Category Archives: Hosting Stories and Anecdotes

Avoid Overextending Yourself Financially in your Hosting/Real Estate Business

As this unprecedented global pandemic descends upon us, it’s accompanied by  a vast and unprecedented economic calamity.  Some businesses will see much more of a devastating hit than others, and those businesses which rely upon air travel, tourism, short term rentals, or are connected with the hospitality or service industries, will be particularly hard-hit.  This includes vacation rentals and short term rentals and Airbnb hosting.

The losses we are seeing now, shine a light on an issue that I’ve been concerned about for some time, which is my observation that many property owners, once they amass a certain amount of capital, seem too eager to reinvest those funds into additional properties, and “put my money to work for me.”  I think what we are seeing now demonstrates that if you send your money out to work for you, your money might get laid off and fail in the task which you sent it out to do.  Your money might disappear.

There are 5 people I’ve known personally who have lost their homes in foreclosure over the last dozen years or so, and each was a terrible tragedy.  None of these losses was inevitable: they could all have been avoided with more financial prudence.

In one case (#1), during the 2008 recession, a neighbor couple who owned two houses was having financial problems.  They sold one house, but somehow still could not pay their bills.  I suggested that they get a roommate or two, as they had space for this.  “I wont’ have someone messing up my kitchen”, one of them countered.  Well, soon enough they had no kitchen, as the bank foreclosed upon their home. Foreclosure

In another case (#2), a friend who owned his house outright, refinanced and took out a mortgage on his house so he would have some cash.  He made foolish decisions with his expenditures, and within a year he lost his home.  He then began living in a van.

In two other cases (#3 and #4), two acquaintances who both owned their homes outright, (million-dollar homes in the San Francisco Bay Area) wanted some extra cash, so they refinanced their homes and took out a mortgage. Unbeknownst to them, the lender they were both working with, had a history of engaging in mortgage fraud.  According to their statements, they paid the mortgages they owed in a timely way, but the lender claimed they had not paid, and foreclosed on both their homes.  One of these friends became extremely distraught and never recovered, and died of a heart attack a couple years later.  The other ended up homeless, living in his car, until he moved to Ohio and obtained Section 8 subsidized housing and now lives on welfare in that area.  mortgage fraud

The 5th property owner (#5) owned a rental home in Berkeley.  She did not choose her tenants wisely, ended up with entitled and hostile tenants, foolishly got involved in a heated argument with them, at which point they contacted the city and complained of code violations.  The city shut her down, refused to allow her to rent out her property until a few issues were resolved that could have been fixed without much expense.  But she was unable to get the tenants, now refusing to pay any rent, out of her home in a timely way, and with the loss in rental income, she became unable to pay her mortgage, and lost the home in foreclosure.

Now, during this pandemic, I’ve read accounts of a number of hosts (#6) who fear losing their properties if they have no income for a few months and are unable to pay their bills.  It’s my hope that government relief will come in to forestall that, but even so, these individuals are revealing that they are operating without enough of a cushion of savings.

The problem that all of these people had, was either that they didn’t actually have enough savings or enough of a cushion for the situation they were in (#5, #6) , or that they mistakenly expected things to turn around and their income to be back to normal soon (#1), or that they borrowed/overextended themselves too much, or from the wrong lender (#2, 3 and 4) to accomplish their goals.

There’s a drive in many Airbnb hosts that I’ve seen, and which I feel quite uneasy about, to not be content with a modest business, but to want to buy more and more, and to build “empires”.  Building a bigger business isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it should not be done out of an unexamined ego-driven urge to just get more and more stuff,  and more and more income.  I think too many of us are unthinkingly propelled by an urge to get more and more, while the things that are of real lasting value in life — relationships with our friends and families, spiritual practices, fulfilling hobbies and all that brings us joy in life — ends up pushed to the side.  No, building your business bigger and bigger is not in and of itself of any value at all.  When we get to the Afterlife, aka “Heaven”, how much money we made and how much stuff we had, will be of no relevance whatsoever, in relation to our Eternal Soul.  Rather, with the perspective that we gain once we are there where all truth is revealed, we will realize we’ve been incredibly stupid if that’s all that we focused on in life.  Let this instance of a global pandemic help put these matters into perspective.

Let’s be content with a modest income and a modest lifestyle, and be happy that we have enough.

Let me tell you a story about my own situation which illustrates how I assess decisions about whether or not to grow a business.
I own one house, my own house, and rent rooms in my house to Airbnb guests. So this is quite a modest business.   Though on paper I could afford to buy a second home and do the same in another house, my own sense of this is that such an investment would be too risky for me as (1) it would take too much of my savings to get started, (2) properties in my area (SF Bay Area) are so high priced in relation to potential rental income one could bring in for them, that only unusually low-priced homes would make sense to use for this purpose, and those are in scarce supply or not near enough to where I live to be practical for me to run.  Eg, if you buy a home for which the monthly operating costs are $3000 to $4000, and you can only expect to bring in $3500 to $4500 a month income at the most via rental income, then this is not a viable business model.

At one point my parents, proud of the rental business I’d created within my own house, offered to help me buy a 2nd home to expand my business.  I still felt uneasy about this. I would still need to put a significant amount of my own money into the pot, and devote a lot of time, energy and finances to this additional house, particularly if it were a more affordable “fixer-upper”.   I did not really see the point of this, when as things were, I was living modestly but comfortably already.  I worked, but had sufficient free time now to do the things I liked to do, which was really important, as the things I liked most and which gave most value to my life, were not related to my paid work or my rental business.  As I saw it, if I bought another house, I’d have much less free time, so much less of my life would be oriented to doing the things I most enjoyed doing.  I’d end up being a slave to my business, locked up in “golden handcuffs”, rather than having a business which supported me to live the life I wanted to have.  golden handcuffs 2

As well, I think one clear lesson of this pandemic, is the value of having adequate cash savings.  Not assets, not properties, not stock or mutual funds investments, but actual plain old cash.  Some people are pretty good at figuring out the best options for investments that will provide a decent return, but I’ve not been so successful at investment.  I tried investing a rather small amount in two different “standard” investment options, and lost funds in both situations.  Given that I’m also a low-risk person generally, it just began to seem a lot more sensible to leave money in the bank rather than risk losing funds in the hopes of a good return.

Having enough savings to be able to go 3 to 4 months or longer, without any income, would provide a lot of protection now from stress and panic.  Many hosts are anxious that they will lose one or more properties or perhaps even their own home, during the economic tsunami that is hitting us now.  Few people in my opinion have enough savings.  I have a friend who is a homeowner, and is over 70 years old, but he cannot retire because he has no savings.  He goes to work every week, (by bus, since he has no car and doesn’t drive) and lives virtually paycheck to paycheck.  He literally does not have enough money to tide him over should he come down with an illness that requires him to stay at home for a month.  Yet he’s spent a lot of money on foolish things: building an elaborate treehouse in his yard, building a large greenhouse, adding solar panels to his home, buying lots of cute patio furniture and garden decorations that he doesn’t really need.  At one point, in order to obtain more cash to spend in more foolish ways, he refinanced his home and now pays an even higher mortgage than previously.  I’ve urged him to take in one or two roommates so he would have some additional income in case he can’t work, but he’s refused, as he enjoys living alone.  When a shelter-in-place was announced in my area, he was angry and insisted he had to go to work because “who’s going to pay the bills?” a question which he fails to see the irony in, since as he ages, it’s less likely he will be able to continue doing the work he is doing and pay his own bills.

There’s a lot of value in being able to see “the big picture” and look beyond the present moment, and in having sufficient imagination to understand that things might not always be the way they are at present.
Even in ordinary times, the vacation rental and short term rental business is built on unstable ground, as STR regulations have been lacking in many areas, and new regulations have continually been passed which prohibit doing this business in many places.  The result of that has been that many vacation rental and STR owners have ended up operating illegally, which is certainly a very risky way to do business.  Vacation rentals are oriented to those with disposable income, who can afford vacations and trips, and in times of financial downturn, there are fewer such people.

All in all, I would encourage people to be content with a modest income and avoid feeling compelled to “build an Airbnb empire.”  You don’t need an empire: what you do need is time in your life to pursue those activities and passions which bring deep meaning and contentment to your life.  Making more and more money is not this.

Why Coercing Airbnb Hosts into Being Unpaid Travel Insurers is Wrong

Since nearly the beginning, Airbnb has had a policy called “Extenuating Circumstances“, whereby guests who would not normally be eligible for a refund when cancelling a reservation (the contract they enterered into has a cancellation policy that doesn’t allow that), are issued a full refund, at the expense of the host, when the guest’s situation fits within a list of approved “extenuating circumstances.”  As most hosts are now aware, Airbnb has now expanded this policy to cover virtually all Airbnb reservations, anywhere in the world, from mid-March to mid-April, and perhaps longer, as the pandemic could last until August or beyond.

https://www.airbnb.com/help/article/2701/extenuating-circumstances-policy-and-the-coronavirus-covid19

https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnkoetsier/2020/03/15/airbnb-coronavirus-cancellations-guests-cancel-for-free-hosts-pay-the-costs/#1201c7b2131b

Even worse, Airbnb has now actually begun to go back to past, completed reservations, those which ended in February or January, and override hosts’ cancellation policies for those and issue unwarranted refunds for those past cancellations.  See these videos for info about that:

And

My argument from the get-go, for many years, has been that this policy is wrong and unfair to the host, and that Airbnb should be selling Travel Insurance to guests, rather than essentially coercing hosts into being unpaid travel insurers.

During this Global Pandemic caused by the coronavirus, which is causing travel and tourism to come to a complete halt, many hosts who feel obliged to fully refund their guests who have to cancel their stays, are saying “If this isn’t extenuating circumstances, then what is?”  COVID 19 image

Of course it’s true that if there is any Extenuating Circumstances policy, then this situation most assuredly fits within that policy! However, this is the wrong argument.  Rather than saying that coronavirus fits Extenuating Circumstances, and that therefore it is correct for Airbnb to fully refund every Airbnb reservation, anywhere in the world, that was set to begin during mid March to mid April, and perhaps for many months beyond mid April, we should be aware that what’s happening now with the devastating tsunami of Airbnb clawbacks of all hosts’ income for a month or more, exposes more clearly than ever before the fundamental unfairness and illogic of the Extenuating Circumstances policy.

The application of  Extenuating Circumstances policy has completely destroyed many hosts’ businesses already.   It has placed the entire economic burden of the global pandemic on hosts, while completely protecting guests so that they dont’ have one penny of loss.  Further, it’s made it virtually impossible for Airbnb hosts to have confidence in keeping any reservation that is on their calendar for the next few months, as all those may end up being fully refunded as well.

