conflating their business with charity. I urge you most strongly, to NOT do charity with your property. If you want to help those in difficult circumstances, donate to charity groups, or do volunteer work, but please do not ever provide your accomodations to those in desperate situations. This can be a recipe for disaster.
The primary difficulty with offering accomodations to those in desperate circumstances, pertains to the legal issues involved with renting property. If the laws about renting property were not so favorable to those you rented it to, and if property owners retained more rights to their property at all times, this would be less of an issue. But the fact is that you take considerable legal risks when you rent your property.
Even if you are not concerned with squatting, because you’re only accepting a person for a few days, taking in someone in a desperate situation can easily bring their “mess” into your home, and affect you and all your other guests. I experienced this with the person who was on the verge of being homeless. He sat in my kitchen for several hours, with no shirt and no shoes on, talking about his financial problems and other problems, TMI, TMI, spreading this problem energy all over my house. He sat in my kitchen for several hours with no shirt on, scratching off a huge pile of scratch cards someone had given him, hoping to win a few dollars. This scene was disturbing, and his demands on my other guests’ time and energy was upsetting and depressing, brought an overall negativity to my house.
Yes, people have hard situations and deserve compassion, but for my own health and that of my guests, I draw a distinct boundary around my own property and will not allow people to bring their desperate circumstances in here. I can help them outside that line, but not within it. I suggest you do the same. Boundaries and fences make good neighbors and help protect everyone’s mental health.
(c) Look at the photo provided by the guest, if the platform provides you this opportunity. Use this as info to suss out with your intuition.
In many if not all cases/platforms you will be able to see a photo of the guest if you ask for one. Even on Airbnb, which hides photos before booking, you might be able to see photos of the guest if you ask the guest for their full name before they book, and then are able to look up the guest on Facebook or other social media, if they have such accounts.
There are some hosts who don’t understand how intuition works, or actually (rather shockingly) do not believe that there is such a thing as intuition. This is quite surprising given that intuition is known to the psychological sciences and it is the primary psychological function (meaning, their strongest function) of a considerable number of “intuitives” in the US population.
It should go without saying that if you dont’ believe in intuition, then it’s your perogative to ignore it, but denying that it exists or is useful is sort of like denying that emotions exist or are useful.
Intuition is decidedly NOT the same thing as “unconscious bias”, which is the ignorant assertion made by some who think it’s their task to shame you into ignoring your inner wisdom and inner guidance.
Photos can be useful for several reasons.
First, it is a demonstration of the prospective renter’s good judgment or lack thereof, if they opt to present themselves in skimpy clothing, shirtless, holding two glasses of hard liquor in their hands, flashing gang signs, sticking out their tongue, or wearing pants that hang down to their knees. None of these show an understanding of the importance of presenting oneself in a professional way, as one would for a job one was applying for. Granted that some hosts may prefer guests who demonstrate that in some way or another, they are “rebellious souls.” Generally, hosts who appreciate this in guests will give some clue about that in their own Airbnb profile or listing description. If a host has not indicated that they have their listing in a nudist colony and thus prefer shirtless inquiries, or a predilection for tongue-out people with rainbow hair holding a glass of whiskey aloft, why would one assume that such a presentation would gain them points?
Second, the photo may present other “clues.” Is the guest in a photo with a dog or cat? Perhaps you should ask them if they intend to come to stay with a dog or cat, in spite of having not mentioned this. Because some people will not bother to tell you that they intend to come with a “service animal”, and only surprise you at the last minute by showing up with a dog at your no-pets listing.
Does the photo show the person clearly, are they smiling, frowning…what does their expression and body posture tell you “intuitively”?
When a prospective renter has put a photo on an account that is solely for the purpose of seeking accomodations, as on Airbnb or other platforms for property rentals, it shows good judgment to use a photo of oneself that is face forward, smiling or looking pleasant. PHotos taken from 50 ft away, or those showing the back of someone’s head or otherwise unrecognizable, don’t convey confidence that this is someone who feels obligated to be up front and honest with you.
A photo that shows someone looking angry or ill at ease might make one cautious.
Keep in mind that many people are “stiff” when photos are taken of them, but there’s a difference between that and scowling.
I have been able to detect a whiff of arrogance in some photos.
(d) The prospective renter’s name or lack thereof (if using a pseudonym) can possibly provide some information.
Using a complete pseudonym is disrespectful, as it fails to show respect for the property owner’s need to know who will be staying at their home.
While keeping in mind that many people are given birth names by their parents that they may not like and which do not represent them well, others choose/change their names as adults, and the names they use can provide info about themselves.
(3) Because bad guests tend to be people who have a disrespectful or entitled attitude, one way of screening guests OUT, is to present YOURSELF as someone whom a prospective renter/guest with an entitled attitude would dislike!
This approach takes a bit of thought and experience, and not all hosts will “get it”, but in a way, you actually want to DISCOURAGE a lot of people from booking. This can be counterintuitive, because many hosts believe that hosts/property owners “have to” come across as welcoming and full of hospitality.
But there is a way of being both welcoming, and conveying that you are something of a “hard-ass”, meaning, you want to come across as somewhat “stict”. Together with this, it can help to make the guest believe you’ll be able to monitor their behavior while they are at the listing, even if you will not actually be able to do this to the extent that you would like or would like them to believe.
It’s always better if you can actually monitor your property closely, eg, you live not far from your rental. If you are not close to it, it would help if you could have someone who lives closer to it, help you check on it. Because one thing that will certainly encourage guests to lie, is the belief that they won’t get caught: eg, they can lie about their intentions, arrive and break the rules and exceed your maximum occupancy, if they think there’s no one who will ever know.
If you can use security cameras that is helpful, but if not I strongly suggest you have someone who can check on what’s going on at your property, or you really will have a hard time getting guests/renters to follow the rules. People really really take advantage when they think no one is watching!
(4) Finally, I suggest you come up with several questions that you ask all prospective renters.
You are not asking questions just because there are things you really need to know. You are also asking questions because you want to test the guest and see how compliant they are about answering questions! IN that regard, it almost doesn’t matter if you actually need to know the answers or not. You want guests who reply fully and courteously, even to questions that may seem “personal” such as where they are from, what they do for a living, what is the purpose of their trip to your area, how has the pandemic effected them, what attracted them to your listing, whether they have any allergies, sensitivities or special needs.
A guest who answers questions easily and fully is generally preferable to one who answers with very short replies or gives any indication that they resent being asked questions. You want a person who seems very OPEN, because this is a good sign that such a person is HONEST, as opposed to a person who is likely to be hiding things…such as the fact that they don’t intend to follow your house rules!
You may also want to try to engage the prospective guest in some friendly chat, such as about things you may have in common. Honest and truly friendly guests are more likely to be interested to chat with you than those who are hiding something from you!
On June 2 2020, following in the national tumult, widespread protests and violent riots and looting following the death of George Floyd while being arrested by Minneapolis police, Airbnb issued this “Activism and Allyship Guide”
Many who were very disturbed by the death of George Floyd, following in the deaths of other black males in police custody, feel that changes are needed in our nation, and that this Guide produced by Airbnb made a positive contribution in that direction. Though well-intentioned, I believe that this Guide, like much of the theory and discussion surrounding difficult and complex sociopolitical issues touching on race, policing, the criminal justice system, through its connection with problematic ideology, actually may be quite inadvertently deepening the problems we collectively face, rather than helping to alleviate them.
The events of the last week involve issues that I believe are critical for us to examine, and those issues don’t pertain only to race and racism. In fact, even for those who have no interest in discussions on racism or any of the isms, I think it’s very important that they work to develop an awareness of the ideologies that have given rise to the protests and riots we’ve seen around the nation, and the ideologies and philosophies behind much of the “Social Justice Movement”, and the Black Lives Matter movement. The reason I think it’s so important to explore this, is we are living in dangerous times, an era made dangerous by an increasing degree of polarization as well as by the spread of some extremely bad ideas, ideas that threaten to tear us apart and destroy institutions we have built carefully since the founding of our nation.
One of the difficulties in recognizing these bad ideas, is that they are disguised, hidden inside a Trojan Horse. They represent themselves as working towards goals that we all value: things like social justice, racial justice. Because these goals sound noble and important, and we as compassionate human beings want to alleviate suffering and make the world a better place, we are at risk of, quite unwittingly, signing on to support organizations, movements and ideologies that are poisonous and destructive in their very essence.
I’m writing this in hopes of helping reveal some of the destructive and very problematic nature of some of the theories which, unbeknownst to innocent hosts hoping to easily or quickly find some useful information in a Guide Airbnb puts out, are at the basis of some ideologies and resources presented there. Unfortunately, as is often the case with people who want to help or make some contribution but don’t have much time, it’s quite possible that the less time and thinking you have available to put into this effort, the more that a poisonous system can exploit your lack of time, as well as your sense of obligation or possibly guilt, to continue its cancerous expansion over the body of our nation. Your ability to employ sharp critical thinking skills has perhaps never been greater than it is becoming in these times.
In contrast to those theories, which I will go on to argue are founded in pessimistic, divisive, cynical, irrational, pathologizing and gaslighting ideologies, which make use of circular reasoning, public shaming, bullying and punishment of “blasphemers” rather than logical argument to grain ground, and can thus promote “cult-like” groupthink. I want to offer a few alternative and in my mind, healthier approaches to working for social justice, racial justice, community healing. Primarily I will be discussing what is offered through a system called “Non-Violent Communication“, or NVC for short, which, as stated in the NVC website here: https://www.cnvc.org/
Is a widely used and widely admired communication system that “helps people peacefully and effectively resolve conflicts in personal, organizational, and political settings.”
I have used (practiced) and written about NVC.
Thus, the goal here is to write this article comparing and contrasting the NVC system, and what it may have to offer in terms of open, honest mutual dialogue and work to resolve these difficult and painful issues around justice and race, with the theories/systems of CRT, Intersectionality, and Identity Politics. I will argue that these latter theories are actually worsening the problem that we face at present, and are carrying us in a quite dangerous direction, which is all the more concerning since so many well-intentioned, good-hearted and compassionate people believe that the movements based in these theories are the direction needed to find solutions. But rather than moving us towards greater justice, these theories add fuel to a dangerous fire and are likely to deepen injustice.
This is the outline of this article:
(1) Because this article is long and not everyone has time to read the whole thing, I will present a short list of recommended resources for those wanting to work on social and racial justice issues. (2) I will present a critique of Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality and Identity Politics. (3) I will describe what Non Violent Communication is, how it differs from other approaches to working for social and racial justice. In light of criticisms that NVC may not take into account structural or systemic imbalances or racism, I’ll offer some resources and articles that demonstrate some ways of trying to incorporate awareness of social structures of power imbalance, within the NVC process. (4) I will compare/contrast two example dialogues on race issues, taking place between a black woman and white woman, one structured using Critical Race Theory, the other structured using Non Violent Communication techniques. I will offer these dialogues and then “unpack” how I believe they impacted both the participants, and show how the latter offers more hope for change and growth built on mutual dialogue and collaboration.
Short List of Resources
I’ll be arguing here that Critical Race Theory is problematic and dangerous. Here are some resources on this issue:
For those interested in working for social justice, ending racism, helping fight inequality, particularly given the dangerous polarization of our times, I passionately believe that the healthiest way to do this is to build bridges by building open, honest dialogue. I would urge you to find a chapter of Non-Violent Communication in your area, or find a way to network online with this organization, and look for those in the organization creating groups on this topic or working one-on-one on race issues. There are many options for how NVC could be used, for instance, to help heal wounds between police and communities of color. Once you begin to be versed in using NVC, you’ll see it can be applied for example to foster dialogue between a city police department, and families of those who’ve lost family members to police killings. It can and has been used to help build connection between people of different races, different economic groups, different political affiliations, really any groups of people.
Some may express interest in participating in Anti-Racism or Unlearning Racism or Diversity Training workshops. While there are many of these offered around the nation, I generally do not recommend these, as in my experience, they are not using healthy models for group facilitation and dialogue, and are overly dependent on Critical Race Theory. These groups are overly focused on our differences, in particular, what divides us, and most of all, alleged power and privilege differences between us. I believe that while we all need a chance to tell our stories, and be heard, creating stereotypes about those stories and preferencing division over unity is not the way to achieve our professed goal of racial justice nor larger broader goals like peace on earth.
However, if you really want to participate in such, I’d recommend what is offered by Lee Mun Wah of Stir Fry Productions as I believe what he offers is at a better, healthier level than others, as his work comes out of somewhat “older school” thinking. He’s been doing this work over 25 years. I took his Unlearning Racism course a couple decades ago.
In one of those videos, a black man speaks to white group members explaining angrily that he wants to be seen for who he is. He wants his ethnicity seen, not ignored. I strongly agree, deep down, most of us just really want to be seen, and heard, and have a chance to tell our stories.
Along those lines, another resource I want to offer is the “I See You” exercise. It’s a very powerful, intimate way of helping people see and be seen. I first took part in this exercise over 20 years ago, and still feel its power. The way it works is that a group of people (and for the purposes of work on race, this could be people of different races) start randomly walking around in a room together, milling around. When the group facilitator rings a bell, they stop, find the person nearest themselves (for work on race it would be ideal to try to always partner up with someone of another race than yourself). Then, these two partners in the practice, stand in front of each other, and for a full minute simply look into each other’s eyes without speaking. At the end of the minute, the bell rings again, they then acknowledge each other, and continue circling around the room, until the bell rings again and signals them to stop in front of a different partner and practice again. And so this is repeated maybe 3 or 4 times in all.
If you ever do this exercise with an open heart I think you will end up very moved. I found I could barely stop tearing up and crying when I did it, it’s incredibly intimate. To say that it helps people really see each other is quite the understatement. You are literally looking into another persons’ precious soul.
Introduction: the Origin of Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality and Essential Problems with These
Over the last many decades, really since the civil rights era of the 1950’s and civil unrest of the 1960’s, there has been widespread anger and frustration on many fronts related to race and poverty: there is anger by those who perceive a widespread problem with police brutality, or with institutional racism, there is anger over economic inequality, wage stagnation, lack of adequate health care for the poor, lack of opportunity, there is anger or despondence too that for all their activism and protesting over many years or decades, many feel little is changing.
Within this cauldron of anger, frustration, grief and despondence, in the last few decades we have seen a movement arise in university settings, which pertain to race, minorities, and inequality. Postmodernist, Deconstructionist and Post-Structuralist philosophies such as those of Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault set the stage for theories on race, by introducing questions pertaining to knowledge and power. The basic idea was to explore how traditional inquiry and knowledge might carry assumptions that left many people and their experiences out, perhaps “white supremacist”, imperialist, colonialist, racist or sexist assumptions, that inadvertently leave people out: perhaps whole cultures might be left out.
A video on the theory and its origins, as well as its dangers, can be found here:
Intersectionality was developed by a colleague of Derek Bell’s named Kimberle Crenshaw. She wrote a paper called “Mapping the Margins” that began developing this theory: https://www.racialequitytools.org/resourcefiles/mapping-margins.pdf
She sought to use Deconstructionist philosophy, as originated by Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault, to break down the constructions of race, in order to create Identity Politics.
Patricia Hill Collins also helped develop Intersectionality with her work The Matrix of Domination.
The goal was to push people to identify with their race, and pick apart “powerful races” and “problematize” them, to better advance the agendas of the races deemed to be oppressed.
It is a theory introduced to explore a persons’ “identities”, but not just any random identities. The point was, as stated in the article below, to create “a framework for conceptualizing a person, group of people, or social problem as affected by a number of discriminations and disadvantages. It takes into account people’s overlapping identities and experiences in order to understand the complexity of prejudices they face.” https://www.ywboston.org/2017/03/what-is-intersectionality-and-what-does-it-have-to-do-with-me/
The essential message of both CRT and Intersectionality, is the assertion that America is built on racism, replete with racism, that racism and white supremacy is thoroughly embedded in our nation, and that every white person benefits from these whether unconsciously or consciously, and that every person of color is oppressed by these, whether overtly or covertly. Yet the reasoning here is circular, which is to say illogical.
Circular reasoning is defined as the person beginning with what they are trying to end with. Circular reasoning is often of the form: “A is true because B is true; B is true because A is true.
Critical Race Theory’s argument is thus: we say that America is permeated with racism and white supremacy, race oppression: it’s massively everywhere. Critical Race Theory’s method is thus: “We will now take out a microscope and begin meticulously scrutinizing our daily lives and yours to find various threads and small shreds of evidence of racism. Never mind if what we claim is evidence of racism, doesn’t sound like that to you: you’re not black, so obviously you don’t know. Or, if you are black and are saying that isn’t racism, the fact that you’re denying racism just goes to prove that you have a need to collude with the oppressors, perhaps to glean an advantage for yourself. Or, it might simply be argued: you aren’t really black, you’re actually white inside. ”
Various racist perjoratives, too offensive to repeat here, are in fact commonly used by black people, to dismiss other black people who have the “wrong” views and have not “gotten with the program” and submitted to the orthodoxy.
And then, as you may be beginning to realize, Critical Race Theory’s conclusion is forgone, since its methods care not for logic, or science, statistics or data, or any reason at all, but rather mirror the ipse dixit logical fallacy or method of the bullying parent, “It is because I say it is.”
Hence, the conclusion: we began by wanting to find racism, therefore we decided that what we found was racism, and now we conclude, racism.
Each minute small amount of racism or possible racism that we find, proves that in fact, America is permeated with racism and white supremacy.
And, as black scholar and linguistics professor John McWhorter has often said, and says at the 17 minute mark in this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UPiNiTwf5bM
“There is this…religion, as I’ve written about…whereby if you are white, you validate that by saying you know that racism exists, and if you’re black, part of what gives you a sense of validation, a sense of purpose, a sense of belonging, is to frankly, exaggerateabout racism, and cutting through that is a very delicate thing.”
At the same time, each larger incident of racism or alleged racism that is found, far from being ignored or suppressed as one might expect within a system that was massively based in white supremacy and systemic racism, is heavily publicized and published abroad.
To be sure, the images of George Floyd’s death and those of similar situations, can be ghastly and horrific. They are indeed painful to watch and troubling, and would naturally lead any caring human being to want to ensure such things do not happen again. Images like this can and should lead to demands for police reform, and studies of police use of force.
Yet at the same time, the likelihood of an unarmed black man being killed by police is exceptionally small: it’s statistically more probable that he would be killed by a lightning strike. As Larry Elder, a prominent black conservative commentator says, it’s 18.5 times more likely that a police officer would be killed by a black man, than the other way around.
More unarmed white men are killed by police than black males, but those cases do not make the news. Which is strange: since one would think otherwise if racism were a quotidian phenomenon, and this were a heavily racist, white supremacist nation. There were 9 unarmed black men killed by police last year, but there were also 19 unarmed white men killed by police last year. Who knows a single one of their names? There are videos which show white men with arms up, pleading for their lives when gunned down by police. Those incidents did not lead to protests and riots.
While police brutality or harassment by police does seem to effect black individuals more than others, in terms of other types of involvement with the criminal justice system, MacDonald says,
“A solid body of evidence finds no structural bias in the criminal-justice system with regard to arrests, prosecution or sentencing. Crime and suspect behavior, not race, determine most police actions….
Research by Harvard economist Roland G. Fryer Jr. [a black American who has done extensive and major work studying this subject: perhaps more so than any other individual] also found no evidence of racial discrimination in shootings. Any evidence to the contrary fails to take into account crime rates and civilian behavior before and during interactions with police.The false narrative of systemic police bias resulted in targeted killings of officers during the Obama presidency. The pattern may be repeating itself. Officers are being assaulted and shot at while they try to arrest gun suspects or respond to the growing riots.”
Yet the great danger, really an unprecedented danger that I see in this nation at this time, is that the studies I share here, and many other related facts, are being not only ignored but actively suppressed, in favor of rhetoric and ideologies based in distortions, bias, misrepresentation and false claims. It’s not a matter of people simply having different opinions. It’s an issue of the predominant narrative being built upon a false narrative, and a large movement engaging in systemic gaslightingof those who speak to the facts and data. In fact, I believe that CRT and Identity Politics themselves present a “systemic” issue far more dangerous than “systemic racism” in our nation: systemic gaslighting. There are “cult-like” issues that pertain to this, and I’ll explore those further below. One article addressing these is here: https://newdiscourses.com/2020/06/cult-dynamics-wokeness/
“Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said on May 31, the city’s 911 emergency center received 65,000 calls for all types of service, 50,000 more than on a typical day.”
