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Airbnb Plans to Verify Every Listing (nytimes.com)
175 points by ilamont 29 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 183 comments

From the comment in the article it sounds like they are trying to offload the cost/ effort of verifying listings to their customers as well:

"But he said the process would involve asking users whether the information in certain listings turned out to be accurate"

So when he says AirBNB is going to verify every listing, he doesn't actually mean they are paying people to do it...

Wait, I use Airbnb both as a guest and a host and it already works like this?

You list amenities. Then the platform asks guests "does this listing have a stove, does it have a carbon monoxyde detector", etc. Then the platform query the host "guests have mentioned you have a stove, is it correct?". I just got such a confirmation request on our listing today.

It's not that simple

> does this listing have a stove

Guest: Well yes but it doesn't work. Or, well yes but the flame shut off after 2 minutes

AirBnB: Sucks to be you but it has a stove so not a lie

> does this listing have wifi

Well yes but they say it's only got 1meg data so it will run out in probably 2 days and we booked the place for a month.

AirBnb: Sucks to be you but it has wifi so not a lie

> does this listing have 3 bedrooms

Well, it's got 3 rooms, a bedroom, a living room with a bed in it and a kitchen with a bed in it.

AirBnB: Bed in room = bedroom so yes it's got 3 bedrooms. Sucks to be you but not a lie

etc... The second 2 are actual AirBnB experiences.

I'm be curious if you could have pushed back on the bedrooms one. The term "bedroom" has a legal definition in many places (ex, must have door and closed).

In many places (e.g. in Europe) there is no standard definition of bedroom at all. Rather generic room, which is space surrounded by walls.

I would be very surprised if that was the case. It's certainly not in the US or UK: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1985/68/part/X in the US it"s that it needs a window + closet I think.

It should be noted that this act doesn't define what a bedroom is, it only says that a room is available as sleeping accommodation if it's a type of room that's normally used as a bedroom or a living room. This would likely rule out larger kitchens with a bed in them but I'd be surprised if a living room/kitchen combo are ruled out given that studio flats with a combined bedroom/living room/kitchen are fine.

This act defines what should be counted as 'room' for overcrowding purposes.

Now courts are not stupid. In such cases 'bedroom' would take the meaning that is generally understood. A kitchen or living room with beds in them are not understood to be 'bedrooms' if you ask someone at random, and thus advertising "3 bedrooms" when in fact there is only one with beds in the kitchen and living room would most likely be deemed misleading and false advertising.

San Fransisco in general like in Craigslist and not AirBnB has plenty of listings of apartments where a dining room + living room where they added a flimsy partition to separate the two and advertise as a bedroom. I guess no one complains tho since you just choose not to rent since renting long term is usually a look before signing proposition where as AirBnB you pay before you go and it needs to be correct site unseen

I fully agree, if somebody is falsely advertising a 3 bedroom flat/house on AirBnB they'll lose the court case purely on advertising laws, I was just replying to the linked act since it doesn't really define what a bedroom is at all.

Depends on the state, I'm sure, but in Hawaii it was a minimum of 70 sq ft with a minimum width (smallest dimension) (8ft?). In Canada (and I suspect the US), there has to be a window large enough for emergency egress.

From sibling comment:

In continental Europe, where armoires are a thing, I actually can’t remember living in any home that had a closet in any room with a bed, so I can’t see closet being in the definition of bedroom.

Did you read my comment? I never said closets are a thing in europe. I said that I think it's part of the regulation in the US. More importantly I linked to detailed regulation in the UK that defines what a bedroom is.

> Did you read my comment? I never said closets are a thing in europe.

On the contrary, you were discussing Europe specifically, and, you didn’t italicize you think, you wrote certainly:

>> ”In many places (e.g. in Europe) there is no standard definition of bedroom at all.”

> “I would be very surprised if that was the case. It's certainly not in the US or UK.”

You’re defending your second sentence, but the assertion I’m replying to is your reaction on Europe in the first one.

Remember AirBnB is worldwide and most of the world’s homes are the continental armoire model not US/UK closet model.

If this were true, it would mean that many, many bedrooms in New York City are legally not bedrooms.

I don't know much about NY but there is clearly loads of regulation and building codes defining these kind of things. I'm sure the definitions vary based on when things were built and to what purpose the definition is being used. New construction is going to be subject to much more scrutiny than anything else.

Here's some information on NY: https://www.hauseit.com/legal-bedroom-requirements-nyc/

> For a bedroom to be considered legal in NYC, it must satisfy the following requirements:

> Be a minimum of 80 square feet

> Have a minimum width of 8 feet in any dimension

> Have a minimum ceiling height of 8 feet

> At least one window measuring no less than twelve square feet

> There cannot be a need to pass through any other bedroom in order to access the bedroom

> Two means of egress, including a window and a door that can be opened from the inside

Though I did read in NY there is no storage requirements.

just guessing that the difference is short term vs long term rental. A falsely advertised long term apartment is something that people visit before renting so if it doesn't match the description they just don't rent and don't feel too annoyed. AirBnB tho people show up with suitcases and so it's very annoying but of course fixing it at the moment is a huge inconvenience

That is correct. Illegal subdivision of apartments in New York is not uncommon.

A kitchen or living room with a bed in it is not a bedroom. This is about the usual understanding of what a bedroom is and whether a listing would be misleading, not about trying to be too clever to screw customers, which does not work in front of a court (in the UK and, I expect, throughout the EU).

Likewise, stating that the property has a stove implies that it is in working order.

Now, I have no doubt that AirBnb might try to fob people off if they complain but that does not mean that they would be correct or even honest in doing so.

