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The two faces of Airbnb (businessinsider.com)
198 points by nkurz on Nov 1, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 145 comments

> Here’s what’s wrong: an increasing amount of Airbnb’s commercial activity in cities like New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles does not come from the listings of “regular people” who are merely renting out a spare room.

This is my problem with AirBnB. I know investment firms buying as much property as they can to list on AirBnB. Every single rental I stayed in when traveling around Asia was done by 'power users' or real estate companies with scores of listing throughout the cities.

Unfortunately, that means in my experience the quality drops, no 'homey' feel, and it negatively impacts the locals.

AirBnB should implement the rule that you only get to list 1 rental. That would solve this problem, and allow them to stop lying to everyone about who is actually renting on their platform.

Agreed. Small sample size, but my wife used airbnb twice in london. First time was good (not great, but good). Second was horrible. (no curtain on windows directly facing office buildings, broken shower, no tv, 2 hangers for a 10 day booked stay, etc). Video evidence for everything, and multi-day delays in getting resolutions (everything documented via their platform). Requested a partial refund (no working shower for 4 days?) Response was a resounding no, then threats from the person who was doing the renting that they would post negative reviews of my wife as a renter so no one would rent from us again. Guess what? The owner (and his girlfriend) had several airbnb properties they were renting out, growing a landlording business (without all the pesky regulation). (edit: there were multiple reviews stating how great it was - it was a veritable dump - which is partially ok, but broken shower, no tv, etc - when those are clearly listed amenities - is simply lying. Oh, and if you're going to rent out a room/place via airbnb, please remove moldy/stale food from your refrigerator first)

Contrasting that with a recent nashville visit via airbnb (I didn't book it, but stayed there) - the epitome of the "share my home" aspect that gets played up - notes around the house, everything fresh and tidy, etc).

Forcing just 1 would certainly get back to the roots. Or perhaps a sliding scale - fees go up as you want to list more rooms? The individuals wanting to rent out a spare room get the cheapest fees - the people trying to be the next hilton (sans service and regulation) pay correspondingly higher fees).

I wonder what controls they have to prevent someone who gets dinged with bad ratings (as a landlord) from reposting the same exact property. After all it would be trivial to post with an address and unit "1705a" and then if a problem just call it "1705b" with different pictures as if it's a completely new listing (and curious if that much effort is actually needed). Likewise landlords (I am a commercial landlord) often have various entities that they use so it's easy to come up with a new "owner" of the unit. I wonder if Airbnb even cross refs ownership with city records at all.

One question I haven't seen to be raised often is how the reviews are "regulated" by airbnb.

I rented an apartment in a metropolitan city via airbnb last year. Both the owner and the apartment got about ~15 excellent reviews. It turned out the owner was very indeed very nice and friendly, but the apartment was far from both the description and the reviews. Our friends living in the city was astound since the price we paid should get us a much better deal than that.

It made me wonder if 1) the reviews were "regulated" or "engineered" somehow, 2) due to the two-way review system, renters were reluctant to write a bad review since they were concerned they could get retaliated by the owners giving them bad reviews in response.

Edit: fix typos

due to the two-way review system, renters were reluctant to write a bad review since they were concerned they could get retaliated by the owners giving them bad reviews in response

This, I think, is important. Both the renter and the landlord have to write a review before both reviews appear on the website. And the review content of the other party is not known to you until you post your own. So, basically, we know when the renter is "problematic" - has a lot of complaints, is constantly unhappy etc. We generally don't leave a review for such person. This is probably not the best approach from an ethical point of view, but yes - we do not want to know what this "problematic" guest may write about us.

So, if I don't write a review, the other party's review won't get posted either? This misuse can be prevented by implementing a deadline for submitting review and beyond that, whoever submitted theirs gets posted. So even if you forfeit your review, it still wont prevent the other party's bad review from getting posted

So, if I don't write a review, the other party's review won't get posted either?

Yes, I'm quite sure that's how it works currently. There is a deadline, which is 14 days, and also you are notified when the other side posts a review. The message says something along the lines "X just posted a review, you need to post a review for both of your reviews to become public". And you also can't see what the other side wrote until you post yours.

There is also place for "private feedback" in the review, so of course it is possible to leave a good review, but send a bunch of complaints or suggestions that are only visible to the person you are reviewing.

Haven't used AirBnB so I don't know about the review mechanism but isn't it blind? For example, if i remember correctly, on Freelancer.com, you cant see the other party's review until you submit yours. The reviews only get posted once both parties have submitted theirs. Isn't this the same for AirBnB? If not, wouldn't implementing this resolve the issue?

Side note: You can implement a deadline for submitting review to avoid misuse where someone doesn't submit their own review in order to prevent a bad review from getting posted on their profile

> Response was a resounding no, then threats from the person who was doing the renting that they would post negative reviews of my wife as a renter so no one would rent from us again.

Umm, are you sure? You can leave reviews only if you actually rent from someone. It's not like Yelp, where anyone can write reviews for any place. On AirBnB, the actual rental transaction has to happen.

Secondly: you don't see each other's reviews until after the review period has closed. So you could leave a negative review, but the owner would not see it until their time to review has passed.

yes, I'm sure. "you post a negative review of us, we'll say XYZ about you" XYZ being completely not true, but unprovable. We had vids/pics and contradictory email messages, which should be proof enough of fraud, but what they threatened to write was pretty bad. One neg review against them - with multiple dozens - could be ignored as "meh" whereas one against my wife would have been 1 out of 2 (actually, not sure she had a first one from the year before) and would probably have hurt her chances of people renting to her in the future.

So... - hey, airbnb, great job. You've made it much easier to just not use you at all. Yes, we're a small one-off exception. Fine. I bet there's a whole lot more of these exceptions that are unknowable because there's little recourse to escalate your case. We possibly could have taken this up to the credit card company, but IIRC there were some mediation clauses in our terms of service which I thought at the time meant we couldn't.

The 'resounding no' justification was "well, you decided to stay there the whole time, it couldn't have been that bad".

Hrmm... we paid up front, and told us to try to work things out - even after sending in pictures/videos of non-working stuff. How do you walk away from having splashed out $2k already, then try to find another place in the middle of a trip, with no guarantee you'll see a dime of this back? $100 reduction, while symbolic only, would still have been symbolic enough for me to not have such a bitter/negative experience that I'm talking about years later.