There have been more people killed by protesters than by police during the riots,
and some of those shot or killed have been police. Black police or security officers (Patrick Underwood) have been shot by snipers in Oakland, shot to death by looters (David Dorn) and other police have been shot, assaulted, ambushed or set on fire.
The ostensible and laudable-sounding goal, as stated in Airbnb’s Allyship guide and statements by Black Lives Matter, Social Justice and Racial Justice movements, is that we want to “end racism“, or make a better world. But once you begin analyzing the ideological foundations of Black Lives Matter and social justice theories, once you start “grokking” Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality and Identity Politics, you see that these theories themselves make it look very unlikely that through these means that they espouse, we could ever end racism or have a better world. Because you begin to sense that we just can’t get to a point where someone cannot come along with a microscope, and find some minute shred or scrap that, ipse-dixit, presto-bingo, “because I say it is”, is a sign of racism, and leap quickly from there to concluding that America is thoroughly permeated with racism and white supremacy.
In saying this, I don’t want to seem incognizant or flippant about the real racism in the world, and injustice, which at times can have very painful or tragic consequences.
As Coleman Hughes says at the 5:20 point in this video,
the Anti-Racist movement has a “supply and demand problem” in that the number of true racists and fascists is now very small. And thus, the extent to which a movement is successful, it obviates the need for its own existence. But instead of congratulating itself on reducing racism in the nation, the Anti-Racist movement has instead expanded the definition of racism, “to the point where, now, basically anything can be called racist, and no one will challenge it…if white people move into a neighborhood, that’s gentrification and it’s racist. If white people move out of a neighborhood, that’s white flight, and it’s racist. This doesn’t make sense and it’s not the kind of racism that the civil rights movement was about fighting..and frankly, it diminishes the power of the word racism, which is a very important word.”
At 10:40 in this video, Coleman Hughes says that “if you visited anywhere else in the world, I think you would recognize that America is one of the least racist places in the world…”
In essence, even though many of their supporters and allies may sincerely believe and legitimately work for their articulated cause, BLM and Social Justice movements are not, at their core, what they claim to be. Rather than being movements sincerely seeking social justice or racial justice, in some ways the BLM and Social Justice movements are propoganda machines, which seek to further a fictitious narrative about a fictitious, pervasive, massive systemic racism: a narrative that is rapidly becoming mainstreamed.
Thus, it’s very important that people retain an ability to look at the facts involved, and focus on those, rather than on the hysteria in the environment. Just because people are protesting and rioting around the nation and world, does not mean that there exists legitimate reason for them to do so, or do so in this degree or with this intensity.
Critical Race Theory mirrors the oversimplistic, heavily polarized thinking of our nation as a whole, in that it seems incapable of nuance, subtlety, a sense of proportion, varying degrees of racism or any injustice. There are also, under Critical Race Theory, apparently no experiences that a person claiming an identity in a marginalized group has, which can’t be seized on and claimed to represent everyone in their group.
The CRT and Identity Politics theories also create strong boundaries which would in essence, prohibit those “outside” any given identity group, from commenting on issues deemed related to that group. We are familiar with these kinds of prohibitions: “You’re not black, therefore you can’t speak to black issues” or “You’re not gay/queer, thus you can’t speak to LGBQT issues” etc. This ideology is fundamentally flawed, because there are very few socio-political issues of consequence, which do not impact us all. And if we are at all impacted by a phenomenon or ideology, we all have a moral right to speak to that issue, as the issue is alive in our lives. This is particularly if we are looking at something like “racism”. CRT asserts, in essence, that white people cannot speak about racism: they are the alleged perpetrators, but are not permitted to speak on this issue, argue about what racism is and isn’t, or participate in its definition.
The result is much like arresting someone on an allegation that they committed a crime, say robbing a store, but then, when bringing them to court, refusing to allow them to testify at all, but simply convicting them of the crime based on what others said.
Therefore, when you hear people suggest that you are not allowed to speak to an issue because you’re not part of that group, I urge you to refuse to accept being silenced, and speak from what you observe, and feel and see and need. Your observations, feelings and needs are not irrelevant, as I will elaborate on further below when explaining how NonViolent Communication works.
Back to the subject of people presumptuously claiming they can speak for an entire group or race.
Just yesterday I picked up a newspaper from my local university. In it there is an opinion piece by a black woman, Savon Bardell, who recounts an experience of police looking (“glaringly”) in her direction when she walked onto campus, and she then claims that “this experience encapsulates the reality of Black Americans everywhere.” Under Critical Race Theory, she gives herself permission to stereotype a whole group of people and to speak for them, as though everyone in that group had the same experience. This is simply false, and it’s also dangerous and offensive, as it silences those, perhaps a minority within any given group, or even possibly the majority whom a minority presumes to speak for, who have different experiences.
But this assumption that individuals can speak for entire groups is encouraged by CRT and Identity Politics, which heavily emphasize the importance of the group over the individual. James Lindsay does an excellent job in this video, which I included above, in pointing out some of the problems with CRT and related theories. They minimize the importance of the individual and instead exaggerate the importance of group identity, which results in a loss of individual responsibility. People are no longer seen as individuals, but simply as conglomerations of group identities. As James Lindsay says, this loss of ability to see individuals, even threatens the legal system and the “reasonable person” standard generally used in courts of law. There no longer is a “reasonable person”, since the individual can claim that the court’s idea of a “reasonable person” privileges one racial group, and argue that from the perspective of someone in a different group, they might have a different sort of “reasonableness.” This points up the problematic moral relativism at the basis of CRT.
The threat to our legal justice system by arguments based in CRT is real. Instead of following Martin Luther King Jr’s beautiful dream and pushing for equality, justice for all, and “color blindness” in our legal and justice system and throughout our nation,
Critical Race Theory actually pushes us toward a new bias, a new form of preference, in essence a new type of “supremacy.” City Council members and District Attorneys in San Francisco (Chesa Boudin, whose politics veer to the Marxist) and beyond are pushing for policies which would show favoritism towards certain races above others.
Getting back to Savon Bardells’ opinion piece: she professes to speak for all black people, but as we intuitively grasp, not all claims will be equally privileged, in terms of those wishing to speak for “the group”
For instance, the following accounts represent the many black individuals who would repudiate the views of this opinion writer Savon Bardell. Yet we can be sure that individuals like these would not be invited to write an opinion piece, editorial or article on the protests or Floyd incident.
Glenn Loury, Shelby Steele, John McWhorter, Coleman Hughes and many others also have things to say which do not reflect the positions of Black Lives Matter or positions issuing out of Critical Race Theory.
So, given two black individuals who are making opposite claims, whom are we to believe? Whose story will be “privileged”? At this point, the factors of power and privilege do indeed come into play. And first the halls of power in academia, and now those in government and corporations, are ceding not to whites or white supremacists, but to the claims and narratives issued by organizations like Black Lives Matter, and other Social Justice organizations founded in Critical Race Theory. Hence this satirical comment:
At Twitter, some opinions or views are “privileged” over others, and it’s not “white privilege” which is at play here.
Similar bias on Twitter exists in terms of gay and lesbian issues, feminist views as compared to trans views, by the way. Trans voices are “privileged”, while gay & lesbian voices, feminist and “gender critical” voices are censored.
Note the humorous irony: Savon Bardell also refers to how she will “never tire of speaking about my Blackness”, as if there are any obstacles at all for her to do so, in her privileged place in one of the top public and most liberal universities in the nation. She seems oblivious to the fact that she is also privileged to receive a prominent position to speak about her Blackness, in a newspaper, whose other articles this week not surprisingly given the politics at UC Berkeley and most universities, show obeisance to the narrative flowing from Critical Race Theory and enshrining Black Lives Matter, with one article entitled, “All Americans Should aid Black Lives Matter”, another Op-Ed entitled “To aspiring white allies: it’s time to begin your journey, unlearn racism” and the Editor’s Note article is entitled “The Daily Californian Will Work to Improve Diversity.”
Is this the kind of assortment of writings we’d find in a nation whose every institution was permeated by white supremacy and massive racism?
Berkeley is a very liberal city, but really in universities around the nation, regardless where they are, Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality and Identity Politics have become entrenched, and have now begun quite rapidly to be mainstreamed. I’ll explore more of that in just a bit. But first…
Taking a Closer Look at Airbnb’s Allyship Guide
Now, since I’ve asserted that Airbnb’s “Activism and Allyship Guide” is based in CRT and Intersectionality Theories, let me point to the reasons I say this, and make some critiques of what is offered in the Guide, before going on to critique these theories further.
Airbnb’s Guide opens with a bland and relatively meaningless statement about injustice, “Injustice is something that exists in the world and is faced daily by many different types of people. ” It then quickly jumps from there into explaining that injustices can range from microaggressions to death by those who “invalidate a black person’s life.” As we’ve seen in the Purdue university article, the term “microaggressions” issues from Critical Race Theory. As well, the term “allyship” is often used in Critical Race Theory.
The Allyship Guide goes on to refer to “advancing the cause of racial justice” and “referencing works from experts in anti-racism” and then begins to reference “privileges that you enjoy that have created the realities that marginalized people face.” It then lays out a three phase plan to “use your privilege to help marginalized communities.” The term “white privilege” is an important term in CRT, as mentioned in the Purdue article, and these plans for working reflect a worldview based in CRT.
Of the “Anti-racism resources” listed, we find works by authors and thinkers such as Kimberly Crenshaw, Peggy MacIntosh, Ibram X. Kendi, and bell hooks, whose thinking either helped form or exists in support of Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality.
Among the resources provided, note there are none at all which would critique the tenets of Critical Race Theory or the Anti-Racism movement. And it’s not as though no one who doesn’t support CRT or tow the line on this theory, has written on racism or other forms of marginalization. Quite the opposite, there are many brilliant thinkers, intellectuals and academics who’ve addressed issues of racism, systemic racism, police reform, police brutality, restorative justice and related topics, but they are not cited here, because what they have to say does not fit with the “orthodoxy” of Critical Race Theory. Which is to say, their ideas and thoughts are not privileged, are not deemed part of the privileged narrative, which in spite of incidents like the death of George Floyd and others in the hands of police, is becoming an ever more powerful and dominant narrative in our nation. Some of these thinkers include:
Jonathan Haidt of the Heterodox Academy
Bari Weiss a New York Times Columnist
Dave Rubin of the Rubin Report
In fact, as I will go on to describe, one of the main reasons for leaving out the voices of those who have other kinds of views, is that, in fact, Critical Race Theory and its progeny, the Black Lives Matter, the “Anti-Racism Movement”, is in some ways, a form of secular fundamentalist religion, a cult. And as in any fundamentalist religion, those who are not adherents to the orthodox doctrine, must be cast out as blasphemers.
One of the best tools to sideline and silence blasphemers, eg, any and all voices of dissent, is also included in Airbnb’s Guide. It is centered in the use of the term “white fragility” to refer to anyone who doesn’t get with the program and “testify”. Tossed aside as blasphemers will be those “fragiles” who fail to admit that they’ve actually been racist all along, and will always remain so unless they put in really really hard work for the rest of their lives.
Thus, the position that “good” white people are put in, those who dutifully read and assimilate the required teachings, is that of occupying an increasingly small space. The frustration about this experience is expressed in comments like these:
As the astute thinker will realize, if the accusation “racist” can be increasingly used to refer to and dismiss virtually any person or worldview which is not in line with Critical Race Theory, this actually diminishes the term itself, it weakens it. The “Cry Wolf” phenomenon is actually a danger to the “real” social justice movement, insofar as the move to apply the accusation “racist” to an increasing number of trivial issues, even simply to differences in worldview, eventually renders the term meaningless. And it would be tragic if at some point in the near future, a large number of people begin delcaring that they could care less about racism, because they’ve come to realize that “everything” is racist and the term is vapid and empty.
Getting back to Airbnb’s Allyship Guide:
One of the first difficulties we meet with this Guide, is a subtle one. Notice that wherever black people are referred to, the term is capitalized: they are Black people. Yet wherever white people are referred to, the term is not capitalized: they are white people. This is not an accident of keyboarding: and it’s a slight, a diminishment, a form of disrespect, which when we look deeper into these theories, we will see magnified.
This subtle way of putting down the entire race of white people as compared to blacks, is gaining traction apparently…it’s also used here in this editorial published in the Daily Californian, the student newspaper of UC Berkeley, one of the major public universities in the US with over 30,000 students.
The next difficulty with the Guide is the use of the term “privilege”, which is here defined in this way:
“Social privilege is a special, unearned advantage or entitlement, used to one’s own benefit or to the detriment of others. Groups can be advantaged based on social class, age, disability, ethnic or racial category, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and religion.”
The difficulty created here is a significant one, in that here we see the Guide and Critical Race Theory doing what it states it seeks to end: which is engage in a form of stereotyping, based on assigning people to superficial categories. These identities, which are what are referred to with the term “Identity Politics”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Identity_politics, are not random identities, but only those pertaining to groups considered to be “marginalized.” Thus under this worldview, you would not consider being a “plumber” or “teacher” or “writer” an identity of note, even if it happens to be figure to a considerable degree in how you see yourself. Not all identities are equally created; in fact, the irony here, particularly in light of the use of the term “privilege”, is that within the realm of Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality, marginalized identities are privileged ones. Other types of identities, the ones not reflecting some sort of marginalized status, are more or less irrelevant.
The objection may arise that of course we have to focus primarily on categories by which people are marginalized, if we are talking about forms of oppression. Yet there is an unintentional consequence here, which is that we begin to see the essential negativity and pessimism of CRT, how it disempowers rather than empowers individuals. It emphasizes the negative, what is alleged to be wrong or unjust in the world: ways in which a person can claim to be victimized or oppressed.
In fact, as we all intuitively understand if we begin to think about it, in order to be helped by Critical Race Theory and Intersectionality, it would not do to be a black person and claim you hadn’t experienced much racism in your life, or a gay or disabled person saying you had not experienced any negative consequences as a result of these “identities.” Rather, we can intuitively understand that in order to benefit from these theories, which posit a world chock full of racism, individuals of each of the marginalized groups will be expected to make reports and tell stories that support the CRT theory.
Thus by degrees we come to an impasse and a contradiction within CRT. Let me here move away from commenting on Airbnb’s Guide and begin first explaining the mainstreaming of CRT and then further critiquing the CRT worldview it’s based in.
The Mainstreaming of Critical Race Theory
The Critical Race Theory reflected in Airbnb’s Guide, is no longer simply found in academia. It is rapidly becoming mainstreamed, and the Guide itself represents the fact that it’s now found in many if not most corporations. Over the last 5 years, we’ve seen an explosion of use of the term “Systemic Racism”, which is a key tenet of Critical Race Theory, in the media, as this chart reveals.
See this as well which elaborates: https://twitter.com/ZachG932/status/1267507175011819520
Moreover, over the last many years it has become virtually imperative for major US corporations to have a “Diversity Department”, and diversity hiring practices. However, the reference to diversity is only skin-deep, as diversity of ideology is not encouraged. Quite the opposite, as I’ll explore further. It’s become increasingly common for academics or former academics like Jonathan Haidt, Bret Weinstein, Bari Weiss, Glenn Loury, Heather MacDonald and Coleman Hughes to lament that humanities departments and soft science depts at universities have for all intents and purposes become center of indoctrination, where, in the midst of institutions ostensibly oriented to free expression of thought and exploration of ideas and critical thinking, an increasing number of students feel afraid to express their opinions. Bret Weinstein, a biology professor at Evergreen college, was chased off campus with students wielding baseball bats, after he asserted that a “Day of Absence” in which white people were asked not to come to campus, was racist, and that he would not be complying with this directive. He eventually had to resign his position.
Nicholas Christakis, professor at Yale University, argued for student’s freedom of expression in Halloween costumes, and as a result was surrounded by angry bullying students, one who called him disgusting, who demanded he apologize for his “racism” and hurting their feelings. He had to resign from his position at Yale university.
More recently, a group of students at UCLA began calling for the firing of a professor, all because he refused to cancel a final exam due to “grief over George Floyd’s death.” This kind of infantilizing of students, the exaggeration of their grievances, and the weaponizing of grievances to take out programs, policies, professors and staff, is actually quite common on universities, and it’s quite dangerous.
This comment by NYT writer Thomas Chatterton Williams gets to the point. It’s no longer sufficient to simply strongly disagree with someone: the “Woke Cult” is demanding heavy punishment for dissent, and takes the position that people who do not conform with the orthodox ideology, should not have a job.
Universities themselves are trying to keep students from freely expressing themselves. Greg Lukianoff tells the story of this. and in one video he explains how a student got in trouble for reading a certain book on campus because someone else walked by and, at a glance, misunderstood what the book was about.
This kind of university support of bullying, university enabling of students seeking to manipulate the institution itself into silencing dissenting voices, is not only quite widespread in higher institutions now, but it is being mainstreamed into corporate America. It is a chilling and very disturbing phenomenon, particularly since it’s the higher institutions themselves which are responsible for teaching critical thinking skills and which have traditionally been strongly supportive of free speech. The modern form of the “Social Justice Movement” based in Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality, and Identity Politics, however, actually opposes free speech, as it deems free speech “unsafe”, and compares speech representing alternative ideologies, to murder, in the sense that it is claimed such speech “invalidates people’s lives.” As one can see, such ideologies are extremely patronizing and condescending, infantilizing people as they do, defining individuals as incapable of withstanding alternative points of view. With tragic irony, those labelling themselves “anti-fascist”, are those using fascist means to suppress free speech. https://www.c-span.org/video/?c4777807/user-clip-heather-mac-donald-free-speech-college-campuses
The best way to combat bad ideas, is to refute those with better ideas. Civil debate has been a hallmark of Western Civilization: it is one of the primary means by which we distinguish ourselves from dictatorships. Yet the movements founded in CRT, believe in supression, censorship, and ad hominem attacks instead of logical argument. I believe that the primary reason for this is that the bad ideas involved, are those in Critical Race Theory itself: it is illogical in its foundations, and cannot stand cross-examination. Thus, it attempts to use the methods of dictators and tyrants instead of those of democracy and debate, in order to “win.” And should the movements it supports gain political ground and traction across America, we are in danger of seeing the form of government it generates, also using its methods: eg, we could see a return to dictatorship and tyranny, after our 250 year existence founded as a democracy. I believe that many in the Social Justice Movement do not actually seek those ideals they vocalize, ideals like an end to racism, equality, justice. Rather what they want is power.
It’s fairly well understood, as Shelby Steele has pointed out, that many white people live in abject terror that they might be called racist, there is extraordinary power that black and other nonwhite individuals wield in their ability to use the term “racist” to dismiss, or perhaps even to invite ruin onto other’s lives: a number of people have lost their job for a comment made in poor taste or even at times for a misunderstanding. I don’t know if there are statistics on these, the “collateral damage” of the mainstreaming of Critical Race Theory.
We can allude to this phenomenon as the “Cancel Culture” or by other terms, but it is not a rare occurrence. In fact it’s a fairly common experience among the “white privileged” people of this nation, that in institutions or corporations or communities which have incorporated CRT ideology (which is an increasing number of places) they are told in one way or another, in person or in dialogue online, to shut up, to sit down, to stop speaking because they are racist. Check your privilege, or “get over your white fragility” is what people often hear when they say something that doesn’t fit with the prevailing narrative, which again, ironically, is the privileged narrative.
Problems and Contradictions with Critical Race Theory
I mentioned earlier that I thought that, down deep, most people really want to be seen and heard, and that providing people the chance to tell their story, could be healing for both themselves and others.
Critical Race Theory ostensibly places a high value on telling one’s own story. In this work “What’s Wrong with Critical Race Theory”, on page 8 of this document:
“Stories, parables, chronicles, and narratives are powerful means for destroying mindset-the bundle of presuppositions, received wisdoms, and shared understandings [in our] legal and political discourse …. They can show that what we believe is ridiculous, self-serving or cruel.”‘ Storytelling, as will soon be clear, is a central feature of CRT discourse; indeed, since 1989, when these words were written, a thousand stories have bloomed. Columbia University law professor Patricia Williams recounts a number of these stories in her book, The Rooster’s Egg.”