These posts on Airbnb’s own Community Center highlight hosts’ great anger with Airbnb’s approach to this pandemic

https://community.withairbnb.com/t5/COVID-19-Discussions/Airbnb-completely-threw-their-hosts-under-a-bus-regarding-Covid/td-p/1257864

https://community.withairbnb.com/t5/Hosting/Airbnb-completely-threw-their-hosts-under-a-bus-regarding-Covid/td-p/1263191

And their concern about whether future reservations still on the books represent illusory income:

https://community.withairbnb.com/t5/Hosting/Will-we-get-to-keep-our-future-reservations/td-p/1261053

Anger expressed by a host on Twitter — this one seems rather overdramatic — perhaps it’s really satire:

https://twitter.com/weeaboo/status/1241555854446518272

The Extenuating Circumstances policy was already unfair in “normal times”, and has become exponentially unfair in these unprecedented times.  Airbnb has in essence taken the types of situations for which Travel Insurance is designed — flight cancellation, needing to cancel a trip due to illness or a death in the family, even in many cases disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, fire and floods, acts of God   — and has, through coercion and rhetoric, forced hosts to financially cover such situations in guests’ personal life, all without being paid any of the premiums that travel insurers are paid.  Bully boss

The rhetoric from Airbnb, which ripples through the host community as well as hosts berate other hosts they view as not “hospitable” enough, is that if hosts really cared about their guests they would have no problem providing these full refunds for guest in the instance of a death in the family, an illness, a sudden gust of wind, a hangnail.  So, hosts are being set up to be seen as “haters” if they are not on board with supplying full refunds for what, in practice, has at times been a policy abused by guests enabled by Airbnb to come up with a fiction that they need to cancel for health reasons, when in fact they are cancelling because they found a cheaper place to stay.

Many guests and observers will argue that “Hotels allow a full refund for a cancellation within 48 hrs of arrival.”  But hosts are not hotels, which is a concept that many guests, the general public and Airbnb may have trouble comprehending, or in fact not wish to accept.  With the exception of a highly unusual situation like a pandemic, hotels could easily get replacement guests.  They have high occupancy levels and walk-by business.  Hosts in private homes are not in the same situation.  A guest who’s been holding a spot in the calendar for many months, has prevented that host from getting other bookings, should not be allowed to cancel at the last minute and get a full refund, depriving that host of needed income.  Again, travel insurance could protect both the guest and the host in this situation.

Doing the Math

The situation arising now in the global pandemic, readily exposes the unfair math of this policy of Extenuating Circumstances.

Take the hypothetical host who runs one standalone vacation rental property which brings in $8000 a month in income, and which involves $5000 a month in operating expenses for mortgage, property taxes, insurance, utilities, maintenance, cleaning, and supplies, and for which the average guest stay costs about $1000. Let’s assume the host has about 8 guest stays per month averaging 3 days each.

During this pandemic, which began for the US in mid-March, and is estimated to last until mid-August, this would involve 5 months of lost income for this host, which means $40,000 lost.  During this time, his expenses would be $25,000 for the property, perhaps a bit less such as $22,000 if no utilities or supplies are used and no cleaning is needed.  Some of those expenses may be deferred as the government sets up economic relief plans for the nation, but they will not be forgiven: these are costs that one way or another, will eventually have to be paid.  At the same time, consider that this host likely cannot live on the profit from one vacation rental, and has another job, and that he may have been laid off from that job during this time, for instance a job in retail or the restaurant business.

Compare this $40,000 loss of necessary business income for the host, needed to pay their bills, to that of individual guests, each using the discretionary funds they had available for vacation, each losing about $1000.  Doing the math 2

Why is it viewed as more laudable and proper, for one host to assume one huge loss, rather than for 40 individual guests to have many smaller losses, particularly as these guests are using funds that are “extra” or discretionary, vacation money that is not necessary income they need in order to survive?

Even a 50/50 refund, where guests were refunded only 50% of their payment, would have been far more fair than refunding them fully.

One of the problems with the ways that Airbnb policy is formed, on this and many other issues, is that this whole business is viewed by the public and by news media, through a heavy bias towards the guest.  It’s guest complaints about interpreting a decline as an instance of racial discrimination, not host complaints about guests using racist language, which are featured in the news media.  It’s guest complaints about not getting a refund, which are given prominence in online blogs and media, not hosts’ complaints about being forced to accept guests whose real name and photo are being intentionally hidden from them.  It’s guests’ complaints about having to pay a high cleaning fee, not host’s anger that they were not reimbursed for damages or vandalism by the guest, which the news media seems to prefer reporting.  So the whole way the hosting business is perceived and represented to the general public, unfortunately plays into a bias towards guests, and supports Airbnb creating policy reflecting that bias.

That said, keep in mind that one focus of identity politics and the “social justice” movement, is to expose “unconscious bias” and various types of bias.  Are some types of bias deemed acceptable, such that we’re not only not expected to question them, but we’re expected to support these biases?

Over the years I’ve observed many hosts making illogical arguments about this and other Airbnb policies.  Their arguments do not come from an objective assessment of what seems right or wrong, but are arguments based on what these hosts think is reasonable to expect that Airbnb will do.  Such arguments are wholly illogical, and are much like saying to Sally, who’s complaining that she’s been abused by her elementary school teacher, “Well you’re only a student and he’s the teacher and has more authority so what do you expect? Just shut up because it’s not reasonable to expect an adult to change their ways based on the complaint of a child.”

So here’s a clue for those who dont’ see the flaw in this argument: unethical acts  are not automatically right and justifiable just because you think you don’t have any power to  change them.  

List of logical fallacies:
http://utminers.utep.edu/omwilliamson/ENGL1311/fallacies.htm

These are some of the illogical or fallacious arguments used to support Airbnb’s Extenuating Circumstances Policy

 #12, Appeal to Tradition (“Extenuating Circumstances policy has been in place from the beginning therefore it must be right.” )

#14, the Argument from Consequences   (“If we didn’t personally refund the guests, they might have a medical emergency and not get their money back, and that would be wrong” )

#17 Argument from Inertia (“It would be too hard to drop Extenuating Circumstances now, therefore it’s only logical to continue it”)

#19 Argument Ad Baculum  (“You have to agree with our Unfair and Unethical Terms and Conditions, or you can’t use our platform” is an example of this illogical argument.

#23 Bandwagon Fallacy (“Most hospitality providers will issue full refund for last minute cancellations, therefore you should.”)

#27 Blind Loyalty (“Airbnb policy is that Extenuating Circumstances apply, therefore they apply!”)

Perhaps by examining the list of logical fallacies, you can find even more that pertain to this issue.

There is a strategic and likely quite intentional reason why Airbnb has a bias towards guests. This becomes more obvious when one listens to hosts wishing there were another Short Term Rental platform they could join and support, which was more fair and gave hosts more power to run their own business, develop their own policies, and not have their business contracts meddled with or overidden by a third party.  Imagine there were another STR platform seeking to compete with Airbnb, which promised hosts a lot more power to run their own business.  So that one was not as heavily biased towards the guest.  Now, between that new platform and Airbnb, which one do you think most guests would prefer to use?  And therein you see the problem.  Unless there’s a real boycott of Airbnb and a move towards another viable platform, guests will tend to prefer the platform that gives them the most.

Yet with hosts’ businesses being destroyed around the globe by this pandemic, it just may be that one result is Airbnb ending up with less power over hosts than it had before, as hosts will be increasingly unlikely to want to fill their calendars with bookings that may well represent illusory income.

Airbnb Automated presents his thoughts that this pandemic could “very well be the end of Airbnb”

He thinks that if hosts take Airbnb to task for clawing back all our income for recent cancellations, this could bankrupt them if they are ordered to pay us back.

UPDATE:  On March 30 2020, Brian Chesky, CEO Of Airbnb, addressed hosts and said that Airbnb would be giving hosts 25% back for their cancelled reservations which were cancelled in accordance to Extenuating Circumstances applied to the coronavirus pandemic from March 14 and later.

The problem for many hosts is that Airbnb did not even follow its own updated Extenuating circumstances policy, and gave full refunds to guests who cancelled BEFORE March 14 2020.

Airbnb Guests who are Afraid of the Earth

As those of you who are hosts will have realized by now, Airbnb and other short term rental guests can have a lot of fears and anxieties that unfortunately it can become our duty to try to mitigate.

Some are afraid of public transit or cabs, and so are asking us to drive them around instead of getting an Uber ride.

Some are afraid of pets, and though we dont’ have any, they want us to ask the neighbor to put away her dog or cat.

Some are afraid of other kinds of people, and if they come to our neighborhood and see those, they might next be seen running to the phone calling Airbnb, asking to cancel and get a full refund, alleging that we failed to disclose that we live in a dangerous neighborhood.

But perhaps the most difficult type of guest fear or anxiety, is the one that has to do with the Planet Earth.  Namely, the guest who is afraid of Nature itself: of plants, animals, insects, falling leaves, the sound of rain, all manner of things that unfortunately do exist on Planet EarthPlanet earth

Now some of you may think I’m being a smartass here, and that no one could really be afraid of the Earth itself, or Nature.  Well, if you think that, perhaps you have not been an Airbnb host for sufficiently long.

Here are some of the situations I have had with guests:

(1) A guest who insisted that I come to her aid because there was “something” on the bed in her room.  From the sound of it she thought it was a dangerous bug.  I went in, discovered that there was a dry leaf on her bed, which had fallen from the houseplant on the wall nearby.
(2) A guest who insisted that I help her, because there were “spiders” in her room.  I went in, cleaned the entire room a second time, finding no spiders.   Then, she complained there was “dust.”
(3) A guest who complained to Airbnb that the room was not clean, sending them a photo of a tiny spot on the baseboard in the corner, and a photo of a spiderweb located outside the house, in the yard.
(4) Several guests who complained that there was wildlife in the yard of my house, animals which normally exist in nature.
(5) A guest who complained that, when it rained, she could hear the “pitter pat” sound of rain falling.
(6) A guest who complained about a bush in my yard, that it had not been adequately pruned.
(7) A woman who complained that, in fruit season, there was fruit on my fruit trees, some of which fell off these trees.
(8) A guest who complained that, in fruit season, there was wildlife in the yard, wildlife of the kind that is normally drawn to fruit trees in fruit season.
(9) A guest who, seeing flies in the yard, complained that “a bunch of flies will land on my food” and bought poisonous insect spray and began spraying it around in my yard without my permission, a yard where I grow organic produce.
(10) A woman who complained that part of a bush touched her body when she walked down the walkway.
(11) A guest who, when she checked out, explained about the books she had left all over the floor — books from my bookcase in the room — saying “there was a large spider in the room, that’s why the books are on the floor.”
(12) Two guests who lied and claimed that local wildlife, which I’ve only ever seen outside my house in the yard, were inside the house, in their rooms, no less.

Bee Not Afraid

Some of you may find some of these incidents hard to believe, but I assure you this is some of what hosts are dealing with, with some Airbnb guests.  One can very well understand a fear of things that really are dangerous or which can be signs of infestations, such as poisonous animals, bedbugs, roaches.  But none of the situations in my house or with my guests involved such things.  It was rather their encounters with one or two harmless insects inside the house, or with wildlife outside the house, that caused them so much consternation.  The situations in my house, involved creatures which were naturally present in their natural environment.  .  Insects.jpg

And more, I live in a mild urban area, where the amount and type of wildlife is pretty mild in every sense, not in one of those areas of the world that really have critters, like Alaska or Australia.

We are put in the very awkward position, that we are expected to to some extent, make nature not exist, for those who are afraid of it.  Even if a host were able to “guarantee” that “you will not encounter any insects, animals or wildlife” at my house, do you really want to try to do that?  Do you really want to be forced to go to war with Nature, to kill off natural creatures, use poisons, have no fruit trees, or even, have no yard, just because you have a guest who has an irrational fear of the Earth?  And more, if you dont’ want to try to provide a “natureless experience” for those who are afraid of the earth, do you want to risk losing your income, if the guest lies to Airbnb and claims that there were “dangerous” animals or you had a “dirty” house because there was nature in the yard, such that she argues, she should be entitled to extenuating circumstances and get a full refund?

This has happened to many hosts  — an ant in a corner, even a tiny speck in a photo that you can’t quite tell what it is, a smudge or an ant — guest sends this photo to Airbnb claiming some great danger — bedbug, black mold — and gets a full refund, apparently no questions asked about their lies.

