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1984 in 2018: Government Data Grabs, Privacy and the US Constitution

One of the big issues for short term rental hosts not only around the nation in the United States, but also around the world, is the issue of privacy, namely the privacy you expect to have when you do business with any particular corporation or entity, or sign up on a website or put an ad on a platform like Airbnb, HomeAway, or Craigslist.

As we’ve seen, more and more cities are passing short term rental regulations, often out of concern either about disruptions to the neighborhood caused by “party houses” (though cities generally already have laws about noise), or about rental units being taken off the market and turned into short term rentals.  After they pass these short term rental laws, they often discover that the laws are difficult to enforce.  This is less the case in small towns and rural areas where people know most of their neighbors, and more the case in larger cities where, when a host puts a listing on an STR (short term rental) platform, but does not include any info in the listing which would help identify which structure it is (eg, they do not have a photo of the front of the house or building), the city, if they want to investigate all short term rentals, would have a difficult time figuring out where all the properties are.

Many of us, myself included, do not really see how it is a problem that the city cannot identify every single short term rental in its jurisdiction.   If any particular listing or property is causing problems in the neighborhood — for instance with noise or parties, bad behavior by guests — don’t you think the neighbors would complain to the city and be able to identify the property?  Of course they would.  So, no city is going to have difficulty enforcing laws on noise or disturbance, or short term rentals, on a property which is bringing problems to a neighborhood.

It’s the rentals which are NOT creating problems in the neighborhood, where the city may have difficulty enforcing its short term rental laws.  But here, it is quite legitimate to ask, even I would say very important to ask — if a particular property is not causing any problems to the neighborhood, why would the city need to be involved? Why are some cities becoming big bullies, obsessed with trying to track down on every single host and ensure that every city ordinance is being obeyed to the jot and tittle of the law?

Big Brother and man running
For surely, one could point out, there are many laws that people are not obeying, in whole or in part, so why are cities so overly focused on this one?  The double standards or hypocrisy about following the law can be perhaps seen in sharpest relief when looking at a city like San Francisco, which is a “sanctuary city”, priding itself on protecting none other than those who have broken federal law and come into the United States illegally.  Given such a stance, one might expect that San Francisco might have a laissez faire attitude towards many other things, as would befit a city which figured so largely into the 1960’s Flower Children culture.  But no, as regards anything to do with housing, the city of San Francisco becomes very controlling, and has now forced Airbnb to essentially partner with the city, and mandate host registration with the city on Airbnb’s own website.  No one can set up an Airbnb listing for short term rentals in San Francisco without going through the process to register with the city.

Many other cities would like to follow suit and coerce Airbnb to partner with them and their law enforcement efforts.  But there are few places where a city’s demands on Airbnb are as extreme as in New York City.  There, the city has set up the ominous-sounding,  Orwellian-sounding “HomeSharing Surveillance Ordinance”, by which it seeks to accomplish a massive, and apparently massively unconstitutional, bald data grab.  Airbnb has now been forced to sue New York City in order to obtain injunctive relief and stop the data grab.  You can also see the Airbnb lawsuit against New York City here:

Airbnb Sues NYC over data grab

The Homesharing Surveillance Ordinance requires homesharing platforms to turn
over an unprecedented amount of intimate personal data about their New York City hosts and whom they invite into their homes each month to a government enforcement agency—the Mayor’s Office of Special Enforcement—that works shoulder to shoulder with private investigators hired and paid by the hotel lobby. No probable cause, notice, or legal review is contemplated in connection with the bulk collection of this data, and no real restrictions are placed on its use or dissemination. As such, the Ordinance is an unlawful end-run around established restraints on governmental action and violates core constitutional rights under the First and Fourth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 12 of the New York Constitution, as well as the
federal Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2701 et seq

New York City is attempting to force Airbnb to provide it ALL private information on ALL hosts in the city.   The city is even demanding that Airbnb provide it with the bank account information of every host in the entire city!  

the Homesharing Surveillance Ordinance requires that the platform turn
over to the City’s enforcement agency on a monthly basis:

a. the address of the residence;
b. the full legal name, address, telephone number, and email
address of the host;
c. the specific identifiers (name, number, and URL) of both the
home and the host on the homesharing platform;
d. a statement of when and how the residence was occupied;
e. the total number of days the residence was rented;
f. the fees received by the platform; and
g. if the platform collects rent, the amount paid and host bank
account information.

To be sure, governments will justify such bald and overreaching data grab attempts, by stating that these are for a good purpose, the purpose of preserving housing. But the purpose of or motivation behind any violation of constitutional protections is totally irrelevant. There are multitudes of “good purposes” out there, and every day we see violent criminals protected by their constitutional rights, at the cost of public safety and security. The desire to keep rental units from being taken off the market may be a good goal, but like any other government endeavor, this work has to be accomplished legally. Moreover, as statistics demonstrate, New York City’s obsession with short term rentals is illogical: the number of short term rentals in the city amounts to only 0.8% of all housing in the city.

City Council members and other State and City officials claim that this extreme
governmental surveillance is somehow necessary because housing is being taken off the market illegally for use as short-term rentals and thereby driving up housing costs. As of June 1, 2018, however, there are only about 28,000 “entire home” Airbnb listings spread across New York City—approximately 0.8 percent of New York City homes. Moreover, 95% of hosts listing an entire home on Airbnb have only a single home offered—hardly a threat to the City’s housing
stock.

It’s very likely that a number of those units being offered as short term rentals, would NOT be offered as long term standard housing, if they could not be used as short term rentals. Many of these are the principal residence of the host. Even if all of those units would theoretically be returned to the rental market if they were not listed as short term rentals, that would add very little to the total housing stock, and again, does not justify the excessive fixation on this issue.

I want to suggest another possible theme in this story — it seems to be quite possible, that at least in modern times, and at least with matters which are not criminal in nature, city governments may not have previously seen the scale of noncompliance with city ordinances, which we are seeing in many cities with regard to short term rentals. This mass-scale noncompliance, which is more extensive in some cities than others, may be a new phenomenon. Petty bureaucrats in general do not like to see the flaunting of their authority, so the large scale of noncompliance that is occurring in some municipalities, may push their petty-bureaucrat buttons.'Maybe if your buttons weren't so big, Mel, people wouldn't be so inclined to push them!'

Whereas some cities have wisely responded to the short term rental movement by saying “let’s not pass laws that make outlaws out of a majority of those doing short term rentals” others take a less sensible approach, and come out bashing with super-duper enforcement teams, police and firefighters going knocking door to door and demanding entrance to private homes, or assessing mind-boggling excessive fines in the stratosphere, thousands of dollars per day, for breaking short term rental laws.  Miami Beach apparently has the highest fines for doing unpermitted short term rentals: they assess initial fines of $20,000 for a violation  —  they passed a new ordinance in 2016 raising the first violation fine for a resident caught renting short-term to $20,000. Each subsequent fine increases by another $20,000 and can be as high as $100,000.  The city of Miami Beach is now, appropriately, being sued over these appallingly excessive fines.

Image result for US constitution

Our privacy online, and in relationship to companies we do business with, is a theme of increasing importance these days, as the GDPR in Europe has demonstrated, and as we have seen with regard to Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. Ironically, even a FaceBook smartphone app specifically touted as offering privacy protections to users, was rejectec by Apple when it was discovered that this “privacy app” itself violated users’ privacy!!

I actually do not understand how many things that corporations do online are allowed to be done, as they seem clear privacy violations. For instance, what we call “cookies” (where did such an inappropriate name come from?) — isn’t it clear that “cookies” is simply a bald attempt to spy on those accessing a particular website, which allows those owning that site, to track and see which other websites the user visits? This is out and out spying, and I can’t see how this can be permitted. My browsing history should not be information available to any website that I visit.

I wish more people would appreciate the importance of privacy and our constitutional protections from government intrusion, because without enough value for these protections, there is risk we could lose them. It’s not just the laws of our nation which protect us, but our valuing of those laws.

Image result for the price of liberty is eternal vigilance

Often, I’m actually shocked by how little appreciation some have for their liberty and privacy.  In response to posts about government overreach, for instance, it is not uncommon in a host group to see a host respond, “Well, I’m obeying the law, so I have no reason to be concerned if the government wants all this data.”

I have this image in my mind, of government agents going door to door, demanding to be allowed into private homes “just to look around and see if we find anything”, and our many virtue signalling citizens being completely fine with this massive illegal invasion, saying in reply, “Well, fine, go ahead, this just gives me an opportunity to demonstrate how righteous I am that I have nothing to hide, compared to those hosts over there who I think might be breaking the law!”  Really, the eagerness to demonstrate one’s own virtue seems to be on the verge of becoming just that eager to condemn others, that it would turn a blind eye to loss of fundamental liberties if the maintenance of the show of virtue could be supported thereby.  Image result for virtue signalling images

The lack of concern for violations of the US Constitution is mind-boggling.    It sometimes seems to me that various forms of virtue-signalling and taking pride in how righteous one is, how politically correct, or how obedient one is to whatever current laws are, is blinding people to the threat to liberty taking place in various forms of government overreach.  We live in a society where virtue signalling has become so big, and so important, that it really figures largely into many facets of the Democratic party and its programs.  This is pushing us all to a dangerous failure to be concerned about protecting our freedom and liberty.

As the Supreme Court has recognized, “when it comes to the Fourth Amendment,
the home is first among equals. At the Amendment’s ‘very core’ stands ‘the right of a man to retreat into his own home and there be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion.’” Florida v. Jardines, 569 U.S. 1, 6 (2013) (quoting Silverman v. United States, 365 U.S. 505, 511 (1961)). Indeed, “the overriding respect for the sanctity of the home . . . has been embedded in our traditions
since the origins of the Republic.” Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 590 (1980). The Homesharing Surveillance Ordinance is inconsistent with these fundamental principles.

As well, however, the threat to one’s livelihood can unfortunately too easily result in placing more value on self-preservation, than on preserving freedom and liberty in the nation as a whole. It’s become apparent through conversation with hosts in some of the cities where Airbnb has (unwisely, in my view) offered to partner with the city and help the city police its own laws, that some hosts view this lasso-ing of private companies into the law enforcement business, as necessary for their own ability to do business.  They feel that if the city isn’t given what it wants, then their city may ban all short term rentals, which could be ruinous for them.  When I bring up the unconstitutionality or loss of privacy issues to some hosts, they simply say things like “I dont’ see what the issue is if Airbnb gives the city the data.  Hosts are supposed to sign up with the city anyway, so the city would have the information anyway.”  This is like saying it’s pretty much the same thing if border patrol agents catch someone crossing the border illegally, or if the government stops people randomly on the street and asks for their ID, or tells the local school district to give them the names of all suspected illegal immigrants, since “it doesn’t matter how they are caught, they shouldn’t be here anyway.”   The methods that are used to obtain information do matter very much if we are to preserve liberty.  For those who only have their own business interests in mind, liberty and privacy may not mean much.  I am suggesting that we need to take a larger view on things than our own self-interest.

There are several areas where I think hosts should be most diligent to protect their own liberties. One is the type of massive data grab attempt highlighted in the situation in NYC. Another is one that could be missed because it seems much more innocuous. Many cities, when passing short term rental laws, stipulate as part of their regulation, that hosts’ homes will need to be inspected prior to the issuance of an STR permit. As I point out in this article, this inspection issue could be much more complicated and even disastrous for hosts than it would seem on its face. It may not be very common, but it does happen in some municipalities, that once government agents or building inspectors are given access to a private home, they go well beyond their legally circumscribed authority therein. It has happened all too frequently that either a power-hungry rogue building inspector, or an entire city building department with too little concern with citizen’s constitutional rights, will engage in a “fishing expedition” when given access to a private home. Hosts renting one bedroom to a guest in their home, who think the code inspector is there only to look for smoke detectors, and required means of egress in a fire, may be shocked to be handed a fine of $2000 to $5000 for unpermitted work done on a detached garage 30 years before they owned the building. These kinds of things have happened, even to those who may have expected that they were exempt from government abuse because of their level of personal righteousness or excellence in virtue signalling.

For instance, hosts in Portland Oregon were disturbed to find exactly this happening to them, when they applied for an STR permit, and disoovered that building inspectors, once granted access to their home, would just start wandering around, looking for anything they could write up and fine the homeowner on. In Oakland California, in 2011 a Grand Jury was convened to look into allegations of widespread abuse by the city’s building department. The Grand Jury report found “an atmosphere of hostility and intimidation toward property owners” by Oakland inspectors and supervisors,and many abuses by the building department. The Grand Jury outlined the problems at length in this report:

http://www.acgov.org/grandjury/final2010-2011.pdf

Or, you can find the report here:

Oakland Building Department investigated by Grand Jury

Back in NYC:  over the past year, a campaign of harassment of hosts has occurred, where many stories have emerged from New York City hosts, about finding that a troupe of multiple government agents is knocking on their door, ostensibly in response to a “complaint.”  Police, fire department staff and building inspectors have demanded to be permitted into many hosts’ homes (smart hosts have refused to grant them entry) and once inside, they have undergone a fishing expedition, looking for issues to cite the host over.  Hosts have emerged with fines or threats of fines, for things not related to hosting.

Suffice it to say, I recommend that when advocating for STR regulations in their city, hosts should oppose any property inspection requirements, and in general I think property owners should be very hesitant to allow government agents onto their properties. There is too much potential for abuse and bullying, and the property owner is at a great disadvantage. Sometimes cities have no appeal process when building inspectors issue fines (that was the case in Oakland) and it can be prohibitively expensive to try to fight back by suing a city for abuse by the building or any other department.  As well, there is little legitimate reason for a city to do home inspections prior to allowing an owner to do short term rentals.  No such inspections are required in order to do standard long term rentals.  As well, given that AIrbnb very readily refunds guests if they have a complaint about the premises where they are staying, any renter who has a concern about the premises can easily get a refund and find another place to stay.

IN conclusion….let’s watch what happens in Airbnb’s lawsuit with New York City, and hope that a precedent is set which persuades New York and other cities not to engage in these massive data grab attempts, and look for other ways to enforce their laws than in engaging in violations of citizen’s constitutional rights.

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Host Advocacy Groups: Problems and Strategies

I haven’t posted an article on here for some time, sorry about my absence, I’ve been busy with some other projects and other websites.

But some events and situations recently crossed my path, which made me realize there’s a need to address host advocacy groups — meaning, political advocacy groups where hosts organize to promote their own interests in various cities, and sometimes at the county or state level.  What I’ve noticed, over the years, is that two things are true:  (1) hosts would do well to organize to advocate for and promote their own interests, particularly when cities begin to create short term rental regulations and may be proposing regulations which have one or more elements which are not good for some or all hosts.  (2) hosts should be aware of and prepare for the fact that when cities propose and then pass short term rental regulations, this can lead to multiple different types of problems, which hosts would do well to be prepared for.(I outline 9 specific problems I have encountered or heard of from others, at the end of this article)

I have seen this many times, both in terms of what I’ve read about in news articles about host groups, and also in host groups I participate in, where I’ve heard directly from hosts involved about infighting or group breakdown that can occur when hosts who may begin as a unified coalition, discover that really they have different goals or interests, and there can be unpleasant experiences when they divide.  Sometimes, there can be power issues, where different leaders emerge in the host community, each claiming to represent the hosts in their region.

All in all, I think that what we see is that as the pressure of laws and regulations is applied by a a city, county or state government, some hosts realize they could be put out of business, or have a much harder time doing their business.    They will be motivated to fight to preserve their business and their income.  Other hosts, alternatively, may feel like they are not threatened, so they are not motivated to fight in the same way, or at all.
As well, different styles will emerge.  Some hosts will have an idea that they should take a certain approach in their advocacy work, others will disagree and want to take a different approach. This can fracture a group.  Sometimes there will be personality conflicts among leaders, and a group that starts out with 3 leaders can break into 2 camps when one leader takes exception to what the other 2 are doing, and breaks away to form their own group.

In sum, even though ideally we would like to think that “as short term rental hosts, we should be able to unite to advocate for our interests and oppose the anti-Airbnb contingent”, the reality is more complex and more imbued with the difficulties that are innate to human nature.  Animosity

It seems to be almost a truism, that if you take a group that on the surface considers itself monolithic and of people with the same orientation, and apply stress and pressure to that group, you’ll be able to turn members against each other,  as different people respond to the pressure by seeking to preserve their own interests or their own self and perhaps willingly throwing under the bus those whom they view as creating an obstacle to their own security or self-preservation.

I am wanting to make hosts aware of this, so that they can anticipate this when they work to organize and advocate on their own behalf.  Also, knowing this in advance can help hosts better organize in ways that allow them to protect themselves from some of the difficulties that can arise as groups fracture or different coalitions develop.

It is not necessarily a problem that groups will fracture and not all hosts will agree.  This may not happen in all regions, but when it does, I think it’s better to allow different groups to develop than to try to suppress division or dissention.  Ideally, if groups with different goals can feely co-exist, they can at least “agree to disagree” , and by being free to go their own way and mutually tolerating each other, they will do better in being able to unite against and establish a collaborative defense against the anti-Airbnb and anti-short term rental groups which would like to destroy them all.

Here are some of the issues as I have seen them.

First, when a large city begins to propose short term rental regulations, it is common for Airbnb itself to try to organize a host advocacy group in that city.  AIrbnb ostensibly does this to help hosts, but realistically we must understand that Airbnb is organizing hosts to promote its own interests, which are to continue to profit by the maximum number of listings in any given area.  So, although the interests of Airbnb and those of the host community can certainly overlap to a considerable extent, their interests are not identical, and hosts should be smart enough to realize this.
One of the things that will happen, when a large city begins setting up short term rental regulations, is that Airbnb will try to coordinate a host group.  They have the big advantage in doing this, because given the limitations for hosts communicating w/ other hosts directly on the AIrbnb platform, it’s easier for AIrbnb to organize hosts than for hosts to organize w/ each other.  AIrbnb can for instance begin contacting hundreds of hosts in any given city by emailing or phoning them, something any one host or group of hosts cannot do.
AIrbnb then will often send a host advocacy liason to actually run the meetings that hosts attend, and will provide handouts and other materials basically instructing hosts how to advocate for themselves, how to interact w/ city council, etc.  Some of this can be helpful, as some hosts have no idea how to go about this, but it can also be problematic when hosts get overawed by being treated to their own personal Airbnb employee rep, and become overly dependent on this Airbnb representative.  THey can fail to do their own planning and strategizing and fail to come up with their own goals.  Ideally, hosts could insist on taking the reins of their own host advocacy group, while appreciating the support from an Airbnb rep assigned to help them.

Second, there may well be divisions in the host community based on the kinds of regulations proposed.  In many cities, proposed regulations would limit or even prohibit hosts from doing short term rentals on entire place listings which are not their own primary residence.  I have seen this become a very divisive area in the host community.  Hosts who are strictly in-home hosts may. out of fear that their city could prohibit all short term rentals, turn against entire -unit hosts (also often called “non-hosted listings, meaning, a listing where the host is not present during the guests’ stay).  They may , wittingly or unwittingly, feel it is in their best interest to “offer up” such listings and hosts to be sacrificed, so that the “greater good” of in-home hosts can be spared.  Suffice it to say that those hosts who do not do in-home style hosting may be unhappy with this turn of events and feel betrayed or sold out.

There are several issues involved in this struggle around regulations that might more negatively impact some hosts than others.  One issue is that, sometimes quite legitimately, some styles of hosting can be viewed as creating more social problems, for instance the large-scale real estate company “host” with dozens to hundreds of listings, which specializes in turning whole apartments into short term rentals.  This type of hosting is very different from the original vision of Airbnb, that of the small property owner, generally a single homeowner or tenant, who welcomes a guest into a bedroom in their own home.  Obviously though, this is not the only type of hosting that is legitimate, and vacation rentals as such have had a long history particularly in vacation destination areas like Lake Tahoe, Big Bear, or around Yellowstone or Yosemite.  Still, in cities where there is a housing scarcity, it is very common for cities to move to disallow property owners from being able to do short term rentals with entire apartments or homes which are not their primary residence.  In areas where the politics is heatedly opposed to “removal of units from the rental market”, it does not actually make much sense for hosts to advocate for the right to do this kind of short term rental, as there is very little likelihood of making any headway on that issue.

However, in areas of the country where this is not an issue, and where there may be a surplus of housing, things are different, and there it does not make as much sense for anyone to vilify hosts who are professional property managers owning multiple buildings and trying to do short term rentals with them all.
Image result for group conflict

On the other hand, some hosts, struggling and perhaps negatively impacted by the increasing number of people becoming hosts and entering the short term rental market, may become very opposed to “large scale operators” in this business, and take exception to anyone advocating on their behalf.  “They are stealing our business/they are hotels”.  There is some legitimacy to this concern as well.

Still other divisions can occur, for instance, some hosts may find themselves privileged to own a home in top order, where all work ever done on the house was done legally with a permit, so they may feel no qualms about a proposal that cities want to inspect every home prior to issuing the owner a permit to do STR.  Other homeowners may realize that either during their ownership of their home, or before they owned it, there was unpermitted work done, and that this issue might arise during an inspection, even though hypothetically, any work done on the detached garage of a house should have no bearing on the rental of a bedroom in the main structure.  Still, it is not unheard of that a government code inspector, once they gain access to a private home, will go on a “fishing expedition” and just wander all over, looking for anything that they can write up and fine the homeowner over.  Actually, this exact problem was occuring in Portland Oregon, after STR regulations there stipulated that all properties should be inspected to get an STR permit.  The inspectors, once in the homes, were just wandering everywhere and “looking for issues” anywhere, in actions that amounted to illegal search and seizure.