AirBnB was kind of built on the premise of a random air bed anywhere. So I think they should actually get a pass on this. The rest not so much.

Not at all. While you can rent an air-mattress on the living room floor, it should be advertised as such. When a listing is for an apartment with 2 bedrooms and an air mattress on the living room floor, listing it as "3 bedrooms" is bullshit and not even legal.

It should be disclosed in the listing, but in search filters it is fine. They could probably find a way to disclose it better is search filters too with a bit of design.

Europe is not all the same. A bedroom is well defined in Portugal.

Door + closet + fire-escapable window are a few reqs around here.

How does that definition work on the 30th storey of a condo building?

Fire escapes are a thing, and required in tall buildings, so it works exactly as stated.

Fire escapes are definitely not "required". You rarely ever even see them out of NYC and within NYC they've been banned since 1968.

It‘s worth noting they were banned because they weren‘t actually safer. Cramped apartment dwellers would use fire escapes as an extension of their square footage, blocking paths to safety. And they were so rarely used and tested that fire escapes becoming overloaded and detaching from the building was not uncommon.

The closet part is not actually true, it's a commonly believed myth.

There may be a few rare localities that require it, but it's not normally required.

Rather the definition requires a certain size of the room.

It’s definitely not a myth. Random examples in California:

> room can be considered a bedroom if it contains a closet, alcove, indentation or wing wall which creates an area greater than 12 inches in depth.


> is capable of being used for sleeping quarters that contains a closet, or to which a closet could be added, may also be considered a bedroom.


A space that doesn't qualify as a bedroom is typically referred to as a "bonus room". Finished basements are one example.

In a certain US jurisdiction I have a room with a bed in it I can call a “nanny’s room” but I cannot call a bedroom on a real estate listing, as the closet for that room is through another door in a sort of hall.

In Europe though, where armoires are a thing, and I actually can’t remember living in any home that had a closet in any room with a bed, I don’t see closet being in the definition.

"The International Building Code, which is used in 49 states and Washington D.C., has no requirements for a bedroom to have a closet." https://buyersask.com/edu/code/does-a-bedroom-require-a-clos...

I keep seeing rumors that there are localities that require a closet, but no one ever actually names them.

It may be a persistent rumor in your locality as well.

According to bobvila.com, it's a difference between safety codes and assessing the property.

> Fittingly, property assessors will follow the same bedroom definition when determining the number of bedrooms in a given home—that is, it must have a door, a closet, and an egress window. It is in the interest of homeowners, sellers, and buyers to know the subtle bedroom definition differences between the safety/builder perspective and the real estate/home value perspective, and to know one’s state and local guidelines for determining what can and cannot be considered a bedroom.


It might but I'm not sure Airbnb has a definition.

We arrived for a conference to an AirBnB and discovered when arriving at 10pm that it was likely illegal. ie got warnings about making noise and multiple people coming in simultaneously with suitcases, etc.

But your choices are either:

1 - pick a fight at 10pm, probably fuck around with AirBnB's shit customer support, maybe if lucky get to sleep at an alternate place by 1 or 2 am, then feel like utter garbage for the next 3 days;

2 - deal (with the implied: no more airbnb on business trips...)

Which is deeply disappointing, and makes me worried that fraudulent hosts will work around the issue by having a co-conspirator book their room to "verify" the listing.

Especially since the Vice piece that sparked all this strongly implies that this is already happening:

> Even some of the positive reviews of Becky and Andrew’s Chicago rentals seemed odd, especially those left by other pairs of hosts. Kelsey and Jean, for example, said Becky and Andrew were “awesome and communicative guests.” But they themselves were based in Chicago, where it seemed they had at least two properties of their own. Why would they need to rent from someone else there?

This also strikes me as odd. I've recently been seeing extremely short reviews for places. That is, 10+ reviews per place that are basically "was great, would recommend!" or "the host was responsive, I'll come back!".

I can't tell if this is a thing people do or if they are somehow fake 5 star reviews.

For a while AirBnB forced you to write a review before you could book another place.

During that time, I always just wrote expletives in the review box and gave everyone 1-star. I'm not going to be the unpaid QA person for AirBnB!

ISTR last time I used AirBnB there was some flow that really pushed you to leave a review, which obviously leads to those kinds of uninformative reviews.

That doesn’t seem strange at all to me. A friend of mines regularly rents their place on Airbnb. Then in turn they rent a cheaper property and pocket the difference.

For every odd situation I see in HN comments there comes somebody like you saying: "why, I just did that yesterday!".

A location getting good ratings from other people in the same city that rent 2 other apartments is so odd it should be denied by default and require manual approval. The odds of collusion are quite high. Of course sellers would help each-other with good ratings! Even at the actual cost of paying for a night (in AirBnB fees) it might still be worth it if you want good ratings.

So, no, this is pretty strange.

You don't even have to pay many AirBnB fees - you can steeply discount a night, and then get your friend to book it.

Not sure why you're downvoted. At least one place I stayed at in Switzerland, it was pretty clear something like that was exactly what was happening: The family were living in the house normally, and when someone rented it, they just vacated it and went somewhere else. (I sort of suspect that there had been a recent divorce and the mother was trying to figure out how to be able to avoid having to move due to changed financial situation.) It seemed a bit weird to be taking over this family's house, but they decided it worked for them, and the house was as described, so... shrug

Don't know where they went, but a cheaper AirBNB place nearby would be an obvious candidate.

It's almost like we are intentionally bending over backwards to avoid hiring some human beings to do some real fucking work.