The situation is potentially worse for those hosts who have rural homes, ranches or farms, as guests who are uncomfortable with or unfamiliar with how to deal with nature, will have an even harder time in those surroundings.  And though you might think that people would use common sense and not book in a place where they will not be comfortable, that is not the way things work in the Airbnb world.  Instead, too often people book based on a fantasy that may be prompted by one of the photos, and ignore the reality in the listing description.  And so, Airbnb guests have been kicked and clawed by large domestic fowl, have booked at working farms and stolen produce, complained about farm animals when on a farm stay.

How can hosts protect themselves against this? One way that might help, is to be very clear in your listing description that NATURE is present at your home, and that you do not want guests at your home for whom this is a problem.  And then provide some details about NATURE and list the kind of nature they might encounter.

 

 

Perhaps all Airbnb guests who possess an unnatural, paranoid fear of the earth, should have a special badge that appears on their Airbnb profile, warning hosts away from allowing them to book a stay with a yard:

Airbnb guest afraid of the earth finished

Better yet, these guests could be required to bring their protective gear with them, everywhere they stay:

Boy in big bubble

Evicting a Short Term Rental Guest

There may come a unpleasant time in the course of being a short term rental host, when you have to evict a guest.  This is probably the kind of situation that is hardest for hosts and which all of us hope we never have to deal with.  The guest may have engaged in absolutely unacceptable, even dangerous or criminal behavior. The guest may have vandalized the premises or had an illegal party.  They may have booked for 3 people, and brought 100 people into the property.  The guest may be a squatter, trying to overstay their reservation.

Note and disclaimer: I am not an attorney, and nothing written here should be construed as legal advice.  When engaging in any eviction, even of a short stay guest, I strongly suggest that you first consult with an attorney well versed in laws about transient occupants in your particular area of the world.  

If the guest is one you got from one of the STR platforms, such as Airbnb, I strongly suggest that you involve the platform, eg, call Airbnb for help.  They wont’ send someone over to evict your guest, of course, but they may speak to the guest and help encourage them to leave. This is the very best way to resolve this kind of situation that will put you at least risk.

In terms of evicting guests, the important distinction to be aware of, is the difference between a “tenant” and a “guest“, aka a “transient occupant“.   A tenant is someone who has a legal right to the property, which in the US generally occurs because the term of their rental period is 30 days or more. In some places in Europe, if a person is renting a room in a private home, they never have “tenants’ rights”, but in the US generally they would if they are renting for more than 30 days.  In contrast, a hotel guest or transient occupant,  is someone who is staying less than 30 days, and this type of person does not have “tenant’s rights”, including the “right” to stay in the unit beyond the check out date.

There are other criteria too which may serve to distinguish a tenant from a guest, such as:  (1) the renter receives mail at the property (this can establish tenancy), (2) the renter is the one paying for utilities directly, (3) the renter has no permanent address elsewhere (this then suggests, in terms of screening, that you do not accept guests who are in the process of moving, as they may claim to have “moved into” your unit) , (4) the renter has a “substantial amount” of personal belongings at the property (this then should lead hosts to have rules limiting how many belongings guests can bring in, eg, at most 2 or 3 suitcases…no furniture, no appliances, etc) .  By contrast, things that suggest the renter is a transient occupant, include that (1) owner has keys and right of access, eg to clean the unit, (2) owner is responsible for cleaning the unit.  (3) the renter is paying occupancy taxes for their stay, which are only charged for short term stays, not rentals of 30 days or more.

See these articles and some of those below for more information about the distinction between tenant and transient occupant:

https://journal.firsttuesday.us/transient-occupancy-and-temporary-stays-no-tenancy-involved/54666/

AND:

https://www.floridabar.org/the-florida-bar-journal/what-are-you-a-hotel-guest-tenant-or-transient-occupant/

Something that many of you will note when you do research on this topic online or look for legal information, is that the laws on this matter were written before Airbnb hosting became a big thing, so you’ll find that laws keep mentioning “hotels and motels” and you’ll wonder where you fall into that, since you are not a hotel.  This is confusing, and these laws really need to be updated to clarify that they apply not just to standard hotels/motels, but also to private homeowners who are operating “like a hotel” in the sense that they have people paying to stay for short term stays, and/or that these guests are paying occupancy taxes, which do NOT come into play for standard tenancies or long term stays.  Unfortunately, things are made much more difficult for short term rental hosts when they cannot find out information about what laws apply to them.

Generally, when the guest does not have tenant’s rights, then the host/innkeeper may do what is termed a “self-help eviction”.  This may not be true in all locales, so please check with an attorney in your area to see if it is permitted in your area.

A “self-help eviction”  means that you can evict the guest without having to go to court.  And it should be obvious that any hotel or motel would be at risk of being quickly put out of business, if they had to go through a long, drawn-out, expensive months-long process to evict every guest who paid to stay 1 or 2 days, and refused to leave.  So, a 2 day reservation does not get to magically turn into an opportunity to freeload for many months while the slow wheels of the court system grind ’round.

Rather, in regions where a “self help eviction” of a short term stay guest is permitted (and ONLY where this is permitted) the host or innkeeper may remove the guest themselves, generally by locking them out of the space and packing up and removing their belongings.  These belongings must be held for them so they can come pick them up, but in some regions, the belongings may be sold to pay for any debt owed by the guest. Note that you cannot just pack their things up and set them outside on the porch or at the curb, you have to take care with their property and keep it in a secure place for them.

This article lists some of the reasons short stay guests are evicted and how the eviction is done.  Note that this is oriented to hoteliers or innkeepers, but keep in mind, as is often the case when reading laws about short term stay guests, these laws were written before Airbnb hosting rose, and hosts are very similar if not identical to innkeepers in ways that some believe make these laws applicable:

https://hotels.uslegal.com/removal-of-guests/

It’s generally best to involve the police and have the police remove the overstaying guest, however, bear in mind that because Airbnb hosting is relatively new, and the laws on the matter mention “hotels” but not private homes where short term rentals are done, as well as because in many areas tenants’ rights are powerful and police can be sued for evicting a legal tenant, you might  find that when you call the police, the police will refuse to help.  This is likely in the areas of the nation with the strongest tenant rights, such as coastal California.

police cartoon

Sorry but I wont’ do my job because I’m scared I might be sued.

 

In addition to locking out a short stay guest, because that person has no “tenant’s rights” or rights of possession to the property, the host can in some places where self-help evictions are permitted, use many other methods to remove the person, that would not be allowed to be used if the renter were a standard tenant, such as:  shutting off all utilities, removing the front door from the unit, removing all the furniture from the unit including the bed and all bedding, entering the unit while the guest is in there and starting to clean it and start to pack up guests’ belongings if they don’t pack up themselves, or, last but not least, my favorite, creative fun such as invite all your friends over to the unit, start having a  party in the unit and a slumber party sleepover.  This latter may be more of a fantasy suggestion than actually practical, but short term rental hosts often need a laugh.

However, again, please keep in mind, that such actions are ONLY legal where the host has the legal right to enter the premises and do to a self-help eviction, and not in cases/regions where these things are not allowed or are not the case.

Remember, in general, though not always, for transient, short-term rental occupants, in a “hotel-like” or innkeeper types situation,  the property belongs to you, the guest has no right to remain after checkout, and as indicated below by laws in some states, if they stay even 10 minutes past checkout they are trespassing and can be arrested by the police.  slumber party (2)

Keep in mind though if you decide to confront and evict the guest, or occupy their unit or pull all furniture out — please bear in mind the kinds of people you are dealing with and what they are capable of, and be prepared for this.  Particularly if you have a professional scammer/squatter, what you don’t want to do, is go in as an unprepared welterweight into a heavyweight boxing match.  You could be assaulted.  Don’t ever get into a physical altercation with anyone!   You could end up being arrested by the police if the guests are smart enough to tell the lies or “spin” the situation or produce the fake or doctored documents that would result in this.  So be very cautious about direct confrontations.

For instance, someone who is a short term guest who rented from you for 2 days, might refuse to leave and when you call police to have them removed, produce fake documents saying they’ve rented the unit for 6 months.  What will you do then?  The problem in many locales, is that this might then become a “civil matter” which means, you could have to file an eviction lawsuit and go through a whole long court process  to get the person out.  So it may behoove you to have documents showing the person is a short term guest.

Just like it’s important to have a good sense of people’s character when you screen guests to decide whether to accept them, it’s also important to be a good judge of character to manage a guests’ stay, and particularly when considering evicting a guest.  Those who are pro scammers in particular are likely to be tough-skinned, nasty, people capable of pouring a torrent of abuse and threats on anyone who confronts them.

As well, if you enter the property when the short stay guests are there, you should never break into the property, because this would allow them to potentially call police and allege that a crime such as a home invasion robbery or burglary is taking place.  Keep in mind as well, a short stay guest may misrepresent themselves and/or their rental, and claim they are a long term tenant, in order to try to curry favor from the police and exploit tenant’s rights (which do not apply to short stay guests) to their advantage.
And on that note, the general theme here, which I’ve continued to underscore in many of my articles, is that, unlike what Airbnb would like people to think when it tries to portray hosting as a simple and easy way to make money, the rental property business is not a business for amateurs.  If you don’t know what you are doing, don’t do it.  If you don’t know the law or have not consulted with an attorney, do not take rash action.

We see a lot of stories on the host groups of people getting a false sense of pride when they have nothing but a string of great guests, imagining that they now know everything there is to know about hosting.  But then the really bad guest comes and they have no idea what to do, and flail around wildly, and this could result in their hosting business suddenly sinking like a ton of bricks.

Here are some resources I found online when searching for information on legal issues about evicting guests in different parts of the USA:

Evicting a guest in different states of the US:

https://www.cga.ct.gov/2000/rpt/2000-R-0859.htm

http://globalhosting.freeforums.net/thread/3641/evicting-guest-states-usa

https://travel.uslegal.com/hotel-liability/right-to-evict-persons-admitted-as-guests/

http://www.hotelnewsnow.com/Articles/23189/How-to-effectively-legally-remove-a-guest

Evicting a guest in California:

http://globalhosting.freeforums.net/thread/3633/evicting-guest-california

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140725043916-11700131-airbnb-occupants-who-refused-to-leave-a-better-way-is-self-help-against-lodgers

As stated in that latter article:

Indeed, except as otherwise provided by statute, an owner who rents to a lodger need not resort to unlawful detainer procedures to evict a lodger. A lodger who breaches his or her contract with the proprietor is a trespasser and may be ousted without prior notice. [Roberts v. Casey (1939) 36 CA2d Supp. 767, 775, 93 P2d 654, 659]

Unlike landlords, owners may obtain possession by “self-help” (e.g., locking the premises) if able to do so without physical force. This is important — an owner can lock out a lodger at check out time as long as they do not use force to do so.

Not using force, means, I believe, not using physical force.  You cannot assault a guest and shove them out or physically pick them up and remove them.  You cannot threaten them with physical harm if they don’t leave.

This is an article by the California Lodging Association which is quite helpful:

ABCs Of Evicting Guests

California law:

http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?sectionNum=1865.&lawCode=CIV

https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?lawCode=CIV&sectionNum=1940

https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displayText.xhtml?lawCode=RTC&division=2.&title=&part=1.7.&chapter=1.&article=

https://www.losangelescriminallawyer.pro/amp/california-penal-code-section-537-a-pc-defrauding-an-innkeeper.html

In California, and several other states. a transient occupant/guest who refuses to leave at the end of their stay, is guilty of the crime of trespassing and can be arrested by police, see here:

https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?lawCode=PEN&sectionNum=602.