A third issue to be aware of, in organizing to advocate for short term rentals, is to consider the context in which your city/county/state is operating.  What are the political forces involved.  Are there powerful tenant groups, complaining that short term rentals “are taking units off the market”?  Are there angered homeowner residents, upset about too many parties in their neighborhood, or commotion and parking issues?  Note too that even a few problems caused by irresponsible short term rental hosts, can have a very damaging impact on future city STR regulations, as I wrote about here.  An awareness of the context, can help host advocates come to realistic goals.  For instance, in a city where there is a “housing crisis” and rents are increasing, it’s rather unrealistic that the city leaders will take the position that short term rentals can be completely unregulated, done on any number of entire units and throughout multi unit buildings.  To get an idea of the different types of short term rental regulations cities might implement, look at this article which showcases 12 different types of STR regulations.  

STR rules in 10 cities

This article, posted on a site that offers cities help in enforcing their STR laws, has 10 different types of STR regulations.

Rifts between Hosts and their Consequences

In any of the above differences between hosts, including the goals that subgroups of hosts have and their desired outcome in the city ordinances,  a very deep rift can develop between these “camps”.   These rifts, and the animosity involved, are I think directly related to the fact that hosts of various kinds find their very livelihood under threat.  No one likes to find themselves faced with the possibility that they will be put out of business.  Everyone wants to preserve their ability to earn an income, to continue with their business.  So the fear of losing all that, leads to the level of passion and the depth of some of the rifts in the host advocacy groups, when other subgroups of hosts may be perceived  — accurately or inaccurately — as posing a direct threat to one’s livelihood.

These rifts can actually even become worse after the host advocacy work is done and the proposed regulations are passed into law, because then the city is faced with the task of enforcement of the law, and new complexities can then develop — and potential for the city cracking down, changing the law, or even prohibiting short term rentals altogether or drastically curtailing them, based on the issues they have with enforcement.

For instance,  if short term rental regulations are passed, and after passage, the city threatens to “crack down” because of the awareness that a number of hosts are continuing to do short term rentals (STRs) with full units, something that the city may have prohibited.  The hosts who view themselves as righteous people obeying the law may feel no qualms in reporting or snitching on the hosts who they feel are threatening their own livelihood by hosting illegally.  This division between hosts who view themselves as the righteous “legal” hosts and those they view as the problematic “illegal” hosts, can also develop along other lines, not just along the lines of in-home or “hosted” listing vs entire place “non-hosted” listing.  It could be along the lines of the host who, after the regulations pass, dutifully registers and gets a permit or license or goes thru whatever process the city stipulates is required now, in order to legally host, versus the hosts who do not fulfill all these legal requirements.  Snitch on lawbreakers

I have seen a number of posts in various host groups where some hosts who have fulfilled all their local region’s legal requirements for hosting, have nothing but contempt for those who have not done so.  It doesn’t seem to matter to them at all what the reason is for any given host not having fulfilled the legal requirements — whether this be a result of ignorance, being new on the scene, willfully ignoring the law, hosting in a way that isn’t permitted, or having some unique circumstance which makes them a round peg that doesn’t fit into the square holes of the short term rental laws the city has passed.  Doesn’t matter  — for some hosts, their vision is very black and white — if you follow the law you’re good, if not, you’re bad and wrong.  What I find so ironic in this situation, is that a number of those who have this very letter-of-the-law orientation, are people who would steadfastly defend the rights of those they term “undocumented immigrants” to cross the border in the dead of night, to use whatever means they need to use to get a job, to work, to go to school and get a driver’s license, and do many other things that the law actually doesn’t allow them to do as non-citizens.

I would also like to take the opportunity to point out that having a “letter of the law” orientation to life, is actually a less than mature level of psychological development.  The “Spiral Dynamics” view of human development postulates these levels of human development — beige is the lowest, oriented to mere survival, turquoise is the highest, oriented to cosmic spirituality.

In this chart, the letter of the law orientation is the blue level, which as you see is a rather middling level of development.  Yellow is the level of coming to one’s own decisions on moral or ethical issues, above and beyond any earthly authority.  Also, the green level is above the blue — at the green level, one places the value of harmony between people above that of actively seeking to punish people because they are not following a law, a law that may not be a just or fair law, in the long view of things.  Spiral Dynamics chart

Considerations When Forming a Group

When setting up a host advocacy group, consider all the structural elements of the group and ask yourself about the security of all these elements, should the group fracture.  For instance, what methods are you using to organize? Do you have a website? who controls it? Is it someone you can trust, who is not biased towards one side or another of hosting styles? What will happen if that person drops out of the group? will they take the website with them? WHo controls the contact list, the list of hosts in your city and their email and phone number info? You should not trust such a list to one person only.  If that person gets upset or offended, and departs with the whole list, what will you do then? In other words, when organizing a group, be very attentive to who has what power, who controls what, and ask yourself what would happen if the person controlling XY or Z ran away with that power and refused to cooperate with the group any more.  What I have seen is too many people who are too naive about human nature, and end up shocked and surprised when there are power issues in their group.

What happens if there are, for instance, 3 leaders of your host advocacy group, and then one of those 3 turns against the other two, and says to the hosts, come over to my group, those other two are not acting in your interest.?

Homes not hotels

I suggest that it’s better to allow dissent and allow groups to fracture and develop subgroups, thus allowing those who want to control their own group or have their own power to have that ability and that satisfaction, and hope that by allowing this, rather than trying to forcibly stop such things, all host advocacy groups have a better chance of existing separately yet being able at least to loosely unite to fight the anti-Airbnb forces.

Finally, when organizing hosts to advocate for your own interests, and speaking up in city council meetings, writing to city councilmembers, meeting with them, etc, I suggest that hosts avoid using their real full name when possible.  Given the amount of anti-Airbnb hysteria out in the world, as well as the fact that if you write to city council, your letter often is considered part of “public record” and then your email and name get put on permanent public record, I think it’s best to take care to protect yourself.  For the most part, cities do not retaliate against those who speak out for hosting, but not always.  New York City retaliated against one host who spoke in his own interest, and he’s now having to sue the city over this.  See this Bloomberg article for more info on that.

Also, the amount of bullying of people just for having an opinion that others don’t like, has increased.  The rise of identity politics has exacerbated this problem.  (By the way , here’s an interesting video on identity politics which demonstrates this problem )  Things are crazier out there these days.  Should you stick your neck out as an Airbnb host, particularly if you speak up in city council and say something that they dont’ like, someone may decide that they have it in for you, and then try to find ways to harm you.  If they know your name, they can find out where you live and go from there.  So I suggest, do not use your real full name when speaking to the city.  In some areas, such as in California, residents have the right (the Brown Act) to NOT provide information about themselves when speaking in a city meeting.  I encourage everyone to take advantage of such rights and protect yourselves.

Concrete Examples: Nine Problems I Have seen in Host Advocacy Organizing

Here are some actual concrete examples –taken from real life situations I have heard of — of how things can go wrong when hosts start organizing.  I will highlight, in these examples, both the PROBLEM that occurred, and the SOLUTION in terms of suggestions for things that might be done to prevent this.

Bully emoji

(1) PROBLEM:  The city begins to put out proposed short term rental ordinance, so hosts start organizing.  They plan a meeting, and two host leaders are to lead the meeting.  An AIrbnb representative is also going to attend.  When the meeting begins, the AIrbnb representative after introducing himself, does not cede to the host leaders, but starts to take over the meeting and run the meeting.
SOLUTION: Be aware of the fact that AIrbnb is going to try to organize and coordinate host advocacy groups in large cities especially.  Be aware and prepared for the fact that they may try to take over meetings.  Talk with their rep in advance to prevent this from happening. Work on a collaborative approach to organizing.

Laptop emoji

(2) PROBLEM:  As hosts in a certain city organize, they simply ask for volunteers on who will do what task in setting up their organization, without giving much thought to who is assigned to what task, and what power each person has in those positions.  One host volunteers to set up a website which will be used for the group, saying she has website building skills.  This website is then advertised all over town as the portal through which to contact the host organization and sign up and keep up to date with developments.  Then, just as the group is getting large and well populated, the host who volunteered to set up the website doesn’t like where the host advocacy group is going, and decides she no longer wants to participate in it.  She takes her website with her (which she’s paid for and owns) and now the group is stuck — they not only no longer have a website, but anyone who tries to get in touch with them is going to the website which is now defunct.
SOLUTION:  Be very attentive to who has what power in any organization you create, and consider what would happen if this person pulls out of the group.  Make sure that any website used by the group has at least two administrators, people who can be trusted.  Determine if their own style of hosting or political views are consistent with them being viable in the long term.     Consider using a Facebook group or Google group for your organization, as opposed to a privately owned website, since with FaceBook groups for instance,  all admins can be said to equally “own” it and no one has paid for it.

Scapegoat

(3) PROBLEM:  Local news media, which thrive on anti-Airbnb stories, hearing that a certain city is creating short term rental laws, and eager to thrive on the controversy involved in STRs, publish stories which attack certain hosts, perhaps “commerical” or large scale hosts.  This creates a public backlash against those hosts, making them — in the eyes of the anti-AIrbnb crowd — veritable symbols of “all that is wrong with AIrbnb” and “The reason housing costs are going up.”  In other words, making them easy scapegoats for a boatload of social problems.  At this point, it no longer is politically viable to support such people, and any host organization with such hosts figuring prominently into its leadership, will be defamed thereby.  I know of such a case, and the vilified hosts ended up being such “hot potatoes” that no one in the host advocacy group could even mention their names or advocate for them in any way, they were so thoroughly viewed as “bad actors”, which was actually false.  Because in this case at least, they had always followed the law as they understood it.
SOLUTION:  Be cautious of who are chosen as leaders.  Airbnb is wise to try to cherry pick hosts that it showcases, as those who are most politically acceptable.  Host organizations need to do likewise. Host advocacy groups mostly should not have large scale commerical hosts as spokespersons, if their area has any housing issues, because that can backfire.  Select hosts who are in-home hosts as leaders, if possible, as these are most politically acceptable.  Also, those who do large-scale or multi-unit hosting need to be aware of the political reality in many cities in the US, which is that, even though this isn’t fair, such hosts are not viewed favorably by many.Lazy emoji

(4) PROBLEM:  HOsts organize for advocacy, but some hosts have little ability or interest in doing their own homework or following the news on their own.  Also, some hosts are clueless as to the purpose being undertaken.  So they come to nearly every meeting expecting leaders to spend time personally giving them updates about every development in the proposed STR rules, or worse, expecting others to give them tips on how to host.  This nappened to me, when helping organize for my area, I found that it was difficult to focus all hosts on the point of the meeting.  It may have actually been a drawback for me that I’m a very organized, focused person (see #5 below).  I found it annoying how often the group would go on tangents and start talking about things not related to the issue at hand, and annoying when I was expected to provide updates and spoon feed some members.  Others may have more tolerance for this than I did.
SOLUTION:  WHen creating a website or online group for your host advocacy group, post easily findable links to updates on local proposed ordinances, results of city council meetings, etc.  Then you can point hosts there who want to know what’s going on.  Draw boundary lines and make clear the purpose of meetings, and try to work time into meetings so that there is time for socializing, which hosts like to do.  In the main meeting, if you’re a focused person, don’t allow people to go on tangents and start into long discussions about the bad guest I just had or where to buy the best sheets.  Stay on point.  Either have the social part of the meeting afterward, or organize social meetings separately where folks can talk about other topics.  If you’re not too concerned about focus, it might actually be easier for you to run the meetings, which could be a process of discussion, then group herding, then more discussion, then some tangent, then herding again.Busy bee bustling

(5) PROBLEM:  The city announces it will propose STR regulations, so hosts in that city want to start organizing.  But the problem is, all hosts are busy, no one has time to help, much less take a leadership role, everyone expects someone else (eg, Airbnb) to do all the work.  A few hosts understand the importance of advocacy, but trying to get others to help or go to meetings, is like pulling teeth.  It’s very difficult and even painful to do.  A couple host leaders may spend hours collaborating with Airbnb, contacting fellow hosts in their city, and then meeting with hosts who just say that they dont’ have time to help.  The few hosts who are involved trying to organize this effort are left with a dilemma: either they alone do all the work that is needed, or no one will do any organizing, and/or it may be Airbnb itself which is left to organize the whole host advocacy campaign.

Several different problems can result from these dilemmas.  One is that leaving Airbnb alone to organize everything, can result in hosts not being able to actively direct the advocacy in directions they feel are best for them.  Another is that if anti-Airbnb folks or the media find out that the campaign is being organized by Airbnb and not by hosts, they will exploit this to vilify short term rental hosting as a corporate phenomenon.  Another dilemma, which I also experienced, is that when there are very few people willing to take on any leadership role, then sometimes those who see the importance of organizing hosts are left to do work that they arent’ suited for.  I am actually not well suited to do any political organizing or boots-on-the-ground advocacy.  I am NOT an outgoing person, and I am easily annoyed by and can get snippy with those who are not quick-on-the-uptake.  I am not the best choice for meeting leader.  What I can do well is write, create websites, help with mailing lists, and other behind the scenes work.  But due to the dearth of leadership, I felt forced to help with things I was not skilled for, due to the fact that there was no one else at all willing to step up.  This misfit between host and group role can have a deleterious effect on an organization.
SOLUTION:  Airbnb can help with host advocacy in some critical ways, such as by making cold calls to hosts to ask them to help out, or convince them that help and/or leadership among hosts is needed.  This help is not available in all cities, but where it is it can be valuable.  Hosts should avoid doing any tasks they have no interest in, but at the same time, realize that if no one else is willing to do the work, the results could be worse than just having a person who ill fits the role.

Angry red emoji

(6) PROBLEM:  One or more hosts don’t like the leaders of the host advocacy group, or dont’ like the strategies being used, or something else.  They have strong views of their own.  So rather than just drop out, they lobby hosts in the host advocacy group to view them as its real leaders, and they start pushing to re-create the group under their leadership.  This divides the group. Some hosts like the original leaders, some prefer these new leaders.  This break risks undermining the strength of the coalition. A case that I observed, involved a team of 3 leaders, and one of those 3 became upset when she learned that the way host contact lists had been handled, did not involve what she regarded as sufficient privacy protections, in particular, regarding the difference between using “CC” and “Bcc” on emails.  The former allows everyone emailed to see the email addresses of everyone else, the latter hides those addresses.  When this occurred, this 3rd leader began to pull away from the other two and build her own host outreach with a separate email address that she did not give the 1st two leaders access to. This did not turn out to be a big problem in the end, but it is just an example of an issue that has the potential to fracture a group.
SOLUTION:   Host leaders should be open to criticism and compromise, in order to maintain the good of the whole group.   Many issues can be resolved just by accepting critiques in good faith.  Should serious differences of view emerge, this may be one of the more difficult issues to solve, but I recommend beginning by trying to mediate and reach an agreement about how everyone can still work together.  This may require that current leaders step back, cede power, take different roles in the group, etc, all for the good of the whole.  If this is not possible, then talk about how things can be done with two groups.  Try to negotiate to make it clear and mutually understood that there is strength in numbers.  Be aware of your own attachment to role and power, and also, how your views are colored by the threats to your livelihood that you are experiencing.

boring emoji

(7) PROBLEM:  The process of working with the city on proposed regulations is very time consuming, demanding, draining.  It is very often a long drawn-out process, taking not only months but sometimes years.  It can involve not only city council meetings, but also planning commission meetings, or housing or other subcommittee meetings.  In order to effectively lead a host advocacy campaign, this is a heck of a lot of work for any handful of host leaders to do.  City council and other city agency meetings can be quite long (4 to 5 hours is typical in my area) and you dont’ necessarily know when your issue will come up in the agenda.  You may have to sit through a lot of other boring issues.  Meetings can go on late…in my area it’s typical for a city council meeting to go on past 11pm, even to midnight at times. The forward momentum, progress from one meeting to the next, can be so incremental and negligible that it is hard to keep up one’s motivation unless one is attentive to the impact of small changes.  Who has patience or time for this? It was not uncommon for Airbnb and host leaders in my area to put in time calling on hosts in the city to attend the meeting and plan to speak, but after coming to the meeting and sitting for 3 hours, some of them would give up and leave, they were bored out of their minds.  Host leaders can easily get burned out after months of attending long meetings and seeing little to show for it, or finding that their work isn’t appreciated by others because the city isn’t going in the direction that hosts have wanted.
SOLUTION:  At least in cities where an Airbnb rep is involved, it can be very helpful for that rep to attend all city meetings, since they are paid to do this as part of their job.  They will not speak or be involved with the city, but they can help the host organization by taking notes and conveying to the host leaders what occurred, if the host leaders cannot make all or part of the meeting.  Sometimes, the Airbnb rep can even send text notifications to other hosts to let them know expected time when the issue is to come up, so that the hosts don’t have to all sit through hours waiting, but can just plan to come a few minutes before the issue comes up on the agenda.  OR, if there is no Airbnb rep, one or two host leaders can do this, or take turns attending meetings, so that the whole burden doesn’t fall on any one host.  In order for this to be productive, those attending meetings need to be sufficiently aware of issues at hand that they can interpret the meaning of any incremental action the council takes.

Angry emoji complex

(8) PROBLEM:  AFter short term rental regulations are passed, the city finds that it is difficult to enforce them.  The city may find that many hosts are violating the law or doing illegal short term rentals.  The city then threatens to make their STR rules more restrictive, or ban all short term rentals, if they can’t get control of the illegal rentals.  This begins to pit hosts against each other: those who are hosting in accordance with the law, are angered by those who are not, who they view as threatening their livelihoods:  “If those people would just stop what they are doing, stop hosting illegally, the city would not be threatening to ban all STRs, which could put me out of business.”  At this point, some hosts will actually go out of their way to report illegal operators, believing that by doing so, they are potentially saving their own neck.   Other hosts will support methods of enforcement of dubious constitutionality or legality, simply because they feel that allowing the city to get what it wants, will protect them from the city’s potential wrath.
SOLUTION:  This is one of the most difficult and thorny of issues.  I believe though that cities do not need to be able to enforce their laws 100% in order to remove the worst of the bad actors from the stage.  It’s often been in the news that one city or another has “cracked down” on a particularly bad actor and done a sting operation and fined them and shut them down.  This is quite do-able, without any help from other hosts or from AIrbnb.  However, if the city  is over-focused on having total control and not allowing anyone to violate a jot or tittle of the law, I think that attitude is the problem, not the hundreds or thousands of hosts whose business might not be 100% in compliance with some aspect of the law, but who are not harming anyone.  I think it would help hosts to try to have perspective on what are the real problems.  And if the real problem is that the city is acting like a big bully, then hosts going out on a limb and feeding the bully by actively seekiing out anyone violating any part of the law, is not really helping.  Those who engage in ethically dubious behaviors just to save their own necks, may discover that the bully can never be sufficiently fed.  Furthermore, it’s a whole separate probelm issue (which I address in another blog article here ) when a city begins to attempt to violate hosts’ or citizen’s privacy, or engage in illegal or unconstitutional methods, in order to enforce laws that quite likely should not have been passed in the first place.

Finally, hosts who become obsessed with rooting out those who aren’t following the law in some trivial respect, can become bitter people, such as those who go onto host groups and scold other hosts for “not hosting in the right way.”  It’s better to advocate for hosting and one’s own business in positive ways and with ethically upright methods, than to seek to do so by throwing others under the bus.Socialist emoji cropped

(9) PROBLEM:  Hosts are desperate to be permitted to continue hosting, so they are grateful for the city’s proposed regulations, which ostensibly allow them to do so. They don’t think enough about the reuqirement that the city inspect all properties prior to giving a host a permit to do STR.  Now, the city is coming around and when they inspect a property, they dont’ look for the items on the list of requirements for STR hosting, but start wandering around the whole house, looking at remodels that were done decades ago.  They fine hosts for any random thing they find that is unpermitted or out of compliance with any random building code.
SOLUTION:  Try to keep home inspection out of the requirements to do STR.  If such inspections are required, express concern in city council meetings that you know of cases (you could mention Portland OR as a case in point) where these inspections got out of hand and the inspections turned into fishing expeditions.  Demand that the city tell you how they will ensure that this will not occur.  Have them put it in writing.  Get a promise of avenues available for recourse should the promise to avoid abuse in building inspection be broken.  See this article for some real-world examples of building inspectors/departments which go rogue and start engaging in illegal behavior with impunity.

So that’s a summary of a few real-world problems I’ve seen in the hosting community.

Lawsuits against Airbnb

Here are some lawsuits that were filed against Airbnb, as found on the San Francisco Superior Court website.  You can look up these cases yourself by going to the San Francisco Superior Court site at http://sfsuperiorcourt.org/ and then click on “Online Services” on top menu bar, and then “Case Query” and search under case names, use Airbnb to search.

