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Airbnb rolls out new guest standards in wake of killings at California mansion

(Washington Post illustration; iStock; Airbnb)

In response to the deaths of five people at a mansion party in California, Airbnb announced changes last month aimed at protecting the safety of users and bolstering faith in the brand, including a promise to review all 7 million listings on the site by the end of 2020. In a new blog post on Thursday, the short-term rental company laid out a list of safety-related priorities designed to promote community trust.

Airbnb said it has dedicated $150 million to improving community guidelines in three areas starting next year: guest standards; a ban on “party houses”; and adding a dedicated line for local officials to contact representatives directly for questions of policy and procedure.

“Airbnb is founded on trust, and for us to succeed in our vision of helping anyone belong anywhere, we must continue to build trust both among our own host-and-guest community and across the communities in which we operate,” said Margaret Richardson, Airbnb’s vice president of trust, in a statement.

The company did not, however, share details of its plan to verify its millions of listings. Chief executive Brian Chesky said last month that the review would use a combination of company and community resources — guests, in other words.

On the guest-standards front, the company says it’s cracking down in five areas: excessive noise, unauthorized guests, parking, smoking and guests who require excessive cleaning after checkout. The aim, according to Airbnb, is to provide a “clear and actionable enforcement framework” for violations of the new policies.

The ban on party houses will put an end to “open invite” parties and large gatherings that take place in multifamily residencies like apartment and condos. Private parties and events will be allowed only when they are “authorized by hosts and convened respectfully by guests” — so the key, in these cases, is consent from the owner.

In offering a dedicated line for city officials, Airbnb hopes to calm the testy-at-times relationship it has with local governments that have sought to regulate the entry of the company into private spaces through taxation and zoning enforcement. In building the partnerships, Airbnb will work to secure firm footing as it pushes into new regions and cities through its nine-year Olympic Games deal.

Chesky said on Twitter last month that verification is a necessary step for the industry, and through a new Guest Guarantee and Neighborhood Hotline, launching Dec. 15, the company hopes to shore up community trust.

Some critics are not so sure.

Mike Lux, president of American Family Voices and AirbnbWatch, said in a statement to The Washington Post: “Their response today is unacceptable, and local leaders across the country have to stand up. If Airbnb refuses to commit to an adequate effort to improve safety, our government leaders at all levels need to step in. Otherwise, how many shootings or fatalities have to occur until government leaders say enough is enough?”

Observers of the industry that Airbnb has dominated since its founding more than 10 years ago say the move marks progress.

Stephen Barth, a lawyer and professor of hotel and restaurant management law at the University of Houston, said the announcement by Airbnb is a step in the right direction for the company, and that even though there’s a long way to go before it can offer the security and assurances of the hotel industry, it shows the home-sharing site is serious about safety concerns.

“It demonstrates that they’re listening and they’re taking some steps,” Barth said. “Is it comprehensive? No, but to be fair to them, I think they’re very clear that it’s not necessarily meant to be, because they’re going to add more to it as they go along.”

Barth noted how the speed of tech start-ups typically outpaces the law, with Airbnb fighting litigation from multiple local governments. He said the company has bigger challenges than smoking and parties.

Barth said there are still many unknown factors when considering user-owned units, because even though the unit itself may check out, there are inconsistencies across locations, such as standards on smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

Airbnb said it will keep evaluating the policies it implements while keeping residents, communities and policymakers a central part of the process.

“Our north star will remain investments that enhance trust and safety for our hosts and guests and within the neighborhoods our hosts call home,” the company said.

Read more:

A couple was scammed by a $12,000 Airbnb listing. Here’s how to make sure that doesn’t happen to you.

Frustrated Airbnb hosts wait for D.C. to explain new regulations

Places are booking quickly for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Here’s how to choose the right place to stay.

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