Read section s in that law, as follows, which defines a guest as a trespasser if they are:

(s) Refusing or failing to leave a hotel or motel, where he or she has obtained accommodations and has refused to pay for those accommodations, upon request of the proprietor or manager, and the occupancy is exempt, pursuant to subdivision (b) of Section 1940 of the Civil Code, from Chapter 2 (commencing with Section 1940) of Title 5 of Part 4 of Division 3 of the Civil Code. For purposes of this subdivision, occupancy at a hotel or motel for a continuous period of 30 days or less shall, in the absence of a written agreement to the contrary, or other written evidence of a periodic tenancy of indefinite duration, be exempt from Chapter 2 (commencing with Section 1940) of Title 5 of Part 4 of Division 3 of the Civil Code.

No trespassing tired of hiding bodiesAlso, make use of information shared on the Airbnb Community Center on the topic of Evicting a guest.  When I searched under that phrase, I found these posts among others:

https://community.withairbnb.com/t5/Hosting/Airbnb-evictions/m-p/689858

https://community.withairbnb.com/t5/Help/Evicting-an-overstaying-guest/m-p/962924

https://community.withairbnb.com/t5/Help/How-to-remove-a-problematic-guest-before-end-of-reservation/m-p/958774

https://community.withairbnb.com/t5/Help/When-guests-stay-after-their-Check-out-and-do-not-want-to-leave/m-p/689487

https://community.withairbnb.com/t5/Hosting/Does-Airbnb-help-with-tenants-who-won-t-leave/m-p/25325

All in all, an overstaying guest is a rare thing in the hosting world.  It is probably more common for hosts to have to evict guests for egregious behavior, such as having a loud illegal party with dozens of unpermitted visitors, or using illegal drugs.  Take great care though that if you need to evict someone whose reservation is still in place and has not ended, that you do so carefully, generally with help from Airbnb, so that the guest doesn’t complain to Airbnb alleging improper behavior by you.  For instance, one host, actually a Superhost, had her account deactivated by Airbnb after she kicked some “methhead” guests out of her listing.

https://community.withairbnb.com/t5/Hosting/Airbnb-perm-deactivated-my-sprhost-account-after-kicking-out/m-p/887447#M218682

This host said:

When I went to take photos, I saw hundreds of syringes, butane bottles and spoons, and being a woman that lives alone, it scared the hellout of me, I was scared for my safety, and did not feel safe at all, so I gathered their things which wasn’t a lot, and put it outside, cancelled the reservation and left them a message telling them that I didn’t feel comfortable hosting them anymore.  I only went into the bedroom because the airbnb host that I was talking to told me to take photos.  These guests were obviously abusing the Open Homes program, and they were freebasing pronbably meth in my home.  Once Airbnb permantly deactivates your account, you no longer can sign in or get support.  Its ridiculous.  I can’t beleive that I did something kind out of the bottom of my heart, and was treated this way by Airbnb.

It’s horrendous that any host would be deactivated for taking what seems like a reasonable approach to protecting her own home and safety, and for Airbnb to be more concerned about the “rights” of guests who are doing illegal drugs in a hosts’ home, than for that host, is a troubling situation. But this case underscores the importance of making plans about potential problem situations before they actually occur, so that, in the midst of a “crisis” situation you experience, you don’t end up doing something that can get you in trouble.

As a smart host, you do not ever want to be reflexively taking rash action in a panic mode.  As I’ve said dozens of times in various articles and on host community groups, it’s best not to get into this business at all if you have not thought things through and/or done the research to know what you are doing.  And knowing what you are doing means, among other things, planning what you’ll do if you end up with a bad situation like a guest you need to evict.  Plan for this now, when it’s not happening to you, so that if it ever does happen, your plan will snap into place, and you wont’ have to spend days or weeks doing research and making emergency phone calls when in the midst of a crisis.

Though Airbnb generally doesn’t provide any reason when they terminate a host (it should be illegal to not provide a reason, and in Europe with its GDPR rules, it likely is illegal), I suspect that what got this host in trouble was putting the guest’s belongings outside the house, in an insecure location.  When evicting someone, as you’ll note when reading any of the info about hotels evicting guests, you can confiscate their things but you must store their belongings securely for them to pick up later.  You can’t just throw their belongings away or put them outside where they could be stolen.

Further:  regarding getting the police to help you.  

Some people may not realize it, but police are not obligated to help us at all.  They have NO legal obligation to protect citizens.  Of course, police usually do respond when called, but though this may seem unjust or strange to you, they are not legally obligated to do so.  For more information about this see here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warren_v._District_of_Columbia

And

https://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/28/politics/justices-rule-police-do-not-have-a-constitutional-duty-to-protect.html

Many people dont’ realize this and tend to think of police as Big Daddy who will always be there to protect us.  But it’s precisely because police are not legally obligated to protect us, that many people have guns, because if the police take too long to arrive or dont’ come at all, it’s really up to you to protect yourself.

No Self Help Eviction allowed with Standard Tenants!! 

Finally, it must be underscored, that if you are dealing with a long term rental, and a standard tenant, you absolutely cannot do any form of “self-help eviction” as these are quite illegal in such instances.!!   In fact if you do try to do a “self-help eviction” on a renter with tenant’s rights because they have contracted for a long term stay, you could end up in a world of trouble, as indicated in this story about a California Airbnb host who was arrested by police and charged with several crimes after trying to break into a listing where there were people she’d apparently entered into a long term contract with.

http://www.ktvu.com/news/ktvu-local-news/mountain-view-landlord-tries-to-scare-tenants-away-with-staged-home-invasion

and

https://www.mountainview.gov/news/displaynews.asp?NewsID=1490&TargetID=9

Note that it doesn’t matter if there is a written contract for the long term rental — any intent to rent to someone for long term, and any agreement, even if only verbal, is sufficient to give them tenant’s rights, even if they have only stayed one stay and never paid you a dime.  It’s important, for that reason, to screen renters very carefully, and if you do take long term stays — which I generally do not recommend that short term rental hosts do — you never let someone set foot on the premises before they have paid the entire amount required to move in and gain possession.

Guests Blacklist? Good in Theory But Difficult in Practice

Given the serious problems that can be caused to hosts’ property and their businesses by bad guests, and the fact that many hosts feel they dont’ get enough information about guests on Airbnb or other platforms in order to properly screen guests, some hosts have attempted to work together to form a “guests’ blacklist” which would identify bad guests, who’ve caused serious problems, and help protect hosts from them.

What is a “bad guest”, some will wonder, and is a blacklist even legal?

Many may not realize it, but hotels already maintain blacklists for bad guests.  See here for a description of that:

http://www.nbcnews.com/id/25243594/ns/travel-travel_tips/t/hotels-upgrade-their-no-stay-lists/#.XUYixogvzIU

In the eyes of the hotel, a “bad guest” is not just one who trashes the room or causes damage to the property.  It could also be the “chronic complainer”, which many Airbnb hosts themselves have met:

the chronic complainers often get banned permanently. These are the freebie-lovers who, on every visit, have some sort of problem for which they demand comps. After a while, this type of guest begins to cost a hotel more money than they bring in. The hotel staff must either refuse to give them any more comps, or must refuse to provide them any more service. Often, the latter is easier.

And now, blacklisted guests have even more to worry about, as hotels are beginning to share their blacklists.

Get in trouble at a Hilton in Miami, for example, and you may find it hard to get a reservation at a Holiday Inn in Seattle. That’s because extensive databases of individual hotels’ blacklists are being systematically centralized.

There is nothing illegal about creating such a list of bad guests.
So, it would seem logical that short term rental hosts could band together like hotels and create a blacklist, too.

But let’s look more closely at this and we can start to see some of the problems involved.

First, hotels are relatively standardized from one to another, and they are run by experienced management.  It is easy to imagine that what one hotel would consider bad guest behavior, would be a view shared by most hotels.  The hotelier does not live in the hotel, or have his personal comic book collection there, or his child in the room next to the guest.  So there is a bit more objectivity with regard to a bad guest, as the boundaries are different.  hilton

Also, I’d imagine that any guest blacklist a group of hotels creates, is a professional document with entries in alphabetical order, which provides sufficient info to uniquely identify a guest who may have the same name as many others in the nation.  One article on this matter indicates that the method of identifying the guest is one that uses their address and phone number.

This article gives examples of what hotels may agree constitutes a bad guest worthy of blacklisting:

https://www.welcomeanywhere.com/deal-blacklisted-hotel-guests/

Basically these things
(1) Guest did major damage to the property
(2) Guest assaulted someone on the property
(3) Guest verbally abused or threatened staff
(4) Guest had continual complaints and/or wanted “comps” or free services/add-ons.
Sometimes this one too:
(5) Guest caused problems while intoxicated or drunk, and/or engaged in illegal behavior or violated important hotel rules.

Some hotel blacklists include http://guestscan.co.uk/ and a couple others were mentioned here but I didn’t find them: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/travel/are-you-on-the-bad-guest-list/article1241039/

So, as to the first issue, of standardization: this is something hotels have, but it’s less common among short term rental hosts.  Hosts have very different types of listings — from large luxury homes, to small cottages, to a room in their house or a camper in their driveway.  Because of the standardization of hotels, hotel guests tend to have more reasonable expectations about what they will find when booking a stay.  In fact, if you visit the host community groups often, you’ll know that one of the most common complaints hosts have about guests, is that the guest did not have appropriate expectations.  They thought they were booking a hotel stay, when in fact they were booking a stay in a private home.  Airbnb treehouse with lights cr

Sometimes the star ratings that Airbnb guests give, are based wholly on their own failure to understand what they were booking, so that in essence they are punishing the host for their failure to read or take in the info the host has provided.  But hosts are actually more vulnerable to bad ratings than hotels are, since as we all know, many 1, 2 and 3 star hotels exist and do a fine business, because there’s no giant corporate overseer sending them emails and threatening them if they don’t get higher ratings, as occurs with some short term rental hosts.

Thus we begin to see how short term rental hosts may have different issues than hotels have, and thus some different rationale for blacklisting a guest.

There is also much more room for rule violation and causing offense to a host, as well as ambiguity and potential for mistakes and confusion, when the guest is staying in the host’s private home, particularly in the hosts’ primary residence, alongside their family, where the host lives their life and has their belongings.  As in the story I told about the Airbnb host whose guest told Airbnb she had an unsecured pistol on the premises, which turned out to be a rubber toy, there can be potentially serious problems created if either guest or host make a mistake about a complaint which leads to serious consequences.  The host in that story ended up terminated by Airbnb, who seemed unwilling to believe her side of the story.  However, a similar situation could have hypothetically occurred with an Airbnb guest…imagine a host thought he saw a gun in the guests’ room and it turned out to be a rubber toy or halloween prop, or gift chocolate in the shape of a pistol.  What if that host erroneously blacklisted the guest over the gun shaped chocolate?

Apart from the fact that guests in private homes results in more complicated situations, hosts lack the standardization found in hoteliers, about what upsets them.  What some hosts find blacklist-worthy, other hosts would find petty and trite and would be upset about a host who wanted to blacklist over such issues.  Again I think these differences can be somewhat owing to the fact that since the guest is in the hosts’ private property, not at a hotel,  there is much more potential in the host to take things overly personally, to be overly reactive to some situations, to misunderstand something they see, to be hasty in their judgments.  They have more invested than the hotelier, after all.  They are more vulnerable than the hotelier in many ways.