When did this become the mantra of every tech company? Any time a job is created it's viewed as an unfortunate mistake or side effect? Who are we even building all this for?

The promise to investors of "tech companies" is zero marginal cost, and hence infinite scalability. As soon as you have to have to incur meatspace costs per transaction instead of doing it all in software, these sky-high unicorn valuations go out the window.

Exactly. Frequently the ones who deflate are ones that hadn’t figured out the zero marginal cost bit in time.

Don't be silly. Real work would mess up the scam, which works roughly like this: 1) Build a software system that appears to perform a real-world function. 2) Offer that real-world function at a loss. 3) Founders and early investors collect sweet, sweet bagholder dollars. That, of course is a Ponzi scheme, but the S-1 makes it all legal!

The founders, and, incidentally, the investors. Employees are a cost and customers are a burden.

> The founders, and, incidentally, the investors.

Isn't it the other way around?

Are you suggesting hiring employees to check every single listing on AirBnB? Does Craigslist verify every listing? For that matter, have newspapers ever done that with their advertising? AirBnB is a marketplace connecting buyers and sellers. Suggesting that a newspaper for instance send an employee to verify that an advertised car in a classified ad is precisely correct is a bit ridiculous but that’s what you seem to be suggesting with AirBnB. How is this any different than a student newspaper running ads for rooms for rent? On the hotel side, Booking.com doesn’t physically verify every hotel room listed either. Overstating amenities or even outright lying is as old as real estate and has nothing to do with “tech.”

When they say “We’re going to verify all our listings” I fucking expect them to verify listings.

When listings cost hundreds to thousands of dollars and they skim a significant fee off every rental they need to take some significant steps to eliminate fraud on their platform.

Craigslist is a horrible example because they don’t profit from most sales, and they don’t process the money between buyer/ seller. If AirBnb worked like CL, you’d be pay your host cash when you show up and if your host tried to pull shit like this you could just walk.

Did you read the original vice article? The airbnb scam is much more harmful than an erroneous classifieds listing. If someone lies on Craigslist and you're smart enough to find out they did you walk away and all that's lost is time. The scammers on airbnb were promising a better place and then had them stay in a place that might as well be a squat. Wasting time, money, comfort, convince, etc.

There are places on Airbnb that have never been rented. How would those places be verified, which is necessary if you want to say "Every listing is verified", if you do anything other than send employees to those places?

Craigslist, Booking etc don't make any claim that all places are verified so they don't need employees to do that work. If Airbnb are going to make that claim then they will need people to do the verifying.

> Are you suggesting hiring employees to check every single listing on AirBnB?


Unless they don't actually plan to verify listings, in which case they should just state they don't verify listings. Then they don't have to hire anyone extra.

That would be unlikely to work. It'll probably be like Yelp, where when you check in, they say "does this place have wifi" or "do they take credit cards". You don't verify everything all at once.

They'll probably have algorithms to determine who are legit travelers and ask them to do the most verification and of the most risky stuff.

And remember to make it a short stay because AirBnb is taking 25% commission on the booking. Friends reviews are costing an arm and a leg.

It also doesn't mean you're safe to use airbnb. If you're the first person to try a given scam listing you'll get scammed. And then airbnb will de-list it, after the fact. And then the scammer will create a new listing presumably to scam the next person.

The first two weeks of people renting my Airbnb got an incredible deal. Airbnb encouraged me to discount what I found later to be way too low prices. I was also very careful to make sure everything was perfect for them since their reviews were so important. Yes there are risks with renting a new place, but there are also huge benefits.

As a side note, when I travel and I actually want to interact with my host, I will rent a room in an occupied house and I always pick a newly listed space. since the host is not sick of hosting yet, they are much more friendly. If you go to a place that has been operating for years, they will not want to show you around or hang out. New hosts are much more likely to be social.

For what its worth, Airbnb is pretty upfront about NEW properties in their platform especially those with no reviews yet. Someone always has to give it the first go to know if the hosts are great or not (though acknowledging the property is real shouldn't require a guest to have a bad/potentially bad experience)

Most Airbnb scams rely on false reviews that AirBnb already is failing to catch.

How is this an improvement over Airbnb's existing review and complaint mechanisms?

If they detached this or made it separate from reviews it would perhaps reduce the fear of retributive reviews from bad hosts.

The big problem here is the vast difference between "We are going to verify..." and what they are actually planning. It's just dishonest.

AirBNB reviews are unpublished until both sides either finish their review or time out. It is simply not possible to read a bad review and then write a bad review in retaliation.

The retaliation is in response to contacting support, it works like this (I posted this elsewhere in the thread too):

guest => support: "the place was filthy, I want a refund"

support => host: "guest says it was filthy is that true"

host => support: "lol no"

host reviews guest: "terrible, all they did was complain, beware"

The Vice article also talked about retaliation, but I'm not clear how that worked: At least in the last few years, you can't see the owner's review until you've posted your own (or until a timeout happens and you lose your opportunity to make a review). And you can comment on reviews to tell your side of the story.

It would make sense for AirBNB to wait until the owner had left their initial review (or the review window timed out) before alerting them to the fact that they were going to get a bad one.

It's been a while since I used AirBNB so I'll take your word for it. The recent article in Vice suggested that the fear of retributive reviews was something a lot of people were concerned about, so I'm not sure where the disconnect is here.

From https://www.vice.com/en_ca/article/43k7z3/nationwide-fake-ho...:

"After all, Airbnb uses a rating system in which both the host and tenant can publicly provide feedback to one another, which both parties then use to prove their credibility in the future.