I actually think story telling is a fabulous way of expressing one’s truth, whether one is writing fiction, fantasy, mythology, or autobiography. Certainly for many who feel that their story has been left out of the dominant discourse, will benefit from telling their story, and feeling satisifed that others are listening. And in fact I think some of the best resources given in Airbnb’ Guide, are the fiction and autobiographical works listed there, such as books by James Baldwin, Zora Neale Hurston, Maya Angelou, Kiese Laymon, Toni Morrison, Isabel Wilkerson.
The problem though that arises for CRT vis a vis stories, is the same issue that arises vis a vis identities: the unwritten rule in the system is that only the “marginalized” ones are really of value for the cause. So to begin with, only those who are in “marginalized” groups are considered to have stories worthy to hear, their stories are in Critical Race Theory, the privileged ones. The “white woman’s tears” are not wanted and indeed may be mocked, as in this article dismissively entitled “Save the Tears” which is included in Airbnb’s Guide: https://tatianamac.com/posts/save-the-tears/
which is about the work mentioned above by Robin DiAngelo, one of the recommended anti-racism resources in Airbnb’s Allyship guide. Her book, “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism“, is referred to in this way by Heather Heying, whose husband is Bret Weinstein mentioned above. https://twitter.com/HeatherEHeying/status/1269642555680894978
As Heying and others have noticed, the term “white fragility” essentially is used much as the term “blasphemer” among fundamentalist sects. Anyone who doesn’t accept any and every part of the doctrine, is dismissed as suffering from “white fragility.” There’s literally no way to be respected if you stand outside the system created by Critical Race Theory ideology, as for instance an individual espousing an alternate philosophy or theory. Everything inside the sect is right, everyone outside is wrong. And this is how you recognize a cult. But can we recognize a cult when it’s spreading across our nation?
Whites are deemed essentially “fragile”, and yet signs of humanity, such as crying, may also be held in contempt. Here’s a paper that argues about “How White Women’s Tears Oppress Women of Color”
So it may become apparent as I go along here, that under Critical Race Theory, the stories which will be invited to be told, are those which support Critical Race Theory, and not others. It’s implied that white people’s stories aren’t wanted, because the assumption is that they have already been told, and are reflected in the dominant paradigm. But as well, perhaps this is less obvious: the stories of “marginalized” people aren’t likely to be wanted, if they don’t conform to the theory, which again, sees a world full of racism, and experiences of racism.
Another comment on the way that white people figure into Critical Race Theory: unlike the marginalized people, who are encouraged to tell their individual stories, from which it is expected that new philosophies will emerge to challenge reigning paradigms, white people are not really expected to tell their stories. Yet this doesn’t mean that white people aren’t talked about. They are, but they are generally referred to as a group, eg as “whiteness”, not as individuals. So, their individual stories aren’t valued, except I suppose when they have to tell of their “woke conversion” which seems to necessarily involve attesting the creedal formula “I am aware of my white privilege“, in much the way in which, in Christian fundamentalism, one is expected to be born again, and recite the saving words “I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.”
Lest this comparison seem mere hyperbole, during the last week in particular, there have arisen many scenes of quasi-religious submissive behavior on the part of white people either toward black persons, or groups, or involving dogma or creedal attestations
What is going on here, and do these scenes which essentially seem to involve public humiliation of white people, really benefit anyone? Will all of this reduce racism in the world, will it make the world a better place? Will it really help correct problems and injustices in the world, if we make people more obedient? If we force them to recite the catechism of Critical Race Theory?
Consider for a moment what would actually be required, in terms of personality traits, temperament, and ego strength, if you were a person in a community, institution, corporation, police department or other setting, where systemic racism existed, and you felt called upon to challenge that. Suppose the whole system or nearly all of it was rotten, and someone needed to confront authority and stand up to the racism present there. Do you imagine that this could best be done by grooming white people to be obedient, to conform, to be subservient, to accept what they are taught without question, to doubt themselves and perennially question their worthiness, to be afraid to challenge the status quo, to refuse to question authority?
Of course not. If there are really completely rotten institutions in the nation or world that need people to stand up to them, those people need to be courageous, they need to be independent-minded, they need to be able to question authority and defy convention…and that is most decidedly NOT the kind of white person being developed by the Woke Cult, by Critical Race Theory, and the Social Justice and Black Lives Matter movements.
That humiliating scenes like this can be found, is not helpful to anyone. The fact that this is happening, is related to a phenomenon called White Guilt, which was so well explained by Shelby Steele, which can be used to manipulate white people, and cause them to hate themselves, even to the extremes such as have been in the news with some white people feeling a need to express utter contempt for their race. In Lauren Michelle Jackson’s article, which I find valuable, though not for the reasons it was included among resources in Airbnb’s Guide https://slate.com/human-interest/2019/09/white-fragility-robin-diangelo-workshop.html she refers to “I was joined to my left by a woman named Mary, who would soon share with me the racial shame of her white burden.”
White burden: as Shelby Steele explains so well in his book Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country, that “liberalism has been wholly concerned with redeeming modern America from the sins of the past, and has derived its political legitimacy from the premise of a morally bankrupt America.” These “past sins” are held by Critical Race Theory to be “white sins”, and hence we see, in Critical Race Theory, the reference to “whiteness” as something bankrupt, empty, something dirty, or innately oppressive.
Thus while one can have a university department featuring “Black Studies” in terms of offering courses to boost pride in one’s heritage, the converse would be unthinkable: “White Studies” could not exist to support pride in ancestry, heritage or traditions, but rather must instill guilt and to correct the presumptive “original sin” of being white. In university it’s called “Whiteness Studies” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whiteness_studies, and “Whiteness” is ineluctably related to something “bad” and indeed burdensome, in terms of being a reference to greater status, privilege, or even the source of systemic racism.
One of the saddest things I see in all of this, is how originally well-intentioned efforts to bring about more justice, peace, harmony and less suffering for black people and other minorities, have led to two dysfunctional results. First, there is degree of escape from ordinary conventions of accountability and just, respectful behavior that is permitted for blacks or other marginalized persons, as the understanding is, through its basis in moral relativism, that the very basis for objectivity, facts, rule, policy, laws is open to question as perhaps being sourced in white supremacy or a racist system. It is for this reason that we can hear a response, for instance, when a journalist asks a black woman if she thinks looting is acceptable, “White people have looted from us.”
In a video posted on Twitter, a black woman confronts white women who are cleaning Black Lives Matter graffitti off a public building, and shames them for using their “white privilege” in a way that she interpreted as trying to diminish the message of BLM. https://twitter.com/DigitalForests/status/1268363871661838338
Thus we can see some black people using Critical Race Theory to feel free to abandon social norms and civil order, to justify crime, looting, and vandalism, while on the other hand, white people contract and shrink themselves, become obedient, fearful, passive, self-flagellating, miserable. In the video in the above link, the white women being scolded, as we would expect, do not feel free to chide the black woman speaking, for her support of vandalism. They have been shamed into a corner and thus can’t stand up for what is right.
In fact, this is not just white people doing this to themselves: they are literally expected to and instructed to do this. Critical Race Theory helps support the creation of something that might be viewed as a “Superego on Steroids” for white people, such that they must always be scrutinizing themselves to find ever more flaws, ever more hidden and unconscious bias or racism. There is literally no end to this requirement to investigate one’s own white psyche to find residue of their tainting, their original sin, from being born in a system of white supremacy.
As Jackson’s article makes clear, white women struggling in this difficult situation that CRT puts them into, are likely to be scrutinized and WILL end up reported on as deficient. Because there is simply no way to “win” and turn out to be a good person, under CRT, not only not for white people, but really for anyone. As James Lindsay says at minute 50 in this video, “The second you accept the Intersectional approach as valid, your privilege makes you lose. You cannot win.”
While many whites who seek to support the cause of social or racial justice may congratulate themselves on their liberal and progressive wokeness, Jackson assures us that “White progressives … are also the group most responsible for the social exhaustion that people of color experience on a daily basis.”
Jackson watches white women in the workshop on systemic racism struggle to say the right thing. She not surprisingly feels that “the right answers…were boring.”
White people are often told, “check your privilege”, and “own your privilege”, and these good white women in the workshop tried to do that, and ended up thus appraised:
“putting whiteness into speech … however critically, is not an anti-racist action.” Declaring that whiteness exists—for others or oneself—does not, itself, do anything. Saying “I have privilege” does not do anything besides make the speaker feel good, and feeling good is anathema to social change”
Even Robin DiAngelo, the author of the book White Fragility, is cut down with this critique: “DiAngelo knows the choreography well and attends rehearsals without fail. She turns away and away and away again from the worst of what whiteness (studies) may bring.”
As well, white people may be considered suspect if they seek to live free and simple peaceful lives, free of spending the required amount of time dutifully contemplating racism.
“White equilibrium is a cocoon of racial comfort, centrality, superiority, entitlement, racial apathy, and obliviousness, all rooted in an identity of being good people free of racism”
All in all, this article makes it clear that if you are a white person interested in throwing your energy into a movement issuing out of Critical Race Theory, you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
James Lindsay elaborates at about minute 22
there is really no way at all for whites to become “good” and virtuous under Critical Race Theory. Those not accepting the system at all are termed “gleeful racists” or are automatically dismissed as having an abundance of “white fragility”.
Those who seek to help the black community by “using their white privilege” to speak for them, now can stand accused of speaking for a group of which they are not a part and therefore do not know anything. Those who seek to be “allies” to the black community, can be cynically criticized as “trying to gain status by trying to appear as a good white” or “trying to insulate themselves from criticism” and operating in their own self-interest to appear good.
Again, there literally is no way for whites, or really anyone, to simply stand outside the theory and disagree with it, and still be respected simply as people with a different point of view, because the theory, like any fundamentalist religion or cult, requires demonizing or vilifying all those who reject its orthodox teachings, its fundamentalist dogma.
The second dysfunctional result is the psychological torture that as we can see in the videos of subservient kneeling, the obsequious videos showing white people humiliating themselves by standing in front of groups and stiffly admitting their perceived wrongs or guilt or acknowledging “white privilege. There is a future of truly “cringe-worthy” contraction, self-loathing, torment and self-doubt for many white people as they don’t seem to find a healthy way to “correctly” inhabit the space allotted for them by the orthodoxy of this theory. White people who wish to “fit in correctly” can feel obliged to contract, shrink down, not take up too much space, apologize for themselves, get with the program, be submissive and obedient. Eg, to do and be exactly what, 30 years ago, caused women to awake into feminism, because they refused to do this or be like this any more.
Taken together, these two dysfunctional results comprise a relational and interpersonal problem with Critical Race Theory. It impacts the relationship, both personal and structural/social, that is posited between the “marginalized” individuals, and those who are “privileged.” As we see in Airbnb’s Guide, there are two categories of people, marginalized people on the one hand, and privileged “allies” on the other hand. Again, I want to point out the irony here: the “allies”, white or at least not black, who are deemed to be “privileged” under this theory and within this guide and the context of recent events with the death of George Floyd, are actually sidelined and thus “de-privileged” within CRT, as they are relegated to the realm of “helpers”, and not just that, but helpers who are basically told what to do. Note that in Airbnb’s Guide, there isn’t a single recommendation to readers, to do what I actually think would be most valuable, which is to explore this issue in depth and thoughtfully, to think for themselves and come up with their own views on issues of racial justice, police brutality, racism and institutional racism, the death of George Floyd, or the civil unrest thereafter which included massive rioting and looting and destruction of property. Rather the resources given, assume that what is needed is for whites as “allies” to simply fall into line with the orthodoxy, the “teachings” or indeed the “religion” of this Guide, and with Critical Race Theory on which it is founded.
It may not at first glance be obvious what the relational implications of this are. Some would say that the relationship between whites and blacks in this nation has always been overlaid by inequality and power imbalance, with whites telling their stories and blacks being sidelined, relegated to shut up and listen. And so they may see an opportunity for healing in a situation where black people and their experience are given prominence and whites are taking a back seat for a change, as listeners now.
However, in any meaningful friendship or relationship, you cannot have an imbalance where one person is allowed to tell their truth, and the other is not, and is relegated to a supportive role. The fact that black experience and stories have in some contexts (perhaps in Middlesville USA, but not in the African veld or in black families or communities, black universities) been historically sidelined, will not be solved by now privileging their stories and sidelining white stories or expressing contempt for “white tears.”
The relational problem also correlates to Systems Theories which affect every group system: this pertains to the way that a group is made dysfunctional when it shuts down or subordinates a part of itself. So in the same way that white supremacy or white racism have caused harm through subordinating black people’s experience or in any way invalidating the beauty of their lives or making them “lesser” beings, a community or group setting which would subordinate or silence those white individuals who are part of it, creates a “shadow” element, which can then deprive the group of necessary feedback upon its functioning. The basic idea is that people cannot make themselves whole, by trying to put others down or allow others to be less than whole, or not allowed their full expression and freedom.
This stifling of all dissent is where Critical Race Theory is most at odds with classical liberalism. Most of us who are now middle aged and grew up as liberals, grew up with “Question Authority” T-shirts and posters. Yet we now find ourselves in the disturbing position of having the so-called liberal and progressive leaders, insisting that we go along with the program, and do not question their authority.
A functional system depends upon the feedback it gains from all its members. In unhealthy families, for instance, abusive members are able to continue their abuse, because a dominant narrative has been formed, that privileges the abusive member in relationship to the individual who is being abused. Frequently this takes the shape of a child abused by one of the parents. Even if the child were to tell others in the family about the abuse, chances are in many cases that they would not be believed, or would be shamed into silence, because what they had to say challenged the dominant narrative about the family and that abusive individual. While some might attempt to rectify this, through a campaign called “Always Believe Children” or “Believe All Women”, the fact is that some children tell fictional stories and some women are liars. One can’t simply invert the existing power imbalance and expect utopia.
Even if the group involved contains no white individuals, only black persons, the tenets of Critical Race Theory still create a shadow in the group, because they require that all those black people tow the line and follow the orthodoxy: in essence, that they submit to the religious screed. And here is where the neat categories of marginalized identities as defined in Identity Politics and Intersectionality begin to break down, when the rubber meets the road.
Not all people in any one “marginalized” group, be it a group of black people, Asians, of gay and lesbian people, trans people, disabled, or any type of marginalized people, will have the same experience, and not all of them will have the “correct” experience, as per the requirements of the theories’ orthodox teachings. See, you just cannot require people to have a certain kind of experience.
The way groups attempt to deal with this, is to dismiss those with the “wrong” stories or views. This kind of dismissal is exactly what black people report, black thinkers and intellectuals, high achieving people who’ve spent decades of their lives studying these issues, when the things they have to say don’t fit the orthodoxy. They experience so much outright dismissal and hatred, that it becomes very depressing. Candace Owens relates that experience in this video where she expresses her views on George Floyd’s death: https://twitter.com/RealCandaceO/status/1268280610818101248
But again, look at what you’re doing: if you’ve got a majority group, which promotes a dominant, privileged narrative, in this case Critical Race Theory, and you’re trying to silence and shut down, not through argument but by name-calling, dissenting voices, what are you doing, except what you are complaining has been done to you for centuries through white supremacy and white racism. You’re trying to silence those who are in the minority, are inconvenient, with whom you don’t agree, who don’t fit your cultural narrative or story or values or philosophy.
This document is one of the better resources I see in the guide because it paves the way for mutuality, for openness and honesty, and to see each other as different but equal, which I believe cannot be done adequately under Critical Race Theory. The one problem with this document, by comparison with NonViolent Communication which I will next explain, is that it still contains the dogma about privilege.
The document begins with the hopeful start: “The world we live in is one increasingly focused on the things that divide us.” Thus it seems more than ironic when in the fourth paragraph, the author writes, “Being or becoming aware of privilege is important for respectful dialogue…privilege means…the relative power you hold in a society that is structurally unequal due to racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, ableism, religious discrimination and so on.” Eg, the would-be daring discussionist, is being asked to focus precisely on “the things that divide us”!
On the positive side, the document also says: “Participants are asked to commit to avoid judgments, defensiveness and anger and to try to express any negative feelings and different views constructively and from a place of giving as opposed to being [op]positional or needing to be right.”
Non-Violent Communication As Compared to the Violent Communication too often used in the Anti-Racism Movement
It’s much owing to the tenets and teachings of Critical Race Theory, that we now increasingly hear it said that “it’s not enough to not be racist, one needs to be anti-racist.” In a way, this hearkens back to the mantra that was popular 30 or 40 years ago, which was “If you’re not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.” One could read it, at one level, as a request for people to be actively involved in important contemporary issues, rather than passively complacent. Engaged, rather than distant observers.
At the same time as this statement seems to call for meaningful engagement, it also preaches, puts forth an orthodoxy, and makes a demand that the listener accept some degree of the assertion that there is a sufficiently large problem of racism in the world, that even those ostensibly not effected by it, will leave themselves open to being viewed as ethically or morally bankrupt if they do not actively engage with racism along the lines the speaker requests.
I want to suggest here a different approach. Coming from a perspective grounded in depth psychology, spiritual exploration, and study of Non-Violent Communication, NVC for short, there need not be any teachings, any preaching, any theory, any demands made of others, any talk of privilege nor any need to acknowledge any privilege, any orthodoxy at all, and certainly no shows of obsequious subservience or recital of anti-racist “creeds”, in order to work to “end racism” or other forms of oppression or injustice, or to achieve other goals which help us all move towards our real purpose of mutual, peaceful harmonious existence. In fact, one of the amazing paradoxes of NonViolent Communication, (which relates to a similar paradox in depth psychology, psychotherapy, and spiritual exploration) is that even if we set out with no intention to do anything about racism (or, substitute here the issue of your choice) , as if we could care less about racism, we can actually end up helping end racism and heal the world, just by participating in NVC.
One of the reasons for this, is the profound reverberations that flow from actually listening to and seeingother people, and honoring their needs. This beautiful beholding of others has far-reaching implications. We see that in reality, we are these other individuals whom we behold, much as in the beautiful phrase from “Thou Art That.” The imagined separations dissolve away.
For to really see and hear others, shows us, quite in contrast to what is taught in Critical Race Theory, we all actually have the whole universe inside us, and all people, and all races. We have within us both white and black, oppressed and oppressor, gay and straight, male and female, child and adult, abled and disabled, and all other dualities and possible identities, through the wonderful beauty and divine paradox that is the ineffable reality of the human soul. As was sung by Amergin, in this ancient poem of Ireland: https://www.scribd.com/doc/24999770/Echoes-of-Antiquity-in-the-Early-Irish-Song-of-Amergin
So, perhaps you may say that is a teaching, a theory, but as it’s also poetry, you are free to disbelieve.
In contrast to those speaking from Critical Race Theory, what I’ve just said obligates you to nothing. There’s nothing you have to do. You are neither obligated to action or to non-action, you don’t have to live your life in a certain way, and in fact you don’t have to do anything at all, either with regard to racism or any other issue. You could spend your whole life alone in a shack in the forest, meditating on a blade of grass, or praying in a monastery, or you could be a college professor in an Ivy League university, or a medical doctor working for Doctors without Borders and providing care to poor people in need on another continent. What you’re doing might vary: you could be helping provide free legal aid for refugees, or you might be busy working on a wall to keep illegal immigrants out. The beauty of open honest mutual dialogue is that you can start wherever you are, and whoever you are, and connect with someone else –or perhaps, lacking that other person, connect with another part of your own self — and see where it takes you: or not. No obligation.
Non-Violent Communication is primarily about working with other people, but as I hope to show, its tools also benefit self-exploration of any kind. Whatever issue you want to explore, you can do in a safe and mutually respectful way with this model. If you want to work on race issues, you can work with people of other races. Or you can do self-inquiry on these issues. If you want to work on sexism, you can work with people on that. Any of the “isms” can be worked on, as well as any other area of inquiry, politics or area of conflict in society in contemporary times. The main thing that I have “grokked” from my experience with this, is that whatever you work on, needs to be “live” for you, it needs to be “real”, something you can feel in your gut and heart: it can’t just be an abstract, distant concept, a theoretical or intellectual curiosity.