Another area where hosts lack the standardization found in hotels, is probably the area of most concern: it’s all too easy to become a short term rental host these days, and that means some people do it by just clicking a few buttons of their computer, without knowing what the heck they are doing.  Imagine a host who knows virtually nothing about the business he or she is in, deciding to blacklist someone based on an issue that may have turned out to be a misunderstanding on the guest’s part.  Various nincompoopery could arise with hosts with little or no experience.

Finally, I feel like I’m saying this for the umpteenth time, but please, hosts, stop trying to do everything on Facebook!!  When the original Airbnb host community groups were phased out, most all hosts who went offsite, went to Facebook, to set up a variety of host community groups, including a group for hosts interested in creating a guest blacklist.  This in my opinion is definitely an enterprise that doesn’t belong on Facebook.  A blacklist does not belong on Social Media…it should be, in my opinion, a standalone website, not something on gabby social media.  I dont’ think you can successfully mix chat and socializing, with running a blacklist function…even barring all the other hurdles and obstacles and difficulties getting in the way.

A group that tries to mix social chat and posts with general hosting questions, as well as “venting” posts about bad guests, alongside “real” blacklist posts, is going to run into a lot of confusion.  To begin with, the setup of Facebook is entirely wrong for any kind of organized list function.  You can’t just post things on the discussion timeline and expect that to be any real contribution to the host community in terms of searchable and findable material.  For a real blacklist, a form of organization is needed…something curated, and organized alphabetically or by some other means so that people can actually find what they are looking for rather than having to comb through pages of material.  This should be something more professional than a document attached to a Facebook group, and more curated.  The problem with documents attached to Facebook groups, is that even as you allow members to add content to those, members could also potentially delete content, and remove other’s entries.  A blacklist which is accessible to thousands of members to edit, is a horrible mess waiting to happen. Mess

To be done right, this would need to be done by a small crew, who would process submissions that they received from the host community, and vet each submission to ensure that it was “blacklist worthy” and reflected a host who experienced a sufficiently serious problem with a guest.

Finally, again to distinguish the context in which hosts are situated, compared to hotels, it’s not at all clear that it’s even permissible for hosts to post either publicly, or semi-publicly, in closed groups, and mention identifying details (eg full name, profile #, address, phone number) of any “bad guest.”  Airbnb in its TOS states that users may not post reviews of users (guests or hosts) on other websites, and in fact at least one guest apparently had his Airbnb account terminated because he posted a review of his host on Google.  Hoteliers are under no such obligation of course when taking direct bookings.  But when taking bookings from Airbnb we have to follow their rules and reading those conservatively, I think it is risky to make a post that could be interpreted as a “review”, anywhere online in which you state identifying details about an Airbnb guest (full name, profile # etc).

The point has been often made, and made well, that hosts do not feel adequately protected by Airbnb, either in terms of being given enough information to screen their guests, or in terms of getting help if they have a bad guest situation arise, or afterward, in terms of getting reimbursed for damages if they have a guest causing much damage to their property.   So it’s understandable that hosts might think that having access to a blacklist would protect them better.   There might be some protection found there, but I am inclined to think that at least on Airbnb, honest reviews are a better protection.  After all, if a guest was problematic for a previous host, wouldn’t there be a review by that host which is available to read and obtain that information?

All in all, I think the idea of a short term rental guest blacklist is an idea worth considering for any value it might have, but I also think it’s a more complicated idea than most hosts may realize.

Proactive, Self-Protective Hosting

There have been “bad guests” since the very beginning of Airbnb hosting and vacation rentals, but judging from posts on the various host community groups, this problem has been growing in recent years.  Yet, even though this has been an issue for many years, one of the difficulties I see is that some hosts tend to dismiss others’ stories, and to not believe the serious problems some hosts have had, until they have those same problems themselves. If we could learn more from things that others go through , rather than insisting on re-inventing the wheel a million times by not believing others and only “believing” when we ourselves have the same problem arise, I think this could help all hosts gain strategies to protect ourselves best.

As well, some Airbnb and other Short Term Rental platform policies have in my view unfortunately contributed to this problem.  For instance, chargeback fraud is reported by hosts to be a common problem on http://www.booking.com.  A guest will book a stay, come to the host’s home and stay there, no complaints, all seems fine, and then after staying, will call their credit card company and claim that the charge for the stay was fraudulent and that they didn’t actually stay at the listing.  And surprisingly, this often works.  Even when provided with evidence that the guest actually stayed at the listing, credit card companies may still approve the chargeback and in essence support the guest in stealing from the host.

Difficulties getting reimbursed for damages done by guests, are well-known to hosts using Airbnb who read about the great many stories hosts share about this problem. Certainly many hosts do get reimbursed for the damages they have suffered, but particularly for claims with larger dollar amounts, hosts report that they are really put through a tortuous process in order to get compensated.  Many hosts speak of being asked to submit the same information multiple times, or of being given very short periods of time to come up with certain documentation, eg 24 to 48 hours, or of not hearing back from Airbnb staff for long periods of time, and some hosts who have a lot of experience with this process feel that Airbnb has intentionally designed the Resolution center and/or Host Guarantee process, in order to trip up hosts in their claims and thus allow Airbnb to deny more claims.  For instance, the host in this video states that Airbnb policy is that it permits itself to close any resolution case and deny the claim, if the host becomes “uncooperative”, which could mean abusive, but it could also simply mean very frustrated, something that would be a very natural response to all the hurdles Airbnb puts up in the Resolution Center claim process.

There are many other policies and practices on some of the STR platforms which make it more difficult for hosts to protect themselves and their property.    The essential dilemma as I see it, is that the short term rental platforms, particularly when they get paid on a commission basis rather than through a flat annual fee, have an investment in getting as many bookings as possible on their platform.  This interest of the platforms, can easily be at odds with hosts’ own interest in keeping themselves and their properties safe and secure.  Keep property secure ph

The divergence of Airbnb’s interest (and that of other STR platforms) from property owner’s interests, begins in a seemingly innocent place.  I contend that the basis of many of the problems hosts experience, begins in Airbnb’s portrayal of the process of booking a stay in a private home, as a simple, easy process, very similar to booking a stay in a hotel.  Yet as I will go on to describe, the renting out of private property is anything but simple in the number of problems and complications that can occur.
Airbnb and other platforms want a guest to be able to easily book a stay, because the more easily this is done, the more profit for them.  Many hosts will tend, certainly at first, to agree with this, as they too want to maximize their profit.  So many hosts, at least in the beginning before they have much experience, are led to think that simplifying the booking process can only be to their advantage.  As well, the Airbnb rhetoric about being “welcoming” (more prevalent in the early days of Airbnb) of guests to one’s own home, exerts a pressure on hosts to “welcome” everyone, and if Airbnb’s advertising doesn’t do it for you, perhaps their bias for Instant Book hosts will, where they are clear that if you don’t use Instant Book setting on your listings, you can expect second-rate results in terms of how many bookings you’ll be able to get.
From the start, Airbnb’s business model was to treat private homes like hotels, and this depiction has only increased over time.  Obviously this is less of a problem for those “hosts” who actually ARE hotels (for Airbnb allows hotels to list on their site), or who are large real estate companies which can much more easily be run as a “hotel”, accepting all comers, than a private home where the host lives when they welcome guests.

Yet even “hosts” who are in essence hotels or large real estate companies, can have difficulty with Airbnb’s policies, which actually place more limits upon them, and reduce their ability to protect themselves, compared to their ability for self-protection when they take direct bookings..e.g. through their own hotel or property website.  For instance, the man who made the video above, about how a guest “cleaned him out” and stole everything in the listing, $7500 worth of furniture and appliances, is a “host” with 60 listings.  That actually makes him larger than many Ma and Pa hotels, but he’s considerably less protected getting his guests on the Airbnb site.

Let’s first explore the greater risks even for the larger “hosts” (and hotels) listed on Airbnb, and then move to looking at the many additional risks Airbnb imposes on the smaller scale hosts.

To begin with: hotels taking direct bookings are able to develop their own policies, rules and procedures, (such as refund and cancellation policies, extra guest fees, pet rules, extra service fees, late check out fees, rule violation fees,  security deposit and damage fees) which they can then enforce…and they are not able to do this when listing on Airbnb.  Starting with the point of booking:  hotels take their customers’ credit card directly, and check ID of the guest at the time of booking.Solvang Gardens Lodge

When I stayed in 2 small hotels on the Southern California coast recently, I was asked to show my Driver’s license, in order to pay for the room.  This protects the hotel in case of chargeback fraud (they then know my real name and could sue me in small claims court over the chargeback, or for any other damage I might cause , if they wished).  If the same hotel listed on Airbnb, they would NOT be able to get the guest ID at the time of booking.  Yes, Airbnb does offer hosts the option, ( if they have Instant Book set, )  that they can choose to allow only guests who have uploaded government ID with Airbnb.  Other hosts not using instant book could have this as a requirement for booking.  However, it’s important to understand that this Government ID that the guest shares with Airbnb will never be shared with YOU the host, under any circumstances, because Airbnb claims it would violate the guest’s privacy to do that.  Also, Airbnb now states openly that it allows guests to use fake names or pseudonyms on their Airbnb account, when they book with you.  Using one’s real name is not required on Airbnb.  Thus, even if someone has uploaded their Government ID to Airbnb, you wont’ be able to see it or perhaps even know their real name.  This means that even with uploaded ID to Airbnb, a guest could put a fake name on their account, book your listing, completely vandalize the property and steal all your belongings, and you would not be able to file a police report on them or sue them in court because you wouldn’t even know their real name.  Burglar robber image

And likewise, if this was a fine guest, but they had a serious injury in your home or died on your property, how would you feel if you had to call the police and say “someone renting a room here has died in my house but I don’t know who it is…can you come get them.”

It’s a fact now that police departments in many cities are starting to tell property owners directly, that Airbnb poses a threat to the community, because it’s hiding vital information about those booking stays at people’s homes, allowing people to book under false names as well as other people’s accounts.  At times there are instances of serial burglars using Airbnb to find prey, as in this article where police warn people about using short term rental platforms: https://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2016/08/22/mountain-view-police-warn-of-airbnb-burglary-trend/
Police in other areas have had to warn property owners that prostitutes are using Airbnb for “pop up brothels”  https://www.flyertalk.com/articles/police-warn-airbnb-hosts-pimps-are-turning-rentals-into-pop-up-brothels.html

Most of the illegal party bookings that we read about on the news almost every day now (in some of which, people are fatally shot), are being booked with other people’s Airbnb accounts.  Meaning, the person owning the account is not even attending, and may not even know their account has been used to book the property.  Read here for a summary of many news stories on these illegal parties and homes trashed by Airbnb guests:  http://globalhosting.freeforums.net/board/49/crimes-assaults-egregious-problems-guests

Suffice to say that these problems are less likely to occur at standard hotels, as hotels do not have third party platforms standing between them and the guest and depriving them of guest’s vital information.