It's an empty threat. They can't see your review until they have left their review or the time is up to leave a review. So you can say you won't give a negative review but give one anyway.

At the risk of repeating myself: you cannot see the other party's review until you have left your own! So they won't know what kind of review you left until either (a) the time window of reviewing closes, or (b) they have submitted their review. So there is ZERO chance of them knowing that you left a bad review before writing theirs. ZERO.

They didn't care. Basically, the threat was they'd post something negative regardless. If we posted anything, we'd get a negative review.

I have to shout now: THEY DO NOT KNOW IF YOU REVIEWED THEM OR NOT! You have a time window to review; after the window closes, you can see their review (if they reviewed), and they can see yours (if you did). UNTIL THE WINDOW CLOSES, BOTH SIDES ARE BLIND.

> Second was horrible. (no curtain on windows directly facing office buildings, broken shower, no tv, 2 hangers for a 10 day booked stay, etc).

With current housing boom in London that is the luxury package .... /almost sarcastic

This is exactly what happen to eBay: eventually, eBay become "crappy Amazon".

If I'm AirBnB I would focus to be real marketplace so AirBnB does not end up as "crappy hotels.com" - but on other hand, eBay did extremely good (if you sold stocks before 2014).

For a while, eBay was the default name in "looking to buy/sell something second hand" in Australia. "Just put it on eBay," that sort of thing. It was then overrun by professional sellers and I almost never hear it mentioned.

People speak almost exclusively here of Gumtree which is individuals selling second hand things. Gumtree is, these days, owned by eBay.

Sort of similar in the Netherlands, we had Marktplaats (marketplace). Pretty much totally dominated the market, eBay bought them actually. Now? I barely hear anyone about it, haven't used it in a long time. It, too, is pretty much dominated by professional sellers now. If you look for product XYZ the first full page of hits (it's beyond ridiculous) are dedicated sellers who paid for the spot or just spam the same stuff. All of the 2nd hand trading by me and my peers now goes through FB trading groups, a natural platform to communicate in text, post images of the product, negotiate prices, get a sense of identity/trust etc. This was great for about a year, but right now all of the few FB groups I used to frequent are seeing timed posts advertising professional services and products which keep popping up on my feed, drowning out the real sellers and causing me to delist myself from the group.

New niche marketplaces pretty much keep popping up that grow pretty quickly until they're big enough to get spammed by professional accounts looking for new sales channels.

Marktplaats is extremely frustrating for a non-professional seller that has come from ebay. The main issue I had with it is that the bids are not binding. So getting someone to commit once they have bid is extremely hard. Ebay should just shut it and redirect it to its own superior site.

I remember the days when ebay was all about how people are mainly nice.

The fact that "power users" are making so much money from Airbnb indicates just how poorly hotels serve travelers. Rather than curb users to 1 listing, why not try to embrace their energy to create a better travel service?

These negative Airbnb articles simply indicate that Airbnb is growing faster than the company can keep up with its users. Every issue outlined in the article-- fire safety, tax compliance, banning Ellis Act abusers, regulating "power users"-- can be mitigated or solved completely. Not without effort, for sure, but it's going too far tarnish their brand without a solid thesis about how one could build a better Airbnb. (And if somebody's going to make that argument, they might as well start a competitor or join Airbnb given the market opportunity...).

These sorts of articles should send an important message to future founders with wildly successful products: if you can curb growth and yet still outpace your competition, do that instead of "blitzscaling." You want to scale quality, you don't want to lose the faith of your users and the media in your ability to execute, and growing fast (without competition warranting it) will benefit investors more than your customers.

> The fact that "power users" are making so much money from Airbnb indicates just how poorly hotels serve travelers. Rather than curb users to 1 listing, why not try to embrace their energy to create a better travel service?

A lot of people prefer Airbnb not because hotels are so terrible but because Airbnb is so cheap.

> These negative Airbnb articles simply indicate that Airbnb is growing faster than the company can keep up with its users.

Airbnb is a big company with a lot of resources at this point. They aren't doing anything about these problems because they don't want to.

Right now they are exactly where they want to be: they collect a hefty percentage of every transaction that rolls through their platform, and they get to offload pretty much all of the risk onto their users.

"The fact that "power users" are making so much money from Airbnb indicates just how poorly hotels serve travelers"

There are plenty of well ran boutique hotels that serve travellers very well. "Power users" are making so much money by breaking the law.

If they were following the law, they would be running highly profitable boutique hotels/bed and breakfast houses /above the law/.

Surely these articles lend credence to the idea that AirBnB is only growing at the rate it is because landlords are using it to "abuse" the housing market.

As the situation stands right now, they have absolutely nothing to gain by limiting those "power users", and a substantial amount to lose.

> AirBnB should implement the rule that you only get to list 1 rental.

I agree with your concerns, but why not just distinguish between personal/regular/single user and power/multi-listing/comercial users? Craigslist does this pretty well with their "for sale by owner" vs. "for sale by dealer" option.

The reason they don't do this, I suspect, is because "for sale by dealer" is illegal is a lot of places unless the host registers as a hotel and complies with hotel regulations (which probably excludes their property from being usable).

Well, then, there you go. AirBnB are profiting by violating law.

Good, bad, or otherwise, the owner/dealer distinction clarifies this. Eventually the site simply becomes one-stop shopping for atty's g'l intent on enforcement.

There's a huge difference between me breaking the law and me not auditing you to know that you are.

Does Craigslist investigate every item sold to make sure it's not stolen?

<em>Does Craigslist investigate every item sold to make sure it's not stolen? </em>

No, but they probably should. Pawnshops, in many jurisdictions at least, are supposed to hold things that they buy in case they turn out to be stolen. You can be on the hook for fencing something even if you didn't know it was stolen.

Craigslist also does not take a cut of the price of the item -- it is solely a marketplace.

They also cooperate with authorities.

Does the phone company monitor your calls to make sure you aren't scamming the pizza-guy? And can you imagine the delay as you had to go back and forth with Craigslist on what constitutes proof you own a ten-year-old bike, or whatever.

How large should my obligation be, to make sure you aren't breaking the law?

If you think there's a Craigslist seller selling illegal goods, arrest them. Nice and easy.

If you think someone's violating the terms of their lease, tell their landlord.

Better answer: CL clearly indicate what activities and items are prohibited, and provide means for users to report these.