As I explain the NVC system below, I will refer to page numbers in this pdf, so you can read the book and follow along if you wish.
What is NVC and how can it help heal the world and end racism, even when a person engaging in it, sets out lacking interest to have anything to do with racism or anti-racism at all?
The NVC Process: How it Works
As is suggested by its name, Non Violent Communication does believe that some ways of communicating are more respectful, empathic, honest and clear than other ways. So, there are forms of communication which are considered more “violent”, not because they involve physical assault, or physical violence, but because they involve verbal attacking, criticism, contempt, disrespect, defensiveness, resistance, reactionary responses, judgment, “evaluation” of various kinds. Unfortunately, most of us are not taught, either by parents, teachers, or movement leaders, how to avoid communicating in these unskillful ways.
The NVC process helps teach people to communicate using a more focused attention that helps avoid such inadvertent violence. While using NVC style communication can be very effective to resolve conflicts, it is not easy to use in non-structured situations, without someone there to guide the process, or in settings where options for communication are quite limited, such as in random posts on social media. It works best either used one on one, or in group settings where there is a facilitator to help mediate the discussion.
It utilizes four components: (see pg 14 of the pdf document in link above)
(1) Observations, or what is seen, which we try to articulate without using any judgment or evaluation. We focus on what we like or don’t like that others are doing.
(2) Feelings: we next state how we feel in response to what we have observed. This is not what we think, but what we feel. This is an important distinction.
(3) Needs: after stating our feelings about what we have observed, we then state our needs relative to this. As a help in discovering what our needs are, NVC has developed a “needs list” that lists common human needs. Generally everything that concerns us in our lives can be traced to one or more of these needs.
(4) Requests: After having stated what we’ve observed, and spoken our feelings about the matter, then worked to identify and express our own needs, we finally will work to articulate specific, clear requests of the other person or group working with us in this situation.
In developing his NVC system, Marshall Rosenberg identified certain forms of communication that he termed “life-alienating communication” as he felt that these ways of speaking alienated us from our native state of compassion. On page 18 of the pdf link above, he points out the first of such types of life-alienating communication, as “Moralistic Judgments.”
Right here is where we see the major problem in the approach of the Anti-Racism movement and Critical Race Theory, in terms of the actual on-the-ground inter-relational consequence of the ideologies involved. They give rise to judgmentalism, to intolerance. As I’ve been trying to demonstrate, there is virtually no way for a well-intentioned, caring individual to disagree with the basic ideologies of the movement, while still being respected. People who don’t submit to the required orthodoxy are summarily dismissed as “racist”, “privileged”, or a host of other judgments and invectives. This intolerance for dissent is violent communication, which not surprisingly is increasingly leading to actual physical violence.
Another form of life-alienating communication is Making Comparisons, pg 20 of the pdf, which is a form of judgment, involved when we compare ourselves to other people, either individually, or as a group. Under Critical Race Theory, anti-racism work often involves making comparisons between individuals and groups. The term “white privilege” implies that the movements would have a hard time seeing white people outside of this comparative and evaluative term.
A third manner of using life-alienating communication is Denial of Responsibility. The responsibility implied here, is our own, our need to take responsibility for our own feelings, thoughts, actions. This is an issue in Critical Race Theory and Anti-Racism movement, because the movement in some of its ideology, posits that in many situations, black individuals are not responsible for their own feelings, thoughts, actions. Someone else or something else is theorized to be at times responsible, generally a white person or white supremacist/racist system. This is a disempowering and cynical as well as psychologically and spiritually void orientation to the world and to the human psyche. Far from setting the foundations for liberation, it tragically sets the stage for continual enslavement: because people can never be free when they make their happiness contingent upon external or structural factors over which they have no control.
Other forms of communication that Marshall Rosenberg has identified as life-alienating, round out the other methods and common practices of the Anti-Racism movement. On pg 22 of the pdf, he says: “Communicating our desires as demands is yet another form of language that blocks compassion.” The Anti-Racism movement does not so much make requests, as it makes demands.
Rosenberg also points out that language calling for punishment, demanding that people “get what they deserve” is also life-alienating communication. Examples of this type of alienating communication:
(1) The mayor “deserves” to be given the middle finger and voted out because he refused to do as demanded and defund the police
(2) A person “deserves” to burn in hell for not accepting the religious dogma
(3) A criminal “deserves” to be punished with a long prison term.
Observing without Evaluating
When making observations, it’s important to avoid judgment or evaluation. Pg 26 of the pdf book helps clarify how to make observations without infusing them with judgment.
Distinguishing Feelings from Thoughts
Our culture, for the most part, highly overvalues thinking as compared to feeling. In fact, the culture “privileges” thinking. The realm of feelings is devalued, quite possibly because, as with intuition, it’s a realm more connected with women. The one area where I do see feelings emphasized, actually seems a dishonest use: when people make others responsible for their own feelings, in order to weaponize them for a cause, such as fighting racism or sexism, homophobia, or any other cause.
Pages 31 to 32 of the document help clarify how to distinguish feelings from thoughts, as well as how to distinguish feelings from evaluations. For instance, I often have said “I feel unheard, I feel unseen”, without realizing that those terms involved interpretations, evaluations of others, rather than pointing to specific feelings. So, it’s less accurate or helpful to say “I feel unheard”, than to say “I’m not sure that I have been heard.” See a feelings list on pg 33 of the pdf.
Taking Responsibility for Our Feelings: Coping with Other’s Negative Messages
NVC aligns with depth psychology and spiritual teachings, in stating that what others say and do may be the stimulus, but is never the cause of our own feelings. This helps clarify why different people have different responses to the same outer events, incidents or policies.
Let’s take a look at different ways to cope with other’s negative messages, which will begin moving us from understanding our own feelings better, towards strategies for more skillful communication.
Let’s begin with two hypothetical “negative messages” of the sort that are likely to arise in the context of Anti-Racism work, which is “you haven’t owned your white privilege” or “you’re a racist”.
Rosenberg says there are four ways one might respond to these kinds of negative messages, which are:
(1) Blame ourselves
(2) Blame others
(3) Sense our own feelings and needs
(4) Sense or imagine other’s feelings and needs
In practice, this is how this could look with the example statements:
(1) “Oh My God, there’s something really wrong with me, and I’m ashamed…”
(2) “You people are disgusting fundamentalist creeps, who can’t stop judging everyone else.”
(3) “I’m feeling hurt and betrayed, angry….”
(4) “I am wondering if you are feeling hurt or angry because you didn’t feel supported or heard or validated by what I just said?”
Uncovering our Needs Under the Feelings
Once we figure out how we actually feel we can start identifying our own needs. (pg 37 pdf) This is difficult, because as Rosenberg writes, “Most of us have never been taught to think in terms of needs. We are accustomed to thinking about what’s wrong with other people when our needs aren’t fulfilled.” Rosenberg observed that when he could shift people towards focusing on their needs rather than focusing on their perception of what was wrong with the other, “the possibility of finding ways to meet everybody’s needs is greatly increased.”
After identifying needs, participants will also be encouraged to examine what are their strategies for getting those needs met. This is where the creativity and best effort can often be applied, because it’s here in collaborative work to find strategies to meet the needs of both individuals or groups, where the real payoff can be in conflict resolution. Sometimes the strategy that one group uses to get its needs met creates a heavy burden or negative impact for those in the other group. For instance, in a majority white community where someone has inadvertently done or said something racist, a strategy to “carry on the peace” may involve downplaying the significance or potential hurtful impact of such a comment or action. With Critical Race Theory, the strategy seems to often be that the black activist community seeks to get its needs for validation met by silencing white individuals who don’t accept their claims about racism or systemic racism. Thus a degree of coercion is used, or threat of punishment, in the strategy to get needs met, and this is not healthy for anyone, on either side of the issue.
Once participants in NVC have made observations, identified their feelings and needs, the next step is to make requests of the other person or group. When making requests, it is important to frame them in the positive rather than in the negative. Negative requests such as “I request that you stop being racist towards me/towards blacks” not only provoke resistance, but they do not clearly communicate something that a participant can do, some action or effort they can undertake.
While speaking, an NVC participant may ask to: (1) reflect, or have the listener say what they think they heard , (2) describe the impact of the speaker’s communication upon them, (3) ask if the listener would be willing to take a particular action.
When making requests, it’s important to keep in mind that NVC is not a method to use to force change on people. If participants seek to use the method only so long as they’ll gain compliance or get what they want, they will be disappointed. NVC honors people’s freedom and issues out of the belief that it’s best if changes come willingly, out of compassion, rather than as a result of any kind of coercion.
Sample Dialogues: Critical Race Theory and Non Violent Communication
Now that I’ve explained the basics about how NVC works, let’s take a look at two example dialogues, to better understand how this would look in practice. In the first dialogue, two women speak under the “framework” or structure of Critical Race Theory.
If the dialogue seems slanted to you, take a look at videos from actual anti-racism workshops, such as this one which actually took place over 25 years ago. It’s likely the exchange would be more heated today. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AzLTyp0ZBx4
In analyzing the difficulties with this dialogue, it can help to explore issues/logical contradictions I perceive in various anti-racism and unlearning racism workshops and diversity trainings, eg these:
(1) They seek to place much more emphasis on how we are different, and in particular how those differences divide us, than on our similarities.
(2) They seek to use individual stories only to support a preferred set of ideologies, eg, they contain an implicit bias and privileged narrative.
(3) They seek to weaponize differences and alleged power and privilege imbalances, to silence white people and require them to comply with the privileged or dominant narrative.
Eg in Lee Mun Wah’s handout entitled “21 Ways to Stop a Conversation about Diversity” which is here https://stirfryseminars.com/resources/handouts/Topic-1-01.pdf
He is basically telling you what you are not allowed to say: the stories or worldviews you are not allowed to have. Eg “I think identifying into groups only further divides us”, number 6 here, is implied to be a “bad” comment because if you say this you’ve shut down the dialogue.
If you watch exerpts such as this one from his Color of Fear film, however, you’ll see several of the participants berating and even yelling at a white man in the group, putting down his statement as bullsh#t, accusing him among other things, of “walking on stolen land.” It’s implied, apparently, that having an opinion about group identity unacceptably shuts down a dialogue, but yelling at someone and accusing them of walking upon stolen land, and calling their comments bullsh#t, is okay and does not also shut down a dialogue.
There is a place for confrontation in our mutual dialogue. But it cannot be white people only who are confronted, and black and other minorities deemed to always know all the truth, have the complete story, and never need to be challenged or corrected. And this is in essence my main criticism of dialogues that take place under Critical Race Theory: there is no way to produce effective, meaningful or healthy dialogue if you are bullying one party into submission or telling them to shut up and trying to prevent them from having a different opinion.
Now let’s look at another dialogue, with these same two women, which takes place under NVC.
More about what
All in all, I think you’ll get the idea that by using NVC principles and a mediator who is skilled in working with those principles and either individuals or groups, it’s possible to help people hear each other, respect each other and connect far more effectively than might be the case otherwise. When people do connect, and support each other, they do so out of their own free will and genuine compassion and not because they feel obligated.
Though I’ve included resources pointing to specific articles about NVC or groups that attempt to bring in an awareness about structural issues in society and systemic racism into their work, for those who are interested in this, I do have some concern about the attempt to do this. My concern is that NVC could end up hijacked by Critical Race Theory or distorted so that it is no longer actually capable of doing what it does so very well, which is help people respect each other’s needs and feelings and help them meet on common ground. While it certainly is valuable for a mediator to be well informed about world events and social dynamics, it’s also important for them to avoid coming across as being biased towards one participant over another, or favoring one group over another. The way that being well informed would come through in a mediator’s work, is for the mediator to know what questions to ask to help the participants themselves state what they think is true for them, rather than the mediator making these statements for them.
Again, I want to say that I believe we are living in dangerous times. Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality and Identity Politics and the movements their ideologies support, ranging from Black Lives Matter to various Anti-Racism groups and Social Justice groups, together represent a pessimistic, cynical, divisive view of the world. They are ideologies based in illogical arguments and circular reasoning. They promote intolerance and stifle dissent, compel obedience and obeisance. Like fundamentalist religious cults, they define all those not accepting their doctrines as blasphemers, and punish the blasphemers.
As well, these movements increasingly push for extreme changes, changes that at one time were laughed away because they sounded so ridiculous, but which are now threatening to be mainstreamed. For instance, the call to “Abolish the Police” is growing louder and a dangerous fanaticism is spreading.
We need to be very careful now with what we do and whom we support, lest we find Orwell’s 1984 quickly descending upon us. What we’ve seen this week suggests that many feel a police killing of an unarmed man must necessarily result in protests nationwide, and violent riots and looting. Yet, it is unlikely we will soon obtain world peace or perfect justice. Since these tragic events do occur from time to time, in spite of our best efforts, we literally are at risk of nationwide insurrection, which plays right into the hands of a group of dangerous people who would like to destroy the nation. When structures of law and order are broken down, don’t naively think this will result in utopia of peace and goodwill. Given what I’ve written about at length here, we are much more likely to see a rise of rulership by criminal gangs.
Most of the articles I write here, are directed to Airbnb hosts. Hosts are the ones who need the most help as they have the burden of learning how to run a business. For guests, there is far less to learn…but that doesn’t mean there still aren’t some important things for prospective guests to know, that would help them be great guests, obtain glowing reviews, and build a strong foundation for being quickly accepted for future bookings.
So my intention here is to take my 15 years of experience in the property rental business, as well as 7 years of experience as an Airbnb host, together with a great deal of experience reading posts and stories from thousands of hosts all over the world on a variety of hosting topics and issues pertaining to guests, and distill this into some recommendations for how to be an excellent Airbnb guest.
As you read this, I expect you will realize that this article could only have been written by a host, as there is a lot of information in here that comes only from having real world experience with guests or renters in one’s own home.
There is a lot of emphasis here on house rules, because being a guest who comes prepared to follow the host’s rules is really the key to being an excellent guest. Following rules is a lot more important when you’re in someone’s private home, which contains the hosts’ private belongings, Grandma’s heirloom china and more, than when you’re staying in a hotel, as I hope to help you understand with what follows. As well, there can be a lot of “psychology” related to house rules, some of it unconscious or not obvious, which I hope to illuminate here, so guests can be assisted to understand many of the things a host will be looking for in guests.
Finally, you’ll notice that a lot of what follows emphasizes what NOT to do as a guest. Not many guests may realize this, but it’s actually pretty easy to be a great guest, because all this involves is just not being someone who causes problems! You don’t actually have to go out of your way to do anything “extra” to be valued as a wonderful guest. However, being someone who doesn’t cause problems when staying at someone’s private home, requires more sensitivity and sophistication than accomplishing the same at a hotel, so this article is here to give some pointers.
Tell the Host a Little About Yourself and Why You’re Visiting Their Area. Answer their Questions about Yourself. Have a Profile Photo of Yourself on your Airbnb Account
This is something that a lot of guests do not understand about hosting: hosts want to know about a prospective guest, and most hosts screen guests. Some guests take offense that a host would want to know anything about them, and argue that they dont’ have to tell a hotel what their line of work is, or why they are visiting the city, so why should they have to answer a host’s questions, which may seem invasive to them?
When guests are offended like this, it suggests that they have not put themselves in the host’s shoes, to try to see things from their side. Something that bears repeating, because so many guests have a hard time understanding this, is that a host’s home is not a hotel. Arranging to stay in someone’s private home, or their private property even if it is only their vacation home and not a primary home, is actually a lot more like renting a place on Craigslist, than booking a hotel room. And if you have ever rented an apartment, you should be aware of how much information the owner wants from you, in addition to generally wanting to interview you in person.
So, to keep things in perspective, realize that the amount of information about yourself you’re asked to share in order to secure a short term rental via Airbnb, is significantly lessthan that which would be required for a standard rental on Craigslist. You’re not being asked to provide referrals and contact info from past landlords or your employer. The host generally doesn’t do a credit check on you, or a background check, criminal background check, investigation about any past eviction records, and does not ask about your income. And yet they take the risk of allowing you to enter into and stay in their property, which in some cases, you need to realize, has resulted in a hosts’ home being burglarized by a “guest”, or squatted in by a “guest” who refuses to leave. There have also been hundreds if not thousands of situations of “trojan horse guests” who book a stay claiming there will be 3 or 4 guests, and who then invite hundreds of guests to pour into the property for an illegal out of control party, such as the Airbnb parties that have tragically resulted in people being fatally shot. Given all these risks that hosts take when they open their homes, they have to be cautious about whom they let in.
Thus, hosts will generally do at least some basic screening on guests, in order to see if they feel comfortable with who you are and what you say about why you’re wanting to stay at their home.
So, when you’re sending a message to a host asking to stay at their home, don’t do as far too many guests do, saying nothing at all about yourself, but simply writing presumptuously, “Looking forward to staying in your home.” Rather, fill out your Airbnb account completely, put in some information about who you are, what your job or hobbies are, include a photo of yourself, and be prepared to say what attracts you to this particular listing, and why you are visting that area.
There’s been a lot of controversy about guests feeling “discriminated against” based on their photo. This has led some guests to feel that it’s their perogative to “trick” hosts into accepting their booking by hiding their photo from the host. Consider how disrespectful it is to a homeowner, if you’re arguing that they might actually not want you to stay in their home, so that it’s your right to “trick” them into accepting you to stay in their home by intentionally hiding info about yourself in order to gain access.
Again, a host’s private home is not a hotel, and you have no right to demand to be given access to it.
Photos of a guest actually provide a lot of information: they can demonstrate, for instance, if the guest has good judgment. A guest who chooses to use a photo of themselves which shows them scantily clad, or holding up armfuls of hard drinks in a bar, or making gangster style hand signals, does not inspire confidence in a host. Most hosts will not be keen to rent to someone who presents themselves looking like a thug in their profile photo. Use the same judgment for photos of yourself in trying to obtain a short term rental, as you would in job seeking endeavors. Be professional. Smile and look friendly, this inspires comfort and confidence.
Why would a host want to know about your reason for visiting their area? One reason is so that they can assess whether you are actually just a local resident who is trying to obtain access to a property in order to have an illegal large party, or some other purpose that could cause them problems.
So be considerate and answer the host’s questions politely, and this will help you be accepted as a guest. Keep in mind as well, that if your plan is to present false information about yourself in order to try to deceive the host into renting to you, the rental contract can be declared null and void on the basis of this false information, via the crime of Theft By Deception. https://www.shouselaw.com/theft-false-pretenses.html
Thus, do not tell the host you’re in town for a software conference, if your real intent is to use the host’s home to have a bachelor party or shoot a porn movie.
Read and Honestly Confirm you can Agree to the Listing, House Rules, Cancellation Policy for the Reservation you want to Book
The most important element in being a great guest, is that you understand and agree to the terms of what you are actually booking. This is not as simple as it sounds, based on the thousands of complaints one can read from so many hosts all over the world, for many years, about “the guest didn’t read my listing description” or “the guest said they read the house rules but didn’t” or “the guest agreed to the cancellation policy when booking, but now wants to be exempt from that policy.”
Booking an Airbnb stay is, arguably, more complicated than booking a hotel room. There is just no way around this. If you want to book an Airbnb stay, you need to do your due diligence to make sure it’s a fit for you: and this isn’t something you need to worry about with hotels.
Hotel rooms, particularly of name-brand hotels, are standard cookie-cutter spaces. The rules and cancellation policies from one hotel to another are fairly standard. A hotel obtains walk-by business, as it is located in a commercial district in town, and so (though things are certainly changing dramatically for hotels in a post-CoronaPocalypse landscape) it’s relatively easy for hotels, thus located, to draw in guests. All of this is different for Airbnb listings. This is both the charm of the Airbnb stay, and the complexity of it.
One of the major complaints of Airbnb hosts, is that guests who’ve had the opportunity to read everything about the listing before booking, are booking a stay, and then complaining about things that the guest could and should have known about in advance,if they had done as they were supposed to do and read about what they were booking. For instance, a guest complaining about the stairs at a listing, when the host has clearly explained in their listing all about the stairs. Or a guest complaining there is no Air Conditioning, when the host made it clear there is no Air Conditioning.