When I booked the room, the hotel was able to place a “hold” on my card, if they wished, in order to compensate them for any damages I might cause to their property.  The same hotel could not do that if listed on Airbnb or Booking.com
Also, many hosts operate under the very mistaken assumption that Airbnb “screens” guests, so that they dont’ have to.  This is one of the leading causes of serious problems for hosts — the idea that has been unfortunately common in the host community from the start, that not only one doesn’t have to screen guests, but some hosts even suggest, by their critical comments of other hosts, that it is somehow rude to do so!  Airbnb definitely does not screen guests, and if you think about it, how could they, because what “screening” means is different for everybody.  Every host has to decide what kind of guest works for them and what would be a problem for them.  Particularly for in home hosts, this can vary widely.  Some hosts are bothered by behavior that others dont’ mind, for instance a guest smoking marijuana on the property, or bringing an unregistered guest to stay overnight, or bringing along their dog, 2 cats and pet gerbil. All Airbnb does, is a very basic type of background check, which they don’t even do for all guests, only those in the USA.  This background check looks for certain types of crimes — not just any crime, but only certain types.  https://www.airbnb.com/help/article/1308/does-airbnb-perform-background-checks-on-members

Hotels generally don’t “screen” their guests the way hosts do, but they do have a tool that many may not know about — hotels have access to guest blacklists, whereby hotels work together to help each other avoid problematic guests, for instance those who have caused major damage in previous stays.   The same hotels would not have this tool to help them, if they take guests from Airbnb or other STR platforms.  The guest blacklists that hotels share among themselves, have guest’s real names and identifying information.  But on Airbnb, the guest could hide their real name and use a pseudonym on their account.

Finally, hotels are completely free to develop their own policies and rules on all issues pertaining to guest stays, only being limited by and subject to the laws of their city, state or nation.  These same hotels would not have this same freedom when they list on Airbnb.  For instance, ADA law is clear that “emotional support animals” are not service animals and do not come under ADA policy allowing people to bring them into hotels whenever they wish,  thus hotels which dont’ allow pets can refuse to admit guests with emotional support animals in tow.   Which would be a really good idea given the proliferation of abuse of the emotional support animal category by any random person with a pet they dont’ want to leave at home, and would like to be able to bully everyone into having to allow them to bring in.  https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/18/us/emotional-support-animal.html
For instance, take a gander at the “emotional support peacock” one woman tried to bring onto an airplane flight:
Emotional support Peacock

However, Airbnb takes a different approach, imposing more burdens on hosts than the law itself contains.  https://www.airbnb.com/help/article/1405/airbnb-s-nondiscrimination-policy–our-commitment-to-inclusion-and-respect
Airbnb lumps in emotional support animals, which truly are nothing different than ordinary pets (because everyone gets emotional support from their pet!) with service animals, thus prohibiting hosts from denying guests with these pets, even hosts who have clear no pets policies.

So the same hotel which has its own policy prohibiting emotional support animals, would be unable to apply that policy if they listed on Airbnb.

Any number of other rules and policies could be set up by the hotel or small time host, to protect themselves, but be prohibited by Airbnb.  For instance Airbnb does not allow hosts to fine guests for rule violations.  Though hotels routinely bill guests $200 to $300 if they smoke in a no-smoking room, Airbnb refuses to allow hosts to similarly bill guests violating a no smoking rule at the listing.  Airbnb claims that you have to be able to show damage to get compensation, and the pungent and at times disgusting smell of smoke is not evidence that can be submitted to them via email, so you’re out of luck on that one.Eg see here:  https://community.withairbnb.com/t5/Hosting/violation-of-smoking-policy/td-p/16198   and http://globalhosting.freeforums.net/thread/647/guest-smokes-nonsmoking-listing-airbnb

Yet, as many hotels found, the fact that rules can actually be enforced, or that there are consequences for violations, is about the only thing that makes them work.

Dan Cole checked out of his Connecticut hotel early on a Saturday morning last month and found an unwelcome surprise. The Courtyard Marriott Hartford-Farmington had slapped him with a $250 charge for smoking in his nonsmoking room. Mr. Cole is a smoker but insists he didn’t light up in the room. He got busted, he thinks, for throwing a few cigarette butts he had stowed in his pants pocket into the room’s trash.

He pleaded his case to the front desk, but the clerk refused to take off the charge.

Mr. Cole is among the growing crowd of smokers ensnared by hotels’ new and more stringent no-smoking policies. More hotels are starting to introduce fines for smoking, are increasing fines or are beginning to more aggressively enforce those that are already on the books. As more hotels institute 100% smoke-free policies, hotels say the fines are necessary to get people to stop lighting up and to cover cleaning costs for those who won’t. Nonsmoking guests, they say, are getting more sensitive about smelling any hint of cigarette smoke in a nonsmoking room.

Last week, Sheraton and Four Points by Sheraton, divisions of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., announced all of its North American properties will have a $200 smoking charge when the brands become 100% nonsmoking at the end of 2008. Walt Disney Co.’sWalt Disney World Resort hotels started applying a new smoking charge of as much as $500 in June 2007, when the brand became totally nonsmoking. Swissotel Chicago started charging $175 for smoking in a nonsmoking room in the beginning of 2007 but raised the charge to $250 when it announced a 100% nonsmoking policy in December.

A charge of “$175 wasn’t quite enough to get people to stop,” says Nicole Jachimiak, marketing director for the hotel. Ms. Jachimiak says the steeper fine seems to be working: The hotel is now catching — and fining — fewer smokers.

 

Hotels can set up their own cancellation policies, and then impose those easily on guests, when guests have paid them directly.  But when the same hotel takes a guest from Airbnb, they lose control of those funds, and Airbnb can easily override the hotel’s or any host’s cancellation policy, for instance by enabling the guest to abuse the “extenuating circumstances” policy and get a full refund if it happens to be a rainy day, or their fifth cousin twice removed has died in a distant city in another continent, or they have a hangnail and a bad hair day.

Many other rules can be readily enforced on direct booking guests, but not when they book through Airbnb.  Let’s take some examples of various hotel rules.

Begin with the CERN hotel, which is close to the European center for nuclear research, located in Geneva Switzerland.  Here are their rules as listed on their site:

Hotel Rules – Code of conduct

  1. Guests shall acquaint themselves with the fire safety procedures and comply immediately with fire or other safety drills, alarms and instructions.
  2. Guests shall behave appropriately and with discretion at all times, respectful of the Hotel environment and staff, as well as of other guests.
  3. During the quiet hours from 11pm to 7am, guests shall be particularly considerate and refrain from any conduct that could disturb others in the vicinity.
  4. Only registered guests are permitted in the Hotel, other than for brief visits in common areas. No overnight visitors are permitted.
  5. Parties or gatherings of more than 10 people are not permitted in the Hotel. Group meetings under the authority of a leader or teacher are tolerated provided that they do not disrupt the environment for other guests.
  6. Food must be consumed only in common areas and food waste must be properly disposed of.
  7. Smoking, alcohol and recreational drugs are strictly prohibited.
  8. The facilities of the Hotel are for the enjoyment of all guests. To this end, care shall be taken to respect the infrastructure. In particular, furniture shall not be moved and nothing may be fixed to furniture or walls.
  9. Guests are expected to keep their rooms and the common areas clean and tidy at all times.
  10. Proper care should be taken of personal valuables. The CERN Hotel is not responsible in the event of their theft, loss or damage. Lost and Found items will be kept by the Housing Service for 3 months. They can be retrieved at the Hotel Reception only. No items can be sent. Perishable items will be disposed of immediately.

The CERN Hotel reserves the right to charge guests additional cleaning or damage fees, or to evict guests without refund and/or inform their CERN hierarchy and/or home institution1, should they fail to comply with the above mentioned rules.

As should be fairly obvious to anyone, rules are only effective to the extent that they can be enforced.  So, the CERN hotel makes clear that they have the right to evict guests without a refund, should they violate any of these rules such as no unregistered guests staying overnight or no parties, no drugs, no eating in rooms, and quiet during quiet hours.
By contrast, this same hotel listing on Airbnb would lose their right to evict guests without a refund.  Airbnb has now come out and clearly stated that if guests have to be asked to leave because they violated the host’s rules, Airbnb will NOT uphold hosts’ house rules which may state, as CERN Hotel does, that in case of cancellation of stay/eviction due to rule violation, no refund will be given.  Airbnb will require the host to refund any days not stayed, as Airbnb customer service has made clear here:  Airbnb on House rule evictions 1
Airbnb on house rule evictions 2

Now take a look at the rules of an American Hotel chain, All Seasons hotels:  http://allseasonsinnandsuites.net/hotel-policyhouse-rules.html

Notice that down below in the “enforcement” section, in addition to evicting rule violators without refund, they state that they will apply a $300 cleaning fee to any rule breakers:

ENFORCEMENT:
All staff is trained and required to respond to potential violations of our Hotel Policy/House Rules. Guests who refuse to abide by the reasonable standards and policies established by All Seasons Inn & Suites for safety of all guests, staff, owners, property, and the operation and management of the hotel will be evicted, with no refund (MCA 70-6-511). In addition to the room charge, a minimum $300.00 cleaning fee per room will be charged for infraction(s) of our Hotel Policy/House Rules.

They would not be able to do this enforcement, with guests who booked them through Airbnb, because Airbnb does not allow eviction without refund of remaining days, and does not allow hosts to fine guests for rule violations. See for instance, here:  https://www.reddit.com/r/AirBnB/comments/4fkcow/from_trust_safety_team_guest_fees_house_rules_not/

In addition, All Seasons Hotels and Suites doesn’t just have the ability to bill the guest directly (without having to get approval from any other authority) for damages, but they bill damages at 120% of cost to replace, not just at cost. On both those counts they would lose with Airbnb:

DAMAGE TO ROOM:  Damage to rooms, fixtures, furnishing and equipment including the removal of electronic equipment, towels, art work, etc. will be charge at 120% of full and new replacement value plus any shipping and handling charges. Any damage to hotel property, whether accidental or willful, is the responsibility of the registered guest for each particular room.  Any costs associated with repairs and/or replacement will be charged to the credit card of the registered guest.

By the way, as you’ll note by looking at most any hotels’ house rules, all these sets of rules are “long”, and they would earn the hotel the honor of being berated by many Airbnb hosts who have come to the bizarre idea that “long rules/bad host”.  I point out the length of the hotel rules in particular to demonstrate that even those people who are running their property most like a hotel, that is to say the hotels themselves, do not have “short” house rules.  This whole misguided concept of the value of “short” house rules is problematic and is totally contrary to the general wisdom of the business of renting property and running a hotel.  Here for instance is a 2 page summary of rules from the “Classic Hotel” in Budapest, Hungary:

https://classichotel.hu/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/1_2-CLASSIC-HOTEL-GUEST-RULES-AND-REGULATIONS-V2017.04.15.pdf
In fact I believe that the whole idea of the value of “short” house rules comes from Airbnb, and is aligned with the misrepresentation of the hotelier business and the property rental business as something “simple.”  Granted that many people may book a hotel room in a few seconds and never read the hotels’ house rules, but their booking still contractuallly binds them to everything stipulated there.  And the hotel or any host operating independently, has far more power to enforce its own rules, than they would when listing on Airbnb.  In essence, we could say that one of the main reasons hosts are so upset by guests “who dont’ read the listing/rules” is not because they arrive without knowing what they are supposed to know, or because their expectations may be off, but because if they complain to Airbnb to mediate a dispute, Airbnb may well side with the guest even when the guest clearly did not follow through on his responsibilities, booked without reading the info presented, broke the rules, etc.

Hence the fact that the same hotel or host with the same house rules, can end up with more of a problem when the guest doesn’t read these, if the guest books via Airbnb, seems to have led many hosts to put the blame on the host for having these rules, rather than appropriately blaming Airbnb for its failure to support hosts (or hotels!) in being able to protect not only their own property but also the experience of other guests.