The system's far less than perfect, but it does exist and is explicitly supported.

There's a huge difference between small rates of incidental illicit use, and massive, flagrant violation.

Craigslist does have terms of service, and relies on a user-based flagging method to remove nonconforming content. They claim significant deletions base on this, though my own experience is of massive levels of bad-actor behavior, less of illegal activity and more of rampant spam posting in several sale-by-dealer categories, many lasting for years. Large consequence is that those sections of Craigslist are of exceptionally little value to me. Actually, much of CL doesn't really do much for me these days....

But despite that: the overwhelming majority of activity on CL is at least reasonably above-board.

In the case of AirBnB, the article here notes that 40% of rental volume is from multi-listing members. That is, people not leasing single rooms or properties, but managing multiple properties. Which further discounts professionals who only manage a single property.

That is: a large and visible chunk of AirBnB is not the "come stay at our house" vision the company's propaganda promotes, but is a commercial rentals service not meeting standards of either housing or hotel accomodations.

If that were true, we don't cities enforce this? I hear occasionally about issues with private (individual) tenants violating their leases, or conflicting with local hotel laws, but I never hear about purposeful crack downs on multi-listing power AirBnB users.

Maybe taxpayers are not interested in paying more tax for the enforcement of well-known laws against people who flout them (a few of whom are the very same taxpayers).

My experience with Craigslist is that there are huge numbers of one-off dealers selling under the "by owner" category.

> AirBnB should implement the rule that you only get to list 1 rental. That would solve this problem, and allow them to stop lying to everyone about who is actually renting on their platform.

That proposal is a one way train from a $25B valuation to $2.5B valuation.

Of course, if AirBnB loses a number of these key regulatory battles that too could put a serious damper on their biz. Hence, their massive lobbying efforts.

If 90% of their business comes from 'power users' and investment firms and not 'locals renting their home while they are out of town' - then AirBnB is founded on an extraordinary lie.

Personally I'd bet that a majority of their revenue is attributable to units that are not owner-occupied for several reasons:

* people using a dwelling limits how much hosting they can do

* how hard they've fought to avoid forcing these professional landlords to obey the law (viz nyc, sf, etc); would they have fought so hard (potentially endangering their whole business, see current prop F backlash in sf) if this were a small fraction of revenue?

see eg http://www.sfchronicle.com/airbnb-impact-san-francisco-2015/...

My back-of-napkin rough estimates are 40-70% of revenue is not the face of the anti-prop F campaign, ie someone earning a little extra money from the odd weekend guest.

Uh, of course it is. This is why they continue to resist showing any meaningful property data. I'd wager good money on the majority of their rentals also being illegal. But it props up their value and makes money cheap for them so they'll continue to fight until legally forced to do otherwise.


But what is the better foundation: an honest 2.5B valuation, or dishonest 25B one?

(calling Airbnb 'dishonest' is perhaps an exaggeration, but their advertising definitely reflects values that a lot of hosts don't represent, and they must know that)

From Paul Graham's "What We Look for in Founders", point 4 is "Naughtiness":


Pretty sure governments don't share the same view.

Depends where the company is being naughty.

I understand the correlation you're making between "corporate" units and the quality of the experience, but shouldn't the ratings and reviews system completely solve this? As a frequent user of AirBnB, I feel like there is more than enough information for people to make an well-informed choice when booking. I really feel like an arbitrary limit of one would create more problems than it solves, especially since plenty of people have no desire for a "homey" experience.

I prefer it when its run by a company, rather than someone renting out their apartment (I've stayed a coupleof times where they moved out of their home (once to stay with parents next door, not sure about the other)). I don't really see any advantage (for the person staying). The company ran ones are tidier, have cleaners they can arrange to come out and clean when required (like a hotel's daily clean), etc.

I use airbnb for cheap accomodation and because I can see exactly what the apartment will look like. I don't do it to talk to someone when checking in for an extra 10 minutes.

> AirBnB should implement the rule that you only get to list 1 rental.

Disagree to an extent. If you have two extra bedrooms in your house besides your bedroom, you should be able to have 2 listings.

The rule should be "only N listings that belong to 1 property".

Concurrently renting out 2 rooms so often that you would want this, is still a qualitative difference between renting out just 1 room or renting out your whole personal residence for just 5 weeks in the year. I don't know that it crosses a meaningful line yet, but it is moving toward the "professional/large-scale" side of the spectrum that your parent comment is complaining about.

I think AirBnB relies on those power users to have the volume it does. It's unlikely they would ever set that rule because it would basically break their business model (hotel listings, basically)

I remember seeing their "Never a stranger" ad runs on tv. thought it was unusual that they promote the idea that hosts stay with guests. i've used airbnb twice too and both times the host was an employee of a property management company. at least, in the first one i met the host to collect and return the keycard to the room. second one was just a text message of the numeric password on the main door. Not saying that's a bad thing, but just an observation on the reality. I sort of preferred it this way, although who knows how the neighbours felt. I certainly could not care very much while I was there since I was in and out in a few weeks.

And it also made real estate prices skyrocket in some places, because rich people (or usually companies) bought out a lot of property, which is now rented for a nice profit. Some apartment buildings can looks very strange as they are relatively empty because it is clearly used as 'AirBnB hotel'.

Basically if you want to buy/rent property for a sane price you must go deep into suburbs.

P.S. It's all my subjective experience, I have not conducted any studies.

> Every single rental I stayed in when traveling around Asia was done by 'power users' or real estate companies with scores of listing throughout the cities.

To some extent this probably reflects what you're looking for. When I investigated airbnb rentals in Shanghai, there were a number of notices to the effect of "because I'm female, it's not convenient for me to have a male guest".

I don't think getting to list only one rental is the solution, but perhaps an owner can only list one property as their primary residence.

I don't mind professional listings, really; but I do mind fraudulent ones. And AirBNB isn't setup to encourage honest feedback.

My singular experience with AirBNB was a listing where they advertised a NYC address 2 avenues from the real address; they lied about details; they used a multitude of names; they told me to lie about who I was to a superintendent who might stop by. The place was a pit.

But my recourse was limited, because I didn't feel like getting into a fight with fraudsters who knew my real identity but who'd hid their own, and AirBNB doesn't give a shit. So I just recognized that AirBNB is a haven for crime, realized that their review policies are designed to protect the criminals, and I stopped using it, and became an anti-airbnb advocate.