If you do this, book a stay without reading about what you are booking, and then complain about things that the host made quite clear in advance, then you’re likely to end up with a critical review by the host, taking you to task for your failure to do what Airbnb actually requires that you do, namely read the info before you book.
As well, hosts who offer budget listings, don’t want to find that after they’ve put in all the work to be very clear about any shortcomings or lack of amenities, or any other aspects of their listing that guests need to know about, that you’ve booked a budget listing, but are now demonstrating that you expect to get various amenities that were never promised, and that should rather be expected at the luxury listing pricepoint. In host terms, this is known as the guest who “Books a Motel 6 and demands the Ritz-Carlton.” You can expect to obtain a critical review from your host if you turn out to be this type of guest.
Be Honest About What House Rules/Policies You Will Actually be Able to Follow without DIfficulty or Resentment
I believe that one confusion and difficulty guests have in terms of agreeing to house rules, is failing to understand the applicability of these rules to their stay.
Agreeing to the hosts’ house rules means, you are attesting that you can honestly agree to follow these rules, for the duration of your stay, without any difficulty or resentment. This is something that you’re going to need to be honest with yourself about. Because it’s really no good if (for example) you are a smoker, booking a non-smoking listing where it’s prohibited to smoke anywhere on the property, including the yards, porches and patios, and then get there and complain when the host finds you smoking on the front porch and tells you not to do that. If you need to smoke on the front porch, then it’s simple: dont’ book a listing where you’re not allowed to do that. Only book the ones that allow this.
I’ve read hundreds if not thousands of stories from hosts who tell about guests who fully agreed to the house rules, but then showed up and demonstrated that well, no, they actually weren’t up to following the house rules, and complained when it became clear that they were expected to do so.
This kind of dishonesty will not get you good reviews from hosts, and in fact if this pattern continues it may result in hosts not accepting you as a guest at all.
It’s quite understandable that you might miss something in the rules or misunderstand what you’ve read. This happens to all of us. And we hosts do appreciate that there may be a lot of info for you to assimilate. Even so, this is your responsibility to do if you want to book an Airbnb stay instead of a hotel stay.
If an issue arises, and it becomes clear that the error is yours, take responsibility for that, and not try to blame the host for having the rules that you agreed to.
Do Not Put Hosts on the Defensive to Explain their Policies or Rules, Which You have Already Agreed to
This leads into the next subject, which is guests who, after having agreed to the hosts’ house rules, arrive at the hosts’ home and begin to argue about those rules which they have already agreed to.
If you have concerns about any of the host’s rules, or don’t understand the rationale for them, the time to raise such concerns, is before you book a reservation with the host. Most hosts will be able to answer any questions that you have. What is NOT okay to do, is first agree to follow the rules, and then argue about them after agreeing to follow them.
Unless you are in the property rental business yourself, there may be things about that business which are hard for you to understand, and which lead to rules that you dont’ understand. Getting an explanation about these things can help put your mind at ease. But also, it’s important to bring a “good faith assumption” to your view of hosts, and don’t assume that they are creating rules just to cause misery for guests. Hosts want to host guests, they aren’t out to upset them!
Quite often there are reasons for rules that you may not understand, and in fact, may be hard for you to understand unless you also have had 20 years in the property rental business, AND you have a similar personality and needs/boundaries as the host, or similar past experience as the host. For instance, a host who’s had problems with guests leaving a mess in the kitchen, may have rules reflecting that, whereas a host who didn’t have that experience, may not.
Also, keep in mind that the host gets to run their house in a way that works for them, which may not be the way that you choose to run your house.
Don’t Assume You Know the Reason for Certain House Rules, and Then Make Exceptions for Yourself. Rather, Follow Rules Exactly as Written on their Face.
One of the other problems I’ve seen arise many times with guests, is when they assume that they know why a host created a certain rule, and then excuse themselves from following it under certain circumstances: all without any communication with the host about this. This is in essence a problem of entitlement: and it’s good to be aware that hosts dislike problems that result from entitled guests.
As an example: the host has a rule that guests may not use the kitchen after 10pm at night. The guest may inappropriately assume that they know why this rule was written, and that it’s only to make sure there are no late night disturbances/noise in the house. Well that may be part of the rule, but it may not be the only reason for the rule. The lesson here is not to assume you know why rules were written and under what circumstances you can break them, but just follow the rules on their face exactly as they are written.
For instance, in my house I generally have more than one guest staying at a time. I may have 3 guests. If one (Guest 1) of those feels free to break a certain house rule, and the other guests (Guests 2 and 3) observe this first guest doing that, this can lead to more problems. Now, Guests 2 and 3 may feel that since Guest 1 is breaking this rule, they are free to do so as well. So the host may now find 3 guests using the kitchen after hours. Or, Guests 2 and 3 could become resentful, perhaps assuming that the host gave Guest 1 permission to do something that they themselves haven’t been allowed to do. Or, as I have also experienced: the host observes Guest 1 breaking a certain rule, and when he confronts Guest 1, this guest states he feels “picked on”, because he also observed Guest 2 and 3 breaking the same rule, and implies they were not confronted by the host.
What guests often don’t fully appreciate, possibly because most of them to do not have 15+ years experience renting rooms in their own home AND having a similar personality/needs as the host, are the problematic consequences of other guests observing one guest break a rule or rules. There’s a whole chain of possible consequences to this, which actually have the potential to grow quite serious in certain circumstances.
Managing guests who look around for ways to argue that they don’t actually have to follow the rules that they agreed to, is not as easy as it sounds, so please do not be one of these guests.
Avoid Lending Support to any Other Guests who Are Not Following Host’s Rules
This rule pertains only to situations where you’re booking a stay in a home where there may be one or more additional guests also staying at the same home.
Guests can be put into a difficult situation, if they observe another guest doing something which clearly violates the host’s rules. What I find is that when I have more than one guest in my house, guests often like to chat with each other, and may enjoy having a meal together or going out together. Especially when guests get to know each other like this, they are likely to not want to “snitch” or report a guest to me, for doing something that violates the house rules, even if it it something that could cause problems for other guests, such as leaving the bathtub dirty or being loud late at night.
But keep in mind, there is a difference between simply being reluctant to “report” this guest to the host, versus actively giving support to something they are doing which violates the host’s rules. As an example, consider a host who has quiet hours, and asks guests to try to be quiet after 10pm, and not use the kitchen after 10pm. Now suppose that there are 3 guests staying at this home, along with the host, and 2 of those guests go out together to a show, and get home late, and begin making dinner in the kitchen at 1am. As the 3rd guest, you may not want to “snitch” and report them to the host, but neither should you join them, or stop by to chat with them as they use the kitchen 3 hrs after the kitchen is officially closed to use.
Not only does supporting rule violators show disrespect for the host, but it can also get you into trouble along with them, and this can show up on your review.
Don’t be the Guest who Has to be Reminded To Follow House Rules
As I’ve pointed out, staying in a private home is quite different from staying in a hotel, in that it’s more complex. One way that this complexity can show up, is in terms of “extra” things that guests need to know about rules, how to take care of the house and the things in it (eg how to use appliances, dishwasher, hot tub), what not to put in the toilet, and so on. If you book a stay in a private home, at a listing that has certain rules, it’s important to bear in mind that this means you are representing yourself as capable of following all the house rules and operating procedures, 100% of the time, from the moment you arrive to the moment you depart, without the host having to do any work to “remind” you.
Hosts dislike having to remind guests to follow the rules, much less confront anyone who’s broken their rules multiple times. This is stressful for hosts, and it’s also stressful for guests. All this stress can be avoided if you take the time to familiarize yourself with what’s expected of you, and follow through. If you tend to be a forgetful person, that doesn’t mean that the host has to accomodate your forgetfulness. Rather it means you should book at a place where there is not as much you need to remember, because you’ll do better there.
House Rules are Not Something that Can be Overridden by Majority Rule of Several Guests, Against One Host: Don’t Try to Subvert Hosts’ Authority
This bit about house rules is something that you can read because I am a host who has a certain kind of experience, and insights on it, which are actually not that common among hosts in general. So consider yourself fortunate here to gain this insight from what I can share here.
Something can happen in a hosts’ home, when they open it up to more than one guest, which can at times be an unpleasant experience. It’s a sort of bullying, but it’s generally quite unintentional. The real term for it, is subversion of authority.
This is what happens when a single host has more than one guest, or a single homeowner has more than one roommate. Quite unconsciously (because this generally is an unconscious process and not an intentional one), the guests, who may begin to befriend each other and bond with each other, particularly if they are both on longer stays, may begin to come to “agreements” with each other about certain things in the house, which are really not their perogative to decide upon.
Again, let me provide some examples for clarity.
(1) The hosts’ house rules state that dishes will not be left in the sink, but the 2 or 3 guests in the host’s home, “decide” that they aren’t bothered by each other’s dishes in the sink, and so they “agree” that it’s okay to leave dishes in the sink.
(2) The host states that no one may use the kitchen after 10pm, but 2 guests decide that, since the host’s bedroom is further from the kitchen than theirs, and is less likely to be bothered by late night noise there, that they “agree” that it’s’ okay to use the kitchen late at night.
Regardless how well-intentioned and innocent such things may be, guests banding together to make these kinds of “agreements”, demonstrates disrespect for the host, and involves inciting others to rebellion, and subversion of the homeowner’s authority in their own home. This should not need to be stated: a homeowner’s house is not a democracy where the majority rules, or where guests are permitted to enact a coup d’etat or mutiny, overrule the homeowner and install a whole new government of guest rule in the host’s home. The hosts’ rules cannot in any case be “overruled” by two or more guests “voting” against him or her. This may seem pure hyperbole to many of you, but rest assured, what I write here comes from my experience and that of other hosts: this kind of subversion of hosts’ authority has happened to many, even if generally in a minor rather than a more extreme form.
More to the point, if a host finds guests banding together to “agree” to violate his/her rules in some way, it’s likely he or she will feel either quite angry or quite threatened, and all guests who’ve colluded in this kind of disrespectful action may experience the fallout from their act of “rebellion.”
Again, real respect for the host involves following rules exactly as they are written, and most definitely does not involve forming alliances with other guests in order to subvert the homeowner’s authority in their own home.
If you know enough about yourself to be aware that you have “parent issues” or that you resent authority, this means that it’s probably best that you do not book a stay with an in-home host, particularly someone whose rules seem to make you itch with an urge for insurgency. You would probably do best booking an entire place listing where you never even see the host!
Don’t Be the Guest Who Requires Host to Write a New House Rule
When hosts commisserate about problematic guests, one of the things that comes up from time to time, is that guest who causes the host to have to “write a new house rule.” This is not a positive result of a guests’ stay. What it means when the guest causes the host to have to write a new house rule, is that the guest found or invented a new way to cause problems, beyond all those the host already thought about in advance, and already had written down, based on their years of experience. You don’t want to be that guest.
For instance, a host who offers a farmstay, does not want to have to add the rule, after your stay, “Please do not chase the peacocks and try to pick them up.” A host does not want to open their bathroom door after you depart, find the tub or sink has been stained purple, and have to write the new rule, “Do not use hair dye in my bathtub or sink: in fact, do not dye your hair at my house.”
Hosts do understand that guests may have accidents, dishes might be broken, sheets might be stained, but a good guest takes responsibility for what they’ve damaged (even if the damage was accidental) and good guests have good judgment. This means that they avoid doing things at the host’s home that will cause the host to have to write yet another rule. We don’t like having to add more rules, and neither do future guests, who will now have more they have to read and assimilate, because others found more ways to create novel problems.
Be Available for Communications and Communicate Clearly about Arrival Time
One of my pet peeves about guests who book a stay at my home, which is something many hosts have experienced, is what I might call the “vanishing guest.” This is the guest who, right after booking, suddenly becomes unavailable for communication. I can’t reach the guest by email or phone. When I finally do reach that guest, all too often I hear a story such as this: “Oh, I don’t use that email very much, I don’t check it often”, or “I don’t have the Airbnb app on my phone.” If you want to be a great guest, please don’t set up an Airbnb account with an email you rarely use, and if you’re using your phone more than your computer, please put the Airbnb app on your phone. It’s simple to do, and it helps ensure you wont’ miss important messages.
If you’re going to be unavailable for a while, it’s best to let your host know, because the time just after booking and just before and after arriving, are times that it’s particularly important you are available for communication. As well, during your stay, the host may need to convey important information to you, such as about a plumbing issue that develops, so please regularly check the email and phone number for your account. Hosts rate guests on only 3 things, but one of them is communication, and it’s easy to get 5 stars in communication if you are simply available to communicate.
Don’t Pry: Have Good Boundaries, Don’t ask Invasive Questions or Snoop around Hosts’ Home
The primary way in which an Airbnb stay is different from a hotel, is that, particularly if you book a private room, or an entire place that also serves as the host’s own residence at times and has their belongings there, you’re staying in someone’s private home. This leads to a certain importance of having good etiquette with “boundaries.”
In a psychological/social sense, boundaries refers to the invisible lines around people and their private lives, private matters, their belongings, which marks out their need to have space or privacy from others. For instance, introverts will have more “boundaries” around their social time with others, as they need more “private time” than extroverts do. People who are more protective or private about their belongings or spaces, will have stronger “boundaries” around these spaces, than people who readily share all their things with others.
The important thing to know about boundaries, is that people get to have whatever boundaries around their own lives and belongings that they need or want to have. People’s boundaries are never “wrong” or “rude”, they are just what those people need. Boundaries go two ways in Airbnb hosting: because both hosts and guests have boundaries. As a guest, you would not want your host just opening your bedroom door and walking in on you at any time: that would be a boundary and privacy violation. Likewise, the host doesn’t want the guest just opening his or her bedroom door and walking in. Do not be the guest who did as one of my guests did: open my door and walk right into my bedroom without knocking.
That’s an obvious one, but boundaries aren’t always obvious, because people have different needs and different boundaries. In general, as a guest, you want to make a “conservative” assumption about your hosts’ boundaries, and not expect to cross lines which could be considered important boundaries, rather than assume that a host has less need for privacy than you yourself might have.
Some concrete examples may help illustrate.
Don’t assume that you can borrow/use host’s personal belongings. In fact the host might be offended if you ask to use something that they consider quite personal, such as their computer. Asking if they have a spare umbrella is reasonable: asking to use their personal coat or computer is not. Don’t ask about details of the host’s life or business which would be regarded as private information, such as about their income. Things you should never ask: how much the host paid for their home. What the hosts’ annual income from hosting is. How long the host has been married. Or how long they’ve been single. Or ask why they have certain books on their bookshelf. Don’t go around the property opening random closets and doors to see what is in there. This will be regarded as snooping, and it’s rude.
I recently had a guest pop out the back door of my house and come out to see me when I opened my garage door, saying he wanted to see what I had in my garage. Don’t do this kind of thing. It’s rude. It’s none of your business what is in the host’s garage, and you should certainly never make a point of demonstrating that you’ve been “waiting in the wings” just to pop out and peer into a private space when the host opens it.
This guest asked for an extension, hoping to stay longer, but because he had also already broken a few house rules during his short stay, I did not accept his request to stay longer.
Don’t Extrapolate Your 2-Day Experience to Make Assumptions about 365 Days A Year
Something many guests don’t appreciate fully enough, is that their 2 or 3 day experience at a host’s home, may not allow them to accurately understand what goes on in that environment for the remaining 362 days a year. Again, let’s use an example to help clarify.
I have a neighbor who has a loud birthday party at her house once a year. If I have a guest who happens to stay on the one night when my neighbor has this party, this guest may assume that my neighbor is always playing loud music, when in fact, she only does this for one night out of every year.
Thus, when you are a guest, do not extrapolate your experience to the entirety of the year and make assumptions about what commonly happens in the host’s home or the neighborhood. All you know is narrowly about what occurred during the brief time you were there.
Be Sensitive to Waste of Natural Resources: Help Conserve Resources
Be mindful that hosts are often in a bind when it comes to use of energy and natural resources. They want you to be comfortable, and as happy as you can be, however, they also want you to have appropriate expectations for the price point at which you paid for the accomodations. In my own hosting, I’ve found that guests appreciate budget accomodations. But what not all of them understand, regarding budget accomodations, as well as mid-priced ones, is that the price point is economical, because there are limits as to what the host can provide. Maybe there’s no hot tub. Or there’s no air conditioning. The thermostat is pre-programmed, and the host will not allow you to arrive in mid-winter, and heat the unit to 80 degrees 24 hrs a day. Or maybe not even 75 degrees for 24 hrs a day.
There is also the matter of the earth and conservation of natural resources to consider. Some guests are less understanding of the finitude of natural resources, and that we all need to do more to conserve resources, which means not wasting electricty, gas, water. So to be a mindful guest, follow the hosts’ requests about not taking long showers or turning up the thermostat beyond a certain point. (Remember, you can ask about any such limitations in advance, so make sure you do if you have concerns or specific needs) Bring adequate clothing so that you don’t expect the houses’ central heating system to make up for your having come ill prepared for the season, and only brought short sleeve shirts in midwinter. If you want more heat or more amenities, select a listing that provides those things.
Clean up After Yourself
One of the things that helps most to make a good impression on hosts, is the guest who is diligent about cleaning up after themselves in common areas. Also, though it doesn’t necessarily have any impact on the host or other guests if your room itself is not kept clean during your stay, keep in mind that hosts will generally feel more comfortable with guests who keep their room relatively clean. If the host walks by your room and sees food or trash on the floor, this may cause them to cringe and feel reluctant to invite you to stay again.
Checkout Means You’ve Left the Property and Turned in Your Keys, Not that You Have Vacated the Room and Are Spending the Next Few Hours in Hosts’ Kitchen
You can probably guess what experience led me to realize I needed to state the obvious. Yes, a guest who packed up all his things and vacated the room by checkout time, but then sat in the kitchen and communicated that he expected to stay there a few hours until a friend picked him up later.
That’s not how checkout works. Checkout time is not a suggestion, it’s a requirement. It’s the point at which your paid reservation expires, and at which, if you are still in the listing, in the legal sense, you are now considered to be officially trespassing. The host might allow you to “hang out” in the kitchen or elsewhere in the house after checkout, but ask about this, rather than assuming that this will be allowed.
Some hosts will allow you to leave your luggage after check out for later pickup. If the host allows this, make sure not to impose by expecting to return for the luggage and then take a shower or cook dinner in the host’s home after having checked out!
Don’t Leave the Hosts’ Home with More than Your Own Belongings
This is something that shouldn’t really have to be said…but then, those of you who are great guests by nature, considerate and thoughtful by your very nature, probably need very little help at all to continue to be the excellent guests you already are!
Most everyone will realize that you’re not a great guest if you steal the host’s property. However, even “borrowing” their belongings, and taking them off the property, is not something you should ever do without asking. So for instance, if the host has put books in your room, and you find an intriguing novel there, you should not assume it’s okay to take that book with you to the beach. Always ask first before taking any of hosts’ belongings out of their home. What they’ve put in your room is for you to enjoy while ta their home.
Also, when checking out, please do not take with you extra supplies that host has provided for guests at their home. Too often, guests assume that since there is toilet paper or shampoo provided for their use, that it’s okay, on check out day, to depart the premises with 12 rolls of toilet paper, 3 extra mini bottles of shampoo or hand soap, as well as various bulk kitchen condiments provided for the guest during their stay. The host will be angry when they find you’ve done this. If instead of just using some of the coffee beans for your 2 day stay, you’ve absconded with the entire 1 pound bag of coffee beans, you will not receive an excellent review.
Be Positive and Grateful
What I’ve noticed over many years as a host, is that when I sense a guest has a positive energy and an attitude of gratitude, this has a very positive effect upon me. And this alone in the guest, can make up for other shortcomings. So, even if you find it hard to be a “perfect guest” or “Superguest” in some ways, rest assured that if you carry a positive attitude with you and convey gratitude for your stay at the hosts’ home, this will likely have a powerfully positive effect on the host!
As the Coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic spread out across the globe, most all Airbnb hosts found themselves heavily impacted, with many cancelled reservations, and empty properties. This article is not directed at those Airbnb hosts or other short term rental operators for whom their income from short term or related property rentals is “extra” or discretionary income, but rather those for whom this is essential if not primary income.