In a few cases the complaints filed may have been nuisance filings, as the court register of actions indicates that the plaintiff never showed up in court.  So I wont’ include those here.

Lawsuit image

Lawsuit filed by Leslie Lapayowker for damages over $25,000, alleging sexual assault by an Airbnb host:

Lawsuit against Airbnb By Leslie Lapayowker

Lawsuit filed by Kissling Street Trust for damages over $25,000:

Lawsuit against Airbnb by Kissling Trust

Lawsuit filed by David Ferris for $7370:

Lawsuit against Airbnb by David Ferris

Lawsuit filed by Megan Holub for $620 (she won) :

Lawsuit filed by Megan Holub

Lawsuit filed by Andrea Camille Calvin for $3068:

Lawsuit against Airbnb by Andrea Camille Calvin

Lawsuit filed by Felix Ntam for $6500, over Airbnb failing to honor their host guarantee:
Lawsuit against Airbnb by Felix Ntam

Note in this case that a later document filed by Felix Ntam shows that he was able to reach a settlement agreement with Airbnb:

Felix Ntam reaches settlement with Airbnb

Lawsuit filed by Kenneth King over a “nuisance host” for $1500

Lawsuit against Airbnb by Kenneth King

Lawsuit filed by Jim Chen for $127 after “being kicked out by the host” and receiving only $103 refunded from Airbnb of $230 total paid for the reservation.

Lawsuit against Airbnb by Jim Chen

Lawsuit filed by Joaquin De La Torre for $2500
Lawsuit against Airbnb by Joaquin De La Torre

Lawsuit filed by La Jeana Thompson for wrongful termination, for damages over $25k and demand for a jury trial.

Lawsuit against Airbnb by La Jeana Thompson

Lawsuit filed by Roger SEnders for over $25,000 in damages, alleging injury caused by their negligence:

Lawsuit against Airbnb by Roger Senders

Lawsuit filed by Cozumel Yachts for over $25,000 in damages, alleging property taken under false pretenses:
Lawsuit against Airbnb by Cozumel Yachts

Class Action lawsuit filed by Diane Schober et al over conversion of a residential hotel to use for short term rentals  — AIrbnb is just one of the Defendants in this case which took 3 years to resolve:

Lawsuit against Airbnb by Diane Schober et al

Are you aware of any other lawsuits?

 

When the Guest Likes your Place TOO Much…and …Strategies for Screening Guests

We all want our guests to be attracted to our listing — some hosts are spending regular time  trying to find ways to make their listing more appealing. More amenities, more great photos, more attractions, more services…lower prices…they do all they can to stand out among their host competitors.

So, it may seem strange to introduce the idea of a guest who likes your place TOO much.  How could this be a problem?

It’s not a problem when guests from other nations, other states, other cities just LOVE your listing and can’t wait to stay there!  Generally this is what gives us as hosts so much satisfaction, delight and gratitude, and makes us feel blessed.  That we can offer something that makes others happy and gives them pleasure.
Colorful fish

But what if a prospective guest says they LOVE your listing, and want to stay there LONG TERM, and they are not from another nation or state, or city — but live in the same city you do?  This is the story of the guest who loves your place too much. 

Most of us are doing short term rentals because we there is something about long term tenants that is problematic for us.  If we are in-home hosts — the style of hosting which was the original kind of hosting on Airbnb — then this is quite often about more than just money.  Yes, it’s possible to earn more doing short term rentals than standard long term ones– but not always.  Particularly in saturated markets where there are actually too many hosts and too many listings, many of us have seen our nightly prices drop quite a bit with the additional competition, and perhaps our bookings have dropped as well.  So it’s not clear that doing short term rentals is always more lucrative than doing standard long term rentals.  It is a heck of a lot more work and the income may be the same or actually less.

But in home hosts have other concerns besides money.  Often, in home hosts want some time alone, or dont’ want to see too much of any one person.  Theres’ a saying that both fish and house Guests and fishguests start to smell after 3 days.

Other hosts just don’t want anyone getting possessive about their home, so they dont’ want any permanent tenants.  Others worry about guests staying so long that they obtain “tenant’s rights” and could be difficult to get out of their home.

Whatever the reason, in general, Airbnb hosts are not interested in hosting people who are seeking something which they are not offering — such as long term or permanent tenancy.

However, it does seem that a number of people who are seeking a new permanent residence, are looking for one on the Airbnb listings.  And I can see why this would attract them. Consider the way that long term rentals are “packaged” or advertised, compared to vacation rentals and Airbnb listings.  It’s quite unlikely that any standard long term rental is going to be presented as attractively and with as much effort and appeal, or with as many photos and delightful amenities, as a vacation rental or short term stay.  Why? Because offering a vacation to someone tends to be pretty different from offering permanent housing.  Standard property rental ads have several down sides: they mention credit checks, security deposits, ask for references, work history.  You know you’ll have to fill out an application, and, in areas of the country where there is a housing crunch, you’ll likely attend an open house with several other interested parties.  You may not hear back at all from someone whose apartment is listed on Craigslist.


FishCompare this to responding to ads on Airbnb.  There, you’re showered with gestures of hospitality both in the listing description, and in the many photos, often depicting gorgeously laid out rooms with chocolates on the pillow and freshly made beds in optimum lighting, with professionally shot photos.  You are offered breakfast or fruits and bagels.  Your host offers to take you out for dinner or to a local bar — automatic friends!  And, because hosts get penalized for not responding to inquiries or not responding fast enough, if you inquire about a place to stay on Airbnb, even if you are seeking something that the host is definitely not offering, or if you are definitely not the type of renter the host wants, the host is still obligated to respond to you, because of the way the platform is set up.  This means that someone inappropriately seeking permanent housing on Airbnb is guaranteed to get a response, whereas on Craigslist, it’s quite possible that they will be ignored by the first fifty property owners they contact — particularly if there is something red flaggy about their presentation.

What tenant seeking a permanent home wouldn’t be enamored of finding a permanent residence where they were showered with such hospitality and attention? What a difference, this, from the tales of the “greedy landlord” that are promulgated in the media.  No wonder some tenants turn to the Airbnb listings and hope that they might find a home there.

I have advertised my listings as exclusively short term rentals, and I still get inquiries from local people who are pleading with me that they absolutely adore what I’m offering, and would just be so happy to stay there for a few months [I’m thinking — they really mean a few years] and would be such good tenants!  I am reminded of the fact that some of my worst tenants, back when I had standard roommates, began life in my house by promising me what good tenants they would be.  Promises, promises…so quickly made and so easily forgotten!  Or — more likely — promises made that never meant anything at all from the moment they were uttered.
Last week I had an inquiry from a couple who live in my area who wanted to stay a few months in my listing.  No explanation was given about why they were wanting to stay in a short term rental for several months when they live in my area.  Just this week I had another inquiry from someone who lives in my city, who said she wanted to stay several months and be a “long term tenant”.  The only problem — I make it pretty clear I am not seeking a long term tenant.  I asked what she meant, and where she lived, and words came out both sides of her mouth.  She spoke about having a wonderful apartment in another part of town, but of loving my neighborhood and wanting to live there — and yet at the same time, saying that she was not seeking a permanent home.  I asked her to explain this, and no satisfactory explanation was given because there was none.  She was just hoping that by having great reviews and good references, she could ingratiate herself with a host doing short term rentals and ply them to rent to her long term, meaning, perhaps, for the next decade, or maybe the rest of her life.  Squatter

I appreciate that it can be difficult to find an ideal place to live, particularly in a difficult rental market.  But the solution is not to look for the keys you lost in the bedroom, out in the street under the lamp-post, because there is more light there.

I appreciate that you love my listing, in fact that it’s pulling your heart-strings and making you coo and ahhh, and have fantasies about being there for a long time.  But please keep in mind, this is my house.  It’s a little weird and perhaps more than a little uncomfortable for hosts when a guest they dont’ want essentially admits to salivating over their property.   You just may feel an inclination to yank all your listing photos off the internet.

And hosts dont’ want to end up filleted and served up in a platter, by the bully tenant or the possessive tenant, or the tenant who comes in as a guest with great reviews but somehow ends up becoming a person who’s trying to run your house, or who squats and refuses to leave, because “I like it so much.. and besides, I don’t have anyplace else to go…I gave notice on my other apartment and now I can’t afford to move either.” .  So although as hosts we are very oriented to being welcoming and offering hospitality,
Mackerel in platter

we cannot offer that hospitality blindly.

I have some suggestions for hosts on how to avoid the guest who loves your place too much.  These involve screening and communication techniques.

Consider, how in  job interviews the applicant doesn’t necessarily tell the truth to the prospective employer, but rather, may “play” the interview and strategically create their resume specifically for that employer, to present themselves so that they seem to be exactly what the employer wants.  Prospective guests/renters may do the same thing.  They may be “playing ” the host and presently themselves to intentionally come across in a way that they think the host will like.

So what can you do to deal with this? The primary technique I encourage you to strive for, is to hold back information about yourself, your values, what kinds of renters/guests you want, and what kind you wont’ accept.  In other words, dont’ reveal your screening techniques in advance, to those who are being screened.  Of course, you do want to have complete and clear house rules, and you will have set your minimum and maximum stay settings, but I strongly encourage you to avoid revealing in advance (such as in your listing description or ads) any of your screening techniques. Because if you say in advance what you screen out, dishonest guests can simply alter their presentation so that they don’t seem to be the kind of guest you are screening out. No locals

For instance, many hosts dont’ rent to locals.  At all.  Some will, but only if there is a good reason — eg, a person having their home remodeled, needing another place to stay, a person in the process of divorce, a person having their in-laws visiting.  But many will not be comfortable renting to a local who is a married person, so that they can carry on an illicit affair in your home, or so that they can do a drug deal there, or so that they have someplace else to stay while they go through a psychotic break because their family  doesn’t want them around in that condition, or because they got drunk and their spouse kicked them out, or so they can have someplace — anyplace — to stay after being evicted from their current residence.  There are some problems with renting to locals.

But I suggest that you never state in advance that you don’t rent to locals.  That way, locals can innocently inquire, without feeling like they need to hide the fact that they live in your area, and you can have accurate information instead of being fed lies by someone trying to game you.

Similarly, I suggest you don’t announce in advance any other reasons you might decline someone (apart from what should be obvious to the guest, eg, someone intending to violate your maximum occupancy or house rules).  It is not fareSo  if you have a practice of analyzing inquiring guests’ grammar, spelling and ability to communicate professionally, when considering a guest inquiry, I suggest not announcing this in advance, so that you leave space for the guest to honestly inquire in their standard bad english and/or unprofessional communication, eg, “Hi I interested in renting ur place, is it availbel?  Cool thx.”  If someone regularly communicates like this in professional settings, you want to know that, and tipping them off in advance that you’ll decline people for such communication may seek them to get someone else to type their inquiry.  In which case you’re not able to actually screen the guest because they have a stand-in communicating for them.  Lets Eat Grandma
All in all, the motto here, is that as an Airbnb host, as well as in other areas of life where you have to screen/assess people in your job, it’s wise to give those inquiring, enough rope to hang themselves.  Naturally most guests will not hang themselves, they will prove themselves delightful people we would love to have in our home.  But for the occasional problem person who inquires…wouldn’t you rather know in advance about the likelihood of problems with this guest, than wait and only find out after they are settled in to your guest bedroom?
Give him enough rope
Doing this is not a guarantee to eliminate all types of problems, but it can potentially help you in avoiding dishonest guests, scams, problem guests, guests who violate house rules with impunity, squatters, or other problems.  And the absence of those problems leaves you (and any of your other guests) having a much more pleasant experience at your own home, which is the most important thing.

Mail and the Boomerang Guest

One of the issues that comes up fairly regularly in host community groups, is the question of guests receiving mail at your house.  Often what happens is the host just doesn’t think much about this, until they open their mailbox and discover mail that is addressed to their guest, who’s staying at their house for 4 days, or a week or two. Or perhaps the host is arriving home from work, and finds a package on her porch — and it’s not for her, it’s for her guest.  Package on porch photoshopped

This can be a little unsettling, particularly if the host never gave permission to the guest to recieve mail at her house, and/or if the guest is only staying for a few days.

Many hosts would, however, dismiss any unsettled feeling that they have, and tell themselves that there is no harm in the guest receiving mail at their home — perhaps it’s something important, and after all, doesn’t the host want to provide hospitality?

The intention I have with this blog is to do as I like to do with many issues pertaining to hosting, and explore it in more depth and with more thought than many might give to what they regard as a minor issue.

So what can possibly go wrong with allowing your guest to recieve a letter or package at your home?  Here’s a visual clue to the answer which is possible, in a few years’ time, should you never limit guests receiving mail at your house:

Guest mail vs your mail
There will come a day when this is what you’ll start to find

There are several potential problems, which have been discussed in some host community threads, such as those here.

Here’s a summary of some of the potential problems:

1) Receipt of mail establishes tenancy rights. In some locales, receipt of mail may establish tenancy rights for a guest.  See this information for Connecticut, for instance.  In this article, receipt of mail is stated as one of the “warning signs” that a guest has become a tenant.

2) The multiplication factor. Guest asks if they can receive “just one package” and you say okay, then find that they are recieving packages every other day.

©Tamara Kenyon Photography - http://tamarakenyon.com
Is the guest taking advantage of host with permission to receive mail?

3) Many businesses put customers on mailing lists or sell their contact info to other businesses.  This is something a great many guests, (particularly those from other nations where this practice is prohibited) as well as hosts, are sadly uninformed about.  So if the guest asks if they can recieve “just one package” and you say okay, the multiplication factor can come in, they may order more,  and more, and the guest is getting on mailing lists (eg Tommy Hilfiger, Armani Exchange, Macy’s, Target, Pottery Barn, the list goes on…), and it’s an open question whether you or the guest can ever get the guest off those mailing lists. It is difficult to impossible to be removed from some junk mail lists.  You may now be receiving mail for that guest for years to come.   This is one stellar example of what I call the “Boomerang Guest” effect.  A situation where the guest has departed, but they keep coming back. And back and back.  Through their ceaseless mail.

I have a real-life humorous anecdote about this type of situation to share.  For decades before I bought my house, it had been a roommate type of house, where several people lived, so even from the start, and now many years later, I receive mail for many people who have long since departed.  One day, I received a business call from a woman whose name sounded familiar, who wanted to hire me to do a project for her.   Joan Sturgess. Where had I heard that name before? Ah yes, then I recalled — I had been getting her mail for several years! It turned out that about 30 years ago, Joan had lived in my house, three owners prior to me.  So this may serve as a humorous illustration of how long that boomerang effect can actually last.  Decades!!

4)  The gift that keeps on giving: your work continues after the guest departs.  Perhaps the guest gets mail at your home, only one or two things. But then….once they depart,  it’s quite possible that more mail comes for that guest, who is now contacting you asking you to send those things to him. You are faced with the prospect of doing extra work for a guest who shouldn’t have been having mail sent to your house in the first place.  As well, you may be responsible for the guest’s mail, and getting it to them at their new address, if you have allowed it to be sent to your home.  I suggest not getting into this kind of complexity and potential extra effort.

5) Important guest documents are now linked to your address.  You tell guest he cannot have mail sent to your home, or perhaps you say packages from Amazon are okay, but he uses your home address to open a bank account in your city, without asking you, and after he leaves, bank statements for him continue to come to your home for years to come.  Or, he uses your address for his DMV renewal, or his VISA application, health insurance paperwork, or Immigration services account, or any number of official/government documents.  This has happened to me, even after I explicitly prohibited guests recieving mail at my home or using my address for any purpose.   One guest stayed 5 days and opened a bank account with my address.  Another stayed a couple months and I was still getting his bank statements 5 years later.

6) “But I told them not to send it to your address!”  What neither hosts nor guests seem to realize, and you will only find out to your dismay well after the guest departs, is that it doesn’t do any good at all for the guest to give your address to immigration services, to their employer, their university, or any business, while simultaneously saying “do not send mail to that address.”  Guess what.  They WILL send mail to that address!! Guaranteed. Because — and both guest and host should realize this —  account organization and mailing lists for large entities are never done in the luddite way completely by hand any more.  Everything is automated, and computer-driven.  This means that “personal notes” such as “dont’ send mail there” are completely pointless.  You only need to think about this for a few seconds to realize — there is no way to tell a computer, “store this information in their account under mailing address, but dont’ use it as their mailing address.”
So for this reason, if you really want to prohibit guest from receiving mail at your house, you need to make it clear to the guest that they also cannot give out your address to any entity.

7) Will you be responsible for lost guest mail/packages?  If you allow the guest to receive mail at your house, you need to consider the outcome, should the guest not receive that mail.  What if it ends up lost, or stolen? In my neighborhood, for instance, package theft is an epidemic, and it’s very common on the community board in my area to see people posting about their packages being stolen.  Or posting video of the package thieves.  Package thief with cart

8) Guest has illegal drugs/paraphernalia sent to your home.  This might seem like such a remote possibility that it’s not worth really considering.  However, it has happened to some Airbnb hosts.  See this article about how an Airbnb guest sent illegal drugs to a hosts’ home:

“…he was home and sound asleep when the Gwinnett County Police started pounding on his door, asking about a package. Police told him someone had sent two pounds of marijuana to his home, under a name he didn’t recognize.

But moments after the police left with the drugs in hand, he saw a text from the man renting his room through Airbnb that he was expecting a package.

“My immediate thought is I need to get out of here,” he said.

You can see that a common theme in this is that anytime a guest receives mail at your home, there is the potential that mail will continue to arrive at your home for the guest long after they are gone.  boomerang pathThis is the Boomerang effect, a result of the Boomerang Guest.  This is very difficult to put a stop to, particularly if you are dealing with a large company sending out advertisments. boomerang in handOr with large banks. As stated above, it took me 5 years to get a certain bank to stop sending bank statements to my home for a renter who had only been at my house for 2 months, 5 years prior.

So perhaps you’ve read this blog thus far, and decided that you want to prohibit guests from receiving mail at your house.  How can this be politely communicated to guests and what will you do if guests don’t follow this rule?

What I suggest is that you state in your house rules that you don’t allow guests to receive mail at your house, or give out your home address for any purpose, but that at the same time, you do offer suggestions on how/where they can receive mail.  Here are some options for how guests can receive mail elsewhere:

 

UPS mail box

(1) In the USA, it may well be possible for guests to receive mail for free, if they have it addressed to their name, care of “General Delivery”, at a nearby post office.  People who are traveling (Eg on a bike ride across the country) often arrange for this to get their mail from town to town as they travel.

(2) Guest can set up a mail box at a local UPS or FedEx office, or perhaps a US Post Office, though the latter usually requires them to provide a local residence address.

(3) If guest is in town for a work project or university project, it may be quite possible for them to receive mail at their place of work.

(4) Amazon deliveries can now quite often be picked up at local Amazon drop spots, which are often local stores.  WHen you buy something on Amazon they give information about this.

What if you ask the guest to read the house rules before booking, and Airbnb asks the guest to read the house rules before booking, and the guest says he read the house rules before booking, but then one day soon after his arrival you find a package for the guest on your porch  —, in spite of having made it very clear in your house rules that you dont’ allow guests to receive mail at your home?  When you ask the guest about this,  I’m sure he’ll say he “forgot” or “didn’t know.”   What he really means is that in spite of you asking him 2 or 3 times to read the house rules, and having house rules posted in the house and on a laminated card in the guests’ room, he did not read them, and simply made assumptions in lieu of reading anything.

So then what do you do, if mail arrives for the guest, after you have prohibited the guest from receiving mail at your house?  Well, I strongly suggest that whatever you do, you do not give that mail or package to the guest.
I used to do this, chiding the guest at the same time, saying “Mail came for you, here it is, dont’ ever do that again, it’s not permitted. ”  But I had this problem occur so often — in fact, it was the house rule most often broken by my guests — that I finally became fed up, and realized that if I did give the guest’s mail to them, after prohibiting their sending it to my house, they were seeing no consequences for their violation of their house rules. And particuarly if their receipt of mail at my house then led to a future of me receiving their junk mail for months or years to come, I would be quite angry with myself for having given them their mail, which led to this unending and unwelcome gift of more and more and more mail. boomerang colorful

Then I obtained an inspiration from another host I know in the host community, on how to deal with this issue. She said her policy on mail as articulated in the house rules, is not only that guests may not receive mail at her house, but also that “if you have mail sent here you will not receive it.”  So she was actually making a promise to the guest, that they would not benefit from violating the house rules.

So, although it may be slightly more work to return mail or packages to the sender, than to give them to the guest, I suggest that hosts take this route, so as to eliminate the possibility of guests benefitting from violating the house rules.  Also, to avoid angering the guest, I suggest that the host does not say to the guest, “Mail came for you, I received it and then sent it back” but rather suggest that there was a delivery attempt which was not completed.  One way you can facilitate return to sender is to tell your mail carrier that there should be no mail delivered to your house for anyone but yourself, and that any mail with anyone else’s name on it should be returned to sender.

This latter method helps when you have the “but it’s an emergency” type guest who insists that they need one package, one mail item delivered at your house “because it’s an emergency.” Well you might want to make an exception for a true emergency, but keep in mind that what constitutes an “emergency” for the guest may not really qualify — for instance, guest may think it’s an “emergency” if he really wants to read a book on tourist attractions in your area before he leaves your area, and so he just has to order it from Amazon.

