Airbnb mandates anti-bias pledge

Business | Hosts and renters must agree not to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity, among other things
by Samantha Gobba
Posted 10/31/16, 03:19 pm

Starting Tuesday, the tens of millions of people around the world who use Airbnb, a home-sharing platform that has soared in popularity since its 2007 launch, must sign a new “Community Commitment” that forbids discrimination of any kind.

“You commit to treat everyone—regardless of race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or age—with respect, and without judgment or bias,” the new rule demands

Airbnb guests and hosts who decline to “sign” the commitment will not be able to book or host space through the service.

The commitment, posted on Airbnb’s website and emailed to users on Saturday, says it’s the result of “a comprehensive effort to fight bias and discrimination in the Airbnb community.” It follows on the heels of a lawsuit filed in May against Airbnb by a disgruntled user. Gregory Selden, a 25-year-old African-American man, said a Philadelphia host rejected his booking request but accepted two others he made through fake accounts in which he posed as white men. 

Selden started the hashtag #airbnbwhileblack, which went viral when others chimed in with similar experiences. Another black Airbnb user, Stefan Grant, had police knock on the door of his rental after neighbors called in a suspected robbery. Grant and colleague Jide Ehimika launched Noirbnb in June to “provide safe and welcoming spaces for black travelers.”

Many are applauding Airbnb’s move as a welcome effort in fighting discrimination. 

Others call it an overreach.

Daniel Pipes, founder of the Middle East Forum, shared his frustration on Twitter: “I just got nanny @Airbnb’s obnoxious ‘Community Commitment’ telling me how to think. No thanks. I will book my overnight stays elsewhere.”

Pipes told me he has used the platform several times, most recently for an October visit to Copenhagen. Due to an oncology conference there, he found hotels completely full, and Airbnb gave him a way to stay in the city. 

“I don’t disagree with the sentiments [of the Community Commitment], but I find it unacceptable that to use the services of this commercial company, I have to make a pledge,” he said. “I have not done that for any other service in my life. Not when buying a house, not going on an airplane, not getting hotel rooms, not buying food, or any of the other purchases I’ve ever made, I’ve never had to sign a commitment. This is politicizing the commercial marketplace in a way that’s unacceptable.” 

Pipes, one of the few social media users to speak out against the new policy, warned it could catch on and other businesses could begin requiring similar pledges. Airbnb did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Airbnb’s attempt to regulate users comes amid its own fight against regulation—from lawmakers trying to monetize short-term rental space. Many argue the Airbnb system adversely affects hotels, making it harder for them to raise rates and generate taxes.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill earlier this month that will penalize Airbnb hosts up to $7,500 for renting rooms or properties. The bill’s proponents claim rental owners hurt New York City’s housing affordability by taking their business to Airbnb’s platform. The company has filed suit to stop the new law. It also filed suit against San Francisco in June over a law requiring homeowners to register as rentals with the city before Airbnb could list their homes online. 

San Diego may follow New York’s example next week with a resolution that would ban Airbnb and fine users $2,500 per violation and $250,000 per property.

Backlash against Airbnb is worldwide: Authorities in Barcelona also fined Airbnb 30,000 euros for operating illegal rentals. Locals complained the service brought disruptive tourists into residential neighborhoods.

Despite pushback from lawmakers wanting to control “underground” economies, Airbnb has continued to flourish. Last year, executives said its number of users had grown from 47,000 in 2010 to 30 million in 2015.

Samantha Gobba

Samantha is a freelancer for WORLD Digital. She is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute, and she holds a bechelor degree in English from Hillsdale College and a multiple subject teaching credential from California State University. Samantha resides in Chico, Calif., with her husband and their two sons.

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  • stephenc
    Posted: Mon, 10/31/2016 03:38 pm

    Ah, OK. I'm already not going back to Target. Guess I won't ever be messing with AirBnB either. Thanks for the heads-up!

  • Fuzzyface
    Posted: Mon, 10/31/2016 05:09 pm

    Property tax rates are already based on use so to be fair these rentals should be taxes at least partially as such.  It wouldn't be that hard to figure a mixed rate for rental of a part of the property.  This would be a little more complex if some areas were used for both personal and rental.  When you have a home office, I believe you can only deduct those areas that are used solely for business purposes so my guess is the governmental entity would count any area the rental person uses at the rental rate.

    I know many people rent out a room (as an apartment instead of a hotel), many probably not informing the assessor.  Technically I think this is considered fraud and the taxing agency could prosecute or assess taxes for the illegally lower taxes. 

    It's really not fair for these people that are using the property for a business use to not pay the taxes that other businesses have to pay.

  • stephenc
    Posted: Mon, 10/31/2016 05:11 pm

    Eh, Fuzzyface, I tend to come down on the opposite side. Is something like AirBnb technically a violation of some sort of regulation and tax law? Probably.

