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Airbnb says it plans to prevent landlords from profiting off pandemic evictions

The short-term-rental company says landlords will be barred from listing any property where a tenant has been evicted for failure to pay rent

Airbnb is implementing a new policy to ensure that landlords aren’t posting properties after evicting someone for failure to pay rent amid the pandemic. (Charles Platiau/Reuters)
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Airbnb is implementing a new policy to prevent landlords from exploiting its service as a federal moratorium on evictions expires this month.

Beginning Tuesday, the company will prohibit landlords from listing properties where they evicted a tenant for failure to pay rent. Airbnb says the policy will be in effect at least until the end of the year to ensure that landlords aren’t forcing out renters to profit off short-term rentals during a public health crisis.

The company said it will work with cities to identify properties where renters were pushed out after being protected under the moratorium.

Cities around the country are bracing for a potential wave of evictions as the federal moratorium expires June 30. An estimated 14 percent of adult renters in the United States are behind on payments amid the economic turmoil brought on by the pandemic and delays in disbursing federal emergency rental aid, according to data from the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

With evictions set to begin next month, hundreds of millions in Washington-area rental aid remains unspent

“You can either be a solution to challenges that are out there, or you can be compounding the challenges,” Chris Lehane, Airbnb’s head of policy and communications, told The Washington Post. “We want to be a solution when it comes to economic opportunity.”

California Assemblyman David Chiu (D), the chair of the legislature’s Housing and Community Development Committee, urged other short-term-rental platforms to consider adopting similar rules. Chiu led efforts to regulate Airbnb in San Francisco while president of the Board of Supervisors there, and he has called for the state to extend eviction protections.

“It’s very helpful Airbnb is doing their part to ensure that their short-term rentals are not contributing to evictions,” Chiu said. “We’re very concerned about seeing a significant crisis when the moratorium goes away.”

Airbnb’s meteoritic growth over the past decade has put it at the center of several controversies, including accusations that short-term rentals have driven up rents and encouraged tourists in formerly residential neighborhoods.

Those concerns were exacerbated by allegations that Airbnb rentals were being used for parties that ran afoul of public health guidance during the pandemic, leading the company to institute a ban on gatherings of more than 16 people at its rentals.

Airbnb bans house parties worldwide, citing virus mandates

Airbnb also canceled and blocked all reservations in the Washington metro area around the inauguration earlier this year, amid efforts to secure the U.S. Capitol following the Jan. 6 insurrection. The company also has banned accounts for many people involved in hate groups and the Capitol riot.

Airbnb to cancel all D.C. reservations during inauguration week as security in the city is tightened

Yet Airbnb’s latest policy could be challenging to enforce, especially because there’s no centralized mechanism where cities report pandemic-related evictions. Even in cities where such data is easy to access, it’s not always updated.

Airbnb says it’s addressing this through a new portal it built to enable governments to manage short-term-rental policies. Lehane said cities could use these tools to flag properties that violate the evictions ban to the company. More than 40 governments and tourism organizations around the world have access to those tools.

Airbnb has also named Andrew Kalloch “anti-eviction administrator” to coordinate with cities on the new policy. Kalloch currently serves as the company’s senior policy development manager.

Airbnb, which has long been at the center of local regulatory battles, is just one of many companies working with governments in new ways to address the pandemic. Uber and Lyft recently launched an initiative with the Biden administration to provide people free rides to coronavirus vaccination appointments. And social networks and search engines have been working with public health authorities to develop information centers about the coronavirus, amid criticism that their platforms were used to spread misinformation.

Lehane said these efforts reflect a need to find new ways for government and the private sector to work together, amid a broader debate about how the tech industry should be regulated.

“Platforms have a responsibility to build the tools and integrate their platforms with government systems to make these policies as effective as possible,” Lehane said in an interview.