So for the most part, I strongly suggest returning all mail that arrives at your house which is not for you.  However, not all mail can be returned.  In the USA, it’s a federal crime to interfere with someone’s US mail (this applies only to mail carried by the US Postal Service, not to packages delivered by UPS or Fedex, etc), but only First Class mail is returnable.  Third Class mail, which includes most “junk mail” is not returnable and if you try to return it, it will just be discarded.  See here for some information.

Another way to discourage guests from even trying to have mail sent to your home, is to explain or hint to them regarding the insecurity of mail being returned.  When you have a lockable mailbox, incoming mail is secure — outgoing mail is not.   I have my packages dropped over my fence, so they are secure from theft when delivered — but outgoing packages which are simply set on the porch are not secure at all.  And package theft is high in my area.
You may be willing to drive to the local UPS or Fedex outlet to return a package that should never have been delivered to your home — or you may not be willing to make that effort, and might instead just call UPS et al, and tell them the package is sitting on your porch.  And you can only cross your fingers and hope that UPS comes and retrieves it before a thief does.

If you attempt to return someone’s mail, for instance, by writing “return to sender” on it and attaching it

outgoing mail

with a clothes pin to your mailbox, waiting there to be picked up by the mail carrier, you aren’t responsible for that mail if someone steals it, or it gets rained on and destroyed, or a dog comes and grabs it and runs off with it.  Thus, it is appropriate to inform the guest, that it’s quite a risky business for them to have their mail delivered to your home in violation of your house rules.  They will not get it if it’s delivered to your house, and — particularly in areas where package theft is high —  it is quite possible they’ll never get it at all.

Personality Typology and Airbnb Hosting

In our discussion of being short term rental hosts (or — engaging in property rentals of any type) much attention is given to many of the practical details of hosting — the linens, the house rules, the check in and check out procedures, marketing, how to succeed.  Yet something that I haven’t seen much discussed, is how your personality type relates to the hosting business, and how it can help you understand your orientation to hosting, your strengths and weaknesses, how you relate to guests, and how you relate to some of the challenges this business may present.

A lot of light can be shed on these subjects by a better understanding of personality typology, so let’s take a look.  (NOte; I will continue to work on this article over time, so stop back later on to see if more has been added)

Also, in terms of my background and authority on speaking on these issues —  let me mention that I have a master’s degree in psychology and have worked as a psychotherapist.  I have also taken coursework in Enneagram studies.  However, that does’nt mean I know everything about these systems, and many of you readers may know more about them than I do.

There are two main personality typology systems in use in the west– and these are not some “new age” hokey pokey, they are solid systems with solid psychological science behind them, which are used in the fields of psychology and psychotherapy, as well as in many business settings, and by career counselors.  These two systems are the Myers-Briggs system and the Enneagram.

HEre are some links to websites that give more info about each of these:

Myers-Briggs Foundation

Wikipedia Article on Myers Briggs System

Forbes Article on Myers-Briggs system

Enneagram Organization

Ennneagram Institute

Enneagram on Wikipedia

Let’s take a look first at the Enneagram.

If you want to take a test to try to discern which type you are, here’s a free version of the test ( the two first Enneagram links above offer the test but charge a fee for it)

http://alameda.peralta.edu/sarah-peterson-guada/files/2012/05/RH_Enneagram_V2.5.pdf

You can also buy a book on the Enneagram to take the test.

This diagram shows the 9 different personality types in the Enneagram.  Each type has 2 wing variations — it can have a “wing” on either side, eg the 7 with the 8 wing, or the 7 with the 6 wing.  As well, each type has 3 possible subtypes — the sexual type (oriented to one on one relationships), the social type (oriented to community), and the survival type (oriented to own security).  So when combining the wing and the subtypes, you can see we’re expanding even beyond Baskin Robbins and now there are actually 54 different flavors (9 X 2 = 18, 18 X 3 = 54).  Then when you consider that for each type, there is a gradient from “healthy” to “unhealthy”, in terms of the relative psychological health or “degree of maturity” of each person in that type, if we call “healthy” pole 1 and “unhealthy” pole 2 and set those as yet 2 other types, you can easily find about 108 types in this chart which on the surface appears to have only 9.  And this is why sometimes people who know the Enneagram well or know their own type well, don’t recognize other people’s Enneatype or their own type in others.  Because each type has several flavors.  EnneagramType
This image shows some of the subtypes for each of these 9 types:

Enneagram wings

 

Let me give some very generalized (eg basic) illustrations of how each of the basic 9 types might relate to the hosting business, or what issues might arise for them.  Note that the 9 types fall into 3 areas– mental or head types, “gut” or somatic types, and feeling or heart types.

Ennea centers

TYPE 1: The Perfectionist or Reformer

The type 1 is sometimes called “The Perfectionist” and sometimes “The Reformer.”  This type is strongly oriented to right and wrong.  They love justice.  They tend to carry out their responsiblities and have trouble understanding why others can’t just do the same.  “Why can’t others be responsible??” is a frequent complaint of the One.  They are also very likely to be heard saying, “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself!” And it is sometimes the One who’s the only one doing things right, in a group, or a business, or any organization.  However, the One doesn’t mind being alone — some of them are very courageous and self -sacrificial and  will also step up and be the lone whistleblower when the corporation or whole police department has gone corrupt.

As a short term rental host, the Type 1 is likely to be continually annoyed by guests who dont’ read or dont’ follow house rules, because for the One, this is how they go through life — they are responsible, and they do what is right.  As well, Ones may have certain ideas about what is right and wrong in hosting, and feel impatient or judgemental of other hosts who dont’ see these things which to them are obvious.  They may lecture other hosts about this.  Though Ones arent’ always “letter of the law” types of people who think that if a law exists it must be right, they are not likely to be patient with hosts who violate or ignore laws, rules or policies which they do think are right.  Enneatype 1These may be Airbnb rules, such as non-discrimination policy, or city state or national laws.  In fact sometimes the Type One can be so angered by someone else’s ignorance of, oblivious to, or refusal to follow the rules/laws, that they begin a campaign aimed at seeking to obtain greater compliance, or perhaps become “snitches”, telling on or reporting those who don’t do what’s right (because Ones love justice)  — for instance guests who didnt’ follow house rules, Ones are likely to want to report this to Airnb.

Or Ones can become advocates for more enforcement or punishment for those who are not doing what is “right” in their view….such as paying city taxes or registering with the city to do STR when that is required.  However, Ones can be independent minded, and their own idea of right may not be the prevailing viewpoint.  So they might, in fact, believe that state or city laws on STR hosting may be wrong (for instance if the laws are overly restrictive or unfair in some sense) and may refuse to follow laws they feel are wrong.  Mohandas GhandiGhandi was a Type One, and he engaged in a great deal of civil disobedience because he felt that certain laws were wrong, and that he was right and had the moral authority on his side.  And as most of us would agree today, Ghandi was right and the laws were wrong.  It often takes a strong and determined Type One with vision to change society for the better.

Type 2: The Helper

The Type 2 is called “The Helper”.  Many psychologists or others in healing professions are Twos, because this type of career fits very well with their interest in helping people or serving people…as indeed does the hospitality business.  Enneatype 2 Type Twos are in a sense the most natural “fit” to be Airbnb hosts.  Particularly the Two with a Three wing, which subtype is actually called the “host/hostess.”  !! However, when not optimally healthy, Twos can create problems in that their giving is not unconditional — they may need to be needed, and expect something in return — namely flattery, or other’s dependence upon them.  Unhealthy Twos as hosts can crowd in on others and without realizing it, invade guests’ space with their own needs for socializing or being valued.  They may ask prying questions, and make guests feel that they can’t get enough privacy or that their boundaries are being violated by the host.

Lingerie
 

Yes there actually have been some Airbnb hosts who looked like this in their profile photo

 

They can be pushy, and sometimes can be seductive without even realizing it…so that they can dress in revealing clothes and then wonder why they are getting all that extra attention. Thus, the Airbnb host whose profile photo shows her in a skimpy top with a lot of cleavage showing, may well be a Type Two.  In the host community, we’ve actually seen some very provocative photos in host profiles, or guest profiles, and these strike me as less aware Twos who just dont’ realize quite how they are behaving in terms of drawing other’s attention to them and soliciting others to need or want them.  However, when the Two is healthy, they can give more unconditionally, and are generous, emotionally expressive (the types Two, Four and Three are the emotionally based types on the Enneagram) and enjoy doing good for others and as hosts would probably be able to shower guests with special gifts and treats and thoughtful little additions, all the while making them feel loved.

Type 3: The Achiever or The Motivator

The Type Three is the type of person most likely to become the CEO of a corporation, a successful entrepreneur, or president of the United States.  Enneatype 3Threes are very focused on success and achievement, and because of that, they usually are very successful people, often wealthy.  In the hosting world, Threes are the ones most likely to expand their Airbnb business to include more properties.  They are the ones most likely to write books with titles like “How I became a Millionaire Airbnb Superhost and how you can Too.” Or, “How to Make a Freaking Ginormous Amount of Money as an Airbnb Host so you can retire from Your Day Job.”  Yes, the Three is very heavily oriented to success and making money, and focused on this, and they usually have good strategies for accomplishing their goals.  They are indeed the people to turn to if you want to learn how to be successful — though if you’re not a Three also, their methods might not work so well for you, because their methods involve their Three values.

Often Threes are involved in “motivation” type work, as career coaches, or doing paid gigs around the country on how people can overcome thier own inner resistances or their mother-in-law’s nay-saying, or what have you, and succeed.  Or, the Three may not do any talks or coaching at all, but simply put in one 70 hr workweek after another and make a mint, or work their way up the corporate ladder.  Brian Chesky is  likely a Three, as is Bill Clinton.

multipurpose businessman
 

The Three is a classic busy Executive

 

As hosts, Threes are likely to be a bit impatient with guests who need much attention, as the Three is probably running at least 3 to 5 different Airbnb listings at the start, (and more as they get money to open more) , and so they don’t have much time to spend on this one guest when they have all the others to attend to.  Threes will be very good at organizing and putting in place all the things that are needed for success, from good cleaning to quality linens and furniture, to all the needed appliances, to use of all the hosting apps that can assist them.  Where they might come up short is in taste and uniqueness.  They aren’t particularly original people, and they are not often eccentric, so they are probably not the ones offering weird treehouse listings adorned with spiritual quotes.
The goal of the Three is success and maximizing their business, so they are not likely to make personal statements at their home, in their listing or have house rules or policies, or decor or anything else which could potentially put off some or in any way limit their business.  There is likely more focus on quantity of guests over quality time for themselves.  As a whole they are likely to accomplish excellence in all things related to hosting.  In terms of emotionality,  even though they are an emotionally based type, they tend to be the most out of touch with their feelings of the 3 feeling types,  so until they reach the more healthy level for their type, they may not come across as quite as personable and genuinely caring and warm as Twos or Fours or Nines might be.

One of the areas where Threes might have trouble as hosts, is a drawback to being so oriented to achievement — their own needs for rest and relaxation, down time, and their own health might get compromised by what they do to succeed.  Taking enough time off and vacations will be important for Threes.

The Type Four: The Individualist 

The Airbnb listing that’s highly unique, aesthetic, and particularly the one with tones of eccentricity, probably belongs to a Four.  (This is my own Enneatype, and my house — certainly unique and perhaps eccentric — fits the Four pattern this way)  Fours are “the artistic temperament among the Enneatypes”, which is not to say that they alone can be artists.  All types can be artists, but for the Four, they are in search of their own identity through their art.  Their art defines them for themselves in a way that it is less likely to for other types.  Enneatype 4Fours place very high value on creativity, whether that be in creating a creative home/listing for guests, (it will be unique) or whether this is their private world of art or music or writing.  Some (eg Riso and Hudson, in their book on the Enneagram) say the Fours are “the most profoundly creative of all the types, as intuition with insight, emotional sensitivity with intellectual comprehension, often with stunning, prophetic results.”  This gift doesn’t necessarily translate so well to hosting, though, as guests don’t book listings in order to be endowed with prophetic utterances. Thus the Four can easily feel (as with —-sigh — so many other places in life) that hosting does not allow them to express their real self, (which they so crave to do!) because —if they are healthy and have worked on themselves — the spiritual and psychological gifts and insights they’ve obtained,  aren’t necessarily needed in simply providing a guest a nice clean room and generous hospitality.  Ideally, for the Four , the guest will also look beyond the clean sheets and efficient check in procedure, and appreciate the aesthetics of the environment, or even better, recognize something unique and creative in the person of the Four host.  Fours crave to be seen in this way.  However, Fours also tend to be loners/introverts, so while they crave being seen and appreciated for who they are, they also are less likely than others to spend a lot of time socializing with guests, making it hard for them to get this recognition.

hobbit home in sun
 

The Four wants to create a very UNIQUE listing

 

Other types can also create aesthetic environments for guests, but the Four is the type the most likely to say of the listing or their home, “This is me, I am expressing me.  These are my values. ”  And their values and self WILL be unique, for Fours abhor the ordinary.  For a Type Four, one of the most upsetting things they can hear is, “You’re just like everyone else.” 

Others may just say, “I thought this would look interesting, had a nice texture.” For the Four, it’ can be “This texture represents my soul.”
Thus for the Four, bringing guests into their home is revealing — they are revealing to the guest who they are.  A rebuff by a guest thus is taken personally — when the guest criticizes the environment, they are perhaps without knowing it also criticizing the very person of the Type Four.  Thus the Four has a tendency to take things more personally than say a Three or a Five.  This can make them more vulnerable, and become a significant challenge when hosting.

Also, the Four more than other types, tends to feel shame.  Criticism by guest about the dust bunnies under the bed, or a couple dirty dishes in the kitchen, can trigger the Four to feel awful shame, personal shame.  A dust bunny under the bed for a Four isn’t just a dust bunny under the bed!  It could mean, “I am a worthless person, I’m a disgusting excuse for a host” or even, “, I should give up hosting”. This shame can go quite deep, particularly in the less healthy Fours, and perhaps trigger rage.  Fours can really transform their lives when they learn to “give people back their stuff” and not allow others to shame them.  This they can best do by going in the direction of growth for a Four, toward the One.

The Four is not the best one to turn to for advice on being successful and obtaining more wealth.  Because the Four doesn’t really care about that.  In fact they find the pursuit of wealth and success a bit — ugh — so ordinary!
But, if you want counseling on how to deepen your spiritual life, learn to see the enchanted realm behind the surface appearances,  have someone to share poetry or esoteric studies with, or learn how to most definitely not be ordinary, then the Four will be your go-to type!.

Type Five: The Investigator

The Types Five, Six and Seven are the “thinking” or mental centered types of the Enneagram.  Fives are the scholars or scientists of the Enneagram, and so for them too, as for the Four, this orientation doesn’t translate so easily to hosting as for some of the other types. Enneatype 5 Fives as hosts are the most likely to make a thorough study of the subject of hosting before getting involved in it. They are the most mentally alert and curious of all the types, so they are also the ones most likely to ask a large variety of astute and penetrating questions about the hosting business.  One of the biggest challenges for Fives in hosting, is having someone in their space.  They are often much more comfortable with the idea of renting out a space that they dont’ live in.  Fives can be quite reclusive and feel threatened if their protective cocoon of isolation is threatened, as may occur with a guest in the house.
If they do have guests in their house, they might come across as a bit stiff or perhaps eccentric. They are also likely to often run off to their room to hide, where they can be safe from intrusion.  Fives will be challenged as hosts in the area of bodily comfort, and might completely inadvertently furnish a room in a way that makes it too bland or sterile, too dark, with uncomfortable linens and mushy or too-hard pillows.  They are often alienated from their own visceral or somatic experience, so the creation of a cozy and attractive , sensually pleasing guest room is going to be quite a challenge for them.  They might want to hire a feeling type like a Four or Two, or a somatic belly centered type like an Eight or a Nine, to help them set up their listing for maximal guest comfort.

Thinking is difficultThe Five will be quite good at giving the guest their privacy and not intruding on them.  They also will likely be able to deal with problems with guests without flying off the handle or getting emotionally reactive.

As Carl Jung astutely pointed out, “Thinking is difficult: that’s why most people judge.” It’s also why many people use assumptions and prejudices instead of employing thinking.  But if there’s a type who is able to really think clearly, it’s the healthy and well-developed type Five.

Type Six: The Loyalist

The type Six is fear-based and craves security.  Of all the types, they are likely to have the hardest time making decisions. Whether or not to be an Airbnb host might be one such decision…another might be, “Should I accept this guest?”  Enneatype 6So as hosts, they are likely to be indecisive and often asking other hosts for the right or best way to do things…such as how to decide whether to accept a guest who presents in a certain way that raises some concerns. They will appreciate other hosts offering tried and tested ways of screening guests or lists of “red flags”.  However,  the Sixes tendency to anti-authoritarianism may lead them to harshly criticize any lists of “red flags” which in their view might involve prejudice, or are issued by “authority” figures or host community leaders whom their anti-authoritarian posture leads them to distrust.

Being fear based and also a mental type, Sixes have likely thought through all possible major earthly catastrophes, and so are the most likely of all the hosts to have working smoke detectors and CO2 detectors in all appropriate rooms, as well as working fire extinguishers.  In fact maybe they will have extras of all these. They will have flood supplies, earthquake supplies, and a backup generator.  They will have exits labelled and already made a list of what they will pack up and evacuate in the event of a fire or major natural disaster.Earthquake supplies kit

If you find a listing with the world’s most excellent set of Earthquake , Flood or Fire readiness supplies, this may well belong to a Six.

Sixes are likely to be aware of their fears regarding hosting — and be quite effected, more so perhaps than most others, by the “Airbnb nightmare guest” stories.

Sixes are in search of “reliable”: ways of running their hosting business.  They want a sure thing, some guarantee of security, and one of the things that bothers them most may be the unknowns in the hosting business.
Loyalty and reliable support structures are important to the Six, so they are a bit more likely than other types to be a part of some host community, and help build communities of mutal support.  Less healthy Sixes can have paranoid reactions and anti-authoritarian responses to the host community groups they are in, sometimes engaging in relentless campaigns of attacking the group leader(s) or moderators.  Anti-authoritarianism and a tendency to attack the leader, just because that person is in the position of authority,  is a trait quite possibly found more often in Sixes than other types.
More healthy Sixes, however, can be some of the best members of host groups, putting in the hard work and commitment it takes to keep the group going.

Type Seven: the Enthusiast

The Seven as a host wants their guest to have fun.  They themselves tend to engage in a lot of fun projects, hoping not to miss out on any of the fun in life.  They are likely to have an infectious enthusiasm that rubs off on their guests.  Enneatype 7Now that Airbnb offers “Experiences”, this is a place the Seven can really shine, as they have lots of ideas for fun experiences, and adtually make excellent travel guides.
The characteristic vice of the Seven is gluttony, but this doesn’t necessarily apply only to food.  Sevens want to stuff themselves with fun experiences, and mental stimulation.  So very likely the Seven will not only be signing up to host “Experiences”, but they will be taking lots of Experiences as guests as well.
One of the biggest challenges for the Seven as host may be follow through.  Hosting may just be one of many exciting ideas and experiences they get involved in.  They may not have much staying power when challenges arise and guests become annoying, and may too easily abandon hosting for the next fun adventure.

Type Eight: The Boss or the Challenger 

Eights are physically centered, very physically vital people.  They are domineering and self-confident.  Enneatype 8As hosts, Eights are the least likely to be negatively effected by problem guests, because they are the type most likely to be able to powerfully and authoritatively confront the guest and subdue them.  Eights like straight, direct communication, and may actually come across too direct for many guests, who might find their style a bit confrontational.  Eights can easily intimidate others.
Eights dont’ like taking direction/instruction from others, so the hosting business and other types of self-employment can suit them very well indeed.  Also, Eights have so much physical vitality, that they are not likely to get tired out by the work required to keep up an Airbnb, even if there is a lot of physical work and cleaning involved.  My father is an Eight — he has more physical vitality than anyone else I”ve ever known.  And at age 88, he’s still going downhill skiiing in winter!

A challenge for the Eight will be in helping a guest who is  a much meeker and milder type, feel comfortable in the home when the energy of the Eight is so powerful.  Their guests could actually feel scared of them, Eights can be so imposing and have such a powerful aura.  However, Eights in their growth direction go to Two, so this means that at their best, they are able to direct their power and energy to caring for others.   IF this energy is directed towards generosity and helping the guest and making them comfortable, this is likely to turn out very well for both.

Type Nine; The Mediator, the Peacemaker 

The Enneatype 9, is highly oriented towards love and peace and well being, and the Nine is  very uncomfortable with conflict. So the Nine is likely to let their guests do what they want and may have quite  hard time “enforcing” any house rules. enneatype 9 IF they even have any house rules at all…Nines are so “laid back” that they may have that house rule that more experienced hosts know is a basically the same as saying “anything goes, ”  eg, “Treat my home as you would treat yours…..and be cool“.
Enforcing house rules  could well seem not very peaceful or loving to the Nine.   And at the same time, they may tend to lecture other hosts to place as much value on love and peace and a “let them do what they want” orientation to guests, as they themselves do, because though they don’t realize it, they could be expecting that all other hosts see through the eyes of an Enneatype 9..but they dont’, because they aren’t. Nines can sometimes be passive aggressive in this way.  Understanding that there are other types who are oriented differently might help.