Because of that, there is a built-in incentive to avoid confrontation, which helps explain why Airbnb hosts consistently receive higher ratings than hotels reviewed on TripAdvisor, according to research out of Boston University and the University of Southern California. If a customer has a negative experience on Airbnb, they might be better off just moving on instead of leaving a negative review."

Perhaps it's not retributive reviews so much as complaining during the stay. shrug

I believe it is possible for the next host to read your review of previous hosts. Why rent to anyone who ever left a bad review? In other words there is an incentive not to leave bad reviews.

As someone that owned a commercial holiday property, this is a real concern. I had instant booking, so I didn’t really care what prior reviews said, however there are some real jerks who are chronically unhappy. We got a 1 star review once because one of our holiday cottages didn’t have a salad spinner. Another complained because the outside air temperature was too hot — in August, in Provence. There are people that would complain about a beach having too much sand. Legitimate failures were taken seriously, but the vast majority of our “negative” reviews were just insanely silly. One person even complained that the free bottle of Rosé we gave them wasn’t chilled enough. One guest complained that the pool was too cold (in August,) while that same month, someone complained that the pool wasn’t cool enough.

I am delighted to be free of that business.

The theoretical or the actual ones? In theory, nothing. In practice, they’ve gotten a lot of bad press lately for ”sucks to be you”-oriented approach to reviews and complaints.

Remains to be seen if this improves things in practice

And the worry people have complained about, where negative feedback by a renter gets traced back to the renter, resulting in a retaliatory negative rating, remains a legitimate worry.

FWIW, a few months ago they sent someone to my listing in person. They offered me $500 to make the changes they suggested.


AirBnB offered you money to change the text of your AirBnB listing? Why would they do that?

Not to change text, to change the unit. One example, they wanted a carbon monoxide detector added to the unit even though the unit has no heater (tropical rental). They said this was to give confidence as guests don't know that there isn't a heater. Things like that.

That's practically asking for fraud.

There are 6M listings. How much would it cost them to do the right thing and have them even cursorily inspected? Inspectors would of course have to pose as customers. Damn these sharing startups are tight fisted

Using their customers as the proverbial canary in the coal mine. Perhaps the analogy works a little too well, when carbon monoxide detectors are involved.

Tech companies always expect us to swallow the "oh there's too much to possibly check manually!" (even when they are the richest companies in the world) but surely they could hire an inspector to do random spot checks? I used to have a friend who worked for Guinness who did that, dropped in on random bars to sample the quality of their stock. Quite the job.

Well a host can always pull amenities after an initial inspection. You do need constant verification to keep them on their toes.

Tech company indicates a "plan" to do something that they implicitly assured everyone that they'd be doing from the get go. I question how much effort, cost and what the timeline would be to build the logistics to realize this goal and, given their past performance, how many more vectors for scams they will create along the way. They have profited from the risk that they have pushed out to their customers, I'm not sure that they will actually do anything substantive, but feel certain that they will make it seem as though they are.

I'll admit that the announcement gave me hope and made me feel positively about AirBnB - I'm sure it was carefully crafted to do just that. But I'm glad I came across your comment because it gave me the cold splash of realism to balance out their PR blast.

Would it kill AirBnB to do random (or even algorithmically-determined) audits?

Auditor signs up for a night in your house. Let's say your listing has fake pictures or fake amenities. Or you try to bait and switch the auditor by having them stay in some crappy other property because the main listing "is having plumbing problems".

Bam, audit failed, your account is frozen, your listings are removed, and you are banned from using AirBnB pending investigation.

i think as part of an audit there would be a lot of questions regarding the gray area of auditing illegal AirBnb listings- ones where you have to pretend to be just 'visiting your friend'.

verifying that a place is abiding by certain standards and has passed AirBnb's audit but still breaking local laws would probably anger lots of neighbors.

lots of illegal listings exist, and auditing would bring that to light even more.

paying a small team of auditors would probably do a ton more damage to the business in terms of losing listings than turning a blind eye or making other attempts for users to indirectly police the issue of misleading or fraudulent listings.

Even just having a good customer service seems out of reach of Airbnb.

I recently had some issues with an Airbnb. It was not technically a scam, just an awful host making crazy demands that we cover for their illegal Airbnb.

It was extremely clear that the support wasn't interested at all in helping. I even asked if we could just cancel the reservation (the weirdness started before we arrived), the support agent pressed us to still go there.

In one reservation, Airbnb has moved from a company I liked to one that I will avoid as much as possible and only use if there aren't any hotels available.

I have a bedroom in my house that I make available through Airbnb. I live in the house so this isn't an investment-for-Airbnb scenario.

I'm totally down for these audits, but expect the auditor to pay the fee like anyone else if he/she stays, or if he/she consumes the timeslot that I could have sold to someone else.

Airlines already do this, they have employees that do QA in plain clothes, naturally they QA the whole process, from ticket purchase through helpdesk and so on.

Even though AirBnB, like airlines has all the data, customers love leaving feedback on rentals.

Yes they would pay, you wouldn't even know the person(s) were conducting an audit. All major hotel chains already do exactly this, typically at least once a year and the property has no idea until weeks later when they get the (very detailed) report.

It's called 'Mystery Shopper' in retail.


Just adding a bonus point system and giving bonus points for creating well documented problem tickets would do the same trick, imho.

Anything crowdsourced can and will be gamed. That is the essence of this type of problem.

Particularly since Airbnb is a two way system. I once stayed in a place where I was basically being told to give them 5 stars or else they'd give me 1 star for being a difficult guest.

That is not possible. They were lying to you. You can't see the other's review until you post your review or the review window expires. You can never change your review once posted (though you can comment on a review someone else left).