I hope I meet Brian Chesky someday, because PG loves to go on about what a great guy he is, but as near as I can tell he's a sociopathic asshole who made purposeful design decisions specifically to enable fraud that happens to increase his profits. This makes sense, given that he built the whole damned thing by being a spammer (and lying about it). I'm genuinely curious if he's not the completely worthless piece of shit that he absolutely appears to be from a customer standpoint.

Big companies turn a blind eye to bad stuff, in part because it is really hard to manage and because truly cracking down may remove all revenue growth for a while. I don't need to list the specifics, but both Google and Amazon are certainly guilty of the same thing.

Some interesting things I don't hear mentioned often:

a) prostitutes have been shifting away from hotels to airbnb ~ at some point this could be a serious safety concern b) there is nothing in place to prevent racial discrimination

I haven't had any terrible experiences with Airbnb. I've used it just a few times. I have noticed a tendency for places to look good in pictures but you don't know if like the mattress is horrible.

Realistically cities may need to have an additional zoning category for short term residential rentals. Buildings/condos/apartments/co-ops most certainly have a right to aggressively enforce rules if something like airbnb is prohibited. If an airbnb host is either breaking the rules of the property or the city, they should be on the hook to refund all booking fees from day one.

> as near as I can tell he's a sociopathic asshole [...] the completely worthless piece of shit that he absolutely appears to be

We've banned this account for egregiously breaking the HN guidelines.


> I don't mind professional listings

Back in my day, they were called hotels. And were regulated.

Those who don't know why regulations were created are doomed to reintroduce them.

I have stayed at 4 AirBnB properties over the past month or so. The first three were great. They were - almost literally bed and breakfasts, where I interacted with my hosts and they made me breakfast the next morning and were company in the evening.

Last week I stayed at one in NYC and it was honestly weird. The host wasn't there and just left the door unlocked and all the lights off - without saying as much in an AirBnB message. Some of the outlets did not have outlet covers, leaving wiring exposed etc...

Anyway, it's been clear for a very long time that the thing that you find from a hotel is completely lacking with AirBnB: Consistency.

On the flip side, should people be looking at AirBnB as a direct replacement for hotels? Obviously that is the operating thesis, but I think a better way to consider AirBnB is as a marketplace for Bed and Breakfast accommodations. All of the problems that are brought up go away if you think of it in that context.

Sounds like much of the problem would go away with better labeling and categorization. Some people want the get-to-know-your-host experience, some people want the impersonal experience, and some people might want either one depending on the nature of the trip. The problem arises when you expect one and get the other.

I guess I don't understand why people looking for an impersonal experience don't just book a hotel - or even a motel. At least then you are guaranteed certain things such as working showers and toilets.

Some people are cheap, and use airbnb just as a way to spend less money.

Prime example: my girlfriend. We can both easily afford a normal hotel room, especially when traveling together. But in an expensive city, spending $80/night on an airbnb instead of $200/night on a proper hotel, is to her an irresistible savings. We've had bad experiences, and we've had fights about this. There may also be cultural differences. I have a high salary, no debts, and lots of savings, and there are some things which I think are absolutely worth paying for (like a hotel room), and she just doesn't want me to.

Yeah, I understand. I suppose to old adage holds true then: you get what you pay for. The cost savings from booking an AirBnB over a hotel is increased risk that you may have a shitty experience with no recourse. Whereas with a hotel, the experience is a lot more consistent (since hotels are regulated), and if you do have a shitty experience, you have official channels through which you can get compensated.

Definitely. Though to be fair, I was looking at it from the perspective of a hotel alternative, not for Bed and Breakfast - so my results are more indicative of what I think is appropriate in terms of branding.

Aside from the fact that if you market it as such, it loses literally billions in valuation. Airbnb cannot become just a middleman for bed and breakfasts because its investors would rather fail at being a replacement for Hilton/Marriott than settling for a small time bed and breakfast purveyor.

Aside from the fact that if you market it as such, it loses literally billions in valuation.

Therein lies the rub. What a consumer receives may be materially different than what investors and the company thinks it should be.

AirBnB is a reputation-based but otherwise largely unregulated marketplace for nightly accommodation.

Simple as that, I don't know why so many people seem to be tearing their hair out over what it is and what that means.

They are actually fairly heavily regulated, but they choose to ignore that regulation. The majority of their listings are in cities where they are illegal.

Slightly unrelated: I host interesting folk in NYC for free. Have you considered trying out Couchsurfing instead?

I stayed in a house in nice residential neighborhood in Berkeley recently. It had four bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a kitchen, and it was clear the owner didn't live there. In fact, I never saw the owner or spoke with him at all. We were instructed to not speak to the neighbors, and not answer any questions about the owner's Airbnb business. Clearly, the neighbors weren't pleased that an unregulated hotel had sprung up in the middle of their neighborhood.

On the other hand, it cost me $60/night versus the $250+/night charged by local 3-star hotels.

> the thing that you find from a hotel is completely lacking with AirBnB: Consistency

AirBnB isn't an alternative to a hotel, it's an alternative to a booking agency. That's like calling Booking.com inconsistent because you can rent a room at varying levels of hotels.

There are good hotels and bad hotels, and you cannot always know what you're going to get when booking a hotel room sight unseen, either.

Maybe I should clarify...it's an alternative to hotels.com

The difference however is that there is a minimum standard I am getting with all the properties listed at hotels.com, in that there is a consistent check in/out process, there are always options for accessibility, there is a person I can call 24/7 at every location if there is something wrong with the room etc...

It's no secret that the general thought around AirBnB is that it is an alternative to booking a hotel, please don't pretend that isn't the case. That's the entire valuation thesis.

"hotel" is defined, by law in most jurisdictions, to have certain properties, regardless of quality or level. AirBnB listings have very few of these properties as part of the definition.

> should people be looking at AirBnB as a direct replacement for hotels? Obviously that is the operating thesis, but I think a better way to consider AirBnB is as a marketplace for Bed and Breakfast accommodations

I think you're overlooking a very large group of people for whom "hotel" and "bed and breakfast" are fully synonymous terms.

I've never used AirBnB, but presumably the electrical safety problems are things that you can highlight in your review, and will inform future guests?

(I've stayed in hotels with very dodgy electrics, so I don't think this is necessarily an AirBnB-only problem)

I've stayed at a couple AirBnbs that were pretty bad - including an obvious bedbug infestation at one of them.