Given that love and peace and well being are the orientation of Nines, they as well as Twos are really the most “natural” Airbnb hosts, they are highly oriented to taking care of guests and being generous and hospitable and making sure that the guest has all their needs seen to.  The guest is likely to feel loved in the Airbnb listing run by a Nine.  They are also very likely to feel peaceful there as the Nine at their best just exudes peace and ease.

Nines have sloth as their weakness, so they are one of the types which will have the hardest time keeping the Airbnb listing very clean.  I have a Nine friend for instance, who very rarely dusts or vacuums her house.  I have another Nine friend who not only doesn’t clean his house, he never picks up anything off the floor if it falls down.  His house looks like it was hit by a hurricane or everything fell down in an earthquake, but there was no natural disaster.  He’s just the epitome of slothful.  (Unhealthy Nine)

Nines can be SO heavily oriented to taking care of others, that they can have a very hard time saying NO to anyone.  Ironically, this can mean that even though their type is so ideally suited to being a host, that they have a very hard time hosting because they are unable to articulate boundaries or set limits, and end up feeling very taken advantage of by a demanding guest — to whose every whim they will give in.
For instance, I have a Nine friend, who is so temperamentally incapable of saying no, that this part of her actually went into  the physical structure of her home.  She has a very small one bedroom house.  At one point, she wanted to add a room to it, and had the money to do so.  It would have been natural to add a 2nd bedroom.  But because of her exceeding great difficulty in saying no, which among other things meant that she was unable to say no to any relative who wanted to stay or even live with her, she spent her money to build a room addition to her house, but the room was only 6 ft wide by 10 ft long.  In other words, completely unsuitable size for a bedroom> WHy the small size of the room? Because, she reasoned, it was only by having an additional room which was too small for anyone else to permanently live in, that she could be sure that no relative would take up permanent residency in her home.  She herself was unable to say no, so rather than learn to say no, she had to build a room that would say no for her.  And by doing this, she spent her money  unwisely and added a room to her house which is not likely to be as of much use to anyone else as a real sized bedroom would have been, and it is also quite crowded and difficult to use even for her.

Carl Jung

Carl Jung: Famous Type Nine

This situation reveals another personality characteristic of the less healthy Nine which could become a problem in the hosting business as in other areas of life — there can be a tendency to stubbornness. And this stubbornness can involve a refusal to develop parts of one’s psyche or new skills…such as the skill to be able to say no.  When Nines are quite healthy and learn to say no and keep their boundaries, they can be excellent hosts indeed, and easily help others to also feel loved.
It’s believed that Carl Jung, the founder of Archetypal Psychology, who provided the origins of the Myers-Briggs personality typology system, was a Nine, as Nines also can have a strong ability to synthesize information.

Why Catering to the Guests’ Every need and Pampering them is not good for every Enneatype to Do

Now after covering some basics on the types, I want to present some information that can be enlightening for some when it comes to understanding the differences in types.  Though the hosting business is highly oriented to providing hospitality for guests, and catering to their needs, it’s also true that being “too” concerned with guests’ needs can be detrimental to some Enneatypes.  I gave the example above, of the type Nine who was unable to say no. This would mean that she would end up doing whatever the guest asked, but be very resentful afterwards, and very likely this would quickly burn her out on hosting.  (This friend I refer to isn’t a host).

As another example, consider that each type has a “direction of growth” and a “direction of disintegration.”  This means that for instance, for the Type Four, it’s a GOOD thing for the Four to be more like a type ONe.  Four growth stressThat is growth for the Four.  But if the Four is more like a Two, taking care of people, attending on their every need, rescuing orphan cats and dogs…that is BAD for a Four to do, it’s disintegration. It’s not the activity they need for growth.  So, paradoxically, what looks on the outside like “good hosting” to one person, may be deleterious for a certain Enneatype.

 

When Women Say No: Airbnb Hosting, House Rules, and Women’s Control of their own Space

women say noWhat’s the one area in short term rental hosting where there is the most overt bigotry, judgement, and intolerance in the host community?

No, I’m not talking about discrimination based on race or sexual orientation — those issues that take up so much space in the news these days, those matters we are fervidly obsessed with in our discrimination-obsessed popular culture.  Rather, I am talking about something much more innocuous, something much more benign — which draws a surprising amount of what one may describe as sheer bigotry in response.  I am referring to the rageful responses  to women saying no.  

I’ve noticed a curious phenomenon in my years in participating in the hosting community:  a good number of fellow hosts and guests alike seem to have significant difficulty with women saying no.  Difficulty with women, in essence, who are trying to control their own space, an intimate space, the space in which they themselves live — by setting certain house rules for guests to follow in that space.  It seems that both fellow hosts and guests too (of both genders!)  can sometimes become enraged when women say no.  I think it’s worth reflecting on this phenomenon, because I believe it might point to a level of entitlement, and perhaps male expectation of female accommodation of them and all their needs and wants.

 
We as Airbnb hosts are offering accommodations, and as such, it is expected that we will be accommodating to guests.  This “accommodation” , when it applies to female hosts, fits into a context, and that context is that women (much more than men) have historically been expected to be accommodating.  Historically, men demand accommodation, and women are the ones who accommodate.   So all female hosts are in a sense “set up” by the expectations generated from the context of male-female relationships through thousands of years of patriarchal history.  The expectations of guests (both male and female) may be conscious or unconscious, and while many guest’s expectations are reasonable for someone offering “accommodations”, others are not, and unreasonable expectations or demands may fit right into this long history of expecting women to be accommodating, and (male) rage as a response when women are not accommodating.

Here’s a blog in which the author asks whether women are more accommodating than men:  Are Women more inclined to be accomodating .

mother and children

Mother: everyone wants a good one!

There is a powerful psychological issue related to our expectation that women be accommodating:  the mother complex.   Female hosts readily accrue a projection, from their guests/renters, of the “mother” archetype, particularly by those with a powerful mother complex.   The mother archetype is very strong, very powerful — many people have powerful “complexes” (Jungian term) about “mother”. Eg — they themselves had a cold mother, absent mother, bad mother, breast-denying mother, critical mother, misattuned mother, etc. For everything that they did not get, in their psychological development, from a mother who couldn’t provide it, some people are “programmed” (just like computer programming!) to subconsciously “seek out” mother in the world.

I say this as someone who has just such an issue myself, by the way– the key difference being — I’ve been aware of it, so I can work with it, and be aware of the “mother” I have long sought out in others.  (Being aware of this helps a lot in finding good mother “substitutes”!)

Women in significant roles of authority, or those providing some need, such as — employment , housing, accomodations — are easy fits to people’s (both adult men’s and women’s!) “mother complex” and thus, such people may lash out at the woman who essentially “is not a good breast, offering sweet milk”.

mother archetype

Careful: It’s easy for people to expect any woman to be the Goddess herself

As additional important context on this issue — in First World nations even as in Third World countries and places where sexism and patriarchal values are more entrenched,  men are much safer in public spaces than women are.  The simple fact is that everywhere in the world, weaker people, those less capable of defending themselves, are more vulnerable to criminal predation, sexual harrassment and sexual abuse.  Men may also have to worry about being robbed when walking home on dark streets at night, but women have to worry , as well, about being sexually assaulted.  Men can ride public transit without much worry about their safety, but women are often leered at or groped on public transit.  This happens a lot in Japan.  It happens so much in Mexico, apparently, that there women have begun a  campaign   to install “penis seats” on trains and create videos and more videos showing unsuspecting men having their asses prominently photographed, to try to help men become more aware of the level of the problem.

Indeed in some nations,  women aren’t even allowed to go out alone, and can be attacked if they do.  Men can generally feel much more confident and less fearful of travelling alone almost anywhere in the world, but women are much less likely to travel alone, and more likely to be fearful if they do.  As a woman, even as a particularly independent woman, I recall losing a relationship because my friend could not accept that I would go hiking alone at night.  women dont' feel safe

I mention these things because, to the extent that women feel less safe in public spaces, their own home — a space which they can control  and make safe —may become vastly more important to them by comparision.  Men who dont’ experience feeling so unsafe in public places may have trouble empathizing or understanding the significance that this creates for women, and the great importance, of being able to control their own home  space.  Which may mean, if they are an Airbnb host, or have any renters in their home, coming up with “rules” and policies such that they can continue to guard and protect and keep safe their own private space.  Men (and some womens’ ) inability to understand or respect a woman’s need to control her own small corner of safe space in the world can range from simply a failure to empathize, to smug dismissals of the right of women to engage in any hosting at all (a contemptuous and curt :  “if you have such hangups , you’re not meant for hosting ” ) all the way to expressing contempt and even rage, and sometimes, even seeking to create laws which would violently intrude upon this private space by legislating open access to it.

One of the reasons, for instance, why I oppose all anti-discrimination laws as applied to private homes, is because such laws represent and in fact re-enact a patriarchal demand by males to access women’s space, and reify a patriarchal society in which women are forced to be accommodating, even if at the expense of their own sense of safety.

I am not saying that women have to be able to engage in illegal discrimination in order to feel safe.  What I’m saying is that the boundaries by which a woman creates a safe zone in her home, and the methods of screening renters that she uses to remain safe, are violated by patriarchal laws which seek to appropriate her own property from beneath her, — to define it away from her by claiming that, in essence, if she is so financially unfortunate as to require renters to be able to afford her housing, then in essence her home is no longer hers and it becomes a public space that others  — such as men — have a right to make demands upon.  Such laws  allow others to violently demand access to her home.

It took a while for me to see the phenomenon of hosts attacking “women who say no” in their own community.

The first sense I had that there was something curious going on, was the exceptionally strong response that some guests, as well as fellow hosts, had to hosts  — particularly female hosts  — who had “strict house rules.”  Many hosts, including some who often bragged about their liberal orientation, their tolerance, their acceptance of “diversity” and different kinds of people, simply could not accept the diversity and difference implied by hosts who had more house rules, or ones that they didn’t like.  Hosts could apparently accept guests of all ethnicities, all nationalities, different sexual or political orienations…but a host who wouldn’t allow guests to have their relatives over to visit? This was unacceptable to many hosts, who responded with belitting comments.  In one recent situation on a host community board, a host revealed that she didn’t allow guests to have visitors, and  posted that she was angry because a male guest yelled at her in response to her attempt to enforce this rule. Instead of recognizing the inappropriate behavior of the guest in this instance, fellow hosts berated her over her house rules.  woman saying no

Fellow hosts chided this host with statements such as: “you need to relax” or “rules rules rules over the top and in the first hour…hosts need people skills “(implying that this host did not have people skills).   There were demands that she explain herself:  “Why such a strict rule?”  and hosts felt free to dismiss the idea that the host may have had this specific rule for a reason, instead empathizing with the enraged guest who booked a place without reading the rules, and then demanded that he be allowed to violate the rules:   “As a parent I’d be pretty miffed too, to be told my child wasn’t allowed in the house”.  Other hosts seemed unable to take in the problem created by a guest yelling at the host demanding to violate her house rules  —“I dont’ see the problem” , even after the host explained the problem.    Several hosts said things like “I think you should bend your rules a little”, which again shows an inability to respect this female hosts’ right to run her house as she saw fit, to realize that her house rules were most likely not created randomly or by accident but with intention, and to imagine that there is probably a good reason for every one of them.
Another host said “You made the choice to be confrontational”, which is a form of victim-blaming — like telling the woman who said no to the panhandler, and then got hit over the head by him, “You made the choice not to be nice. Now look what happened to you because of your choice. Can’t you just give him some change?”  women say no again

The response of guests to “strict house rules” can be even more intense, enraged, and antagonistic.  I recall reading an article by an Airbnb guest, directed towards other guests and giving instructions on how to find a place to stay, in which that (male) guest ridiculed hosts who had “a lot of house rules”.  Then, instead of urging guests to find a listing which had house rules which suited them, he urged guests to simply violate the house rules when they booked a place that had ones they thought excessive.  Two trends may coincide here: we live in an “entitlement culture” where an increasing number of people feel that they should be entitled to all kinds of things, and there is the old uncurrent, from ancient history, of men demanding that women accommodate their needs. And at the juxtaposition where those trends meet, is the female Airbnb host who says NO   — and ends up excoriated for being so “rude” as to run her own home as she wishes, and control her own space.

One of the ways that a patriarchal, sexist culture dismisses women who try to control their own space and stand up for themselves, is by dismissing them as “crazy”.   Some women attack other women who are trying to control their own space, by referring to them as “digusting control freaks”  — and worse.  Here’s a particularly venomous message that someone felt compelled to send to me, when they read my “Goodbye to Roommates” series:    nasty message

As evidenced here, the language that some hosts use to excoriate other hosts who are simply trying to feel safe in their own home can be appallingly judgmental.  Men are judged too, but based on my own experience with renters, and what I’ve seen in the host community, I am inclined to believe that the most atrocious judgment is directed at female hosts/landlords — and it’s both men and women who can be so intolerant of women trying to run their home in their own way.

One has to realize that with such intense intolerance, even to the point of rage, there’s something being triggered in the attacking host, by a woman who simply says no.  Apparently this is an extraordinarily loaded thing to do. Which is why I suggest that more women do it. Women need to take up more space — their space — and I invite you all to do it. Of course, the biggest way of saying no is not having any renters at all, but many women have renters not because they want to be obedient to sexist demands that they accommodate, but rather, because they are in financial need.  Women still earn only about 75% of what men earn for doing the same job.  (See here ) And women have historically figured largely as proprietors of guest homes, lodging houses, pensions and boarding houses — in fact, this has been “women’s work” to such a great extent, that I also think it’s worth reflecting upon the extent to which the prevalent “anti-Airbnb” sentiment/activism in our culture, may be in part a sexist phenomenon, since most hosts are women (middle aged or older actually).  Is there a significant degree of social intolerance regarding women controlling their own space, and other’s access to it?

When women are  both inviting renters/guests in and also drawing boundary lines to protect one’s private space and the environment there, where it  the world gets up in arms and outraged about just what lines women draw where in their own home.

After reading my articles about struggles that I had with renters who were exceptionally defiant of and disrespectful towards my (somewhat strict) house rules, one fellow host began using terms such as “crazy” to dismiss me and my efforts to control my own space. There’s a way in which male entitlement can only view women who refuse to accomodate them, as “crazy” or “mentally ill”, when in fact it’s the entitlement mentality, the unreasonable and invasive demands that men (as well as women, in a patriarchal culture) make of women, which is the actual dysfunctionality in the situation.  Consider whether we are likely to call  men “crazy” when they try to control their own space  — no, we’re more likely to call women “hysterical” if they demand access to space that men control.  But shift the genders, and when women saying “no” leads to male “hysteria”, suddenly it’s the men who are viewed as reasonable in their entitled demands, and the women who are setting healthy boundaries are being defined out of the realm of rationality by depicting them as crazy, nuts.

Apart from a rage when women depart from the accommodating role that men demand them to remain in, what could fuel this level of intolerance towards female hosts who show that they want to control their own space, and demonstrate, with their house rules, that they are quite capable of doing so?

I think one factor involved is the inability of many hosts to recognize that there may be power struggles involved in the guest-host relationship, particularly if the host is a female who has signified in some way, (such as with “strict” house rules) that she intends to control her own space, and the guest is a male (or a woman conditioned thru the patriarchal culture to expect other women to be accommodating) who is threatened at some level (could be subconscious) by women who are controlling their space and may say “no” to them at one or more levels.    Women tend to be more sensitive to power struggle issues, and intuitive about them, and so we can sense when a guest might be defying our rules intentionally, out of some deep need to reject our authority, versus little slip ups or omissions which everyone makes innocently.

It seems to me that many hosts are simply oblivious, or perhaps in denial, about the way such power struggles may unfold, and the potential importance to the host, of not allowing the guest to bully her in subtle ways. Because, like it or not, a guest’s continual and intentional defiance of a certain house rule, may amount to an insidious bullying.  And each host has the right to respond to such bullying (or encroachment upon their own space, as the case may be) in the way they think best.  Different personality types may result in different responses to the same phenomenon.  No one style is right — there’s only what’s right for you.  Why do some hosts have so much trouble tolerating someone else’s right to use their own style?

Some hosts may find that their preference is to just de-escalate the defiance by ignoring it, and allowing the guests’ actions to become futile in that they do not succeed in “getting a rise” out of the host. In other words to win over a guest’s attempt to subvert their authority by pure peaceableness.  However, another host may feel that it’s just not workable for her to ignore continual intentional violations of house rules, even if they pertain to a relatively “trivial” issue.  This may be doubly important if it’s not only the host who is bothered by these violations, but also another guest. (As far as that goes, let’s admit that more than one serious fight in a marriage has likely been started by no more than “socks on the floor” — which I mention to indicate that “everything is relative”, even fairly trivial situations).  Power struggle 2

For instance, I recall a post on a host community board, where a female host discovered that one of her two guests was violating the rules about keeping their personal items stored in areas designated for personal storage, and was continually putting their personal items elsewhere around the house.  The extent of this was minor, but the host wanted the rule followed, quite likely because she was aware that the placement of the guest’s personal items around the house was not simply accidental, but had a symbolic meaning, and related to the guest “staking out territory and marking it” in the hosts’ home — much as a dog pees at corners of its territory to mark what it owns. Problem being, that the guest didn’t own any territory in the host’s home, outside the guest room she had booked.

When the female host posted about this situation on the host community, there was a surprising amoung of backlash from other hosts, against the host for enforcing a rule over a “trivial” issue, again including the sexist assertions that she, the host, was “crazy”.  These hosts inappropriately judged and demeaned this host for handling a situation with insight and in the way she thought best.  In fact, as that particular guests’ reservation drew to a close, the guest violated a couple other house rules in a more egregious fashion, with a likewise exceptionally entitled attitude — and this demonstrated to the host that she had been right about the undercurrent of defiance of authority involved with this guest.

A fellow host expressed her view of the guest- host relationship in this way, which I thought appropriate:  “You as the host need to be the Alpha (as in — the Alpha dog, the head of the pack) in your home.  If not, all is lost.”  This comment demonstrates that beyond the simplistic and facile, superficial and sometimes cutesy-cloying depiction of the host as an “accommodating” person offering “accommodations”, there is another theme/issue potentiallly involved in the host-guest relationship, that of power issues and potentially a power struggle.  This may not be there at all if the guest is a decent, respectful person and has no deepseated need to defy authority, nor any issues about going into uncontrollable rage when women say “no.”  In fact, I have very rarely sensed a “power struggle” going on between myself and any of my guests.  But I think that is in part because I’ve already done so much to communicate, via my listing description and house rules, that I am the Alpha Dog  — albeit a kindly one.  So my guests are already coming with that understanding.

But if there is a power issue involved, shouldn’t it be up to the host to decide how to handle that? Is it appropriate to judge the host about how she deals with power struggles in her own home?

My intention with this blog is to suggest that there is a relationship between how some respond to  “strict house rules”, and how they respond to women who say no.  And that with its themes that correspond to the long history of male demands that women be accomodating, this issue bears more thought and reflection than facile dismissals and judgments of women (or really any host, male or female) who have more house rules than you do.

hell no

Wanted: A Good Match

What makes for a good Airbnb guest?

There are some things that are more obvious about what makes a good guest: someone who is respectful, who communicates well, who cleans up after themselves.  But there are other aspects of what makes for a good Airbnb guest, which may be less obvious to those who haven’t been hosts, or who haven’t participated in conversations about guests in the community of hosts.  One of the most frequent complaints from hosts about guests, is that the guest is wanting something that the host isn’t offering – or not only wanting it, but expecting or demanding it.  So in essence there is a mismatch between what the host is offering and what the guest is seeking, and this mismatch too often is lost on the guest.

Good Match faces
A good match is a beautiful thing!!!

 

Let’s take a concrete example so it may be clearer.  Say you are going on vacation and want to rent a car.  You look at the offerings of the local car rental company and decide to rent a compact car, say a Ford Fiesta or Toyota Corolla, because the price fits your budget.  Then on the day you go to pick up the car and start your trip, you go to the car rental agency and express surprise that the Toyota Corolla isn’t larger, saying that you have 6 people in your party and you need more space.  You demand an upgrade to a Dodge Minivan, but insist that you won’t pay more than for the Compact Car rental, arguing that any decent car rental should be one that can fit 6 people.  Now the car rental company will most certainly refuse to give you a Dodge Minivan for the price of a Toyota Corolla.  Why do guests expect Airbnb hosts to do any different?

Perhaps the greatest value of the many places to stay on Airbnb (literally millions now!) is the diversity of places to stay.  There is something for everyone on Airbnb.  Hence, it is really possible for guests to find exactly the type of space that suits them, particularly if they are looking sufficiently far in advance of their trip.  There are small quiet spaces for one person, there are large homes for large groups.  There are listings where no fragrances or smoking is permitted, and others which encourage guests who partake of Cannabis (see www.budandbreakfast.com).  There are places featuring swimming pools, and encouraging families, encouraging recreating at the listing, and there are minimalist listings for busy adults, oriented to those who are going to be out a lot.  There are listings specifically for certain interest groups, such as nudists on “nakations” .  Screenshot (2226)There are listings in treehouses, requiring climbing up a ladder to access, and listings on flat ground, suitable for those in wheelchairs.  There are those featuring pet dogs or llamas and welcoming pets, and listings with hosts (or aimed at guests) who are allergic to dogs or cats and can’t accommodate them.  There are listings in RV’s, tents, yurts, cabins, and yachts.