They were very pushy about asking "are you going to give me 5 stars?" before/during the stay, and saying things like "my business depends on 5 star ratings". Obviously there are lots of paths out of that situation that don't involve someone giving them 5 stars, but I'm sure it works on people.

Edit: it did not work on me

How were they planning on doing this? They don't get to see the rating you gave until after their review of you is finalized, and vice-versa.

I'm curious how they enforce this. I've never used airbnb but what's to stop a host from reading the reviews from a guest account instead of their host one? I'm assuming they're still published publicly but maybe I'm wrong?

The review isn't visible to anyone until the period expires. It's not just hidden from the specific host account.

Ah ok thank you for the clarification.

See my other reply in the thread, but basically, they were doing a lot of stuff that at first seemed like proactive customer service initially, but later seemed much more like scouting to determine if i was going to give them 5 stars or not.

Not all guests know that ratings are hidden until reviews are completed. And for those that know, maybe they were planning on guilting them into it?

And auditors (or other internal processes) are never gamed?

The trick is to ensure the incentives for the auditors are correctly aligned and to monitor the effects.

For example corporate auditors are paid by the company they're auditing and often actually make all their money providing other services to that same company. Guess how that works out (or read about Enron if you need a hint)

On the other hand I'd say something like the Paris MOU works. The inspectors (they're doing inspection not auditing, although the things they're inspecting are supposed to have already been inspected by the Flag State, so in another sense they're just checking that work) work for the Port State, so their interests aren't directly aligned with the ship owner and it makes sense to hold some vessels, but on the other hand, your ports aren't making money when they are full of ships being inspected or held for defects, so you don't want to go crazy.

One thing I particularly like about the Paris MOU is that it uses statistics to drive feedback. If inspections find that, say, South African flagged vessels (thus supposedly already inspected on behalf of South Africa) are often non-compliant, that flag goes on the Grey List or the Black List and there are MORE inspections of South African vessels. This has two effects, it drives up the cost of choosing the South African flag for your vessels, discouraging you from choosing a flag with bad inspection regime whether because it's cheaper or to save on vessel upkeep - and it enhances the ability to monitor other vessels that might fail too. On the other hand if say, South Africa is doing a great job, any time you inspect a South African flagged vessel it's like it just came out of the factory and every crew member is a world expert who is wide awake and handsomely paid, then South Africa goes on the white list and fewer of their vessels get inspected.

They don't want to know.

All those unfortunate things for you and me are risk mitigation/ cost savings for them.

Freeze? If they do an audit like that they better sue these criminals to at least a year in jail.

Thats absurd. Civil tort never results in jail time unless someone commits a criminal offense during the proceedings such as perjury or contempt.

At most AirBNB would have to prove damages, which would be difficult since they profit off dishonesty, or have proceedings that result in consequences for the hosts.

For example I’ve had multiple hosts that lie about the address of their tenancy because they’re renting and not allowed to sublet or short term rent the property as a term of their lease.

Verifying the listings, including deeds/leases would fix this.

Sure some inaccuracies are just inaccuracies - maybe penalise them. But stories like by Vice is just plain fraud, which to me seems very criminal. But I'm far from lawyer and US.

While lots of listings have minor discrepancies, I'm sure outright scams (like the ones described in the recent article) are pretty rare. I doubt doing random audits is going to have a significant enough success rate in finding them to make a difference.

They may already be doing this , at least for research purpose. Sounds like a good idea but difficult to scale.

In case anyone missed the context, this is probably related to https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/43k7z3/nationwide-fake-ho...

For which this was the HN post: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21408178

The service AirBnB offers is rife with problems, as can be gleaned from reading the comments.

Thank you for the reference :).

No amount of "verification" can get me to stay in an Airbnb.

There's no way for them to prevent homeowners from installing (legal) hidden cameras, and when cameras are discovered, they defer responsibility (to preserve their brand image).

A hotel, by contrast, can't legally have hidden cameras and takes the full brunt of the bad PR if one is discovered.

It is definitely not legal to setup hidden cameras anywhere that would be private inside your Airbnb.


Also, Airbnb asks you if there are any cameras in any place on your property and it is a violation to have cameras even on your front porch without acknowledging them.

I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but it is definitely not legal. It also happens in hotels on occasion and not always with the managements knowledge.

It's legal. Airbnb didn't (doesn't?) forbid it![1] They aren't even courageous enough to do that much.

> has the intent to capture an image of a private area of an individual without their consent

This law is basically forbidding voyeur porn.

A host could install a "security" camera in a living room. For a studio apartment, that would also be a bedroom. That's completely legal. Perhaps the camera is installed, but it's "not turned on". All legal.

But once the landlord steps across the line by turning the camera on, publishing videos, etc., the law is broken, but it's already too late.

1. https://www.nbcnews.com/tech/security/airbnb-you-might-be-ca...

Airbnb policy (and the law) forbids putting a camera in private spaces. If you are renting a room in a house that has shared public spaces, the host could put a camera in the kitchen for example, but it has to be disclosed (there is a place to do this on the description section of the website). This is comparable to a hotel having cameras in the lobby, elevator and hallway, but not in your hotel room.

It's not at all like cameras in a hotel lobby because I can't rent a hotel lobby. Airbnb guests expect privacy throughout the home when they rent the whole thing.

When you have a whole-home Airbnb, you may do private things in the living room or kitchen. For many people, a video of them watching a movie with a homosexual partner is dangerous because of the laws in their country.