One of the biggest and most pernicious and ugly problems in the host community, and one of the most ubiquitous, is hosts who judge other hosts, because the others aren’t doing their business the way these hosts think they should be. I’m not referring to hosts who have concerns about the mega-hosts who run many dozens if not hundreds of properties via rental arbitrage, as this model quite arguably isn’t actually “hosting”, it is more properly termed a large vacation rental business/corporation. Rather I’m referring to hosts who can’t seem to let other hosts set their own thermostat, write their own house rules, decide their pet policies, or do their own type of screening, without feeling a need to lecture to them.
So let’s cut to the quick here: if you can’t stop yourself from judging other hosts and insisting that they run their business the way you say they should, then stop right here and do not read further. Because it’s quite likely that if you can’t leave others to run their business as they see fit in normal times, you’ll have an exceptionally difficult time allowing them that right in a pandemic.
What is the plan forward from here? I want to explore a number of approaches to this question.
These are some of the options hosts are taking now, and I’ll talk a little about each
(1) Keep my listing/s empty and hunker down, wait this out, until it’s safe to start up business again.
(2) Rent out my listing/s to essential workers, travel nurses, or others with situations that requires them to be in the area in temporary housing.
(3) Shift to taking long term renters.
(4) Take short term rentals as they come in, if my state/region allows this.
With each of these options, hosts may be able to draw unemployment income and/or obtain pandemic loans to ride them through these difficult times.
First Option: Keep Listing Empty, Wait it Out
As to the first option, that of keeping your listing empty and waiting it out. This is arguably the most conservative and safe approach, but it’s also the most simple-minded and approach in one key way. We can see this when we begin asking, what does it really entail? What this approach implies is far more daunting than might be seen at first glance. In fact, in many cases this approach may ultimately prove quite impossible. The reason for this is that the pandemic and the virus don’t simply cease to exist at the expiration of your government’s shelter-in-place order. Unless you happen to live and host in one of the rare nations like New Zealand that either has had virtually no virus intrusion, or has taken very strong measures from day one of the first virus case, involving contact tracing and required quarantine, so that the virus can be declared “stamped out completely”, there will be plenty of virus still around when shelter in place orders are ended.
Case in point is the United States, with more virus cases than any other nation, closing on 1,200,000 confirmed cases, and more in one city alone — New York City — than in any other nation in the world. If the shelter in place orders all expire at the end of May, this means that from the time guests first began a flurry of cancellations, hosts would have gone 2.5 months with no business, no income. If the shelter in place orders expired one month later, at the end of June, hosts following this approach of keeping their listing empty, would have gone 3.5 months with no guests and no income. The key question here, is how long can hosts go with no income whatsoever from their rental property. Again, this article is directed to those hosts for whom their rental property income is essential if not their primary income, so please jump right off this page and get lost if you are starting to feel a need to lecture hosts that they should never run a short term rental business as a primary business, but only as a “hobby.” If you can be a hobbyist with your rental property, you come from a place of relative privilege and it’s wholly inappropriate for you to lecture to others in a less privileged situation.
There is a difference between what we have to endure, versus what we choose to burden ourselves with in the name of safety. Hosts who are under a government mandated shelter in place order that requires they close their short term rental during this time, have no choice but to stay empty. Yet as I’m beginning to suggest, it would be misguided to think that there is a black and white difference between what one can safely do during a shelter in place order, and in the days and weeks subsequent to the expiration of that order.
Whenever a shelter in place order expires, say at the end of May or the end of June, that still leaves us with thousands if not millions of active cases of coronavirus across the US. Any one of those cases, has just as much chance of spreading the virus, as did the very first case of Coronavirus that arrived in the US early in the year, or possibly even in December of 2019. Just because the shelter in place order has ended, does not mean that any prospective guest who would like to stay at your Airbnb listing, isn’t a carrier of the virus. Any guest could be a virus carrier this week, next week, next month, or 6 months from now, a year from now. Until we develop widespread testing, there’s no way to ascertain who is and who is not a carrier, for many are asymptomatic, and until we develop a vaccine, there’s no way to be completely safe from carriers of the virus.
So the question then becomes: not whether a host can weather 2.5 months or 3.5 months of “lockdown” and no business during shelter in place orders, but whether that host can go 6 months, or a year or 18 months, with no income from their rental property, until the point where there is either widespread routine testing and/or a vaccine. And I know very few people indeed who could confidently and contentedly say that they can afford to go 12 to 18 months with no income from their rental property.
So this is the major shortcoming of the “wait it out” approach: the fact that to be completely safe, you’ll need to wait it out not for 2 or 3 months, but more likely for a year or more.
Second Option: Rent to Essential Workers, Travel Nurses
This option is in my view more workable than the first, but it probably will not work for those renting out a room in the home they themselves live in, because hosting front-line workers or essential workers would be the position of greatest risk to in-home hosts.
These workers are much more likely than others to become infected and spread the virus, because of their greater exposure, particularly the case with medical workers. For instance, I rent out rooms in my home, and had a FEMA worker inquire about staying at my house for a few months, but I could not entertain this option because this worker would at times possibly be in close contact with some persons infected with the virus, and even with PPE, this made this kind of worker a much greater risk to my home than most others.
On the other hand, this approach could work well for those renting out entire units, (which is where I think FEMA workers and travel nurses should be seeking to stay, not in rooms in hosts’ homes) particularly if the essential worker wants to rent for a longish stay, which then means that it’s more do-able to leave the space vacant for 72 hrs after they depart, in order to safely enter it to clean it for the next occupant.
Third Option: Shift to Taking Long Term Renters
Many hosts who normally do short term rentals, may want to shift to taking a longer term renter at this time. This is difficult for hosts who got into short term renting precisely because doing long term rentals didn’t work for them or involved too many problems. So to be bounced back into that problematic type of business is painful. However, when you take stock of what your losses will be if you can’t fill your property, or get adequate unemployment income or a pandemic loan to help you during this time, this might be the route that many hosts need to go. See my article on screening renters to try to avoid mistakes and taking in the wrong type of person. Taking in a long term renter is most fraught with potential problems for hosts renting out entire units in areas that have rent control and eviction control, but is complicated for most all of us now due to all the “eviction moratoriums” that are being put in place around the nation and the world. It could happen that you take in a renter who pays the first month’s rent, but then declares they have no job or income now and can’t pay any more, and isn’t willing to move out, either. But ironically, having a nonpaying renter during the pandemic in some ways is less of a problem than having the same in normal times. To look at the positive side: in a time when it’s difficult to get any renters at all, carrying a nonpaying renter actually is less “costly” for property owners now than it would be during boom times.
For both long term and short term renters, a host or property owner would do well to screen these renters in terms of whether they are less likely or more likely to have been exposed to the virus. I’ll explain more about that below.
Fourth Option: Take Short Term Rentals as they come in
It may seem that there are no short term rentals happening now. That isn’t actually the case. It depends where one is. Some hosts in more rural, remote areas are actually reporting that their business is booming, as people are fleeing urban centers now (though sometimes violating shelter in place orders as they do so) seek a rural area to stay in for a month or two, where they feel safer.
Also, not all parts of the nation have banned short term rentals. As well, some hosts are taking short term rental bookings even though strictly speaking the shelter in place policies dont’ allow these in their area at the present time. Most regions which are prohibiting short term rentals, still do allow such rentals for “essential workers”, which leaves one to wonder who is going to police what kind of work your guest is, or isn’t doing.
In some areas, Airbnb itself has blocked calendars on hosts’ listings, preventing them from taking reservations at this time, due to the dangers created by the pandemic. For instance, this article reports that Airbnb blocked calendars of most all hosts in the UK for this reason. https://www.aljazeera.com/ajimpact/emergencies-airbnb-blocks-majority-uk-bookings-200409073140490.html
This article does mention that “essential stays” will still be allowed, but I can’t see how an essential stay can be booked on a calendar that has been intentionally blocked.
This approach of taking short term rentals as they come in, and if they seem to be safe, will be one that hosts just have to experiment with and see if they get enough inquiries and if it feels sufficiently safe to them. Particularly if they rent out an entire place listing, they are safer than renting a room in their own home, and even more so if they can keep 72 hrs between each reservation, thus assuring time for the virus to dissipate in the air and be cleaned off surfaces with disinfectant.
Though the USA has more virus cases than any other nation in the world, the distribution through the nation is not even, and so hosts in areas which are less impacted might rightly feel safer in taking in guests, than those from more heavily impacted areas. For instance, California as a whole has had 52x fewer deaths from coronavirus, than New York City, and the SF Bay area has had 85x fewer deaths than NYC area. California has a population of 37 million and has had 2000 deaths, the SF Bay Area has a population of 7.7 million and has had 280 deaths, whereas New York City has a population of 8.5 million and has had 24,000 deaths. This makes it much riskier to take in guests in NYC, or take guests FROM the NYC area, than to take in guests in California generally. And some areas of California, like Modoc county, have ZERO cases of the virus in their region. This doesn’t mean no cases will ever arrive there, but it does present a comparatively safer area. All of which is just to point to the fact that the virus situation differs from region to region across the nation, and hosts should be able to decide for themselves what they think is sufficiently safe for their own business.
On that note, let’s talk about screening prospective renters in terms of the virus risk they may introduce into your home. This should be something all hosts consider, especially if they are bringing renters into their own home in which they live to share common spaces. If you are renting an entire place, this may not be a concern of yours, particularly if you can leave several days’ (at least 3 days) space between reservations to allow any virus on surfaces to die or be cleaned away.
One way of screening such renters would be on the basis of where they are from and/or where they have recently traveled. Are they from a virus hot-spot such as New York City, Italy or Spain? In such a case you might err on the side of caution by declining them. What work do they do, in what kind of context? People in work that puts them in hospitals, or in medical care, or in nursing homes, or in homeless shelters, or in prisons, in any other congregate living facility, or in other work with populations who have a higher risk of infection, you may want to avoid hosting if you rent rooms in your home. Those who can do their work remotely from your home pose the least risk, those who work in grocery stores or other places such as banks where they come into contact with others may pose an intermediate risk. Also, assess whether you feel confident that the prospective guest would take the shelter in place rules seriously and would wear a mask outside, stay 6 ft away from others, avoid large gatherings or visits with friends, etc.
Regardless what approach hosts take, it would be prudent to draft a set of rules for guests about what you expect of them in order to keep your house and property safe from the virus during this time. Such as that they follow shelter in place rules and wear masks when out, and go out only to conduct essential business.
Now that short-term rentals have gone bust due to the CoronaPocalypse, many Airbnb hosts are either shutting down temporarily, or switching to taking longer term renters, obtained from Airbnb, or standard rental sites such as Craigslist or Roommates.com or other rental listing sites. I strongly advise that if you have no experience with long term rentals, or are not well informed about local landlord-tenant laws, you be extra careful in considering taking longer term renters.
For those moving to seek longer term renters, many of us have discovered that the quality of prospective renters has decreased significantly. Particularly given that many municipalities are now passing some form of “eviction moratorium“, property owners are well advised to be extra careful with whom you take in at this time. Particularly with low-quality inquiries for long-term stays via the Airbnb platform, keep in mind that the bar to entry is far lower via an Airbnb booking than via a direct arrangement.
For a standard rental arrangement, renter needs to provide you with referrals, employer contact/info, credit score, past rental history, and/or pass a background check which looks into past eviction history and/or criminal history. Also in order to move in, the renter needs to pay first month rent, last month rent and security deposit. You have the opportunity not only to see a photo of them but talk to them on the phone or via skype, or meet them in person and thus have more opportunity to get an intuitive “hit” on how you respond to them.
By contrast, when considering a prospective long-term renter via Airbnb, you get NONE of the above! Consequently, it’s much easier for “bad actors” to gain access to your home via an Airbnb booking, than for them to do this if they approach you directly. Consider yourself warned! If someone requests to stay long-term in your home via Airbnb, and you have concerns/doubts or feel like you just dont’ know enough about them, I suggest limiting their Airbnb stay to less than 4 weeks, which means they dont’ legally qualify as a tenant. This will allow you to meet and get to know this person, and if both of you feel comfortable with the arrangement, you can allow them to extend their stay after you’ve had this opportunity to suss things out.
In general, I’ve found that Airbnb renters are of higher quality than those one finds on Craiglist or other sites, but not always, and at this time of upheaval and instability, I’m getting far fewer inquiries via Airbnb, and the ones which do come in are in several cases lower-quality inquiries.
The first step you can take in your screening, comes at the time when you create your advertisement for your rental. Instead of simply providing information about your rental in the ad, I suggest asking at least one, perhaps 2 or 3 questions in the ad, which you then request responders to answer. Easy questions like: “What about my ad/rental is of interest to you?” or “Have you read about my rental on my website?” (if you have one). or “How is the pandemic effecting you?” In addition to asking questions, instruct interested people to tell you a little about themselves when replying to you.
I advise asking open-ended questions in particular, as this allows the prospective renter to say things about themselves without being clued-in as to what kind of response you are looking for. Because the more you reveal about exactly what kind of person you are looking for, the more you give a prospective renter the tools to figure out how to lie and misrepresent themselves, so that they can appear to be the kind of person they believe you are looking for.
In particular as regards the question about how the pandemic is effecting the person: this can give you a lot of info. If they respond by saying that they lost their job, this probably is not a person to whom you want to risk renting to. If they respond saying they are going crazy and experiencing deep depression, you should be cautious about renting to someone in a state of mental instability.
Putting questions into your ad and a request for respondents to say a little about themselves, will help you accomplish screening even before you have to say anything. It will allow prospective renters to screen themselves out, by demonstrating that they haven’t even bothered to read your ad. A surprising number of those replying to ads on Craigslist don’t say anything at all about themselves, and a significant number of others will send “form replies” out, in which they send a pre-written response to all the ads they are interested in. It’s my thought that people sincerely interested in what you are offering, can at least put in the work to read the paragraph that you’ve written, and respond to one or two simple questions.
Next step, is taking those respondents who have actually said something about themselves and/or answered your simple questions, and begin more in-depth screening.
To begin with, though this may come as a disappointment to many renters, property owners do actually want a renter who can pay the rent. We aren’t interested in providing free charity housing for all those in need, particularly since we have to pay our mortgage, our property tax, our insurance, our utilities, our repair and maintenance bills. I have not heard of one single city or government representative talking about forgiving or even deferring property taxes, for instance.
In this time of economic devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic, many are out of work, or have had their hours cut back, are on unemployment, have lost their business, or have other financial difficulties. Many property owners are responding to this devastation, either out of compassion or from practicality, by reducing our rents. This is all we can do. We cannot offer free housing.
Thus, it’s going to be difficult for people to find a place to rent, if they have no job, and no source of income, particularly during a time when eviction moratoriums are in effect in many regions.
Even for those with significant savings, I would caution property owners about taking in a renter who has no employment, but asserts that they have plenty of savings and thus can afford to pay their rent. Why? Because the eviction moratorium laws in place in many regions, specifically state that landlords cannot force renters to use their savings to pay rent, if they have lost employment due to the pandemic. What this means, is that someone could move into your unit after having shown you a bank statement proving that they have adequate savings to pay their rent, and then immediately stop paying rent after they move in, stating that government has said that you can’t force them to use their savings to pay rent, and showing you documentation that proves they lost their job due to COVID-19. Now you’re up sh#t creek without a paddle, as the saying goes.
This is just one of the many examples of why property owners need to be capable of adequately thinking things through, before deciding to rent to someone.
Now it may well be that this individual who says he has plenty of savings to pay rent during this time, is quite sincere and will in fact pay the rent. In fact I think that is likely in most cases. But distinguishing the sincere and honest person from the desperate one willing to tell a lie to gain a roof over their head, may be difficult for some, so beware and take care.
Another screening point involves asking about where the renter is living now, and why they are moving. What’s involved in this question, is you wanting to discern whether they are moving and seeking a new place to live for the RIGHT reasons rather than the WRONG reasons. Right reasons would be things like: “My lease is up” or “My roommate moved out and I want to find a new place” or “I’m having conflicts w/ my roommate over coronavirus issues” (You’ll need to ask about the nature of those conflicts, to ensure they won’t replicate in your home). Wrong reasons would be things like, “I got evicted”, or “I found a little spot of mold on the wall and I’m suing my landlord for $100k” or “My roommate pulled a gun on me/was using meth” (Hint: people who have friends with very low functioning type behaviors, tend not to be too healthy themselves), or “I had a nervous breakdown” or “My roommate just tested positive for COVID-19”, you get the picture.
In general, I suggest you be very cautious about renting to anyone who is wanting to move because they are having problems with their current roommate or landlord, unless what they describe sounds like a legitimate “landlord from hell” or “roommate from hell”, or sounds like “Corona-stress”, eg a case of personality conflicts escalating due to stress from people being forced to spend more time together. What you are looking for and want to screen out, is evidence that a prospective renter has poor judgment, and moved into a place without due diligence, or out of desperation.
Because people can lie when they think telling the truth might disqualify them for your rental, it might be a good idea if you ask “key questions” like these on the phone with the individual, rather than by email. Why? Because if you ask these “tricky” questions by email, they will have plenty of time to craft a lie in response, and you won’t be able to detect a written lie as easily as one told on the phone. If you “surprise” a prospective renter with a question asked on the phone, they’ll have no preparation time to craft a lie, so you’re more likely to hear the truth this way.
Sometimes prospective renters will say things when you talk to them on the phone, that seem “odd”, or “out of left field” or which seem too invasive regarding your personal private information. These are warning signs you should consider. For instance, I once had a prospective renter ask me questions which were clearly oriented to uncovering what my screening process was. Why would someone be curious about that? Well, I plugged this persons’ name into Google, and found he’d been sued by a previous roommate/partner for allegedly stealing $200k from that person’s bank account, and then I plugged his name into the local Superior Court website, and found an eviction record for him as well. So a light bulb went on: this person wanted to find out how I screened for renters, because he was trying to come up with a strategy for how to “beat” or game the system, and avoid being screened out, with his eviction history and lawsuit alleging theft of $200k.
Beware the prospective renter who says “you wont’ have any problems with me.” Because you’re likely to have problems with them. I’ve found that the normal average honest person rarely says things such as “you’ll have no problems with me”, because they aren’t even thinking that you’d be thinking you might have problems with them. But those who have good reason to think you might think you’ll have problems with them, are likely to try to reassure you that you won’t. Make sense?
Beware the prospective renter who is very eager to demonstrate that “we’re friends” because they have interests in common with you. While it might seem like a positive to rent to someone with similar interests, you need to be aware of something else that could well be involved when a prospective renter seems overly passionate about pointing out their similarity of interests, to the point of announcing “I can’t get over how similar we are!” or “We think exactly alike”. And that is, that this renter may be subtly trying to influence you, to use not your ordinary methods of screening for renters, but instead rent to someone usingTHEIR preferred methods, namely, their own public relations stunt and to base your decision upon their presentation as twinsies with you . If you feel overly influenced by someone’s campaigning for how great a roommate or renter they would be, it’s likely your intuition has something to teach you here, and there is in fact too much PR and too much campaigning. A good renter simply presents themselves honestly and then lets you make the decision, they don’t try to con you and do a whole sales job number on you about why you should rent to them.
Beware the prospective renter who comes to your house to see the rental, and then makes weird/wacko statements/questions during the tour. You do not want someone who asks if that spot on the wall/wood/furniture is mold or mildew, or a cobweb. You might have cause to be concerned w/ someone whose questions seem primarily to point to trivial issues such as what temperature the thermostat is set at, or what day the trash pickup is, particularly if such questions are in combination with any comments that reveal the renter as not particularly thoughtful when it comes to your own needs. I recently had a prospective renter come to my beautiful house to look at a rental room, and then ask if I lived in my own garage. I was quite taken aback as to why someone would think I lived in my garage, when I had plenty of space in the house to choose to live in, and also as the garage gave no appearance of being anything other than it was: a normal garage. People who say dingaling things during a brief tour, may be helping you out enormously by revealing something not quite right in their mind, and saving you from all kinds of difficulty that you could have if you’d rented to them.