Precisely because there is such a robust abundance of types of listings and immense variety in places to stay, it always strikes me as odd, and not infrequently rude, when guests ask to stay at listings that clearly do not suit their needs or their expectations.  Hosts who don’t’ allow smoking on the premises, too often report finding cigarette butts and ashes inside the property after the guest departed.  Hosts who have a maximum of say 4 guests, often come to the host community to vent about how they saw 6 or 8 guests with luggage in tow departing the listing on check out day.  Hosts who don’t’ allow pets report getting inquiries and reservation requests from guests with dogs or “emotional support service animals” asking to stay at their home.  Hosts with a clearly stated price, get inquiries from guests who are asking for a 40-50% discount from that stated price.  Hosts whose maximum stay is 7 days get guests inquiring asking to stay 3 weeks.  Hosts who have strict cancellation policy, get guests who cancel and expect a refund which is not in keeping with the strict cancellation policy.  Hosts who ask guests to read the house rules before booking, get guests booking and violating the house rules, later saying “I didn’t know about that rule: you should have told me about it in advance.”  A host who  specifies that their listing has a maximum occupancy of two, and  may not be suitable for small children, reports getting a reservation request from an adult couple, who they accept, only to hear later from the couple that the couple plans to bring their two small children along.

sneaking in kids
Sneaking the kids in through the window

One could view all these cases, as an attempt by the guest to force the provider to swap out a Toyota Corolla for a Dodge Minivan at the price of the Compact Car.  Particularly in the case where the guests are bringing more people (sometimes many more!) than they stated at the time of the booking, they really are dishonestly seeking to get more for less.  But given the huge number of such situations, as reported by hosts, as well as the fact that a person renting a car would have no luck in getting a Minivan for the price of a Compact just by claiming “I didn’t know” when they were booking it, we have to ask what is going on.  Why are so many guests expecting something at the listing that not only they haven’t paid for, but in many cases is expressly prohibited by the host? Why are there so many mismatches?

 

I see three possible explanations for this problem, which are interrelated.  One has to do with a common complaint of hosts  “the guest didn’t read the description of my place!/didn’t read my house rules!” If a guest books without knowing what they are actually booking, there are bound to be problems.  Sometimes, in order to try to avoid this type of problem, hosts will trim down their listing description or list of house rules, theorizing that there’s a better chance of the guest reading everything, if the amount they have to read is less.  Unfortunately the problem with this approach is that something that was quite important to know, has been chopped out.  As I like to tell hosts, when they ask, “What is the most important house rule?” – it’s the house rule that you left out of your house rules.  It’s Murphy’s Law as applied to Airbnb hosting.  You can be sure that the issue that will become significant during a guests’ stay, has to do with the house rule you decided to remove from your house rules, because you were worried that your house rules were becoming too much “like the yellow pages.”  Eg…very long.

On that note – I have heard a good number of people say that they will not book a place that “has a long list of house rules”.  I find this odd, because house rules very rarely anything more than a sincere attempt by a host to prevent potential problems and ill fitting expectations, by communicating clearly about what they are offering.  House rules are also very often a result of experience – they reflect the fact that the host has learned from experience (eg learned that a short list of house rules is inadequate) and now is communicating in a more complete way.  So for a prospective guest to say, “I don’t want to book there – they have too many house rules” is sort of like saying, “That host communicates too clearly – I would rather they communicated poorly – and they are too thoughtful—I would prefer they didn’t have the experience and wisdom that they have.  Also the host does too much to protect their own property – I’d rather that they were less able to protect their property and themselves from liability.”  That is what guests may be saying when they argue against hosts communicating what needs to be said.

As well,  to refuse to book a place with “lots of house rules” is often presumptuous  — presuming that the intent of the rules is punitive.  But hosts don’t make rules like “Don’t have fun here! Snap to it, sit in the chair in a corner with a dunce cap on!”

sit in corner
Really — this is not how the host wants you spending your vacation!

Have you ever seen that? No, rather the rules tend to be little more than common sense, such as “don’t’ put on hair dye and then lie down on my expensive linens.”  Hosts ourselves really don’t’ like it that we have to write a dozen or two dozen statements which are little more than common sense, but intelligent guests will take this more as a comment about other people’s lack of common sense, than the hosts’ punitive personality.
When guests refuse to book at a listing that has “a lot of house rules” what they are often doing, without realizing it, is devaluing an experienced host, and showing preference for someone less experienced & perhaps more naïve – who may in fact not be able to adequately ensure/protect  the guests’ own quality of experience.    If a guest books a place that has no set quiet hours, perhaps they will begin to realize the wisdom of having more house rules when another guest at the same house makes too much noise after midnight, and the host finds it difficult to do anything about this, saying “this is a chill house, I didn’t want to write too many rules.”

But for those who really are allergic to “long lists of rules” — there is a simple solution.  Don’t book at a place with such rule lists!  Like any decent match, this should be easy enough to do, and yet it surprisingly frequent that hosts report guests booking and then not following the rules.  In fact, I even saw one blog by what looked like a well-experienced Airbnb guest, which actually encouraged people to violate host’s house rules if there were too many of them.  This goes way beyond an accidental mismatch or one resulting from laziness or inattention, and becomes an intentional act of disrespect and rudeness, even bullying of a host.  Instead of “book a place because it’s a good match”, we are seeing some guests booking or trying to book, precisely because they dont’ match the host or the listing.  As I’ve written elsewhere,  I think this exceptionally rude approach can be linked to our contemporary entitlement culture, which focuses heavily on people’s “rights” and minimizes the duties that come with respecting one another.

The second potential explanation for this difficulty in mismatches, which I think is related to the first, is that too many guests don’t view an Airbnb host or their listing in the same professional way, as a solid business, as they would view a car rental agency.  I contend that many guests come with an expectation that Airbnb hosts aren’t actually businesspeople doing business, but are “just plain folks” who can potentially be manipulated/unseated by a pushy or aggressive approach, or who are likely to wobble if shoved.  insecureAnd unfortunately guests may be right in this assessment of hosts, as we can see in all the situations where hosts, perhaps desperate to get a booking, tell the guest that “I don’t’ ordinarily allow children/pets/emotional support llamas/smoking/guests with 17 suitcases/4 month long bookings, but I will permit it in this case…”  And then the wobbling begins.  I urge hosts to think of themselves as a business, act as a business, develop policies and rules, and stick to those.  You may think you are doing guests (and/or yourself) a favor when you make exceptions, but when you do that, you are also teaching guests that hosts’ may not always mean what they say, that they can be manipulated, their rules overcome with enough prodding.

The third explanation for this type of problem with guest mismatches, is that the system itself (Airbnb’s policies and booking system) doesn’t sufficiently penalize those who knowingly book a space that doesn’t match their needs or expectations, and hence, guests who book a Toyota Corolla and then become abusive with contempt that they didn’t get a Dodge Minivan, may find that far from themselves being penalized for their failure to book an appropriate listing, the system actually allows them to penalize the host for not delivering up a Minivan.  They can complain to the host while at the premises, and threaten to contact and complain to Airbnb, which may side with them, particularly if they have not heard the hosts’ side of the story.  They can write a “revenge review” after the stay, marking the host down from 5 stars to 1 or 2 stars, for not providing a Minivan for the price of a Compact Car. Airbnb at this time unfortunately doesn’t have a policy of removing reviews which are factually, materially false, because it has no method to ascertain what is true or false.

 

What is a good Airbnb guest? A good guest is not only someone who is respectful, clean, and communicative but also is someone who is careful to make sure that the listing where they are booking, is actually a good match for their own needs and expectations, and those of the party they are traveling with.

Motel 6 dumpy
This is a Motel 6.
Ritz Carleton
This is the Ritz Carleton.  Note differences.

In order to support more real matches, and less frequent problems with guests in essence paying for a Motel 6 and expecting the Ritz Carleton, guests must put in more effort to read the entire listing description and amenities offered, as well as the house rules. To encourage this, hosts should ask guests to read all of this before they allow someone to book (Instant Book by its nature does not allow this step in the process, and hence I discourage anyone from using it)  As well, Airbnb would do better to support hosts when guests book at a place that their needs/expectations  do not fit, such as by allowing the host to cancel such a guests’ reservation without penalty, and/or by being able to remove reviews which are clearly “revenge reviews” whereby resentful and irresponsible guests seek to punish hosts for not provide or permit what they never claimed they would provide, and what the guest was wrong to presume would be permitted.

Argumentum ex Necessitate vs the Argumentum ad Bureaucraticum

I think it was in 6th grade when I was first introduced to some of the different “logical fallacies” – errors in reasoning which are rather common in popular culture, and which one can find now listed on websites oriented to Philosophical Reasoning, such as this one  or this one. Our 6th grade assignment was to create cartoons that illustrated the use of logical fallacies in TV commercials. For instance, through deployment of “Appeal to Authority” , the local Coal Industry Corporation can create TV commercials saying that Coal mining doesn’t harm the environment, because The Catholic Pope said so. pope-cartoon-smallWell the Pope is certainly an authority, but in the area of the Catholic church, not in the realm of carbon dioxide emissions or global warming, or any of the environmental sciences.

Or one could deploy the “Argumentum Ad Captandum” or “Argumentum Ad Populum” (types of  appeal to popular presumptions) and argue that people should buy shoes from you and not  from your competitor because “they are out of step with the times”.   Populist political leaders make great use of such Argumentums when for instance throwing out  baseless accusations that there were millions of people who voted illegally in the recent election.

In essence, there is a lot of faulty thinking out there…and as a sixth grader I found it fascinating to contemplate the huge number of logical fallacies in our everyday environment, not to mention TV ads.  I am now deploying my never-failing enthusiasm for this subject in the hopes that there are some adults out there among you, who might be capable of rousing yourselves to as much passion and intellectual curiosity as I had as a young middle school student.

For the purposes of our discussion here, let me point out that there is a difference between fallacies involving reason or the thinking process, and those involving law.  In fact, the idea that law itself should be honored and viewed as right, simply because it is the law, is itself a logical fallacy.    This is a fallacy both because laws are not philosophical truths but social constructs, and because laws are constantly in a state of flux and change, and shift with the times.  Thus, —to give an example –the male-to-female transgender individual who produces a driver’s license and states that they are in fact a woman because their driver’s license declares as much, engages in at least three Logical Fallacies — the first, being the Appeal to Authority, which seeks validation for a point of view from the wrong authority.  I think most who think about it for a few moments will understand that truths about things like gender and sexual orientation are not dictated by government, at any level.  Even those realms which could be viewed as providing authority on this question — such as  philosophy and science — seem to fall quite short in seeking to explain such mysteries as gender.

The second fallacy,  we may call the Argumentum Ad Bureacraticum, namely, the argument that what a government does in the name of expediency, or for some perceived common good, either represents some philosophical or ontological truth, or — that the law is simply right because it’s the law.  (There’s an example of the Circular Reasoning fallacy).  anarchists-for-governmentThere’s also a cherry-picking type of logical fallacy involved here — this same individual who eagerly points to the fact that the government has validated her gender, would probably not be so quick to cite government’s possession of truth when it comes to government in North Carolina and the infamous “restroom bill”, HB-2.  This  we could call the “Argumentum-As-You-Please-Em” – the idea that you can be free to cite a particular authority (government) when that is convenient for you, but at other times, feel free to reject the authority of the same entity.

 

In this blog, I want to contrast two types of arguments, which though classed as Logical Fallacies in that landscape of Pure Philsophy, when carried into our practical landscape of short term rental hosts and government regulations, come into contrast with each other and become like two characters in a story, each freighted with a substance beyond the purely rational.  There may be ethics involved — there may be pragmatism, there may be issues of freedom, or social order and harmony.  You decide what you think as the forces of Argumentum Ex Necessitate battle with Argumentum Ad Bureaucraticum, in streets, alleys and apartment buildings of neighborhoods near you!

Let’s line up the two characters of our story and see what they have to say.

First, there is Argumentum Ad Bureacraticum, an “Uncle Sam” who is telling people, or groups of people, or corporations, what they have to do.  Sometimes Sam protects us from injustice or dangers, sometimes Sam causes injustice.  Whether Sam is good or bad depends upon your perspective and the situation, but one thing we can say with certainty is that Sam is powerful, Sam is strong.  uncle-samThere is no one else who can push you around or push around that group or corporation that pushes you around, quite like Uncle Sam.  Sam has penalties, fines, courts and prisons on his side, and you don’t have any tools to fight back when Sam decides to fine you, incarcerate you, put a lien on your home.  For you or some group or corporation may have honor and right on your side, but right doesn’t matter when Sam has the law.  Sam is loved by the law-abiding, or sometimes just by those who aren’t in temperament so law-abiding, but find the law convenient to their enterprise.  Sam’s followers, those of this Argumentum’s camp, often claim to believe that because something is the law, it must be right.  It seems that they dont’ question the law and they don’t question their government. Although I have to wonder how it is that so many people who argue, for instance, that people shouldn’t be doing short term rentals because it’s illegal, are the same people who have those “Question Authority” bumper stickers or posters on their car or on their wall.

I think that if we look deeply into it, we are likely to find very few people who actually believe that any law is right, simply because it’s the law.  Most people ardently support the law when the law expresses their own values, but not otherwise.  So the Argumentum Ad Bureacraticum can be viewed as a composition of various other types of fallacies:  sometimes the Argumentum- -As- You- Please- Em (Cherry Picking one’s support for the law as truth)  or an Appeal to Authority (waving one’s hand in the general direction of municipal codes and statutes when it is convenient to do so), or the Circular Reasoning fallacy — the law is true because it’s the law — or perhaps the Paternalism fallacy, which seeks to summarily dismiss those who would question the law or the moral authority of the law, as childish, immature, “crazy libertarians”, or selfish people who have no concern for the common good which is supposed better represented by blind adherence to the law (when convenient, on a cherry picked basis).  

 

On the other side, we have the Argumentum Ex Necessitate.  This character is very similar to the one styled the Argumentum Ad Misericordiuman appeal to one’s empathetic nature.  In the Argumentum Ex Necessitate, the argument is that one has to do something, or be permitted to do something, because of one’s need.  Hence, the need of the individual is counterpoised to the forces that would oppose the individuals’ action, such as those of law or ethics.  humble-homeOne might view the character of this Argumentum as a humble being, small and not very powerful,  who is threatened in their existence by powerful surrounding forces  which they have little to no ability to abate.

In our times, we are seeing an increasing number of people or groups of people who find themselves in this Argumentum Camp.  Whole nations are being transformed by this Argumentum taking place in Europe, as thousands of refugees pour in, from Syria and several African or Middle Eastern nations, demanding or hoping for asylum and some “exception” to a nation’s standard immigration policy, on the basis of their need.  In the US, we have had migrants from Central and South America crossing our southern border for decades, under the same Argumentum: namely that their need should take precedence over immigration laws.

In the US, homeless individuals have long struggled with the fact that municipal codes and laws seem to have been designed without giving thought to their dilemmas.  Hence, laws which would prohibit people sleeping in public places, when alternate shelter does not exist, have been found unconstitutional on 8th Amendment grounds .  In Berkeley California at present, there is a group of homeless individuals who are protesting what they view as a lack of suitable shelter in that city (they insist that all homeless should be given permanent housing), and their Argumentum seems to be that since they are people in need, they have a right to camp anywhere, including street medians in the middle of thoroughfare.  (They also partake of the Argumentum Ad Lazarum, which states that something must be true, because it is argued by a poor person) homeless-plan-a-plan-bThe City of Berkeley has other views on this and continues to move them out of street medians, upon which the fervent advocates of the homeless (as well as an array of entrenched anti-authority forces) will heave down as far as they can into this Argumentum, and portray the police who remove the homeless from camps in the middle of the street, as an array of militaristic- imperialistic forces.

Indeed, the housing issue is one where we are seeing a great deal of this Argumentum appearing in our times.  There is a real crisis in affordable housing in many areas of the nation.  In many urban areas, artists have long sought out creative ways of living that offered affordable alternatives.  Some of these settings have been commerical warehouses, which they “illegally” renovate and reside in.  This has worked for them for many years, but a recent catastrophic fire in an artist warehouse community in Oakland, the Ghost Ship Fire caused the Argumentum Ex Necessitate to collide full on with the Argumentum Ad Bureaucraticum.  The supporters of Ad Bureaucraticum drew on the very size of this catastrophe, wherein 36 lives were lost, and the grief of parents, relatives and friends of the victims, to pressure the city to do more to ensure that fire inspections and building inspections were carried out as required, to help avoid such tragic loss of life. Yet at the same time, the artists in their corner had Ex Necessitate, arguing that it was owing to escalating housing costs, gentrification, loss of affordable housing, that they had to live in warehouses, which were, in fact, probably the only place left for them to live in the entire city, unless they slept in their car.

The lawsuits which followed lent strong support to Ad Bureaucraticum, demonstrating how the concentrated power of government and state and law, regardless whether right or wrong, can often grow in an exponential manner,  simply through the power of the lawsuit to shape outcomes.

ghost-ship-fireIn the days following the Ghost Ship Fire, many warehouse artist’s communities in the Bay Area and around the nation, began to recieve  eviction notices,  (and here )as the warehouse owners were duly frightened by Ad Bureaucraticum, seeing how lawsuits were flying, and realized that they could easily lose their property in such a suit, should a fire break out in a warehouse they owned, and it be demonstrated that they had known of people residing there illegally.

Artists then amped up for a direct challenge of Ex Necessitate to Ad Bureacraticum, complaining to cities about these eviction notices, even asking cities to stop the inspections, which they viewed as causing them to lose their housing.

I present all of this to set the stage for the discussion of the Argumentum Ex Necessitate as it effects those doing Airbnb Hosting or short term rental hosting.  Even though those doing Airbnb hosting — being people possessed of real housing — are clearly not as down and out or poor as the homeless, or comparable to artists living in a warehouse because they can’t afford area rents, they still come under the umbrella of this Argumentum to the extent that they may find that their options for housing and/or for generating income have grown more limited in recent times, while financial pressures on them have increased.

The way that Airbnb renting is presented in the media, it often seems as though it is only tenants in a city who can legitimately stand behind the banner of the Argumentum Ex Necessitate.  They will use this Argumentum to push for things like Rent Control, or expanded rent control, or for more restrictive regulations on Airbnb renting (which, they are certain, is causing the cost of housing to increase).  They may even support the city government to engage in violations of the 1st Amendment and 4th Amendment when it would punish people for advertising, or would allow warrantless searches of people’s homes under the argument that “that is the only way” that we can enforce the law on short term rentals.  (an End Justifies the Means style fallacy) argument

But there is a fallacy in the view that only tenants can be in possession of  the Ex Necessitate fallacy.  This is the fallacy of Affirming the Consequent, namely, “if A, then B; B, therefore A.”  We can say that if someone is a tenant A, they are at the mercy of increasing housing costs B  — but we cannot turn around and then draw the conclusion that if someone is at the mercy of housing costs B, they must be a tenant A.  For homeowners too are sometimes quite afflicted by housing costs and the increasing cost of living.

When they hear of homeowners making the argument that they should be permitted to do short term rentals so that they can afford their housing, tenants sometimes express incredulity and anger, and respond that the homeowners could simply do long term rentals, and preferably to rent to a renter like me, someone in need of permanent housing, instead of doing short term rentals.  This argument is fallacious on two grounds — one is the argument we often see in the media, which seeks to tie together two phenomena which happen to have arisen simultaneously, and draw a causal relationship between them where none exists.  This is the Cum Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc fallacy — the assertion that Airbnb rentals are responsible for the loss of housing, even when studies such as summarized here and this one show that there is no causal link here.  The second fallacy is the Non Sequitur — the idea that simply because one is in need of something, that some random person should be obligated to provide you with that.  Of course, there is also the third fallacy — we might call it Argumentum Ad Nauseatum  — the bizarre idea that a property owner would ever choose to rent to a tenant who tried to bully his way into that person’s home.

Many of the things people are now arguing for, Argumentum Ex Necessitate, based on their presumptive need, are things which involve space or area that the public has a claim to (as in public space that the homeless seek to appropriate for their own campgrounds) or lines that the public has drawn which protect the nation as a whole (immigration laws, asylum laws, limits on numbers of immigrants or sites for refugee camps) .  Some , such as warehouse artist collectives, are arguing to be permitted to live in spaces where people aren’t allowed to reside, and which cities could be subject to liability if they reside, because of their abundant Ex Necessitate, special-snowflakeas well as what we might call the Argumentum Ad Eximia, or the argument that owing to  being a Special Snowflake one doesn’t have to follow the laws that other people are subject to.