Case in point, when sportscaster Erin Andrews was illegally filmed nude in her hotel room, the jury awarded her $55 million with the hotel 49% liable -- which is $27 million responsibility for the hotel. Compare this consequence to the zero consequences faced by Airbnb hosts who have hidden cameras.

I like the original premise of AirBnB, where homeowners could rent out a spare bed or their home when they were on vacation. But seems like these days, those homeowners are either all gone, or are being hugely outnumbered by scammers or AirBnB businesses. We (a group of 5 friends) just finished a trip in Vietnam and we used AirBnB3 times. And all 3 times, the listings were not exactly truthful. The worst was a listing in Hanoi that claimed to be able to fit 12 adults. When we arrived, we could only identify 4 queen beds (2 of which were jammed together in 1 room). The other 2 listings we used were in the same complex in Saigon. We booked the listings based on our criteria of having a single home with at least 5 bedrooms. Both listings turned out to be 2 separate apartments. Both are in a complex claimed to be among the first in Saigon to disallow AirBnB. Both times, we had to pretend to the receptionists that we were long term renters. We wanted AirBnB so that we could chill together in a common space. These experiences make use want to book hotels next time...

Please just stop using them. I just passed up on buying a house because the neighbors were - you guessed it, an airbnb. I was lucky to have found out before I got into a contract. It's always great when you find out the reason someone is selling - isn't it?

Why would anybody care their neighbor is an AirBnB?

Guests may be loud, lots of moving in and out, parking, late night arrivals, etc.

He likely means they are a poorly managed AirBnB. People often throw parties, are loud, etc... when the host doesnt manage them well.

The cars that come one day might be hip hop. The next it's loud base music that distracts everyone from what they're doing. No matter what the rules are for the AirBNB, you can't control the people arriving and leaving. That's different from having a single neighbor that leaves for work at 6am, listens to country, and gets back at home at 3. Now you have distractions all day long from random, unexpected noises at unexpected times.

It's not a question of if you "can" put up with that. It's if you "would" put up with that given a choice of having a stable, quiet neighbor, or a random neighbor every day that makes different sounds (and smells - smoking? vaping? MJ?). What about police arriving, ambulances? People bring a lot of crazy.

What verification tech/processes does Airbnb have at all? I haven't hosted in a few years but I don't recall ever uploading any document (i.e. a utility bill, a mortgage doc, a rental agreement, etc.) with my address on it to prove that I even live in the place that I was attempting to rent out.

Seems like they've let this all slide for way too long and it's all catching up to them at the worst possible moment.

They should make it mandatory, every user should be forced to answer certain question after their stay or pay a fine - they can pitch it as a 5% discount

Next advancement would be to tax every stay and use it to an agency that would establish rules on “hosts” and regulations on room conditions.

After that, next advancement would be to realize this has existed for 200 years and is called government.

They should make it mandatory, every user should be forced to answer certain question after their stay or pay a fine - they can pitch it as a 5% discount

Yeah, sure. After I get the privilege to stay in a soulless, cookie cutter appartment where I have to tiptoe around the neighbors because the lease is illegal and pay essentially the same amount as for a hotel room, I also get threatened with a fine for not working for free for AirBnb?

And all that while possibly recorded by hidden cameras, which are not part of the description and for which AirBnb doesn't really give a fuck, unless there's some bad PR to counter?

I think I stick with hotel rooms.

I don't see anything about addressing retaliatory negative reviews, which seems like a not insignificant part of the problem as described in the Vice article (https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/43k7z3/nationwide-fake-ho...)

That part seemed odd to me, neither hosts or guests can see the others' reviews until after both have submitted (or the review period expires).

If a guest complains to customer support, and support contacts the host about it, then the host can retaliate on the support request.

guest => support: "the place was filthy, I want a refund"

support => host: "guest says it was filthy is that true"

host => support: "lol no"

host reviews guest: "terrible, all they did was complain, beware"

I had a shitty host retaliate against my deserved bad review by asking imaginary fees.

I had to categorically refuse to pay these, Airbnb support was absolutely not helping.

Actually I would not be totally surprised if Airbnb asked me to pay that the next time I do a reservation with them. It might be in a very long while though, this experience has ended my honeymoon with this service.

My worst AirBnb was let via a proxy agent. The flat wasn't actually rentable even though it was online, and so I showed up to a locked flat, no key, with all of my bags in a new city. AirBnB refunded it and gave me 50 AirBnb Bucks (TM). I only do hotels now, unless someone else is handling the reservation.

The worst thing about AirBnB is that they make no effort to fix the problem.

When on a vacation, and we found our AirBnB had fewer beds than advertised, we complained, and then were told that the owner wanted us "out immediately." So now we're stranded in a new city. Great.

AirBnB offered to put us up anywhere cheaper than the original price we had booked. Of course, booking 2 months in advance is much cheaper than the same day, so everywhere they offered was >60 miles away. And this was an urban location, so no, we didn't have a car either.

So we gave up and stayed in a hotel. Two months later, after many rounds of negotiating over the phone, AirBnB finally reimbursed us the full amount. Being stranded in a new city sucked, and it's obvious that AirBnB's policies for fixing issues are purposefully bad, so AirBnB is now a last resort for us.

So I can recommend AirBnB as a great option if you're ok with a 10% chance of having nowhere to sleep that night!

Via the stories from "talesfromthefrontdesk" I learned that hotels will pay a room for you in another hotel in case they cannot accommodate you (e.g. overbooking). IMO AirBNB should by law have a similar rule. This as (as you say) last minute prices are indeed significant higher than booking in advance. Further, the risk should be on AirBNB, not on the customer.

