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 now 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 staring Nov. 1, 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 Octoberber 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.
— by Samantha Gobba