By contrast, the struggling middle or working class homeowner who wants to engage in short term rentals is not asking for public land, is not asking for changes to laws that would effect their whole nation, and is not asking to create a situation which could result in liability, or fire dangers, for the city, or their neighbors.  It may be more difficult to see their Ex Necessitate because they have a house, which others may not have, but it is also easier to see that they are not pushing so hard for a toppling of Ad Bureaucraticum..  Many cities in fact have not had clear rules/laws about the difference between long or short term rentals. Some cities allow such rentals in some parts of the city, but not other parts.   Viewed from the outside there is often very little difference between renting to people on a longer term basis, versus renting to people on a short term basis: particularly when such rentals are occuring in a freestanding home, as opposed to an apartment in a multi-unit building,. and when the homeowner is living there, along with the renters/guests — and as issuing from Ex Necessitate, this is the kind of circumstance we are looking at — not that of an Airbnb “Tycoon” or Investor who owns many properties, but rather the homeowner who owns just one, their own home.

One of the least compelling arguments from the Ad Bureaucraticum side, (and the most fallacious) is that a law is right simply because it happens to exist.  The argument for the law is much more compelling when one can demonstrate a good reason why it exists.  The fact that a mistake may have been made a few years ago, or a century ago, is no reason to continue with that same mistake today.  A good many of the laws which prohibit short term rentals, could, if studied through the lens of Logical Fallacies, be demonstrated to be constructed on a whole edifice of numerous fallacies.  bad-arguments

(1)There is the Exception Fallacy, which is when the city government, hearing about a problem with loud parties at one Airbnb rental, decides that this one problem situation is more characteristic of Airbnb rentals than the other 3000 Airbnb rentals in the city where no problems exist.
(2) There is the Cum Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc fallacy as mentioned before, whereby cities reason quite lamely that since Airbnb arose at the same time that an affordable housing crisis became intensified, therefore, ipso facto ergo propter hoc, Airbnb has caused this housing crisis.

(3) There is what may be called Argumentum Ad ControlFreak whereby petty bureaucrats become alarmed when they see people doing something which they dont’ know about and can’t control — such as, what people do in/with their bedrooms– and then get hysterical about needing to control those people who have the nerve to do what they want in their own home.  We might also call this the “Argumentum Ad Invidia” or argument from jealousy, since I suspect that petty bureaucrats who have boxed themselves into living a narrow little cramped-in type of life, have a great deal of resentment and jealousy towards those who live more freely.

(4) There is the Argumentum Ad Populum, whereby city officials play on or exploit public prejudices to regulate against innocuous activities — such as by characterizing those who welcome guests into their home as “engaging in commercial enterprises in a residential area” (not true: renting accomodations is a residential, not a commercial use of property), or playing on provincial xenophobia by saying hosts are “bringing all kinds of strangers into our neighborhood”  who “will disrupt the social fabric and destroy the character of the neighborhood”. argumentum-ad-popargumentum-ad-populum
(5) There is the Argumentum Ad Traditionem, the argument that since there are existing laws on the books which are “old” or “have been there for some time”, or “that’s the way we do it”, that these must be right.  Some of these supposedly right and honorable laws, for instance, express considerable bias and prejudice against single individuals and living arrangements which are not nuclear family arrangements.  Many cities for instance have zoning laws about what is permissible in “single family residential neighborhoods”, and those laws incorporate an inbuilt bias in favor of married individuals with children (“single family residence” is a term which contains this implicit bias) and against single individuals.  For instance it may be perfectly fine for a married couple with 10 children to live in a “single family dwelling” , while it would not be permitted for 6 or 7 unrelated adults to live in that very same home.  A friend told me of such a case in Connecticut: 6 unrelated adults bought a home together, because, guess what, housing is expensive and pooling resources is the way of the future.  Well, their neighbors sued them, alleging that they had no right to live in their own home, because they weren’t a “single family” but just a group of unrelated adults.  The neighbors would have won, save for an obscure law that authorized live-in servants.  So the only way these 6 adults were able to legally live together in the house they collectively owned, was to characterize 4 of their number as live in servants.  It strikes me that such laws are just as perverse and wrong as the old race based property covenants which forbid owners to sell to non-white individuals.  Now the “those people” that some want to keep out, are those who aren’t nuclear families!

I think you’ll have gotten my point that there are numerous logical fallacies, as well as prejudices, in the various arguments which would disallow short term rentals.

On the Ex Necessitate side, some claims are more convincing than others.  It’s not very convincing when a wealthy real estate investor argues Ex Necessitate in favor of their being able to do short term rentals at all their 25 properties.  It’s too easy for people to say they must be confusing need with greed.  Also, when the tenant living in an expensive apartment in an expensive city like San Francisco, argues with this Argumentum that she must be permitted to do short term rentals in violation of her rental agreement with her landlord “because how else can I pay my high rent”? cart-before-horseI think many would see a  Cart Put Before the Horse type of fallacy as well as the A Priori Argument fallacy in this case.  However, some may also have trouble understanding why a homeowner who is in need of rental income to afford her home, couldn’t just as well rent to long term tenants.

To understand that question, it helps if we know something about landlord-tenant laws, and how they impact landlords.  Yes, homeowners can rent to long term tenants, but for many, particularly those who have experienced serious problems with long term tenants (see my 7-part “Goodbye to Roommates” series here on this website) , that’s sort of like saying, “Yes, you can build your house anywhere — as long as you build it on the sand.”  Giving people a right to do something that too often results in situations that make them miserable, and decrease their autonomy in their home, and in essence undermine their ability to live in freedom and comfort in their own home, is not adequate.  If homeowners (or tenants who have permission to sublet) have other choices than renting to long term tenants, who in their experience too often begin to become possessive about their homes, why should they be limited by the law to those which make their life harder or pose more legal problems for them?

In Summary — in many places in the nation, the Argumentum Ex Necessitate is in the ring, squaring off  with Argumentum Ad Bureaucraticum.  Airbnb hosts are arguing from their necessity — and Airbnb too continually puts out PR statements supporting the right of “middle class hosts” to make a living (even though, by so doing, Airbnb may be engaging in the Half Truth fallacy, since a good number  of its “hosts” are real estate investors.)  This argument may be more “politically correct” (Argumentum Ad Populum and The Politically Correct Fallacy, #78 in this list of 116 logical fallacies)  when these middle class hosts are not white middle class hosts — but not less compelling in terms of Ex Necessitate .  Both sides have their supporters and their opponents.  Yet notwithstanding these multiple caveats, it’s  my view that there is much more moral authority to be found in the Ex Necessitate, than in the Ad Bureacraticum argument that something is right just because it’s the law, or because “we’ve always done it that way.”– as well as in the whole cascade of errors of reason that lead to city prohibitions on short term rentals in the first place.
Also, since today is Christmas, I am reminded of something once said by a wise man, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” In seeking to find our way forward on these questions, I hope that we dont’ simply try to force round pegs into square holes, as if the there is virtue in retaining antiquated approaches to new issues — or as if human beings were created solely to fulfill the purpose of The Law.  I hope that in particular for those finding themselves in the boxing ring with Ad Bureaucraticum, that flexibility, ingenuity, and a focus on the pragmatic and beneficial may win over stale custom and empty shibboleth.

logical-fallacies

Airbnb Open in Los Angeles 2016

This blog will describe my experience both in a trip to Los Angeles, and at the Airbnb Open in Los Angeles, in November 2016.

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Instead of flying down, my plan was to rent a car for a week, stay at an Airbnb in Los Angeles, and use the car to do some sightseeing both in Los Angeles and in Southern California, before returning home.  Okay I’ll come out and admit it — I was less interested in attending the Airbnb Open than in going to LA to just visit friends and tour around.  As I’ll go on to describe here, I think that apart from the opportunity to meet other hosts and have those fun personal connections (which in my view was the best part of the Airbnb Open!) there is a limited degree to which one more “Be the best/most excited host you can be!” type of talk  can benefit experienced hosts.

So I drove down highway 5, in the Central Valley, from Northern to Southern California, and enjoyed the colors of dusk as I neared the GrapeVine pass.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I arrived at my Airbnb rental in the West Lake district of Los Angeles, unpacked and enjoyed the quiet. The place was like a secret island retreat in the midst of a dense urban area!

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The luscious secluded courtyard of my very urban, west-downtown LA Airbnb!

 

The next morning, I went up to Mulholland drive to a host get together, and enjoyed the opportunity to take in the views from this reknowned scenic drive on the hill above the Los Angeles basin.

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Downtown LA from Mulholland Drive

 

I did some walking along Mulholland Drive, and found a park with some dirt trails.  Going off trail, I actually found a large deer antler, there in the center of this mega-city!!  Also, while walking along Mulholland road itself (which apparently almost no one does…and there are no sidewalks!) I also found a turtle shell just lying there, 4 ft from the busy roadway! Who was this turtle, how did it get there? Curious minds want to know!

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After the host get together, I headed out to go for a hike near the Hollywood Sign, on a route suggested by one of the hosts, a route that would pass a place called the “Wisdom Tree.”  There is a rough dirt trail that ascends up this hilltop, between the sprawl of Hollywood and the Los Angeles basin  to the south, and the San Fernando Valley with Universal City to the north.  I found a very intriguing scene when I summited the hill — Wisdom Tree is a site where people — mostly, young people — come to leave wishes, prayers and blessings written on scraps of paper, and placed under one of dozens of rock piles that cover the hilltop.  It’s a pilgrimage site of sorts, and I felt there was a fantastic positive energy there.  Gosh, doesn’t every city needs a mountaintop as a pilgrimage destination? It needn’t be Christian or Hindu, and it needn’t be associated with any particular religion.  Because the urge to make a pilgrimage to a holy site, to pour out one’s heart, is a deep spiritual archetype and truth residing in our souls, and it’s there regardless what religion we are, or even if we have no religion.  So I give thanks for LA’s Wisdom Tree mountain, for being this place for people.
A chest containing many notebooks with more prayers and wishes sits just below the tree. At least 20 young people were present, enjoying the warm evening, and reading some of the notes or writing their own.  Further down the trail, I came across another group of young people making a video.  The energy among all these folks was just so buoyant and positive — I was so impressed! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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After that, I quickly hiked over to the top of the Hollywood Sign, at “Hugh Hefner Overlook”.  Apparently Hugh Hefner and Ann Getty bought this land and preserved it, thus protecting this ridgetop and its magnificent views and indeed, its importance now as a spiritual destination, from the sprawl and growth that characterizes the city of Los Angeles. See that “H” in the Hollywood sign in my photo below? I’d later found out an interesting fact at the Museum of Death on Hollywood Blvd — an actress named Peg Entwhistle leapt to her death from the top of the “H” in 1932.  Prudently, the H and the rest of the Hollywood sign are now fenced off from hikers and sightseers.

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Downtown LA From above Hollywood sign
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Hugh Hefner Overlook

The Forest Lawn Cemetery from the hills above:

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The next day, November 18th, the Airbnb Open officially began.  We headed downtown to register and obtain the programs which provided choices of different events and talks all day from 9am to 5pm.

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We each got a gift bag, and a wristband which not only identified us as paid attendees, but also had some techhy tricks that it could do.  The wristbands had little LED lights in them, and the local Airbnb wifi network was controllling these lights.  So, about 5 minutes before each talk began, the wristbands would beep.  There were other tricks the wristbands could do — they could foster connection.  A host told me that there was a water filling station in one place where if one host touched one pole, and another host touched a different water pole, then when the two hosts joined hands, water would emerge from the spigot — but only when the two hosts made contact.

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The gift bag also contained a gift book — written by the famous “Senior Nomads” who are traveling the world in their senior years, and have stayed at over 150 Airbnb’s in their more than a year on the road. The book is a good guidebook both for guests who intend to do major travel, as well as for hosts who want to know how best to set up their home for such guests.  But the book doesn’t describe much about what the Senior Nomads actually experienced on their travels, so in that sense it disappointed me, because that’s what I am most interested in.  Not how were the Airbnb’s set up but what did you see, think, feel, while you were traveling?  In what ways were you delighted, how were you challenged, what were the funny/sad/scary stories from your trip?

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What was on the menu for the talks?
Talks were to be offered at 4 different venues located within a couple blocks of each other, all on Broadway in downtown LA.  (The Orpheum Theater, The Theatre at Ace Hotel, The Downtown Palace Theatre, and Los Angeles Theatre).  As well, there were a number of other sites downtown being used by the Open — Clifton’s, a 3-story “Cabinet of Curiosities”, featured glass boxes containing entire stuffed bear, deer, and a large artificial tree with a fireplace at its base.  This was a hangout spot to get food or drinks, and to chat with Airbnb staff or drop in at tables with information for hosts.  There was a “share your story” building where hosts were encouraged to engage in artistic ways of telling their hosting story.  There was a bar that held “peer to peer” sessions, and there was the Oasis, a bandstand and the site for the musical events of the Open.

Here were the events offered the first day:

  1.  Creative Living Beyond Fear with Elizabeth Gilbert
  2.  Designing for Success by Chip Conley, and others
  3.  The Downtown Story — about the revitalization of downtown LA — Blair Besten, Brigham Yen, Mister Cartoon and Trevor Kale
  4.  Feed Your Creative Imagination — with Brian Chesky, Brian Grazer, Frank Gehry and others
  5.  Finding your Inner Happy Host — Elizabeth Bohannon and others
  6. Expand Your Business, Host for Others — Suana Wang and Andrea Diamond
  7.  Beyond the Home: The Future of Airbnb — Joe Zadeh (JoeBot) and others
  8. Sucessful Remote Hosting — Alex Nigg, Tammi Sims, Adam Bilter
  9.  Connecting with Hosts around the world
  10. Building a Brand on Airbnb
  11.  To Win Big, Go Local
  12.  The Making of a Movement for Home Sharing
  13.  Creating the Ultimate Guest Experience
  14. New Host Tools for 2017
  15. Working Together with the Travel Industry
  16. Making the Best out of your Listing
  17.  Universal Belonging — with Eric Holder
  18.  Leaps of Faith: Strategic Risk Taking — Chip Conley
  19.  Building Relationships with Landlords and Neighbors
  20. The Small Business Effect
  21.  Community Driven Business and Brand
  22.  Protect your guests, protect yourself
  23.  Designing the Mobile app for home hosts
  24. Optimize your listing
  25. Host your passion
  26. Be a 5 star host
  27. The Beauty of Travel
  28. Host Life Balance Workshop

As you can see, there is quite a lot of focus on being a better, and better, more successful and yet more and more successful host.  This gets tiring after a while for many of us, particularly for experienced hosts who’ve already learned a lot about hosting, and who have reached our limit as to how much more we can do to improve, improve, improve and be better, better and best.  How about just some mindfulness focus on just being happy where we are instead of always trying to reach for more and more?

The bell of mindfulness rings today and it says “whatever/wherever you are right now, is enough.”
I started out the day with Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk on Creative Living beyond Fear, which was quite funny if not  necessarily closely related to the hosting business itself.  Gilbert is a writer (author of the bestseller Eat Pray Love) and it was hilarious to hear of her adventures traveling around the world for her book talks and carrying out her self-imposed task of asking various strangers, “What are you most excited about right now?” She came up with this question to ask strangers, because she wanted to stay authentic, and have real connections with people, real intimacy, and thought this would do the trick — even if the question was a bit invasive.  (I would find it invasive — but nevertheless, Elizabeth would get to know me if she put this question to me, because I’d give her a what-for through my response, which would then open up to some authentic dialogue).

When I heard this question I saw the link to Airbnb, as “excited” is a word that hosts will know shows up in just about every email we get from Airbnb.  We’re excited to be hosts, we’re excited to have guests, we’re excited to be part of Airbnb and drink the koolaid, and, hopefully, with all that koolaid, we’re still excited when the guests break our TV or violate our house rules.

That said, I have to admit that I tend to be an “excited” person myself.  Yep, I’m not a Millennial — I’m not even Gen X — gosh I’m actually a Baby Boomer, a real oldie — but….I’m nearly always “excited” — and not because of corporate hype!.  It’s related to my own style of creative living which began years ago — actually over half a century ago, at age 2, as I recall — when I first just started doing whatever the heck I wanted and ignoring all the social pressure to conform.  I recall standing at age 2 in my backyard and having a couple other 2 -year olds peer at me and say “you’re different”.  Yes, hon.  And I still am.   And it’s exciting.

All those attending Elizabeth’s talk were given a copy of her new book, Big Magic, where she explores the creative process and what supports it.

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One of the most interesting things Gilbert said, was when she presented her idea that

“Ideas are a conscious force in the universe, spending time circling the world, looking for a human being to help them take form.  It is one of the holiest, most mystical experiences you can have, to say yes to an idea.”  

Gilbert views this as “magic”, and as she says in her book, she really means magic in a Harry Potter way.  I find this personification (or spiritualization) of ideas quite fun and exciting, but for me this has more to do with my art and writing projects than my Airbnb hosting.  That said, Airbnb hosting does give rise to a good number of anecdotes that can be used for creative storytelling!   And one Airbnb host from Hollywood has started her own comedy mini-series on the theme!  See the trailer for her show  here .

I read Gilbert’s book Big Magic during my trip, and I found it quite inspiring and energizing.  It seeks to break apart many of the misconceptions we have about the creative process, and thus make the creative journey available to more people, presenting it what it really is — our birthright, as well as our hardwiring.  We’re all hardwired to create.  We just need some help removing the obstacles to accessing this!

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Next, I attended the talk about the revitalization of downtown Los Angeles.  Downtown LA has been being revitalized for about 12 years now, since 2004, and while one of the speakers pointed out that for LA (as for San Francisco) “there is a massive housing shortage in LA”, the revitalization of downtown should not be viewed as “gentrification” because it’s not involving pushing people out.  The residential SRO’s, the single room occupancy units where the low income residents of downtown can live, have been preserved — this in distinction to San Francisco, where the residential SRO’s have not been preserved, but have been lost to new development.  Brigham, an Asian man from Utah, said that LA has the title of homeless capital of the nation, but he insisted that we need not give up on this issue and resign ourselves to the perennial nature of homelessness.  He pointed out that in Taipei, in the city his parents are from, there are no homeless, and one can wander the streets at 3am and feel perfectly safe.  As I reflected on this, I thought that elements of Asian culture probably mitigate against homelessness in a way that elements of American culture do not.  For instance, the  values of shame and honor play a much greater role in Asian culture than in American culture. And family bonds play a greater role in Asian culture as well.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At 11am, I went to listen to “JoeBot” talk about the new direction Airbnb is going — and this was one of the biggest media stories about the Open — Airbnb is going to offer “Experiences.”   See one of the media stories about that here . What are “experiences”? They are basically any type of activity, workshop, or tour that a host wants to organize and invite guests to participate in.  Guests can book an “experience” just like they would book accomodations.  The idea of the experience is to help guests get to know the local area more intimately than a standard tourist could do — so Airbnb is in some sense imagining these experiences as the antithesis of standard, boring “package” tours.  In fact when the first hints of the experience offering were first revealed, Airbnb’s advertisement was “Don’t “DO” Paris…LIVE in Paris!”  ( see the Airbnb ad here  )and was trying hard to recreate itself as a Superbrand that imagines travel in a whole new way, a way that it hopes will appeal to the Millennials and younger folks.

So, an “experience” might be…going mountain biking in Marin County. Taking a class in doing star photography at night.  Learning how to brew your own beer.  Learning how to do burlesque dancing.  However, unlike accomodations listings, it would seem that in order to list an “experience” , one has to live in a certain place — only 50 cities presently offer experiences — and one has to get Airbnb to help create the ad.  Each “experience” has its own “movie poster” type listing photo and comes with a “movie trailer” type video which seems to be made by an Airbnb photographer/videographer.  Airbnb is calling this experience project “our largest and most ambitious project.”  Those who dont’ live in one of the 50 cities that presently offer experiences, can apply to do an experience nonetheless, at this site .  JoeBot says that hosts in cities which have enough applicants may be able to do experiences.

I am not yet sure what I think of Airbnb “Experiences” other than thinking that this is still another type of packaged experience.  And something about real experience to me, is that it resists packaging.  Experience is unpredictable and enjoyable experiences arise at times we might not have expected — they werent’ paid, scheduled events.  Authentic experience seems to need imaginative space around it….for me, experience arises out of space.  If I have empty space ….which often means, time to just do nothing….this gives birth to something.  An idea, an adventure.  It’s more difficult for an “experience” to arise when time is scheduled, programmed…packaged.

Also…I don’t know about you…but…my guests dont’ tend to come to my area with open schedules.  They pretty much have their plans set before they arrive.  And if they have open time, they tend to want to wander — and wandering and being spontaneous, doing something unplanned, — again, the open space in life often provides a better experience than engaging in a packaged experience.

JoeBot said, “Experiences are what people are collecting now (as opposed to material things) but it’s too hard for people to get those experiences.”

Why is this hard? Let’s go back to Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk, on Creative living.  Wake up, open eyes, plug brain into head, disconnect robotic cultural programming,  and engage imagination.  And there you go…you’re on your way to having genuine experience.

I went for lunch at one of the recommended downtown spots, and enjoyed some views along the way.  The architecture of the Open was probably much more fascinating to me than the talks themselves.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

There was so much beauty in these old art deco hotels!  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I hardly had time to explore them all.