Both of the AirBnbs came with plenty of rave reviews and had a high average star rating, and all had a good number of reviews to boot.

Either the typical AirBnb guest has really low standards - where 4 walls that didn't collapse on them in their sleep is an automagic 5-star rating - or there's something fishy going on with them reviews.

Did anything come of the bedbugs? I'd be so paranoid about bringing them with me that I'd find any alternative - friends, hostel, expensive last minute real hotel.

Maybe your experience was caused by NYC? I find it quite good except big cities such as NY and London

Perhaps, though one was in the heart of LA, so I don't know if that in and of itself is an issue - I think volume is the bigger issue and whether the room/place is used exclusively for AirBnB listing or if it is legitimately just part of the owner's lifestyle.

I don't understand why they are allowed to look the other way when "professionals" are breaking local laws. Youtube can't allow copyrighted movies on their site. Megaupload was shut down. Below is a real customer service response to reporting a professional in our building.

thanks for reaching out about this, I do apologize for the delay in my teams reply and for contacting us regarding your concerns with the listings you've identified. Airbnb is an online platform and does not own, operate, manage or control accommodations, nor do we verify private contract terms or arbitrate complaints from third parties. We do, however, require hosts to represent that they have all rights to list their accommodations. To that end, we are committed to notifying hosts about complaints such as yours, provided we (i) receive a formal written letter (scanned electronically as an image or .pdf) addressed to the user that (ii) details your specific allegation, and (iii) fully identifies the Airbnb user to whom you believe it applies (please include links). Although we will not verify, evaluate or arbitrate the terms you identify, we will provide a complete copy of your complaint to the host and we will ask them whether they wish to remove their listing(s). Again, thank you for contacting us about this. Best,

Well, quite simply, YouTube are (and Megaupload was) serving the infringing content, making them a contributory party. If we started holding building managers responsible for the lawbreaking of their residents, that would at least set some cats among the pigeons I guess.

People love _using_ Airbnb, but don't want an Airbnb rental next to their home. The negative externalities remind me of cars: super useful for me, super annoying to you.

Which bodes well for Airbnb, since the modern business environment is pretty much based on socializing negative externalities while providing value to direct customers. Besides cars, there's also oil, coal, mining, plastics, advertising, agriculture, water rights, and housing development.

This. I don't know why I get so many blank stares when I explain that a great deal of the technocratic New Economy is about reassignment of risk.

I am a considerate guest, trying not to disturb the neighbors. The guests I have in the flat next door tend to be partying cunts.

I've enjoyed using Airbnb, and I think the same about myself, but it's hard to rent a place and only get considerate guests.

I think there is a systematic problem with overrating on airbnb, both of guests and hosts.

IMHO all the regulation to be done against multi-property landlords should be created at the state-level, I mean, decoupled from any Airbnb-like infrastructure ("don't shoot the messenger!").

That is, the state has ultimately all the information regarding real-estate ownership. Creating laws that tax adequately the companies/individuals that own more than 1 property should be easy, and irrespective to how/if they monetize them.

Doing a regulation against AirBNB is ultimately going to hurt the real regular people that is being helped by this "sharing-economy", such as the ones that just rent their unique property (either because they have an extra bedroom or because their job required them to move to a different city where they bought their house, and therefore use their AirBNB income to pay the rent of a different apartment).

They're not shooting the messenger.

Proposition F >Limits short-term rentals of a unit to 75 days per year, regardless of whether rental is hosted or unhosted. >Requires proof that the unit’s owner authorizes using the unit as a short-term rental. >Requires short-term hosts to submit quarterly reports on the number of days they live in the unit and the number of days the unit is rented >Mandates that the city post notice on buildings with a unit approved for short-term rentals and notify by mail owners, neighbors of the unit and interested neighborhood organizations. Source: Ballot Simplification Committee

AirBnB created a market in an area where existing laws didn't apply. This is part of legislation catching up.

There you go, 75 days a year? That affects small-owners in the same way as multi-owners.

Except that if it's truly about renting out something you already own (and likely attached to your house) then it still makes it possible.

However, what it massively disincentivizes is buying property solely to use it for hosting on Air BnB (and thus preventing others from buying or renting the property for residential use).

Yes it disincentivizes that but it also penalizes people that need to rent their place to pay rent in a different place to where they bought the house originally (there are many reasons to not sell your house in this scenario).

Given the market, they could either rent that place to a full-time tenant or sell it – the odds are strongly against them being underwater, given the market. Given the stated aims of increasing the supply of residential rentals/property ownership, I don't think this case is counter to the aim of the proposition.

People generally think that landlords prefer renting via AirBNB instead of full-time renting because it provides more income. This is just one side of it. There are more advantages:

- When the property is not rented, you can use it for yourself (imagine if you want to go back home from time to time to see your parents, then you block some spot in the calendar).

- The property is not rented 100% of the time so then it deteriorates more slowly. Less maintenance costs.

- There are less chances to get tenants that don't pay and still stay in the property.

If they need to rent then they should do so. This defeats the point of one of the main complaints - that what should be full-time rental housing is being converted to higher-priced hotels, driving up already absurdly high costs for people who want to live in the affected cities.

The housing shortage in SF is a citywide problem that goes far beyond airbnb. Removing airbnb listings would barely make a dent in the extreme housing problem that we have in San Francisco.

The few times I've used airbnb they were always much better than comparatively priced hotels in the area.

AirBnB was just walking by the scene, looking unsavoury enough to make for a sufficently satisfying lynching.

This article captured exactly how I feel. Airbnb has become it's own worst enemy by getting greedy and not proactively removing bad actors who make them money. And I really hope SF passes prop F to force their hand.

Article's author seems to defend problems rather than acknowledge their solutions.

"it comes from professional landlords who are removing badly needed housing from the local market and making it available exclusively for tourists"

Since when in modern society should commercial entities care about what is "badly needed" instead of where profit lies? Since when it's not only politicans need to pretend to care about "regular people", but commercial property owners?

"That’s true of regular hotels as well, but usually they exist in areas that have been zoned for such activity"

This seems to be the root of problem. Zoning is a socialist measure. It will create all kinds of shortages.

The whole article reads to me like this:

We've implemented this zoning measure that we knew would cause problems. And by golly it did! Now we're trying to blame these problems on all kinds of commercial entities. Make them fix things for us that we knew would arise. And we also want more regulations to fix problems caused by having regulations in the first place.