Beware the prospective renter who imposes upon you, isn’t respectful of your time, or does other things that are inappropriate or concerning. For instance, a renter who makes an appointment to see a rental room in your home, then comes over to your house with one or two friends, not having asked in advance whether it was okay to bring someone else. Or a renter who doesn’t show up at the appointed time. Or one who starts snapping photos of your house without asking permission, saying something like “I want my girlfriend to help me decide.”
Beware the prospective renter with too many questions. While it’s a good thing for a prospective renter to be clear about what you are offering, particularly if you are not wanting a lifelong renter, who expects to stay at your property for oh the next 10, 20 years or the rest of their lives, someone who asks what seems like an unusual number of questions, particularly about things that you don’t know or don’t have much control over, could be an indication of someone with unrealistic expectations, or who wants such a perfect fit that you may begin to doubt they only want to stay one month, and suspect them of a secret mission to try to stay for 10 years.
Beware the prospective renter who does not demonstrate enough respect for your own needs, particularly if they are very reasonable ones such as following house rules, or asking to be paid first month rent, last month’s rent and security deposit as move-in costs. I mention this because of two recent visits by prospective renters, both of whom had the opportunity in advance of coming to read what I wrote on my website about payment and understand the move-in costs. After showing them the house, and beginning to talk about payment, I was quite surprised to find both of them balking at paying more than just one month’s rent to move in. Each of them wanted to stay for more than a month: 2-3 months for one, and the other about 6 months. Yet each wanted to pay only for the first month, and one (who had previously argued that she had plenty of money in the bank to pay all 6 months’ rent that she sought) insisted she could not even pay that 2 weeks in advance of move-in, but only at the very moment of move-in. Such a stance at the very least shows a lack of respect for the landlord’s own needs, as well as a shocking degree of unfamiliarity with standard rental process, particularly coming from individuals well into middle-age who have been tenants elsewhere before. There is also the suggestion of bullying or trying to exploit a property owner whom they may view as someone they “have over a barrel” from the results of the pandemic on rental property owners. In fact one of these prospective renters came out and told me directly, as justification for her insistence on paying only one month rent in advance, that she knew that “Airbnb hosts are having a hard time now, so…”
Nope! You NEVER want to rent to anyone who gives any suggestion that they are playing you, or trying to exploit or take advantage of a hardship you or your industry is facing.
As well, I hope all landlords will know this — and if you don’t, you better watch the movie “Pacific Heights” which lays out the problem all so very devastatingly clearly — but you can NEVER let someone into your rental, until you have cash in the bank or in your hot little hand from them. A check in hand is not good enough. That’s what the foolish landlords in Pacific Heights had. But the check was no good, and once the tenant got in, it took them months and huge expense to get him out again.
This means that a renter can pay by check, but they can’t get into your rental until you’ve cashed their check at their bank (which will verify that it’s cleared) or deposited it and verified that it’s actually cleared..which could take a couple weeks.
Beware the renter who reads your house rules and then asks that you make an exception for them. They read that you don’t allow pets, but they have a cute little kitten who is very well behaved, or a tiny dog that never causes problems and is in its crate most of the time anyway, or a pet snake or pet rabbit or pet bird, whatever. When you write up your house rules, make sure that those are actually the rules you want: and know why you are making that rule. Dont’ add rules without knowing why you have them. And if you know why you have a rule, then you don’t’ just allow someone not to follow it, because there was a reason you had that rule.
So for instance, if you don’t want renters with dogs or cats, but are okay with other small animals such as rabbits or gerbils, say so in your rules. But if you understand that people will ask for an inch and take a mile, and bring a gerbil which somehow ends up morphing into a Golden Retriever or German Shepherd dog, then don’t allow any exceptions.
Finally, I suggest that you get some referrals or documentation from the renter, demonstrating that things they have told you are actually true. Eg if they say they are employed, get verification of that. If they are a student, get verification of that.
All in all, when assessing a prospective renter, I suggest you look to see whether their whole presentation is coherent and all the parts of the story make sense when put together as a whole, and that as far as possible, you choose renters who have a clear job/project or set of responsibilities, or clear plan and/or goal, as opposed to a renter whose statements about themselves and their life or interests conflict with each other or who dont’ seem to have a clear trajectory.
People who are lost ships at sea do not make the best renters. These are the “I’d like to rent for a week, or 10 years” kind of people, who don’t really know enough about their life, their plans, their situation, for you to know if they are a fit to what you’re offering.
So these are some tips which I hope might go some way towards saving you from the difficult experience of a bad renter. In sum, “listen to your gut” and follow your intuitive hit about the situation. If in doubt, you might, if you are “woo-woo inclined”, do a Tarot Card reading or get an astrological chart drawn up on whether to rent to a specific person. I suggest that you do not act out of fear or desperation when considering a renter. It’s a far worse thing to end up with a really bad or nightmare renter, than to leave the rental empty for a time.
As this unprecedented global pandemic descends upon us, it’s accompanied by a vast and unprecedented economic calamity. Some businesses will see much more of a devastating hit than others, and those businesses which rely upon air travel, tourism, short term rentals, or are connected with the hospitality or service industries, will be particularly hard-hit. This includes vacation rentals and short term rentals and Airbnb hosting.
The losses we are seeing now, shine a light on an issue that I’ve been concerned about for some time, which is my observation that many property owners, once they amass a certain amount of capital, seem too eager to reinvest those funds into additional properties, and “put my money to work for me.” I think what we are seeing now demonstrates that if you send your money out to work for you, your money might get laid off and fail in the task which you sent it out to do. Your money might disappear.
There are 5 people I’ve known personally who have lost their homes in foreclosure over the last dozen years or so, and each was a terrible tragedy. None of these losses was inevitable: they could all have been avoided with more financial prudence.
In one case (#1), during the 2008 recession, a neighbor couple who owned two houses was having financial problems. They sold one house, but somehow still could not pay their bills. I suggested that they get a roommate or two, as they had space for this. “I wont’ have someone messing up my kitchen”, one of them countered. Well, soon enough they had no kitchen, as the bank foreclosed upon their home.
In another case (#2), a friend who owned his house outright, refinanced and took out a mortgage on his house so he would have some cash. He made foolish decisions with his expenditures, and within a year he lost his home. He then began living in a van.
In two other cases (#3 and #4), two acquaintances who both owned their homes outright, (million-dollar homes in the San Francisco Bay Area) wanted some extra cash, so they refinanced their homes and took out a mortgage. Unbeknownst to them, the lender they were both working with, had a history of engaging in mortgage fraud. According to their statements, they paid the mortgages they owed in a timely way, but the lender claimed they had not paid, and foreclosed on both their homes. One of these friends became extremely distraught and never recovered, and died of a heart attack a couple years later. The other ended up homeless, living in his car, until he moved to Ohio and obtained Section 8 subsidized housing and now lives on welfare in that area.
The 5th property owner (#5) owned a rental home in Berkeley. She did not choose her tenants wisely, ended up with entitled and hostile tenants, foolishly got involved in a heated argument with them, at which point they contacted the city and complained of code violations. The city shut her down, refused to allow her to rent out her property until a few issues were resolved that could have been fixed without much expense. But she was unable to get the tenants, now refusing to pay any rent, out of her home in a timely way, and with the loss in rental income, she became unable to pay her mortgage, and lost the home in foreclosure.
Now, during this pandemic, I’ve read accounts of a number of hosts (#6) who fear losing their properties if they have no income for a few months and are unable to pay their bills. It’s my hope that government relief will come in to forestall that, but even so, these individuals are revealing that they are operating without enough of a cushion of savings.
The problem that all of these people had, was either that they didn’t actually have enough savings or enough of a cushion for the situation they were in (#5, #6) , or that they mistakenly expected things to turn around and their income to be back to normal soon (#1), or that they borrowed/overextended themselves too much, or from the wrong lender (#2, 3 and 4) to accomplish their goals.
There’s a drive in many Airbnb hosts that I’ve seen, and which I feel quite uneasy about, to not be content with a modest business, but to want to buy more and more, and to build “empires”. Building a bigger business isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it should not be done out of an unexamined ego-driven urge to just get more and more stuff, and more and more income. I think too many of us are unthinkingly propelled by an urge to get more and more, while the things that are of real lasting value in life — relationships with our friends and families, spiritual practices, fulfilling hobbies and all that brings us joy in life — ends up pushed to the side. No, building your business bigger and bigger is not in and of itself of any value at all. When we get to the Afterlife, aka “Heaven”, how much money we made and how much stuff we had, will be of no relevance whatsoever, in relation to our Eternal Soul. Rather, with the perspective that we gain once we are there where all truth is revealed, we will realize we’ve been incredibly stupid if that’s all that we focused on in life. Let this instance of a global pandemic help put these matters into perspective.
Let’s be content with a modest income and a modest lifestyle, and be happy that we have enough.
Let me tell you a story about my own situation which illustrates how I assess decisions about whether or not to grow a business.
I own one house, my own house, and rent rooms in my house to Airbnb guests. So this is quite a modest business. Though on paper I could afford to buy a second home and do the same in another house, my own sense of this is that such an investment would be too risky for me as (1) it would take too much of my savings to get started, (2) properties in my area (SF Bay Area) are so high priced in relation to potential rental income one could bring in for them, that only unusually low-priced homes would make sense to use for this purpose, and those are in scarce supply or not near enough to where I live to be practical for me to run. Eg, if you buy a home for which the monthly operating costs are $3000 to $4000, and you can only expect to bring in $3500 to $4500 a month income at the most via rental income, then this is not a viable business model.
At one point my parents, proud of the rental business I’d created within my own house, offered to help me buy a 2nd home to expand my business. I still felt uneasy about this. I would still need to put a significant amount of my own money into the pot, and devote a lot of time, energy and finances to this additional house, particularly if it were a more affordable “fixer-upper”. I did not really see the point of this, when as things were, I was living modestly but comfortably already. I worked, but had sufficient free time now to do the things I liked to do, which was really important, as the things I liked most and which gave most value to my life, were not related to my paid work or my rental business. As I saw it, if I bought another house, I’d have much less free time, so much less of my life would be oriented to doing the things I most enjoyed doing. I’d end up being a slave to my business, locked up in “golden handcuffs”, rather than having a business which supported me to live the life I wanted to have.
As well, I think one clear lesson of this pandemic, is the value of having adequate cash savings. Not assets, not properties, not stock or mutual funds investments, but actual plain old cash. Some people are pretty good at figuring out the best options for investments that will provide a decent return, but I’ve not been so successful at investment. I tried investing a rather small amount in two different “standard” investment options, and lost funds in both situations. Given that I’m also a low-risk person generally, it just began to seem a lot more sensible to leave money in the bank rather than risk losing funds in the hopes of a good return.
Having enough savings to be able to go 3 to 4 months or longer, without any income, would provide a lot of protection now from stress and panic. Many hosts are anxious that they will lose one or more properties or perhaps even their own home, during the economic tsunami that is hitting us now. Few people in my opinion have enough savings. I have a friend who is a homeowner, and is over 70 years old, but he cannot retire because he has no savings. He goes to work every week, (by bus, since he has no car and doesn’t drive) and lives virtually paycheck to paycheck. He literally does not have enough money to tide him over should he come down with an illness that requires him to stay at home for a month. Yet he’s spent a lot of money on foolish things: building an elaborate treehouse in his yard, building a large greenhouse, adding solar panels to his home, buying lots of cute patio furniture and garden decorations that he doesn’t really need. At one point, in order to obtain more cash to spend in more foolish ways, he refinanced his home and now pays an even higher mortgage than previously. I’ve urged him to take in one or two roommates so he would have some additional income in case he can’t work, but he’s refused, as he enjoys living alone. When a shelter-in-place was announced in my area, he was angry and insisted he had to go to work because “who’s going to pay the bills?” a question which he fails to see the irony in, since as he ages, it’s less likely he will be able to continue doing the work he is doing and pay his own bills.
There’s a lot of value in being able to see “the big picture” and look beyond the present moment, and in having sufficient imagination to understand that things might not always be the way they are at present.
Even in ordinary times, the vacation rental and short term rental business is built on unstable ground, as STR regulations have been lacking in many areas, and new regulations have continually been passed which prohibit doing this business in many places. The result of that has been that many vacation rental and STR owners have ended up operating illegally, which is certainly a very risky way to do business. Vacation rentals are oriented to those with disposable income, who can afford vacations and trips, and in times of financial downturn, there are fewer such people.
All in all, I would encourage people to be content with a modest income and avoid feeling compelled to “build an Airbnb empire.” You don’t need an empire: what you do need is time in your life to pursue those activities and passions which bring deep meaning and contentment to your life. Making more and more money is not this.
Since nearly the beginning, Airbnb has had a policy called “Extenuating Circumstances“, whereby guests who would not normally be eligible for a refund when cancelling a reservation (the contract they enterered into has a cancellation policy that doesn’t allow that), are issued a full refund, at the expense of the host, when the guest’s situation fits within a list of approved “extenuating circumstances.” As most hosts are now aware, Airbnb has now expanded this policy to cover virtually all Airbnb reservations, anywhere in the world, from mid-March to mid-April, and perhaps longer, as the pandemic could last until August or beyond.
Even worse, Airbnb has now actually begun to go back to past, completed reservations, those which ended in February or January, and override hosts’ cancellation policies for those and issue unwarranted refunds for those past cancellations. See these videos for info about that:
My argument from the get-go, for many years, has been that this policy is wrong and unfair to the host, and that Airbnb should be selling Travel Insurance to guests, rather than essentially coercing hosts into being unpaid travel insurers.
During this Global Pandemic caused by the coronavirus, which is causing travel and tourism to come to a complete halt, many hosts who feel obliged to fully refund their guests who have to cancel their stays, are saying “If this isn’t extenuating circumstances, then what is?”
Of course it’s true that if there is any Extenuating Circumstances policy, then this situation most assuredly fits within that policy! However, this is the wrong argument. Rather than saying that coronavirus fits Extenuating Circumstances, and that therefore it is correct for Airbnb to fully refund every Airbnb reservation, anywhere in the world, that was set to begin during mid March to mid April, and perhaps for many months beyond mid April, we should be aware that what’s happening now with the devastating tsunami of Airbnb clawbacks of all hosts’ income for a month or more, exposes more clearly than ever before the fundamental unfairness and illogic of the Extenuating Circumstances policy.
The application of Extenuating Circumstances policy has completely destroyed many hosts’ businesses already. It has placed the entire economic burden of the global pandemic on hosts, while completely protecting guests so that they dont’ have one penny of loss. Further, it’s made it virtually impossible for Airbnb hosts to have confidence in keeping any reservation that is on their calendar for the next few months, as all those may end up being fully refunded as well.
These posts on Airbnb’s own Community Center highlight hosts’ great anger with Airbnb’s approach to this pandemic
The Extenuating Circumstances policy was already unfair in “normal times”, and has become exponentially unfair in these unprecedented times. Airbnb has in essence taken the types of situations for which Travel Insurance is designed — flight cancellation, needing to cancel a trip due to illness or a death in the family, even in many cases disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, fire and floods, acts of God — and has, through coercion and rhetoric, forced hosts to financially cover such situations in guests’ personal life, all without being paid any of the premiums that travel insurers are paid.
The rhetoric from Airbnb, which ripples through the host community as well as hosts berate other hosts they view as not “hospitable” enough, is that if hosts really cared about their guests they would have no problem providing these full refunds for guest in the instance of a death in the family, an illness, a sudden gust of wind, a hangnail. So, hosts are being set up to be seen as “haters” if they are not on board with supplying full refunds for what, in practice, has at times been a policy abused by guests enabled by Airbnb to come up with a fiction that they need to cancel for health reasons, when in fact they are cancelling because they found a cheaper place to stay.
Many guests and observers will argue that “Hotels allow a full refund for a cancellation within 48 hrs of arrival.” But hosts are not hotels, which is a concept that many guests, the general public and Airbnb may have trouble comprehending, or in fact not wish to accept. With the exception of a highly unusual situation like a pandemic, hotels could easily get replacement guests. They have high occupancy levels and walk-by business. Hosts in private homes are not in the same situation. A guest who’s been holding a spot in the calendar for many months, has prevented that host from getting other bookings, should not be allowed to cancel at the last minute and get a full refund, depriving that host of needed income. Again, travel insurance could protect both the guest and the host in this situation.
Doing the Math
The situation arising now in the global pandemic, readily exposes the unfair math of this policy of Extenuating Circumstances.
Take the hypothetical host who runs one standalone vacation rental property which brings in $8000 a month in income, and which involves $5000 a month in operating expenses for mortgage, property taxes, insurance, utilities, maintenance, cleaning, and supplies, and for which the average guest stay costs about $1000. Let’s assume the host has about 8 guest stays per month averaging 3 days each.
During this pandemic, which began for the US in mid-March, and is estimated to last until mid-August, this would involve 5 months of lost income for this host, which means $40,000 lost. During this time, his expenses would be $25,000 for the property, perhaps a bit less such as $22,000 if no utilities or supplies are used and no cleaning is needed. Some of those expenses may be deferred as the government sets up economic relief plans for the nation, but they will not be forgiven: these are costs that one way or another, will eventually have to be paid. At the same time, consider that this host likely cannot live on the profit from one vacation rental, and has another job, and that he may have been laid off from that job during this time, for instance a job in retail or the restaurant business.
Compare this $40,000 loss of necessary business income for the host, needed to pay their bills, to that of individual guests, each using the discretionary funds they had available for vacation, each losing about $1000.
Why is it viewed as more laudable and proper, for one host to assume one huge loss, rather than for 40 individual guests to have many smaller losses, particularly as these guests are using funds that are “extra” or discretionary, vacation money that is not necessary income they need in order to survive?
Even a 50/50 refund, where guests were refunded only 50% of their payment, would have been far more fair than refunding them fully.
One of the problems with the ways that Airbnb policy is formed, on this and many other issues, is that this whole business is viewed by the public and by news media, through a heavy bias towards the guest. It’s guest complaints about interpreting a decline as an instance of racial discrimination, not host complaints about guests using racist language, which are featured in the news media. It’s guest complaints about not getting a refund, which are given prominence in online blogs and media, not hosts’ complaints about being forced to accept guests whose real name and photo are being intentionally hidden from them. It’s guests’ complaints about having to pay a high cleaning fee, not host’s anger that they were not reimbursed for damages or vandalism by the guest, which the news media seems to prefer reporting. So the whole way the hosting business is perceived and represented to the general public, unfortunately plays into a bias towards guests, and supports Airbnb creating policy reflecting that bias.
That said, keep in mind that one focus of identity politics and the “social justice” movement, is to expose “unconscious bias” and various types of bias. Are some types of bias deemed acceptable, such that we’re not only not expected to question them, but we’re expected to support these biases?
Over the years I’ve observed many hosts making illogical arguments about this and other Airbnb policies. Their arguments do not come from an objective assessment of what seems right or wrong, but are arguments based on what these hosts think is reasonable to expect that Airbnb will do. Such arguments are wholly illogical, and are much like saying to Sally, who’s complaining that she’s been abused by her elementary school teacher, “Well you’re only a student and he’s the teacher and has more authority so what do you expect? Just shut up because it’s not reasonable to expect an adult to change their ways based on the complaint of a child.”
So here’s a clue for those who dont’ see the flaw in this argument: unethical acts are not automatically right and justifiable just because you think you don’t have any power to change them.
These are some of the illogical or fallacious arguments used to support Airbnb’s Extenuating Circumstances Policy
#12, Appeal to Tradition (“Extenuating Circumstances policy has been in place from the beginning therefore it must be right.” )
#14, the Argument from Consequences (“If we didn’t personally refund the guests, they might have a medical emergency and not get their money back, and that would be wrong” )
#17 Argument from Inertia (“It would be too hard to drop Extenuating Circumstances now, therefore it’s only logical to continue it”)
#19 Argument Ad Baculum (“You have to agree with our Unfair and Unethical Terms and Conditions, or you can’t use our platform” is an example of this illogical argument.
#23 Bandwagon Fallacy(“Most hospitality providers will issue full refund for last minute cancellations, therefore you should.”)
#27 Blind Loyalty (“Airbnb policy is that Extenuating Circumstances apply, therefore they apply!”)
Perhaps by examining the list of logical fallacies, you can find even more that pertain to this issue.