Increased risk for the Small Property Owner or In Home Host

Now that we’ve looked at the dilemmas and loss of protections even for large hotels and large real estate companies that list on Airbnb, let’s look at the risk faced by small in home hosts or those with just a small number of listings.

It should be obvious that a host is at greater risk, when they have problem guests, when they themselves live in the house where they are welcoming the guests.  They may have a family with small children, their home may contain valuable art or other objects, they may have neighbors looking out their windows all day just waiting for evidence of an “Airbnb guest problem” that they can take to their city to try to lobby to get short term rentals banned in their city.  Or, if nothing else, these in home hosts just might have something in their home which oddly has become almost culturally marginalized in the STR community at this point in time — gasp— they might be people who actually live in their own home.  Though Airbnb ostensibly started out as a place to welcome guests into one’s own home, the cultural values that Airbnb is now promoting, and the rise in “hosting” among those who dont’ live in the properties they rent, has now almost sidelined the in home host and made them into a bit of a freak.  At the very least, it sometimes seems that Airbnb finds it inconvenient that hosts live in the home where they welcome guests.  After all….this introduces so many uncomfortable complexities that they would rather not have to cope with. Such as…guest is sharing the bathroom and kitchen with the host or even other guests.  The house has a “lived in” feel and has antiques and heirlooms,  rather than featuring all brand new furniture from IKEA.

People who live where they host will obviously need additional protections and precautions, above the hotelier who rents rooms to people in a hotel which is not his own primary residence.   A hotel which is not where his family lives, where his pets live, where all his valuables are stored.

Also, whereas a hotelier might easily accomodate guests with service animals and emotional support animals, because they themselves are not staying in their own rooms, and they may have so many rooms that they can set aside some for those with animals, reserving others for those who are allergic to animals, the host with only 1 or 2 bedrooms to offer guests in her own home does not have that luxury.  Yet ironically, she is given less freedom by Airbnb to decline guests with a service animal, than the hotelier operating independently.  The hotel may refuse all emotional support animals: the in home host may be afraid that if she declines a guest with an ESA, the guest will complain to Airbnb and Airbnb may simply terminate the host on the basis of the guests’ complaint, without bothering to get any additional information. If you have trouble believing that Airbnb would do such a thing, consider the recent case where a guest contacted Airbnb and claimed the host had an unsecured firearm in a doggy basket by the front door.  Airbnb terminated this host, without bothering to further investigate, and completely dismissing the hosts’ statement (and the truth) that this “firearm” was in fact a rubber dog toy.  https://globalhostingblogs.com/2019/03/06/when-an-airbnb-host-is-terminated-based-on-false-statements-by-the-guest/  
It took this host going to court, to get herself reinstated on Airbnb, and the judge in the case was very displeased with Airbnbs’ practices and indeed its whole TOS, which the judge flat out said that “no one should sign.”  The Airbnb attorney in this case argued that Airbnb had the right, basically, to terminate anyone, without doing any investigation, without giving any reason, at any time, because it had given itself these ‘rights” in its own TOS.

But whereas in home hosts need additional protections and precautions, the problem is that Airbnb’s platform and policies  make it increasingly difficult for hosts to employ these.  p2_StressCartoon_W1804_gi603862734

(1) Airbnb has pushed instant book on hosts, essentially promising to punish them with demoted status if they don’t allow all comers, and insist on screening guests.
(2) Airbnb doesn’t allow guests to provide contact information, weblinks, before booking, making it much harder to screen them eg by looking at a LinkedIn page for them, or getting references.
(3)Airbnb has removed the ability of hosts to see photo of the guest before booking, which could be used to get a sense of the person’s character, or provide host a “gut sense” of whether they feel comfortable with the person.
(4)Airbnb insists that hosts provide an explanation of why they are declining a guest, each and every time they decline someone, which has a chilling effect on hosts’ willingness to decline, as they obviously do not want someone standing over their shoulder monitoring who they let into their homes.  Also, it’s well known that declining guests can lead Airbnb to “punish” a host for declines, by demoting their status in the search results.
(5) Even beyond these other potential punishments for declining a guest, a host has to worry that if they decline a guest who turns out to be in one of the “protected categories”, eg race, disability, sexual orientation and so on, that Airbnb could punish the host, even to the point of terminating their account, based on interpreting the decline as discrimination.
(6) Airbnb does not allow hosts to fine guests for rule violations.
(7)Airbnb fully refunds guest for days remaining on a stay, if guest is asked to leave due to rule violations, and often, they also do this if guest cancels, even in violation of the host’s cancellation policy.
(8) Airbnb apparently intentionally makes it difficult for hosts to get reimbursed for damages to their property, by imposing demanding conditions, for instance, that hosts must have all documentation of damages by 24 hrs after the guest checked out, if another guest is checking into the same listing.

So, given all these limitations on how we can protect ourselves on the Airbnb platform, what are hosts to do?

I submit that if you really want to avoid problems with guests, you need to first of all avoid falling under the spell, or the misrepresentation, that renting out property is some very simple easy thing that anyone can do and which should be quick and simple for the guest to do…and if it’s not, then it’s somehow your fault.
Anyone who ventures into the business of renting out property can find, often to their horror, how complex it really is.  Coming back to a listing to find every single item of furniture stolen, really reinforces this fact.  Having drug dealers book your home, and then getting your account terminated by Airbnb when you kick them out and put their luggage outside, drives home the point of the complexity of this business.  Having any guest book, who promises up and down that they read all your house rules, and then arrives and begins to break most every rule, drives this home.

There is fortunately, a  traditional and long-standing method to prevent many of these problems — but the difficulty is that this method is adamantly opposed by many arrogant hosts.  The method is called “screening your guests” and one of the big problems in the host community groups, is that you will see a lot of people giving very bad advice and basically telling you not to screen guests, or advising only minimal screening, and calling you rude and invasive of people’s privacy when you try to take adequate measures to protect yourself, your home, and your livelihood.  Suffice to say I find this quite concerning, if not at times absolutely detrimental to hosts’ businesses.

Simply put, here is what I advise to hosts: be pro-active, rather than re-active, in protecting yourself. 

It should be obvious to hosts, based on things I’ve mentioned above about how Airbnb and other Short term rental platforms work, that you absolutely should not depend upon getting made whole by the STR platform after a situation with a problem guest or after damages occur. You hope you’ll get reimbursed, and in most cases you probably will (as long as you know how to document damages very well) …but I advise not depending on it.
Hence, a viable business model is NOT one which incorporates the assumption that you will always be paid by Airbnb for any damages or cancelled bookings.
Hence, you need to set up your business so that YOU are the one protecting yourself rather than rely on hoped for protection from Airbnb or any outside authority or platform.
You should be running your business actually on the assumption that you will NOT be paid for damages, that you will NOT be paid if a guest cancels early, etc.  It wont’ always be the case that you wont’ get compensated, but what I’m saying is that your business will be more viable if not built on the assumption that you will always get compensated.

One of the things I think comes through when reading hosts’ stories, on this and many other host community groups, is that as much as possible, whenever possible, it is far far preferable to (1) PREVENT bad guests from booking, (2) from ENTERING the premises if they do book, from (3) STAYING for any length of time if they enter the premises and start breaking rules, ….than allowing any of this and trying to get compensated afterwards for the results. Screening guests

So, as to #1 here, screening guests is very important, and not enough people know how to do this. In fact a lot of hosts seem to have absolutely no idea how to screen guests.  The key involved in screening, is a good understanding of human nature, and a close reading of stories of problems other hosts have had with guests.  The more you understand about what kinds of problems occur, the more you’ll learn ways to prevent those problems by looking for signs of the “type” of person likely to bring that type of problem.  The more intuitive you are, actually, the more likely you will be good at screening prospective guests.
As well, the skill of screening guests depends on our own understanding and valuing of our own needs.  If we don’t know what we ourselves want, or what our own needs are, it’s harder to screen guests in order to attend to our needs. For instance, I recently helped a new Airbnb host set up her listing.  I helped her set up her house rules as well, and when she got her first guest requesting to stay at her house, one of her first responses to him, was that she thought he would have trouble with one of the house rules, just based on some random impression of him that she had.  She was then inclined to exempt him from what is actually a pretty important rule, because of her orientation to accomodate him and the needs she perceived he “might” have (which she had not ascertained definitively).  I pointed out that she was minimizing her own needs in this situation, and so she did not exempt him from this particular rule, and it turned out that didn’t bother him at all because he was fine with that rule. So this is an example of how hosts undermine themselves to try to “please” others.

Screening…for types of people….
Now some people, as soon as they hear the term “type”, become reactionary and will argue that we are “stereotyping” people.  Okay, if you don’t want to learn how to screen people, or think it can’t be done, no one is going to force you to do it, and you can live with the consequences.  The fact is that there are “types” of people who bring “types” of problems …. and while it is not an exact science to determine risk from information available to you, please keep in mind that you are not a judge in a court, you are a property owner engaged in a business, the kind of business which has a right to have this statement on your business shingle:  Refuse_Service_Sign

If you don’t absolutely believe in your right to refuse service to ANYONE, then you may need to spend some time asking yourself why.

How to screen guests?
First determine the kinds of problems that could occur with guests.  You can get this information by reading host community group posts or going to this forum and reading posts there.

www.globalhostingforum.freeforums.net

This is Queenie’s list of questions for prospective guests:
http://globalhosting.freeforums.net/thread/460/guests-inquiring-stay-screening

As well, read this post on “red flags” for hosts.
http://globalhosting.freeforums.net/thread/455/red-flags-hosts

And this post which contains amusing depictions of some of the problematic “types” of guests:
https://globalhostingblogs.com/2015/12/06/ten-guests-you-dont-want/

Some things you may not realize: you can ask the guest for their full name, which will allow you to do much more screening on them than you could without that.  You can look for them on LinkedIn, social media.  If they claim they are coming for a work project, you can also look up the company they are working for and those they will be working with.  You can if you want also ask for names of previous landlords, in case you’re considering offering them a long term stay.
If you get their full name, you might be able to find their photo online, which could help you get a better sense of them.

Other things to take care with in screening and communicating with guests: make sure you have a well crafted set of house rules and that you ensure guests have read these before you let them book.  I used to think it was sufficient to just tell guests, when they made a reservation request, that they needed to read the house rules.  After all, I thought, Airbnb also requires them to check a box stating they have read the house rules, in order to request to book.  So I would be a bit redundant asking them to read the rules.
I found that even these two statements asking them to read the rules were not enough.
People were saying they read the rules, arriving, and doing things that made it clear they did not read the rules.  So now, I do what many hosts do and put a “code phrase” in the house rules and if the guest requesting to book does not tell me the code phrase, I don’t let them book because that reveals they haven’t read the information.  I wish I didn’t have to do this, because it feels a little silly, but one of the most important things to learn about accepting guests and screening them, is you can’t necessarily take everything they say at face value, particularly regarding guest saying they read everything.