You seem purposely to miss some of the points of Steven Hill's very even-handed analysis which is that some AirBnB operators are turning residential zones into commercial hotel zones by having multiple listings and this causes conflicts for 1) residents who find commercial activity in and around their homes , 2) municipalities deprived of tax revenue, 3) guests who find themselves in units that do no have adequate safety protections let alone commercial insurance.

This is especially problematic given that in LA, SF, and NYC AirBnB makes a large fraction (~44%) of its revenue from commercial operators with multiple listings. That is, in these markets nearly half of AirBnB "hosts" are entrepreneurs who are flouting municipal law and obligations for their personal gain and to others' detriments.

Hill offers a few common sense (and in my opinion equitable) actions AirBnB might take to make amends. In a passage worth quoting in context, Hill writes

> Perhaps the biggest tragedy in all this is that at the core of Airbnb is a really good idea. It has cleverly used Web- and app-based technology to bust open a global market that connects tourists with financially strapped homeowners. After interviewing some of Airbnb’s “regular-people” hosts, I’m convinced that this service legitimately does help them make ends meet.

> But by taking such a hands-off, laissez-faire attitude toward the professionalization of hosting by greedy commercial landlords and multiproperty agents, Airbnb has become its own worst enemy. As the number of victims piles up, it undermines its own “sharing and trust” ethos because Airbnb could easily meet cities halfway:

> • With one stroke of the computer mouse, Airbnb could “evict the evictors” — de-list from its website any professional landlords or property managers operating multiple properties as tourist hotels. It has the data and knows who they are.

> • Cooperate with cities like San Francisco, Santa Monica, and Portland, which require hosts to register with local agencies, by de-listing any unregistered hosts.

> • Pay the same hotel occupancy taxes that hotels pay in all 34,000 cities in which Airbnb operates, or collect them from the hosts and turn them over to the cities.

> • Stop refusing to supply the data that cities need to enforce regulations and taxation, including the number of rental nights and rates charged by each host.

EDIT: Remove markup. Readability. Grammar.

I think that zones are the problem. There should not be residential zones. There should not be commercial zones. There should just be the city.

Or else you should be ready for consequences: shortages of one thing after another, people turning sour, inadequate pricing.

1) I don't see why one would at the same time expect to live in a heart of dynamic, rich and important city and be shielded from reality. Yes, if you live in a shared building you may find a brothel, drug pusher store, or AirBNB rental next door. Call the police if they behave. Cope otherwise, or move to suburbs.

This may sound unfair if you expect otherwise, but those expectations are unrealistic.

2) But they don't talk about tax, they talk about banning. Taxing is a thing they can do. Just write a law clear enough that it would explicitly cover AirBNB, with clear understanding how this tax should work. Then force it out of AirBNB, suing if needed. Of course, some of individual lenders will go grey (for example, exchanging money outside of AirBNB's sight), but so can do hotels.

3) I don't see why short term rented flat would need more safety protections than regular flat.

Pass adequate laws. Don't ever start talking about banning something. That is what you should do.

Zoning regulations deal with a classic "tragedy of the commons" problem. Nobody wants to live next to transients, but each person individually benefits from renting their property to them while they're away on business or vacation. If everyone agrees not to do this, and the rule is enforced, they are all better off.

If you believe this is just a "socialist" thing, what about commercial contract agreements between property owners in a co-op? Should they be allowed to all agree to not engage in short-term rentals? Many condo and co-op board contracts have provisions for this, not enforced by some maladaptive government, but by negotiations between equals. It's a common desire and short-term renters aren't a protected class.

> Nobody wants to live next to transients, but each person individually benefits from renting their property to them while they're away on business or vacation.

I've lived in actual full-time hotels in Asia for months at a time and never encountered any of these "transient" problems people keep whining about. Maybe once a month there was some noise at night. And these weren't high-end hotels either.

Fine, you don't want neighbors. This is probably true of many people who choose to live in "full-time hotels in Asia."

Many people move to residential zones because they are interested in having neighbors, and they are understandably perturbed when an entity encourages law-breaking behavior that destroys their neighborhood.

The article is about SF and NYC. People live for years in residential neighborhoods in SF and NYC without befriending their neighbors.

Anyways, having transients for neighbors actually reduces your risk (variance) with respect to your neighbors. Any given day you're likely to have a normal respectful neighbor. If they're not, they'll soon be gone. Whereas with permanent neighbors you're stuck with them for a long time if they're inconsiderate assholes.

So your opinion is that people who want neighbors should consider seeing random strangers next door an improvement over people with whom they can develop long-term relationships?

> People live for years in residential neighborhoods in SF and NYC without befriending their neighbors.

The data doesn't back this up. In fact, NYC and SF are two of the best places to befriend neighbors based on the shared walkable living areas that are rare in most US cities. Here's a recent article on the phenomenon:

- http://www.vox.com/2015/10/28/9622920/housing-adult-friendsh...

I wonder if you have traveled to other parts of the world where there is "no zoning" and seen the reality of those places? I'm not talking about situations with some sort of theoretical Libertarian solution to tragedies of the commons but the reality on the ground.

Zoning laws were a reaction to the situations arising from a state devoid of zoning. I assume and have confirmed in my opinion that they are a good solution to those problems, if not always implemented in an optimal fashion or twisted through the actions of special interests.

You can of course claim that there are no problems arising from a lack of zoning and that the introduction of zoning laws is purely political in nature rather than functionally positive for society as a whole, but I'd like to see some real-world evidence rather than philosophy or assertions of opinion as fact.

European historic cities are usually very mixed. Shops, malls, hotels, churches and houses blended together, and it's a really nice environment.

Post-communist cities are usually not zoned. They are a result of planning but after that they had time to get mixed and indeed they are. If bland.

Even handed? You're talking about "greedy" landlords without citing specific examples of greed.

You may think, they're are all sleazy and greedy so what's the difference? Fine, but you don't get to then label that lazy thinking even handed analysis.

Edit: Not a landlord, no affiliation with Airbnb or landlords.

This just reminds me of Uber - same clash of ideologies between those whon see empowerment of people through new technology and those who see unfair advantage through breaking the law. The problem is that both sides are right. Both Uber and AirBnB provide better/new service through new technology where the incumbents usually didn't bother to inovate and banning them would be backwards. But both also profit from not being subjected to the same regulations - and this is what we should be discussing. While some regulations add value - fire safety standards etc - other are just disguised taxes - why should taxi licences be auctioned for the price of a family house?

