It seems that Airbnb, the spoiled brat of the holiday letting industry, is finally having to grow up and accept some responsibility.
Their attitude has previously been ‘we’re so popular we can do what we want … and you can’t stop us.’ But now events at home and overseas have seen the online giant spanked and sent to its room.
The horrific deaths at an Airbnb-let party house in California, the exposure of a huge scam, and a damaging referendum in New Jersey that demanded restrictions on the company, have all taken their toll in the USA, where it is based.
Meanwhile here in Australia, a major crackdown on tax cheats, the introduction of strict regulations – including a registry and code of conduct – in NSW and WA, growing complaints about the hollowing out of Melbourne’s city centre as well as popular Sydney suburbs like Bondi and Randwick, have all added to the pressure.
Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky this week told employees that the company need to regain the trust of its hosts and guests, according to a story in the Sydney Morning Herald.
As a result, over the next year it’s claimed it will check its seven million listings to make sure they are, in fact, what has been displayed on their website. They will also check for cleanliness and safety … and even verify the addresses.
The latter may not be as daft as it seems. There have been many reports of guests being met outside one unit block, where holiday lets are allowed, only to be escorted into a nearby property where they aren’t
It’s been a rough week for Airbnb and, particularly its public image. However, it wasn’t as rough as it was for the families of the five people who died at the Halloween party in California, says this story in the Sydney Morning Herald.
It’s hardly their fault, except that Airbnb created the potential for this kind of thing when they made it easy for anonymous people to bring together large numbers of people, alcohol, drugs and, it turns out, guns, in one place where there was no security or supervision.
The property in Orinda was fined by the local council earlier this year because of over-occupancy, parking violations and excessive trash. Airbnb has now, belatedly, removed it from their listings. More significanltly, it has announced it would be monitoring potential party hires, specifically single-night rentals of large homes, a lot more closely.
On the other side of the continent in New Jersey, CNBC reports 69 per cent of voters in a referendum called for tighter regulations regulation on short-term rentals.
Despite a $6 million advertising campaign by Airbnb – making it one of the costliest referenda in history – locals supported proposed regulations that will require permits, impose limitations on eligible properties, ban holiday rentals in rent-controlled properties, and limit rentals to no more than 60 nights a year, when the host isn’t present on the premises.
In another vein entirely, checks on the veracity of listings follows reports of a nationwide scam in the USA, in which guests were lured by pictures of non-existent lets then hustled, at the last minute, into inferior and often unacceptable properties.
Once they’d realised they had been conned, the guests were refused refunds and given bad guest ratings if they pushed back too hard. The scam, reported in Flat Chat earlier this week,
Meanwhile, a news story in the Australian Financial Review claims that the Australian Taxation Office has identified a $9bn shortfall in holiday let revenue and is monitoring sort-term letting websites, as well as using information from letting agencies to identify hosts and warn them that they have to pay tax on their extra income, and that they can’t claim too much in expenses.
Airbnb, Stayz and other letting agencies are said to be cooperating with the tax authorities by passing on the details of short-term rental hosts.
The other, related concern for holiday let hosts is the proposed imposition of compulsory short-term letting registries in NSW and WA. Listings fell 80 percent when a registry was introduced in Japan last year.
It seems the worm has turned for Airbnb. Once trading on their immense popularity both with hosts and guests, like Apple, they were rebels who have now become the establishment.
And, critically, politicians are discovering they can rein them in, so now they’ve had to start taking responsibility for the consequences of their actions that have brought them so much wealth.