Because Airbnb does not “have your back” as they should — and while some hosts think
Ive got your back ph
you are “safer taking guests from Airbnb”, actually I think what I’ve shown above is that the reverse is actually more often the case.  You’re safer taking guests bookings directly, because you have more ability to enforce rules and consequences for rule breaking, payment by guest for damages using their security deposit, if they book directly with you.  With Airbnb, your ability to protect yourself in all these ways is weakened.  Additionally, many hosts have found that they are reluctant to bill guests for damages guests did, because “they might retaliate against me in their review.”  So there’s one more factor that makes getting guests via Airbnb less safe for you, than doing direct bookings.  There are no reviews with direct bookings, and certainly none which threaten your business the way Airbnb routinely threatens host with low reviews that, all too often, do not represent any problem with the listing itself, but rather represent the result of the host confronting the guest over their bad behavior.  Many guests thus confronted will retaliate via the review they write of the host’s listing, essentially telling lies to get back at the host.
For instance, I recently had a guest who broke an important house rule. After I confronted him about this, he wrote a scathing review basically stating that I was not to have such house rules, that this was wrong, and that my house was very unclean (a lie).  Never mind that one of my house rules, was, in fact, that he was not supposed to be booking a stay at a place where he could not agree to follow the house rules without resentment or difficulty.
This is quite common, the problem of badly behaved guests retaliating against the host who tries to straighten them out, but Airbnb has shown no interest in protecting hosts from this problem of guests retaliating if we ask them to actually follow the rules they agreed to when booking.  By doing nothing to address this, Airbnb is lending support to guests who break house rules.

As to #2 above, you will need to be able to actually turn away a guest at the door in some cases.  If you are not comfortable doing this, then you may not have one of the skills needed to do this business and protect your own property.  If the person arriving is not the one who booked, if the person who arrives appears under the influence, or homeless, or is bringing with them about 12 boxes and bags and all their worldly possessions, if they are bringing a pet which you dont’ allow….you need to learn to say no.  This is very very important and a lot of hosts lack this ability.

As to #3 above, you may have to evict a guest.  This is hopefully rare, but at times it is necessary. It may be necessary for instance if the guest has invited in 50 additional guests for a party, or is shooting off  a gun in the backyard, or has snuck in 5 dogs, or snuck in 4 toddlers to a listing which is dangerous for children.   If you are renting through Airbnb it is advised that you do this carefully and with a lot of communication with them so you dont’ end up in trouble.  It’s not always preferable to evict a problem guest, and one of the issues you have to weigh is the likelihood the guest will make false statements to Airbnb about the situation.  Statements which might lead them to terminate you from the platform.

Many times on the host groups, hosts tell stories about problem guests, which reveal that they accepted a reservation which came with one or multiple red flags. Just do not do this!!   Or they will share the photo of the guest, which showed someone who, if a person with ordinary intuition saw that photo, they would not accept that guest.  If the person looks menacing, or looks like a homeless person, particularly given that this same person could have chosen another way to present themselves, chances are they will not be a good guest.  Photos are important in screening — try to get guest to tell you their full name so that you can find a photo of them online.

If your business model is such that you are not able to decline someone because you dont’ feel comfortable with how they present, or you feel you can’t cancel a reservation of someone who is breaking a lot of rules, because you need the income, then I submit to you that you dont’ have a viable business model.

Other things that hosts do to protect themselves:

Have security cameras at the property, eg Ring doorbell.
Have noise meter at the property, to notify them if there is a party going on.
Have all guests sign a rental agreement and send it to them, before arrival. To be an effective legal agreement this may need to be a long document.  Several hosts I know use rental agreements that are 7 to 8 pages long.
Require that guests show their government ID on check in. Do not allow them entry if the name on the ID does not match that on the rental agreement.
Have someone at or near the property who can keep an eye on what is going on there.
Immediately communicate with guests when they break rules.

In sum, to run an effective business in property rental, you need to operate under the assumption that you alone, and not Airbnb or other platforms, are responsible for screening your guests and protecting yourself…because chances are, that in the end it will only be your own efforts that will protect you.

 

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

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

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

Here are some highlights as described there:

Did you know ….

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

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

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

 

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

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

A group for those offering long term stays?

A group for those interested in house swaps?

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

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

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

Anecdotes property ad 2 ph

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

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

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

Anecdotes property ad 3 ph

Anecdotes 4 ph

aNECDotes 5 ph

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

Anecdotes 6 ph
And
Anecdotes 7 ph

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Airhosts forum on hiding photos 4 (2)

Airhosts forum on hiding photos 3 (2)

Airhosts forum on hiding photos 2 (2)

Airhosts forum on hiding photos (2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Internet troll

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some suggestions for host group moderation: 

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

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

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

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

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

We might say “good riddance” in both cases.

 

 

House Rules, Thermostat Settings, Duvets and Keurig

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

House Rules
Thermostat Settings
Duvet Covers
Keurig Coffeemakers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bathroom rules

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

So you can take a couple approaches to this.

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

OR:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No mail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yellow pages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

shipping

In researching this issue, I did find this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what I recommend that you do. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End of Story

When An Airbnb Host is Terminated Based on False Statements by the Guest

This story is an important one, because it touches on several levels of problems  — (1) the ever-expanding AIrbnb Terms of Service, which expand Airbnb’s own power and rights while reducing those of users of its platform, (2) Airbnb’s handling of complaints made by one user about another user or listing, (3) AIrbnb’s practice of terminating users without providing any explanation about why they took this action, or (4) Airbnb failing to offer any appeals process both for terminations and for other decisions it makes, say about requests for reimbursement for damages.

There is one recent court case in Baltimore Maryland which involves several interesting factors so it’s worth highlighting.

This case involves a long-time Baltimore host, Jeannette Belliveau, who was a SuperHost with over 500 Airbnb reviews, who had also done political advocacy work to support hosts in Baltimore.  Her Airbnb account:  https://www.airbnb.com/users/show/10722046

In summer of 2018, guest Stephanie Akker stayed with Jeannette in her home.  Stephanie seemed to have a fine time, didn’t complain to Jeannette about anything.  So Jeannette was quite disturbed to hear from Airbnb after Stephanies’ stay, that Airbnb was considering terminating Jeannette’s account on Airbnb over some type of violation of terms.  After reading Stephanie’s review of her stay, Jeannette realized what had happened….the guest had made a false, defamatory statement about Jeannette in her review, and this false statement actually led Airbnb to terminate Jeannette’s account, without even bothering to consider Jeannette’s side of the story!  Stephanie defamatory review false

No, there was NOT a 9mm hand gun in a small basket by the front door!  There were a bunch of doggie toys in the basket by the front door, as well as a toy rubber pistol that Jeannette used as a prop in a self-defense course.

Jeannette presented the facts to Airbnb, but willy-nilly they terminated her account anyhow, blithely disrespectful of the facts and demonstrating an unaccountable bias towards the guests’ false and defamatory statement.  Apparently it was of no concern to them that Jeannette was a superhost with a long time solid reputation of over 500 reviews, or that Jeannette solely relied on her Airbnb income, which was her sole income as a retired person.

Jeannette first went to court to sue the guest, Stephanie Akker, in small claims court.  This is Stephanies’ AIrbnb profile page:  https://www.airbnb.com/users/show/153521542Airbnb Guest Stephanie who made defamatory statement (2)

So Jeannette filed suit in Baltimore Small claims court over this:

Jeannette Belliveau vs Airbnb (2)

She won in court, and the judge was particularly upset not only that the guest (who now lived in Massachusetts, not in Washington state) did not show up, but also that Airbnb offered NO appeals process for its decision.

Jeannette requested an audio recording of the hearing and made a YouTube video of it:

For her part, when presented with the facts, not only did this guest Stephanie Akker not back down or apologize, but she went on AIrbnb Hell and posted there about it:

http://www.airbnbhell.com/sued-by-airbnb-host-for-reporting-gun/Stephanie on AIrbnb Hell (2)

No decent person, when presented with the facts and shown that she has made a presumptuous mistake, a mistake that ruined someones’ business, would argue that she is entitled to her view, and to double down on it.  The point isn’t that you have no reason to believe the gun was fake.  The point is that if you are not absolutely certain this was a real gun, you dont’ report to AIrbnb that there was a real gun there!

Jeannette next sued AIrbnb itself in small claims court in November 2018.  While most hosts believe that the Airbnb TOS still direct that users shall use arbitration, at some point the TOS were revised to allow hosts “the right to seek relief in small claims court for certain claims, at their option.”  See some small claims and other suits against Airbnb here:   https://globalhostingblogs.com/2017/12/17/lawsuits-against-airbnb/

This is the video from Jeannette’s court case against AIrbnb.

Jeannette’s complaint against guest Stephanie Akker:

Jeannette Belliveau vs Stephanie Akker Complaint

And her complaint against AIrbnb:

Jeannette Belliveau vs Airbnb Complaint and Affidavit

Jeannette went to court on March 6 2019.  This is her report about what occurred in the small claims court with the judge, herself and an attorney representing AIrbnb:

“OKAY kids, I’m back from Small Claims court, and very much buoyed by everyone’s support and personal messages.

SUMMARY: I was denied damages of $5K, based on the judge’s view that I had voluntarily signed the Terms of Service waiving a right to damages. BUT the judge tore UP the AirBNB attorney for “making money off this host, but not providing her due process or any real investigation.”

The judge ordered AirBNB to do something to write a note on my listing to state (trying to remember exact wording …) something to the effect of, “This review is false and the host has been reinstated.”

She said to come to her if this did not happen and she would issue a contempt of court ruling.

Some takeaways:

The other defendants and plaintiffs in the courtroom were nodding and meeting my eyes and going “Umm hmm” as the judge made it clear there had been NO investigation of my case whatsoever.

Air’s attorney was a total rookie – this was his first District Court or any court appearance perhaps since graduating from law school 2 yrs ago. He did well! We are near-neighbors and both walk our dogs in the big nearby park, so we will greet each other going forward. No hard feelings, none of this stuff is personal.

I have ordered and paid for the audio recording of this trial as well, and will obtain and edit it in time … might take 7 to 10 days. (And upload it and send in a link for posting, God willing.)

Did an indirect shoutout noting “there are a lot of eyes on this hearing” and “other hosts* have been very kind in offering support.

The audiotape will be entertaining, I promise, it was all very Judge Judy (U.S. reality court show).

Some BIGGER takeaways:

You will hear on the audiotape that the judge raises the COMPLETE lack of due process and fairness in AirBNB’s dealing with hosts. (But her hands were tied by my agreement to the ToS.) I am frantically trying to look up the state of Maryland’s laws on contract waivers to see if I can appeal … I think this kind of case is VERY juicy to run up the chain of appeals, because the ToS anymore are getting crazy, for AirBNB and every other company.
I’m not sure about folks overseas or in other U.S. states, but my experience to date (if it can be generalized to others, who knows) is:
A) AirBNB can win against you in this kind of lawsuit because of the waivers in the contracts we more or less sign via the ToS
B)😎 you CAN sue the guest for defamatory reviews and get damages; that is not covered by the ToS

 

So this should be helpful info for others who suffer an unkind and unfair turn of events and end up in a similar situation.

In addition, it might help to point out that if any guest makes a statement in their review, as Stephanie did in hers, about having made a report to AIrbnb, or contacted AIrbnb, or complained to Airbnb, or sought Airbnb’s help with an issue with the host or listing, this is grounds to have the review removed based on Airbnb’s own review guidelines.  Eg see here:  https://www.airbnb.com/help/article/546/what-is-airbnb-s-content-policy  or their review guidelines page  https://www.airbnb.com/help/article/13/how-do-reviews-work.

Note they prohibit:

  • Content that provides specific details or outcomes of an Airbnb investigation

So it’s considered providing details of an Airbnb investigation, if any user refers to contacting Airbnb.

I think one of the biggest things that is wrong in this whole picture, is the total lack of an appeals process when someone either has their account terminated, or is denied for a reimbursement for damages.

In the EU, according to new GDPR rules, it’s illegal for AIrbnb to terminate someone’s account without providing any explanation, and/or any appeals process.  This is only basic justice, and really such rules should also apply all over the US and the rest of the world.