Housing in New York City and San Francisco is a problem - MASSIVE. Airbnb has helped many people in those cities find places to stay, make extra income, etc. I'm certain, because of the reasons the problem exists in the first place, that people have and will continue to find ways to use it in ways that are harmful to vulnerable populations.

But if you focus really with any energy on Airbnb as a part of the problem rather than some of the applications of Airbnb as EVIDENCE of the problem, boy howdy are you missing the point. I fear that is what will happen - everyone wants a scape goat, tech is an easy one.

I'm a little late to this thread, but I think short term rentals could be a bigger core problem than you've recognized. This is all hard to determine without data, and some of what I am worried about is a risk rather than a current reality, though it appears to be growing.

Here's where I'm coming from - in my lifetime, the percentage of SF residents under the age of 18 has dropped from about 22% to below 14%. Much of this happened without airbnb or short term rentals, so obviously they can't be the core cause. However, it could exacerbate it.

Airbnb makes it far easier to rent out a "spare" bedroom - in doing so, they vastly increase the value of having a "spare" bedroom that you don't use. So if you are a family with just one kid, three bedroom houses suddenly become much more attractive than two bedroom houses, because what used to be an occasional guest room is now an income generator. What happens when a family with two kids goes up against them in a bidding war? One family can factor in the extra income, the other factors in no extra income and the additional expenses of an additional kid.

airBnB(noKids, hasKids) { unless(noKids.income(isWayHigherThan(hasKids.income)) { numKidsSF--; } }

At least in that scenario someone is still going to be "from" SF (when this is no longer the case, SF will be nothing more than a disneyland for young people and empty nesters).

It can get worse - what happens if investors now realize that they can just buy the whole 3br house and treat it as a hotel?

I could see airbnb being a factor in driving the already collapsing percentage of SF residents who are children to even lower lows.

By the way, in all of this, I see a good place for airbnb. If a San Francisco family wants to leave for a vacation in Paris, and they can rent out their place for a couple of weeks, and vice-versa, this seems like a good thing. But if converting a "spare" bedroom means that what were formerly kid's bedrooms are too profitable as tourist rentals to be wasted on children, then no, this would be extremely destructive to SF.

We need to regulate this, and airbnb needs to be a good citizen and cooperate. The suggestions in this business insider are good ones.

> "We need to regulate this, ..."

Do you know that adage that goes: "... then they say, I know, I'll use a regexp. And then they have two problems."

It's regulation that got SF into this problem.

"It's regulation that got SF into this problem."

Unfortunately, you don't give me much to go off here. I consider myself somewhat moderate where it comes to regulation, though that's probably because, as a programmer who hangs out on HN, I interact with a very tech-ish libertarian crowd. In short, I do see an important role for regulation of industry, housing, and so forth. I also do tend to agree that a lot of regulations are onerous and harmful, but I don't nod in agreement when someone simply says "government" or "regulation", as if the problem has now been adequately identified and analyzed. I do prefer that people actually explain what regulations caused this problem and how, and consider what problems might exist in the absence of regulation.

So… if you are pointing out that SF has caused a problem with anti-grown measures, I'd generally agree. If you are pointing out that that peninsula towns have contributed to this problem, I'd overwhelming agree, the behavior from places like Mountain View has been pretty shocking.

On the other hand, if you are telling me that zoning is obsolete and that the concept of residential neighborhoods in urban areas, where residents of some neighborhoods trade their right to run a hotel out of their house in exchange for for a legally enforced expectation that they won't have to live next to a house suddenly converted into a hotel - if you're telling me that regulation is the problem, then it's unlikely I'd agree with you, though I am all ears.

Obviously short-term rentals serve a need many have or AirBnB wouldn't have such uptake.

Adding regulation to fix that issue without changing regulation to increase supply, etc. seems like it misses the point.

People are already ignoring the regulations - how are more going to solve that?

The interesting thing about AirBnB is by going down the unregulated hotel route is it opens up an opportunity for competitors to come in offering a real home sharing experience.


Do you find it a hassle to rent out like this? Do you ever have any bad guests? What's your occupancy percentage in a typical month ?


Ah, so you're renting the apartment. What do the terms of your lease say about this?


Why dodge the question? Doing so answers it just as well as a "no, it's not allowed by my lease" would, and looks sillier to boot.

Would you mind answering the question?

Does your lease permit this kind of a sublet, or does it not?

Why? You're fishing. Just come out and say whatever you're going to say.

There's no need. His "response", as such, was quite telling.

Quite telling of what, though? You're still just hinting. What are you trying to say?

I wasn't going to "shame" or denounce the guy, if that's what you were fishing for. I'll leave moralistic judgements up to those directly impacted by his activities -- in this case, his landlord and his neighbors (and quite possible, depending on how he files his returns, the NYC taxpayer, as well).

But on broader fronts, the poster's confession does add to the body of anecdotal evidence we have (being as hard data would be extremely difficult to come by) that a significant chunk of Aribnb's business model is based on outright fraud, in various forms. "Outsourced" fraud, one might, for which Airbnb can't be held directly or legally culpable -- but fraud, pure and simple, nonetheless. And even if only 5-10% (a very conservative guess) of Airbnb's host are engaged in a comparable sort of scheme -- we're still talking about a scale affecting quite literally millions of people, globally.

Which in turn the leadership of Airbnb must no doubt be cognizant of one some level; and -- until they're forced to do otherwise (because you we nearly always have to force these companies to behave properly, it turns out) -- more than happy to turn a blind eye at.

"Socializing costs, privatizing gains", in other words.

Sorry, forgot to check this far back.

Yes, though. I am sort of saying that by asking one guy out of a crowd very obvious questions you were attempting to publicly shame him or call him on something. Were you actually asking that question to gain a data point you needed, or was it mainly commentary?

Anyways, like with Uber. I know the taxi's companies have a government granted monopoly. I don't ride with Uber because I'm ignorant of that, I ride with them almost because of that fact (and that they're just so much better of an experience). But as a rider I have nothing to lose.

With AirBnB when people are waving around fairly ludicrous threats of fines and liens on your property, who'd admit to anything when they know the other side is just looking for a scapegoat?