This sounds like something you can use your credit card to do charge back. Easier to deal with, almost guaranteed to happen.

same thing happened to me in terms of getting money back.

the reason for the refund was completely different but i was very unhappy with a stay. i wrote a very lengthy description of my complaints and had pictures to back it up. a large part of the issue was they didn't clean the room. i ended up having to fight with airbnb for weeks to get the full refund (they initially refused to give back the "cleaning fee" when a large part of my complaint was the place wasn't clean).

i am not totally against staying at an airbnb, but i haven't booked one since and look primarily at hotels. that bad stay ruined my plans for the last night of my trip and i barely saved $50 from staying at a nice hotel.

What’s happening? This link goes to an article about poli tal ads on Twitter, not Airbnb. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/06/business/dealbook/boeing-...

I think someone must have mistakenly edited the link? This appears to be the correct article: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/06/business/airbnb-verify-li...

If @dang or other moderators are reading, I agree the link should go to this article ... when I posted the Dealbook link, the Airbnb news was at the top. It has since been pushed down the page.

This is a better link, I was going to post the same thing

The 24/7 support sounds promising. This has been their Achilles heel for many years.

Anecdotally, I once checked into an Airbnb with a leaky roof. After spending a good 20 minutes trying to get to a human (a small eternity when you’re in an unfortunate situation), Airbnb asked that I spend hours negotiating with my non-responsive host on a solution, which is obviously nonsensical given the situation.

Being able to instantly talk to someone and feel like I am being taken care of would have made all the difference in the world. Instead, I churned from their platform.

While we're here, Congrats to Jersey City for regulating short term rentals like AirBnB. I'd hate to have to live next to a AirBnB unit.

I live in Jersey City, and the high-rise apartment buildings on the waterfront are pretty much half landlord-operated AirBnB now, since Jersey City essentially absorbed all the demand from NYC which already banned short term rental. It's getting out of hand. I certainly welcome the ban.

I lived next to short term rental for a long time (and might still do, not sure). It's a mixed bag. Since it's short term rental it's empty half the time, which is good because I don't hear the noise from them. However during check-in and check-out time it takes a long time to get an elevator.

The only thing I am afraid of is whether the landlord would increase the rent to cover the lost revenue from short term rental.

I live next to an Airbnb unit. Never had a problem, with one exception of a renter’s pickup temporarily blocking the driveway.

This kinda makes sense - esp since housing inventory is a recurring revenue generator.

That being said, I am curious how much of the inspection cost they'd pass on to the lister -- it seems like getting a guy out to check each listing is gonna be $25-$100 an inspection depending on how many places you can lump together, so someone's gotta pay the costs there.

Maybe the end result will be an "AirBnB-verified" badge and increased search exposure (a la Amazon FBA/Prime listings have better ranking, or like one of those a pay-to-play Alibaba approved vendor kinda badge that creates financial downside for people who spuriously list lots of fake listings)? At which point I can see the choices for AirBnB hosts become "pay X to get verified" or basically don't get traffic.

Am also curious how this would play out more as plenty of under-the-table renters (barred from AirBnBing by their HOA) would end up getting enhanced visibility of their activities due to these verifications. The whole obfuscating address thing on AirBnB seemed to be a huge hack to get around HOA/landlord/legal rules so extra verification would seem to hurt some core, grey part of the business too.

> so someone's gotta pay the costs there.

I checked out yesterday from my Airbnb apartment. In addition to the normal host rating questionaire I was sent to a fairly detailed additional set of forms: as the last customer in the apartment I was asked to rate what apartment details I had found to be as advertised. The forms were optional.

AirBnb already offer to send a photographer for free to take pictures of your flat. Having a verification visit is similar service and can be provided for free too.

Practically speaking, they're taking around 25% commission on bookings. It's more than enough to cover inspections and pictures.

AirBnB's existing guest verification process loks onerous, but is trivial to work-around.

For some reservations, they demand to have your Driver's License image, both sides (to include he various barcodes, etc.) and some other items.

For a friend who did not want the risk of having their full set of data floating around out there, I used some readily available & free tools to make some (self-consistent) edits to the documents to reduce personal identification risk in that DB of IDs.

Although quite bogus, the docs passed verification instantly. So, now, AirBnB and the host now erroneously think that they have a verified guest, when they have no such thing.

Their verification is not only an onerous process that crates a massive honeypot of personal-ID information just waiting to be hacked & stolen, it is also a farce insofar as filtering out even any mildly motivated person, whether intent on protecting their privacy, or on scamming.

Dubious that their host-side listing will be any more valid.

Know the risks.

This is known as fraud and it is considered a crime in most developed regions in the world. It is an intentional false representation of fact intended to mislead. Deception in the case of short term accomodations (AirBnB, VRBO) can lead to legal injury. You are at risk of having a criminal record.

While this may seem fine because you're not intending to do anything malicious, situations outside of your control may arise during your stay and your fraud will be revealed. If nothing happens during your stay, you will likely get away with this kind of fraud. The problem is that you're risking having a criminal record just to avoid a third party having temporary possession of your drivers license. Guests at a hotel or motel always share their drivers license at the front desk. When you rent a car, a drivers license is required. The difference between these in-person experiences and one entirely digital is a false sense of anonymity online.

This aside, drivers license identification is never saved to a database, file or anywhere if it is done correctly. Read the terms and conditions to see for yourself. The hotels, however, save that information in a database and may not remove it. In other words, online verification is more secure than in person.

This crazy requirement for ID upload was the reason why I never completed my AirBnB profile. I wish I had thought of what you did. Instead, I use HomeAway, which didn't have such a nasty scheme for validation. It too has similar problems as AirBnB with shady hosts, last minute cancellations, etc. though.