There is a strategic and likely quite intentional reason why Airbnb has a bias towards guests. This becomes more obvious when one listens to hosts wishing there were another Short Term Rental platform they could join and support, which was more fair and gave hosts more power to run their own business, develop their own policies, and not have their business contracts meddled with or overidden by a third party. Imagine there were another STR platform seeking to compete with Airbnb, which promised hosts a lot more power to run their own business. So that one was not as heavily biased towards the guest. Now, between that new platform and Airbnb, which one do you think most guests would prefer to use? And therein you see the problem. Unless there’s a real boycott of Airbnb and a move towards another viable platform, guests will tend to prefer the platform that gives them the most.
Yet with hosts’ businesses being destroyed around the globe by this pandemic, it just may be that one result is Airbnb ending up with less power over hosts than it had before, as hosts will be increasingly unlikely to want to fill their calendars with bookings that may well represent illusory income.
Airbnb Automated presents his thoughts that this pandemic could “very well be the end of Airbnb”
He thinks that if hosts take Airbnb to task for clawing back all our income for recent cancellations, this could bankrupt them if they are ordered to pay us back.
UPDATE: On March 30 2020, Brian Chesky, CEO Of Airbnb, addressed hosts and said that Airbnb would be giving hosts 25% back for their cancelled reservations which were cancelled in accordance to Extenuating Circumstances applied to the coronavirus pandemic from March 14 and later.
The problem for many hosts is that Airbnb did not even follow its own updated Extenuating circumstances policy, and gave full refunds to guests who cancelled BEFORE March 14 2020.
As those of you who are hosts will have realized by now, Airbnb and other short term rental guests can have a lot of fears and anxieties that unfortunately it can become our duty to try to mitigate.
Some are afraid of public transit or cabs, and so are asking us to drive them around instead of getting an Uber ride.
Some are afraid of pets, and though we dont’ have any, they want us to ask the neighbor to put away her dog or cat.
Some are afraid of other kinds of people, and if they come to our neighborhood and see those, they might next be seen running to the phone calling Airbnb, asking to cancel and get a full refund, alleging that we failed to disclose that we live in a dangerous neighborhood.
But perhaps the most difficult type of guest fear or anxiety, is the one that has to do with the Planet Earth. Namely, the guest who is afraid of Nature itself: of plants, animals, insects, falling leaves, the sound of rain, all manner of things that unfortunately do exist on Planet Earth.
Now some of you may think I’m being a smartass here, and that no one could really be afraid of the Earth itself, or Nature. Well, if you think that, perhaps you have not been an Airbnb host for sufficiently long.
Here are some of the situations I have had with guests:
(1) A guest who insisted that I come to her aid because there was “something” on the bed in her room. From the sound of it she thought it was a dangerous bug. I went in, discovered that there was a dry leaf on her bed, which had fallen from the houseplant on the wall nearby.
(2) A guest who insisted that I help her, because there were “spiders” in her room. I went in, cleaned the entire room a second time, finding no spiders. Then, she complained there was “dust.”
(3) A guest who complained to Airbnb that the room was not clean, sending them a photo of a tiny spot on the baseboard in the corner, and a photo of a spiderweb located outside the house, in the yard.
(4) Several guests who complained that there was wildlife in the yard of my house, animals which normally exist in nature.
(5) A guest who complained that, when it rained, she could hear the “pitter pat” sound of rain falling.
(6) A guest who complained about a bush in my yard, that it had not been adequately pruned.
(7) A woman who complained that, in fruit season, there was fruit on my fruit trees, some of which fell off these trees.
(8) A guest who complained that, in fruit season, there was wildlife in the yard, wildlife of the kind that is normally drawn to fruit trees in fruit season.
(9) A guest who, seeing flies in the yard, complained that “a bunch of flies will land on my food” and bought poisonous insect spray and began spraying it around in my yard without my permission, a yard where I grow organic produce.
(10) A woman who complained that part of a bush touched her body when she walked down the walkway.
(11) A guest who, when she checked out, explained about the books she had left all over the floor — books from my bookcase in the room — saying “there was a large spider in the room, that’s why the books are on the floor.”
(12) Two guests who lied and claimed that local wildlife, which I’ve only ever seen outsidemy house in the yard, were inside the house, in their rooms, no less.
Some of you may find some of these incidents hard to believe, but I assure you this is some of what hosts are dealing with, with some Airbnb guests. One can very well understand a fear of things that really are dangerous or which can be signs of infestations, such as poisonous animals, bedbugs, roaches. But none of the situations in my house or with my guests involved such things. It was rather their encounters with one or two harmless insects inside the house, or with wildlife outside the house, that caused them so much consternation. The situations in my house, involved creatures which were naturally present in their natural environment. .
And more, I live in a mild urban area, where the amount and type of wildlife is pretty mild in every sense, not in one of those areas of the world that really have critters, like Alaska or Australia.
We are put in the very awkward position, that we are expected to to some extent, make nature not exist, for those who are afraid of it. Even if a host were able to “guarantee” that “you will not encounter any insects, animals or wildlife” at my house, do you really want to try to do that? Do you really want to be forced to go to war with Nature, to kill off natural creatures, use poisons, have no fruit trees, or even, have no yard, just because you have a guest who has an irrational fear of the Earth? And more, if you dont’ want to try to provide a “natureless experience” for those who are afraid of the earth, do you want to risk losing your income, if the guest lies to Airbnb and claims that there were “dangerous” animals or you had a “dirty” house because there was nature in the yard, such that she argues, she should be entitled to extenuating circumstances and get a full refund?
This has happened to many hosts — an ant in a corner, even a tiny speck in a photo that you can’t quite tell what it is, a smudge or an ant — guest sends this photo to Airbnb claiming some great danger — bedbug, black mold — and gets a full refund, apparently no questions asked about their lies.
The situation is potentially worse for those hosts who have rural homes, ranches or farms, as guests who are uncomfortable with or unfamiliar with how to deal with nature, will have an even harder time in those surroundings. And though you might think that people would use common sense and not book in a place where they will not be comfortable, that is not the way things work in the Airbnb world. Instead, too often people book based on a fantasy that may be prompted by one of the photos, and ignore the reality in the listing description. And so, Airbnb guests have been kicked and clawed by large domestic fowl, have booked at working farms and stolen produce, complained about farm animals when on a farm stay.
How can hosts protect themselves against this? One way that might help, is to be very clear in your listing description that NATURE is present at your home, and that you do not want guests at your home for whom this is a problem. And then provide some details about NATURE and list the kind of nature they might encounter.
Perhaps all Airbnb guests who possess an unnatural, paranoid fear of the earth, should have a special badge that appears on their Airbnb profile, warning hosts away from allowing them to book a stay with a yard:
Better yet, these guests could be required to bring their protective gear with them, everywhere they stay:
There may come a unpleasant time in the course of being a short term rental host, when you have to evict a guest. This is probably the kind of situation that is hardest for hosts and which all of us hope we never have to deal with. The guest may have engaged in absolutely unacceptable, even dangerous or criminal behavior. The guest may have vandalized the premises or had an illegal party. They may have booked for 3 people, and brought 100 people into the property. The guest may be a squatter, trying to overstay their reservation.
Note and disclaimer: I am not an attorney, and nothing written here should be construed as legal advice. When engaging in any eviction, even of a short stay guest, I strongly suggest that you first consult with an attorney well versed in laws about transient occupants in your particular area of the world.
If the guest is one you got from one of the STR platforms, such as Airbnb, I strongly suggest that you involve the platform, eg, call Airbnb for help. They wont’ send someone over to evict your guest, of course, but they may speak to the guest and help encourage them to leave. This is the very best way to resolve this kind of situation that will put you at least risk.
In terms of evicting guests, the important distinction to be aware of, is the difference between a “tenant” and a “guest“, aka a “transient occupant“. A tenant is someone who has a legal right to the property, which in the US generally occurs because the term of their rental period is 30 days or more. In some places in Europe, if a person is renting a room in a private home, they never have “tenants’ rights”, but in the US generally they would if they are renting for more than 30 days. In contrast, a hotel guest or transient occupant, is someone who is staying less than 30 days, and this type of person does not have “tenant’s rights”, including the “right” to stay in the unit beyond the check out date.
There are other criteria too which may serve to distinguish a tenant from a guest, such as: (1) the renter receives mail at the property (this can establish tenancy), (2) the renter is the one paying for utilities directly, (3) the renter has no permanent address elsewhere (this then suggests, in terms of screening, that you do not accept guests who are in the process of moving, as they may claim to have “moved into” your unit) , (4) the renter has a “substantial amount” of personal belongings at the property (this then should lead hosts to have rules limiting how many belongings guests can bring in, eg, at most 2 or 3 suitcases…no furniture, no appliances, etc) . By contrast, things that suggest the renter is a transient occupant, include that (1) owner has keys and right of access, eg to clean the unit, (2) owner is responsible for cleaning the unit. (3) the renter is paying occupancy taxes for their stay, which are only charged for short term stays, not rentals of 30 days or more.
See these articles and some of those below for more information about the distinction between tenant and transient occupant:
Something that many of you will note when you do research on this topic online or look for legal information, is that the laws on this matter were written before Airbnb hosting became a big thing, so you’ll find that laws keep mentioning “hotels and motels” and you’ll wonder where you fall into that, since you are not a hotel. This is confusing, and these laws really need to be updated to clarify that they apply not just to standard hotels/motels, but also to private homeowners who are operating “like a hotel” in the sense that they have people paying to stay for short term stays, and/or that these guests are paying occupancy taxes, which do NOT come into play for standard tenancies or long term stays. Unfortunately, things are made much more difficult for short term rental hosts when they cannot find out information about what laws apply to them.
Generally, when the guest does not have tenant’s rights, then the host/innkeeper may do what is termed a “self-help eviction”. This may not be true in all locales, so please check with an attorney in your area to see if it is permitted in your area.
A “self-help eviction” means that you can evict the guest without having to go to court. And it should be obvious that any hotel or motel would be at risk of being quickly put out of business, if they had to go through a long, drawn-out, expensive months-long process to evict every guest who paid to stay 1 or 2 days, and refused to leave. So, a 2 day reservation does not get to magically turn into an opportunity to freeload for many months while the slow wheels of the court system grind ’round.
Rather, in regions where a “self help eviction” of a short term stay guest is permitted (and ONLY where this is permitted) the host or innkeeper may remove the guest themselves, generally by locking them out of the space and packing up and removing their belongings. These belongings must be held for them so they can come pick them up, but in some regions, the belongings may be sold to pay for any debt owed by the guest. Note that you cannotjust pack their things up and set them outside on the porch or at the curb, you have to take care with their property and keep it in a secure place for them.
This article lists some of the reasons short stay guests are evicted and how the eviction is done. Note that this is oriented to hoteliers or innkeepers, but keep in mind, as is often the case when reading laws about short term stay guests, these laws were written before Airbnb hosting rose, and hosts are very similar if not identical to innkeepers in ways that some believe make these laws applicable:
It’s generally best to involve the police and have the police remove the overstaying guest, however, bear in mind that because Airbnb hosting is relatively new, and the laws on the matter mention “hotels” but not private homes where short term rentals are done, as well as because in many areas tenants’ rights are powerful and police can be sued for evicting a legal tenant, you might find that when you call the police, the police will refuse to help. This is likely in the areas of the nation with the strongest tenant rights, such as coastal California.
Sorry but I wont’ do my job because I’m scared I might be sued.
In addition to locking out a short stay guest, because that person has no “tenant’s rights” or rights of possession to the property, the host can in some placeswhere self-help evictions are permitted, use many other methods to remove the person, that would not be allowed to be used if the renter were a standard tenant, such as: shutting off all utilities, removing the front door from the unit, removing all the furniture from the unit including the bed and all bedding, entering the unit while the guest is in there and starting to clean it and start to pack up guests’ belongings if they don’t pack up themselves, or, last but not least, my favorite, creative fun such as invite all your friends over to the unit, start having a party in the unit and a slumber party sleepover. This latter may be more of a fantasy suggestion than actually practical, but short term rental hosts often need a laugh.
However, again, please keep in mind, that such actions are ONLY legal where the host has the legal right to enter the premises and do to a self-help eviction, and not in cases/regions where these things are not allowed or are not the case.
Remember, in general, though not always, for transient, short-term rental occupants, in a “hotel-like” or innkeeper types situation, the property belongs to you, the guest has no right to remain after checkout, and as indicated below by laws in some states, if they stay even 10 minutes past checkout they are trespassing and can be arrested by the police.
Keep in mind though if you decide to confront and evict the guest, or occupy their unit or pull all furniture out — please bear in mind the kinds of people you are dealing with and what they are capable of, and be prepared for this. Particularly if you have a professional scammer/squatter, what you don’t want to do, is go in as an unprepared welterweight into a heavyweight boxing match. You could be assaulted. Don’t ever get into a physical altercation with anyone! You could end up being arrested by the police if the guests are smart enough to tell the lies or “spin” the situation or produce the fake or doctored documents that would result in this. So be very cautious about direct confrontations.
For instance, someone who is a short term guest who rented from you for 2 days, might refuse to leave and when you call police to have them removed, produce fake documents saying they’ve rented the unit for 6 months. What will you do then? The problem in many locales, is that this might then become a “civil matter” which means, you could have to file an eviction lawsuit and go through a whole long court process to get the person out. So it may behoove you to have documents showing the person is a short term guest.
Just like it’s important to have a good sense of people’s character when you screen guests to decide whether to accept them, it’s also important to be a good judge of character to manage a guests’ stay, and particularly when considering evicting a guest. Those who are pro scammers in particular are likely to be tough-skinned, nasty, people capable of pouring a torrent of abuse and threats on anyone who confronts them.
As well, if you enter the property when the short stay guests are there, you should never break into the property, because this would allow them to potentially call police and allege that a crime such as a home invasion robbery or burglary is taking place. Keep in mind as well, a short stay guest may misrepresent themselves and/or their rental, and claim they are a long term tenant, in order to try to curry favor from the police and exploit tenant’s rights (which do not apply to short stay guests) to their advantage.
And on that note, the general theme here, which I’ve continued to underscore in many of my articles, is that, unlike what Airbnb would like people to think when it tries to portray hosting as a simple and easy way to make money, the rental property business is not a business for amateurs. If you don’t know what you are doing, don’t do it. If you don’t know the law or have not consulted with an attorney, do not take rash action.
We see a lot of stories on the host groups of people getting a false sense of pride when they have nothing but a string of great guests, imagining that they now know everything there is to know about hosting. But then the really bad guest comes and they have no idea what to do, and flail around wildly, and this could result in their hosting business suddenly sinking like a ton of bricks.
Here are some resources I found online when searching for information on legal issues about evicting guests in different parts of the USA:
Indeed, except as otherwise provided by statute, an owner who rents to a lodger need not resort to unlawful detainer procedures to evict a lodger. A lodger who breaches his or her contract with the proprietor is a trespasser and may be ousted without prior notice. [Roberts v. Casey (1939) 36 CA2d Supp. 767, 775, 93 P2d 654, 659]
Unlike landlords, owners may obtain possession by “self-help” (e.g., locking the premises) if able to do so without physical force. This is important — an owner can lock out a lodger at check out time as long as they do not use force to do so.
Not using force, means, I believe, not using physical force. You cannot assault a guest and shove them out or physically pick them up and remove them. You cannot threaten them with physical harm if they don’t leave.
This is an article by the California Lodging Association which is quite helpful:
Read section s in that law, as follows, which defines a guest as a trespasser if they are:
(s) Refusing or failing to leave a hotel or motel, where he or she has obtained accommodations and has refused to pay for those accommodations, upon request of the proprietor or manager, and the occupancy is exempt, pursuant to subdivision (b) of Section 1940 of the Civil Code, from Chapter 2 (commencing with Section 1940) of Title 5 of Part 4 of Division 3 of the Civil Code. For purposes of this subdivision, occupancy at a hotel or motel for a continuous period of 30 days or less shall, in the absence of a written agreement to the contrary, or other written evidence of a periodic tenancy of indefinite duration, be exempt from Chapter 2 (commencing with Section 1940) of Title 5 of Part 4 of Division 3 of the Civil Code.
Also, make use of information shared on the Airbnb Community Center on the topic of Evicting a guest. When I searched under that phrase, I found these posts among others:
All in all, an overstaying guest is a rare thing in the hosting world. It is probably more common for hosts to have to evict guests for egregious behavior, such as having a loud illegal party with dozens of unpermitted visitors, or using illegal drugs. Take great care though that if you need to evict someone whose reservation is still in place and has not ended, that you do so carefully, generally with help from Airbnb, so that the guest doesn’t complain to Airbnb alleging improper behavior by you. For instance, one host, actually a Superhost, had her account deactivated by Airbnb after she kicked some “methhead” guests out of her listing.
When I went to take photos, I saw hundreds of syringes, butane bottles and spoons, and being a woman that lives alone, it scared the hellout of me, I was scared for my safety, and did not feel safe at all, so I gathered their things which wasn’t a lot, and put it outside, cancelled the reservation and left them a message telling them that I didn’t feel comfortable hosting them anymore. I only went into the bedroom because the airbnb host that I was talking to told me to take photos. These guests were obviously abusing the Open Homes program, and they were freebasing pronbably meth in my home. Once Airbnb permantly deactivates your account, you no longer can sign in or get support. Its ridiculous. I can’t beleive that I did something kind out of the bottom of my heart, and was treated this way by Airbnb.
It’s horrendous that any host would be deactivated for taking what seems like a reasonable approach to protecting her own home and safety, and for Airbnb to be more concerned about the “rights” of guests who are doing illegal drugs in a hosts’ home, than for that host, is a troubling situation. But this case underscores the importance of making plans about potential problem situations beforethey actually occur, so that, in the midst of a “crisis” situation you experience, you don’t end up doing something that can get you in trouble.
As a smart host, you do not ever want to be reflexively taking rash action in a panic mode. As I’ve said dozens of times in various articles and on host community groups, it’s best not to get into this business at all if you have not thought things through and/or done the research to know what you are doing. And knowing what you are doing means, among other things, planning what you’ll do if you end up with a bad situation like a guest you need to evict. Plan for this now, when it’s not happening to you, so that if it ever does happen, your plan will snap into place, and you wont’ have to spend days or weeks doing research and making emergency phone calls when in the midst of a crisis.
Though Airbnb generally doesn’t provide any reason when they terminate a host (it should be illegal to not provide a reason, and in Europe with its GDPR rules, it likely is illegal), I suspect that what got this host in trouble was putting the guest’s belongings outside the house, in an insecure location. When evicting someone, as you’ll note when reading any of the info about hotels evicting guests, you can confiscate their things but you must store their belongings securely for them to pick up later. You can’t just throw their belongings away or put them outside where they could be stolen.
Further: regarding getting the police to help you.
Some people may not realize it, but police are not obligated to help us at all. They have NO legal obligation to protect citizens. Of course, police usually do respond when called, but though this may seem unjust or strange to you, they are not legally obligated to do so. For more information about this see here:
Many people dont’ realize this and tend to think of police as Big Daddy who will always be there to protect us. But it’s precisely because police are not legally obligated to protect us, that many people have guns, because if the police take too long to arrive or dont’ come at all, it’s really up to you to protect yourself.
No Self Help Eviction allowed with Standard Tenants!!
Finally, it must be underscored, that if you are dealing with a long term rental, and a standard tenant, you absolutely cannot do any form of “self-help eviction” as these are quite illegal in such instances.!! In fact if you do try to do a “self-help eviction” on a renter with tenant’s rights because they have contracted for a long term stay, you could end up in a world of trouble, as indicated in this story about a California Airbnb host who was arrested by police and charged with several crimes after trying to break into a listing where there were people she’d apparently entered into a long term contract with.
Note that it doesn’t matter if there is a written contract for the long term rental — any intent to rent to someone for long term, and any agreement, even if only verbal, is sufficient to give them tenant’s rights, even if they have only stayed one stay and never paid you a dime. It’s important, for that reason, to screen renters very carefully, and if you do take long term stays — which I generally do not recommend that short term rental hosts do — you never let someone set foot on the premises before they have paid the entire amount required to move in and gain possession.
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?
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?
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
or even just to say “hi” and then disappear.
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.
The joking got more frequent and eventually became a tradition of this particular group.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.