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As several hosts commented, even the bathrooms were stunning.  We had not previously experienced going to a restroom solely to admire the architecture and the stunning detail — lights, tile, fixtures, mirrors — really amazing.  When I went to the restroom in one of the event sites, perhaps it was the Palace Theatre, the first room I came to was a large oval lounge, as big as a ballroom. This was the restroom lounge! A whole ballroom of space just to sit and adjust your makeup or tighten your belt! Then, off the lounge was a huge mirrored room that looked like a hall of mirrors in an amusement park.  There must have been two dozen mirrors in the room. Then from there, enter the restroom itself, which was also surprisingly gorgeous.

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Out around town, there were other sights to see — there were some “Rent Responsibly” folks interviewing hosts —

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There was Clifton’s, the “Cabinet of Curiosities” and host hangout spot.

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While I was out and about at mid-day, it so happened that a button I was wearing got some attention by a couple folks.  This button was designed by a host and handed out to a few friends, to give some voice opposing Airbnb’s “infants come for free” policy which has been on and then off, now seems on again.

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While I was walking along the street, a woman next to me inquired about this button, and it turned out she was a reporter, and was interested in hearing more about things that hosts don’t feel so “excited” about with Airbnb.  Well I thought she’d know some of those since she’s a host herself — and there are certainly no lack of complaints on the Airbnb Community Center, either!  Later, I went to give “feedback” to Airbnb staff up on the 3rd floor of Clifton’s, and one of the staffpersons noticed my button too and I explained it and he photographed it.

So let me explain this again here:  Airbnb has lately set up a drop down menu so that when guests go to book a place, they have to indicate how many infants and how many children they are bringing.  But, under the improbable claim by Airbnb that this is giving hosts “more controls”!!, it is doing no such thing, since the dropdown menu tells the guests that “infants are not counted as guests.”  Not!

Not only does this remove the control the host needs to be able to charge for that infant guest, but it does its best to set guests at battle with hosts when Airbnb is telling them one thing (all the while saying in their TOS, “Airbnb has no right to run the host’s listing…”) and host is saying another, namely, yes there IS a charge for that infant!  Also, if the infant doesn’t count as a guest, a host who has a max of 2 guests could end up arguing with 2 adults who want to bring 3 infants, about just how many are in their party.  Hint: the infants are not invisible, immaterial, disembodied beings.  Yes, they are guests.

While on the subject of children, I mentioned to the Airbnb staff that it’s been in the news lately that Airbnb hosts have been sued for saying “no children” in their ad.  They hadn’t heard this.  I suggested they get right on the subject and find out.  Doesn’t this seem important for Airbnb to know, particularly when for quite some time they’ve encouraged hosts to come right out and state in their ad that they dont’ accept children, all in violation of the Fair Housing Act? Get informed!

That afternoon, I attended “Universal Belonging”, in which Airbnb Chief of Legal Affairs officer Belinda Johnson interviewed Eric Holder.  I was hoping to hear something interesting about the nondiscrimination policy, but Holder was there mainly to chat about his experience as US Attorney General.

One of the more interesting elements of this talk was a topic introduced by Johnica Reed Hawkins, who is a journalist who studies and writes about race and travel. She’s traveled to Cuba and written about race/travel issues there.  She said that Airbnb appealed to her in large part because it offered a “democratization of travel”, and one thing she really likes is the idea that a “travelogue” or travel article, no longer need issue from a place of privilege. It’s now possible for minority voices and the historically non-privileged to tell their own stories of travel.    Well, it’s not like people were ever prohibited from writing their own personal stories of travel, regardless their race or social status, and we do now live in the age of the blogger-travelogue — something that wasn’t available to the non-genteel classes in the 19th century.  But I think she has a point that the culture is changing as far as what stories gain traction.

There were a few others who spoke, but none really spoke to Airbnb’s nondiscrimination policy, other than in nice sounding generalities such as Johnson’s statement, “We have more work to do to make sure every single person can belong.”

Everyone can belong? I thought that statement was fairly ironic.    Because, at the very same time Belinda Johnson was trying to make sure every single person can belong,  reporters had apparently interviewed Brian Chesky about how many hosts had refused to sign on to Airbnb’s new “Community Commitment” where they either formally signed onto the nondiscrimination policy, or would be booted off the site.  When asked how many people refused to sign on, Brian said, “A lot.”  Okay then Brian, there’s a clue that Airbnb is ensuring that every single person cannot belong!  Many clearly are being explictly told they cannot belong,  if they refuse being coerced to sign onto Airbnb’s new Community Commitment agreement.  So it seems not quite true, this hype about everyone belonging.  Rather, I’d say Airbnb is communicating that it will pick certain ones it wants to have belong, and saying the others can just get lost.

As a reply to the prevailing “politically correct”perspective on diversity,  which is shallow because it’s often only skin deep, I’d like to offer my own view of diversity which I think is more complex and has more depth.  In this view,  diversity means, you respect people who have a different point of view.  Where have we gotten the idea that diversity should be only about skin color or difference in sexuality or gender, and not about anything else???  I think it’s dishonest to say we celebrate diversity, while at the same time we boot out of the room anyone who disagrees with us.  Also — isn’t this a great way to employ creativity and imagination?  I mean, talk about exciting — this really excites me — the idea that we can be challenged by new ideas, and possibly grow as a result of the alchemy that results from our contact with them!!

Imagine things like — people who disagree can actually be in the same community, and it wont’ kill us!!    It can make us richer, more complex — and we can grow through the challenges this tolerance and acceptance of diversity brings to us. Lovely! And this can bring the social and political healing we all need so much.

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When this talk closed, and Johnson indicated that the conversation on this topic of the nondiscrimination policy would continue at a restaurant down the street, I went there, hoping I might run into one or more of the speakers and present them my concerns about how the means Airbnb may use to enforce the nondiscrimination policy could negatively impact hosts. However, there was no one there at the restaurant to speak to. Ha! Fooled again!   This reminded me of the “disappearing customer service line” at Airbnb….the word  is …that there is a customer service phone line at Airbnb.  But…if you’re a new host especially….good luck finding it! It’s in hiding.

I also attended a talk on “New Host Tools for 2017” by Donna Boyer, and  found it somewhat informative , but it was a short talk, only half an hour.  She said that co-hosting is available for only a few cities now and more will be available for 2017.  She said that messaging on the app has been improved, and that now you can search messages by keyword.  Great! Also, saved responses are now available on the app, which you can use to answer frequently asked questions.  That’s very useful…as up to now I’d have to tell guests that they need to wait until I get home and am at my computer, before I can send them certain info.  You can also send photos via message — which can be helpful if for instance you want to show a photo of the flowerpot under which you’ve hidden your keys.  Ii like that…have had to do just that at times! Calendar is redesigned to see dates available and blocked — and you should be able to accept a reservation alteration via the app.

After this day’s events, I decided to have an unpackaged experience, and walked 2.3 miles from downtown, along Wilshire Blvd to the Airbnb listing where I was staying in WestLake,  a largely Hispanic neighborhood to the west of downtown.  At the Corner of South Alvarado and Wilshire,  I found many people had set up tables and there were selling some clothes and supplies in bulk quantities.  Large bottles of Head and Shoulders shampoo, liquid handsoap, or gallon jugs of Tide were available here for sale off card tables on the street, as well as an assortment of tennis shoes and mens’ shirts.  There was a whole card table economy running here! If I’d had more time and energy, I’d have loved to ask these folks doing these small businesses, some questions about their micro-economy here at the street corner.
I decided to “skip class” the next day and go sightseeing in LA instead of to more talks.  But for those who are interested, these are the talks that were presented on the 2nd day:

  1. Hospitality Moments of Truth
  2. Building Empathy through Community
  3. Expanding your mind through Travel
  4. The Joy of Hosting
  5. Optimizing your listing
  6. Stategies for Entrepreneurs — Ashton Kutcher and others
  7. The Power of Community — Host Connections around the world
  8. Cultivating the Art of Taste and Style
  9. Insights from World Travelers
  10. Building Cross-Cultural connections
  11. Q&A with the Founders
  12. Local Business, Local Hospitality
  13. Interior Design Tips
  14. Host as Concierge

In the talk by Ashton Kutcher, a Code Pink protester ran on stage and began yelling, something about Airbnb listings in Palestine — but apparently it was hard to hear her.  I wasn’t there but heard from others who were that  Ashton spoke to her and attempted to speak reasonably with her, and ultimately she just screamed more about Palestine and then was escorted offstage. Read more about that incident here . See the video of the Ashton Kutcher talk, including the Code Pink protester, here .

Later, that evening I spoke to another host who I was staying with in my Airbnb in WestLake.  She had attended a talk where one of the founders, perhaps it was Nate, or maybe even Brian, had been speaking about all that Airbnb was doing for refugees.  Said this host in her charming Birmingham UK accent, “He ended the talk and the bloke was standing there with his arms spread wide like ‘e was Jesus Christ!

I think she had an opportunity to glimpse something that many of us feel a little uneasy about — how Airbnb often seems to take itself so seriously, that it can feel like a cult or a religion.  That’s the koolaid aspect, the excessive hoo-hah and rah-rah, the Tony Robbins Airbnb.  Well I can’t deny that there’s a high that we can feel when many Airbnb hosts are all in one place.  It definitely is fun.  We understand each other, we support each other, we’ve shared stories with each other…and it’s a true community we have.
But…we dont’ need to turn Airbnb hosting into a religion to have that sense of comraderie and enjoyment of our small business.   Many of us would simply appreciate a modest corporation that had a well-functioning website, which allowed us to do what we needed to do on it to advertise and obtain business.  We would rather not continually find new “improvements”  which interfere with our ability to do business — such as the most recent, where search results have a defacto setting to show only instant book listings!  (This may have just been a very bad beta test…let’s hope so anyhow).

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On Saturday, I visited Hollywood Boulevard, the Hollywood Wax Museum, Ripley’s Believe it or not Museum, and even the Museum of Death.  If I had had more time, I could also have stopped in at the Guiness World Records Museum, and the Museum of Broken Relationships.  That latter sounds like a good pilgrimage site for the recently broken up. But you may want to skip the Museum of Death!  I was expecting something cockamamie and campy, but let me put it this way…the deformed animals in jars of formaldehyde were the “light” aspect of the museum.  What was the “heavy” side, I dont’ want to even describe.  I had to close my eyes and pass through rooms trying to shield my face from what was on display there.   Suffice to say the place is a Goth Mecca pilgrimage site!
At the Wax Museum, I enjoyed the horror alley, which was indeed more plain old halloween like fun.

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There was an interesting  Mona Lisa painting at the wax museum!   And at Ripley’s , it was fun to meet the world’s tallest man. He would stay seated until you went up beside him and then he’d stand up and you could compare your height to his.  In this video I indicate my height (5 ft 7 inches) compared to his (8 ft 11 inches).  He’s a full yard towering over me.  World’s Tallest Man

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Weird man — Hollywood Wax Museum

 

I also visited Venice Beach with another host — we got there to enjoy the evening clouds and sunset, and walk along the boardwalk a bit.

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Bicyclist on Venice Beach

 

There was unusual architecture and several murals along the boardwalk —

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Interesting people —
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The next day, after the Airbnb Open had ended, before leaving Los Angeles I went to see the Watts Towers, the famous folk art site in South Central LA, and from there, to what may be the polar opposite — to see a bit of the opulent homes in Beverly Hills.

The Watts Towers are a  “folk art” or “outsider art”, created by Simon Rodia, an Italian immigrant, between 1921 and 1954.  Simon  felt within himself that “I’m going to do something, something big.”  Then he followed this inner prompting,   and out came the Watts Towers, over many years, created with found objects.  Rodia’s beautiful and striking creation exemplifies the value of being courageous and dedicated enough to follow the promptings issuing from a deep place within.
The Watts Towers are sometimes compared to another work of folk art in California, the work known as Salvation Mountain, created by Leonard Knight, over by Slab City and the Salton Sea.  Both are quite large, beautiful mosaic expressions made with found objects.

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Grafitti scrawled on church, Watts, South Central LA — I’d love to know the story of this — why do people vandalize the churches in their own neighborhood?

 

Beverly Hills privacy hedge:

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Beverly Hills Style — ostentatiousness

 

I found it interesting that in Beverly Hills, there were no people out walking.  The road were completely empty, except for luxury cars rushing here and there.  No one walking, no one out in their yard. Many of the roads were quite beautiful, wide and lined with large trees, really perfect for walking. So I got out and walked and I was the only one doing this.  A “see the stars’ homes” tourist bus passed me by and tourists stared out at me, craning their necks to see what movie star I might be.  I thought I am disappointing them by not waving and fulfilling their dream of a real live movie star who waved at them from Beverly Drive.

As for my move star sightings…. I went on a couple truly random drives through some of the more “hidden” of the Beverly Hills routes.  I saw the former homes of Lucille Ball, Rita Hayworth and Prince.  (I wasn’t that impressed with any of them…I think we have nicer homes in the Berkeley hills in the East Bay — less ornate fluff and stuff,  more original style) I may have passed by a couple real movie stars, but I’m not sufficiently immersed in pop culture to recognize them easily, and they wear sunglasses to avoid detection.  As in one case where  I was driving down a very narrow road looking for Bette Midler’s house, which was notated on one of the “Maps to the Stars Homes!” which I had bought on Hollywood Blvd.  But, I think Bette changed the numbers somehow to avoid detection — apparently Anne Margaret did the same, as her street number was nowhere to be found either — and I ended up scooting along a very narrow street while a very attractive young man wearing sunglasses walked his dog along the street.  Okay so there was ONE person out walking in Beverly Hills! I would not be able to say if he was a movie star or not. As I passed him by, he looked up at me with interest — was he wondering which movie star I was???  It’s an odd phenomenon of mutal movie star seeking that one gets caught up in, in Beverly Hills.

I also stopped in at a shop called “Wacko” in East Hollywood, which had a colorful display among its wacky goods.  There I bought a gift for a friend, the “OCD hand rinse”.  The directions on the back were that, after washing, one should place the cap back on the bottle, then check to make sure cap was fastened.  After checking if cap was fastened, check again to make sure cap is fastened.  You get the picture.

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I stopped by the Scientology Church, on Hollywood Blvd, the world headquarters of the cult, where svelte ladies dressed in black (“they dress like airline stewardesses”, said a local who lived around the block) patrol the sidewalk to seek hapless victims to invite to their “free movie” or a “personality test”.  I hadn’t realized that the Church of Scientology is really the Church of Science Fiction,  until I talked to this local man who I happened to encounter on the sidewalk near the big blue church. He told me  that they believe that an astral being named Xoltan will come and beam them up to other planets to live when they get sufficiently spiritually evolved.  They dont’ talk about any of this stuff on their website — they just solicit you to come to their free movies, or do their personality tests.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter being solicited by the agents of astral travel,  handed a “free movie” flyer by the mysterious ladies in black with the predatory eyes, I zipped off to Pasadena to visit another host friend, and stayed the night there. It occurred to me that Pasadena has what most of the rest of LA doesn’t have — earth.  It’s right up there in your face, the mountains before you.  In most of LA you can drive for miles and miles without feeling like you’re on the real, actual planet earth.  It’s all paved over, built up.  And barely a tree or blade of grass pokes through anywhere.   But out in Pasadena, at least, there are streets full of trees, cute gingerbread homes, and the San Gabriel Mountains rising up in front of your face. You can’t miss noticing the earth is present here.  Which is so important for someone like me with an earth-based spiritual path.

The funniest part of the trip occurred at this Pasadena visit:  at dinner, my friend’s young son looked up at me shyly and said, “Can I ask you a question?”

Yes of course.
“Why do you have a man’s face and the long hair of a girl? Are you a girl or a boy?”

Oh kids are wonderful!!! I thought my god if only adults could be this honest and innocent (for there was no jibe in this question, no meanness or contempt) , we’d have fewer problems with discrimination.  Everyone would just come out and say what they thought the other person looked like and ask why.  I laughed, responding that I had a masculine spirit but that I always liked long hair and in fact I was “a girl.”
Actually on the way down to LA I’d had a similar experience with an adult, but she responded in the adult way. I was at the Coalinga-Avenal rest stop off highway 5, in California’s long Central Valley, and was just walking out of the women’s restroom, when a woman walked towards me to use the facilities.  She took one look at me and stopped dead still, a look of shock on her face.  I knew what she was thinking. She was wondering if she was heading into the men’s restroom by mistake.  I find this amusing — do people really not know any gay folks?
The next morning I took off into these mountains and immediately began to feel much more at home than I had amidst the mega-city. I felt I could cut loose and breathe deeply again and be fully me.  The earth always has this effect on me!

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View from Grizzly Flat trail to Los Angeles Crest Drive
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Church of Scientology’s Spaceship spotted off Los Angeles Crest Highway

 

From the Los Angeles Crest Highway, I dropped down into the Lancaster Valley and enjoyed the desert sights there.

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I stayed the night in a hotel in Mojave, CA — the humble “Desert Inn” just off the main drag, which was very quiet — my main concern.  I hate hotel rooms where you just hear people in the next room over talking loudly to each other, or you hear their TV loud and clear in your room. No worries here. Everyone I met who was staying at this hotel — three other people, three men — said, when I asked them about their travels, that there were here because their vehicle broke down. So they were more sad and glum than the usual hotel guest which seemed to make for quiet nights.

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Mojave Mosaic

The first two men said their transmission was shot and they wondered if they had enough to pay for a hotel room.  I surmised that between them they don’t own a credit card and scooted away from them before I ended up being asked if I would please chip in for their room. The thought occurred to me that if they can’t afford a $50 a night hotel room then it’s not likely they’ll be able to replace their transmission, and in time the desert will collect another abandoned husk of a car, a nice target for desert plinkers.
Then I met a man pulling in on a motorcycle, who I greeted — but he too had a glum face and he also was broken down.  He had sleeping bag and baggage attached to his motorcycle.  He said, “I drove the last 8 miles on a flat tire. I hope I can get the tire fixed in town.”  These men, their plans wrecked, made quiet hotelmates.  In the morning, when I headed out at 8:30am, there was the motorcyclist, asking if I could give him a ride to the next town over, because there was no one in this whole town who could fix a flat tire.  Unfortunately I wasn’t heading in the direction he needed to go.

I had tried to stay in an Airbnb n Mojave instead of a hotel, but there were none in town except for one listing by a “host” who didn’t quite get the concept — he was listing a vacant apartment with no furniture and no bed for $55 a night on Instant Book.  The original name for  this listing was, suitably, “Apartment for Rent” .

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After I settled into the hotel room, I went over to the “Family Dollar Store” across the way to get a snack — when I emerged, I found a wraith floating around in the dark in front of the store.  No, not a supernatural being — he was human, but he had wide, lost eyes, kind eyes really, and so he looked like a tall baby animal far from home.  He stood, about 6 ft 3, a giant of a man, but something soft about him, an innocent face, and wrapped in a large blue blanket like a baby.  He floated about a bit in front of the store, and I watched as someone, clearly a “local” greeted him as a friend and told him to “stay warm.”  It was about 38 degrees out and lowering.  I thought, what an unfortunate place to be a homeless panhandler.  But perhaps he does have a home and simply panhandles late into the night.

The next day, I emerged late, relishing the warmth of the hotel room and enjoying the time to write.  What I realized is that you don’t need a spiffy, creative perfect place to write or create.  You can do just fine in a very modest, extremely basic hotel room, as long as you’re comfortable!
I visited Red Rock Canyon State Park, which had some spectacular sights.

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Including “Window Rock”

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI found that I wasn’t quite hip to the way to camp down in Southern California.  I thought camping meant a tent and sleeping bag.  But everyone else in the campground, with the exception of one other man about my age ( I guess those of us who were born in the 60’s and 70’s still recall tent camping) was camping here in an RV or camper van.  Some of the thirty foot long RV’s were toting large trailer boxes full of god knows what extra campground necessities…flat screen TV, stereo, outdoor BBQ grill…well I did see some of the camping necessities later in the day, as they were driving around the campground.  Several dirt bikes zipped about, as well as a bright yellow dune buggy.  Until I put a stop to it by walking up to these folks in mid-zip and informing them that I was here to enjoy the quiet and not listen to off road vehicles zipping circles through the campground.  Later, I found out that they weren’t even camping overnight, they just came to use the campground as a racetrack — very odd since the entire State Park is very heavily devoted to off road vehicles.  Why not go out just about anywhere else to zip around? Why use the campground?  Ironically, they have just one little short trail for hiking and the rest is all dirt roads for 4WD or ORV use.

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My campsite at the base of the weird hills

It was a chill night camping out there — though daytime temps were in the 70’s, at night it was below freezing and when I woke I had to scrape ice off the car window.
I had to leave for home the next day, but it was time, because I was coming down with what would be a bad cold and so I needed to go home and plop into a real bed and rest.

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Wind turbines near Mojave

En route home, to liven up the long drive and set myself some interesting stops along the way, I did a little geocaching, which is an outdoor treasure seeking game.  People hide geocaches in various places — could be someplace interesting, could be someplace very plain.  And then they post the GPS coordinates of the cache online.  Then you look for the cache — a little plastic container with a logbook in it — and sign it, proving that you were there.  Then you log your finds.  There was one geocache called “Coming Soon” which was not too hard to find when you spotted the landmarks—

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And that is just a little bit about my experience of Los Angeles, So Cal and the Airbnb Open in 2016!