I really wish I'd have thought of doing this. I'm really uncomfortable sharing this kind of information. I understand and support what they're trying to accomplish by doing this, but I've learned better than to trust the security and privacy of such data. Thanks for pointing this out!

read my response to this comment before you do

Thank you for a very well thought out response. You make several great points there. First of all that this constitutes fraud, and secondly that the license information should not be persisted in any form anyway.

Should have been doing that from the get go, but better late than never.

I'd like to see specifics though, how often do they plan to do these verifications?

What happens if someone puts up a listing just to get verified, then cleans it out and goes about business as usual?

What about hosts that let their place fall into disrepair over the years? etc

Anytime I see a story about Airbnb I like to point out: https://www.airbnbhell.com

I found this site after being the victim of the now infamous "oh sorry something wrong with your flat" scam. What was supposed to be an "executive suite" turned out to be a cockroach ridden dump.

Not sure if Airbnb has improved since but they were utterly useless in refunding my money, let alone helping me find alternate accommodations.

I have used Airbnb since, but as a last resort and after way too much effort to separate what might be scams from (hopefully) legit listings.

I agree with the poster further on who says you need to be prepared (have a plan 'b') for the chance that the booking will fall through at the last minute.

It’s about time.

Earlier this year I moved to Cape Town, with an Airbnb booked for the first month.

I was the first guest, and the place did not meet even the most basic standards of hygiene. What’s worse is that there was still evidence of the place being used as a crack house.

Needless to say, I refused to stay there and Airbnb gave a full refund.

All of this could have been avoided by a simple verification system.

Any new listing should, at the very least, be viewed and assessed against a list of basic standards before a paying guest arrives at the door.

> Needless to say, I refused to stay there and Airbnb gave a full refund.

I don't think that's good enough. You were relying on that accommodation. Now the worst for AirBNB is that they won't make money. So there's no incentive to do anything about it. Further, if you suddenly need to switch accommodations the last minute price will be much higher than usual.

AirBNB should fix the accommodation problem they caused. They must/should offer an alternative.

FYI people asking about the verifications. The Plus listings (as well as lux) are all verified by someone, has specific standards, including the amenities. So if you worry about the quality, search for plus listings (hit the filters on search page and select plus)

My guess this means they will extend/move more listings to the plus category over time.

(Disclaimer: used to work at Airbnb)

Good. Living in SEA, the number of times where I want to book an AirBnb and they advertise it as "Entire house" and it ends up being a single room and shared living is ridiculous. It takes me 10x as long to vet out and find a place out here. And even then, I'm disappointed the majority of the time.

Plenty of hotels in SEA.

The reason I book an AirBnb is that I want my home away from home. I don't want a hotel. I want to pop into an area that I'm visiting and feel as if I have my own space.

There’s hotels that provide this, look for long term hotels. They will have kitchens and everything else. If those don’t work than you are going to have to gamble with Airbnb. I used to use Airbnb for same reason but found inconsistency and don’t have patience to hope the place is adequate. Therefore I went back to hotels.

You still don't understand. I don't want a hotel with a kitchen and all that jazz. That's still a hotel.

I want a house. I want a garden. I want a pool. I want some trees. I want a living room. I want it to be a literal home.

No I do, I just don’t have patience to be gambling when I travel and AirBnb is a crap shoot as of late.

unrelated to the article but it is really dumb that ny times doesn't have anchor linking right to specific headlines if they're going to put every article on the same page. I was wondering why this linked to an article about Kim Kardashian before I scrolled halfway down the page, past every ad of course...

This is a link to a daily NYT newsletter (Dealbook), which is why I think you saw the strangeness. Here is the direct link: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/06/business/airbnb-verify-li... .

More generally, I think we're living in the moment where all successful startups acknowledge the fact that growth means more people, and more people means higher likelihoods of terrible behavior, since humans are on average a terrible organism, at least in relation to the values we espouse.

since humans are on average a terrible organism, at least in relation to the values we espouse.

Surely you recognize the irony in stating this here, considering the pieces of shit who create these startups are responsible for making the world worse at a large scale, purely for their own gain, right?

It's obscene to me how you've written this. These startups ignore major laws, break numerous consumer protection laws as well, purposefully provide mechanisms intended to hurt anyone but themselves, erode societal trust, and even kill people, and yet you're blaming the people these vampires feed from?

My worst AirBnb experience was a bait and switch. A different unit in the same building. A lot smaller unit mind you. The host wouldn't agree but sharing pictures with Airbnb, they ruled in my favor and refunded half(after AirBnb service charges).

wow... they would not even refund in full. Classy way to handle issues in your platform Airbnb.

It seems the big thing Airbnb should be verifying is the fake "hosts", where an LLC is renting out a dozen units or more in a city as a business, but then lying to the customer that they are renting "Jack and Judy's flat".

Okay, are they planning an IPO or are they planning to get bought? I'd guess IPO. Otherwise increasing amount of rentals would probably be more important than making sure everything is legally air tight.

When will Airbnb ban hidden cameras?

They already do. Kindof. If you don’t put it in your listing, you can be banned. Or so I’ve heard.

The fact they didn't already is frankly shocking. Imagine turning up at a random house the other side of the world and being scammed.

Anyone read the updated article? Clinton applauds twitter for banning political ads and encourages facebook to do the same.. All this does is shift all of the power to those that can buy the mainstream media outlets

The link is bad.

Yeah link not working for me either.

this will make a lot of listings go away, specially if you have to wait for them to come and verify

Is this just a secret shopper?

Is airbnb still a thing ?

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