My intent wasn't to "shame" him -- but if he understood the consequences of his actions (and to collect the data point).

With AirBnB when people are waving around fairly ludicrous threats of fines and liens on your property, who'd admit to anything when they know the other side is just looking for a scapegoat?

I'm not sure what threats you're referring to. The collateral damage (to property owners, neighbors ... and as we have seen from the other article posted today[1], to customers who fall on the wrong side of Airbnb's liability coverage) are very real -- so I don't see the concerns people are raising about it as "scapegoating."

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10531229

The damage may be real, but "the problem of damage" is not. If my (theoretical) AirBnB guests damaged something I'm on the hook as if I damaged it myself. I don't get a free pass, so there's no externality. My strata organization can fine me for noise, wether caused by a party or an unruly tenant.

Even the way you present it is as if users of AirBnB are ripping everyone off ("consequences of his actions..."). It's just taken for granted.

And anyways, scapegoating is about the picking of a specific person to suffer for the crimes of the many. Singling out one person for something many people are doing is pretty unkind even if the thing is bad, which is debatable in this case.

Even the way you present it is as if users of AirBnB are ripping everyone off ("consequences of his actions...").

No, my observation applies strictly to those who rent their apartments in violation of their leases and/or local ordinances.

..even if the thing is bad, which is debatable in this case.

You're welcome to debate whether "the thing" (subleasing his apartment in violation of his lease -- for a huge profit) is bad or not, but to me it seems pretty clear.

But here you imply that anyone breaking a contact of adhesion is a bad person. I literally cannot rent a suite that doesn't forbid sub-letting, even though local law forbids forbidding of (reasonable) subletting.

And if we then say, well it's not bad in my city because the contract that tried to prevent it wasn't enforceable, we have to step back and ask how it's magically bad in another city with different laws.

I'd rather talk about actual harm, or rather lack thereof outside scare stories, to buildings and other tenants. No harm, no foul, and harm to abusive contracts doesn't count.

> Unfortunately, that means in my experience the quality drops, no 'homey' feel, and it negatively impacts the locals.

Isn't this the fundamental goal of reviews; get a real opinion from the users on wether this is a good or bad thing?

I stayed in an AirBnb property and I had good experience. But when you realize the place you stayed wasn't really surveyed for security, it's scary.

How does Airbnb have two faces? Their entire company is just an app that offloads all of the regulations, upkeep, and safety of running a Hotel on to the users, and charges them for the "privilege". The only face there is a greedy leech taking advantage of "not illegal yet" loopholes.

that describes Uber pretty well too


AirBandB. Uber is just an unliscensed taxi firm, AirBandB is destroying communities.

Neither is evil, both are great. Both have pissed off some monied interests though.

Uber gets more bad press because they're actually an existential threat to the taxi industry. Airbnb isn't an existential threat to the hotel industry because even though I use airbnb sometimes it hasn't stopped me using hotels -- hotels are easier and more convenient, airbnbs are cheaper and sometimes better but riskier and more trouble.

I'm not a monied interest. But I lived a few blocks away from a University and when all the students went home for the summer the management company decided to just go airbnb year round. There were four front doors within ten feet of each other on a small landing. It was horrible. I was able to deal with during the summer but once it was clear that it would continue throughout the school year I broke my lease and left. My credit is still screwed due to that.

How is Airbnb responsible for rent control evictions? Landlords would get rid of these tenants at any opportunity regardless of whether Airbnb ever existed.

Not sure if I'm missing something about your question, because this seems obvious. It's increasing the demand (by allocating a whole new population of short-term tenants to the market, who would otherwise either not visit or would stay in hotels and hostels) and constricting the supply (by incentivizing landlords to take entire properties off the rental market to service those tenants).

If you're counting "short term tenants" in the demand, it seems really dishonest not to count the properties that serve them in the supply.

If we're talking about the supply and demand of all housing, supply has not changed because because using properties to service short-term tenants is still keeping it in the supply, and demand has not changed because you're conflating demand with transaction quantity.

In other words, when Airbnb allows the supply of short-term rental properties to increase, this decreases equilibrium price and increases transaction quantity of short-term rentals, but demand itself isn't affected. The number of people who _want_ to visit San Francisco at any given price point hasn't changed, it's just the number of people _able_ to visit that's changed.

Really, all that's going on here is that Airbnb has lowered the barrier of entry to short-term rentals, allowing landlords to more easily address market inefficiencies created by rent control.

Not that rent control is wrong, but it does work against market forces, and markets tend to route around regulations that work against market forces, in the form of black markets, or scalpers, or whatever. Your enemy really isn't individuals or companies so much as market forces themselves, and while sometimes it's necessary to fight them, honestly, it'd be easier just to legalize building denser housing. Unlike Airbnb, that's what's _really_ restricting the supply.

"and demand has not changed because you're conflating demand with transaction quantity"

What? Of course it increases demand in the market that is traditionally served by houses in residential neighborhoods. 'Real estate' is not one market, there are several, divided by zoning regulations. When the people that used to stay in hotels now are looking to occupy places in houses where they didn't used to be able to stay, the demand for stays in those places has gone up.

Furthermore, demand is also increased (demand for the amount of nights) because visitors can stay cheaper (per night) so some stay longer. I.e. more demand.

I think you're still conflating demand with transaction volume. Let me put it this way:

> Furthermore, demand is also increased (demand for the amount of nights) because visitors can stay cheaper (per night) so some stay longer. I.e. more demand.

Demand is a curve. Visitors saying longer because they can stay cheaper just changes what part of the curve you're on, it doesn't change the curve itself.

In other words: the demand was always there, that visitor would always have stayed longer if they could stay cheaper. The only difference is whether or not they have that option, which is a difference in supply, not demand.

Demand does go up, because people who earlier couldn't compete for the good we're talking about now can. There are x locations each night to sleep that are zoned for residential purposes, some more attractive than others. This is the supply. There are y people competing for those; y is roughly equal to the amount of people who have their primary residence there. Now y' people who are not primary residents start to compete for those places. Result: demand is y + y'. X remains constant (in the short term). Result: P goes up.

The 'cheaper' meant compared to the prices of another market, i.e. the hotel market. This is a cumulative effect, on top of the first-order effect of those consumers being let into the market in the first place.

I'm pointing out the demand they create is irrelevant - Landlords always have/will act against rent control.

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