    The fact that it's probably a violation of our legal codes for one person to rent another person a room in a house that the first person owns, for a day or a week or however long, without informing two or three different government bureaucracies and paying additional taxes, is not however - at least to my way of thinking - so much commentary on the propriety of AirBnb, but commentary on the utter insanity that is our bureaucratic, technocratic tyranny.

    You can quarrel with AirBnb, and I do, for their decision to force everyone who uses their services to deny reality and disregard safety. I don't think it's right to quarrel with them for creating a convenient way for people to earn money from their own property. If our laws stipulate such a quarrel, we should change the laws.

    (Note that as far as I'm concerned, it should be the legal right of any private lessor of property to stipulate that their lessees not sublet, so I'm deliberately avoiding addressing that aspect of this)

  •  Bruce's picture
    Posted: Mon, 10/31/2016 07:17 pm

    If AirBnB had left the pledge limited to a commitment to show respect, I think that would have been something Christ-followers could get behind and encourage.  But to require a commitment to treat everyone without judgment and bias with respect to these traits is too much.  I can think of certain situations where I might not feel comfortable with the liability of hosting an infirm person (e.g., a loft bed up a steep, difficult ladder or staircase), as a more pedestrian concern, and to touch on religious and moral matters, would I really offer any space in my home for a Muslim to pray toward Mecca?  And of course, could I offer a bed to a cohabiting, lesbian, or gay couple?  Certainly not as a matter of convenience for travel.  (If it was part of just providing compassionate shelter in an emergency situation, I'd be uncomfortable, but that is a difficult situation that may require more tolerance as the prevailing principle.)

  • Laneygirl's picture
    Posted: Tue, 11/01/2016 09:04 am

    As a 7- year VRBO owner and rental agent of a beach condo in Florida, if they forced me to eliminate "age bias" I'd tell them to go. pound. sand.  18-22 year olds are always trying to crowd themselves into our properties on Spring Break and summer vacation, and the new "fall break" phenom. It's not hard to imagine what they can do to your home....


  • Laura W
    Posted: Thu, 11/03/2016 04:11 am

    Why do you place age bias in quotation marks? Would you use a different term? Isn't it a bit harsh to judge people's character simply by counting how many birthdays they have had, without knowing anything about who they are as individuals? (At least it appears to me that that is what you are doing. Is it?) I am only recently out of this age bracket myself, and I can tell you that I would have been a responsible renter during any of those years of my life, or even at 17 or 16, for that matter. And so would anyone I would have considered as a potential roommate. Yes, we would have tried to "crowd ourselves in" (as much as allowed), because we would have been trying to make our rather limited money go as far as possible, but that doesn't mean we would have abused the property.

    For that matter, my little sister is still in this age range, and she is also a very responsible and mature adult. Sure, she has a lot of learning to do yet, but she is certainly not deficient in character. Are you sure it would be doing the right thing to refuse to rent to her?

  • JerryM
    Posted: Sat, 11/05/2016 11:31 pm

    Laura W 

    It is not saying all 18-22 year olds are a certain way, but I think Laney girl's comment and policy is reasonable as many in this age bracket would pose a potential risk to her property.

  •  Soapbxn's picture
    Posted: Fri, 11/11/2016 05:51 pm

    Wondering if you can still limit number of occupants - i.e. Limited to four .....and as for age I know many 70 somethings far more agile and mobile than a few 40 something's. I am close to 60 and still run up and down mountains, bike, ski,snow machine and weight train.  I think simply warning perspective renters of any risks or possible mobility challenges. Then have a disclaimer of some sort in your contract.

  •  BOBGUTJAHR's picture
    Posted: Tue, 12/06/2016 11:03 pm

    So, could my bank call my loan or refuse to cash my paycheck if I don't sign its anti-discrimination statement?

  • Laneygirl's picture
    Posted: Wed, 02/01/2017 03:49 pm

    Wow, I wish I had seen Laura W's comment in Nov. when posted because I would have replied immediately. Experience. That's the best answer I have. Simply put, in our 120 unit complex there were enough disappointing reports and horror stories that most of us decided we would create an age minimum. We used the same one that car rental agencies have used. 

  • Sawgunner's picture
    Posted: Mon, 02/13/2017 11:39 am

    I agree with an age limit on rentals. Anyone who has rented or owned property in a college town can cover you up with stories of destructive unappreciative tenants. I wonder what response you'd get to cots in a heated garage in Fall Winter?

    As for Airbnb, can you specify only one person or charge extra for couples? If anyone feels so strongly about couples in their home the net effect will likely be no straight or gay couples.

    I don't use Uber or airbnb but the biggest well funded opponents are city hotel tax collections depts and unionized cabbies and those who have paid zillions for Medallions in places like NYC