Airbnb vows to crack down on party houses, but some don’t believe they can.
Airbnb responded swiftly after five people between the ages of 19 and 29 were shot and killed at a notorious party house rental in Orinda, Calif.
CEO and co-founder Brian Chesky on Saturday took to Twitter to announce that within 10 days, Airbnb would review and accelerate new initiatives to end “party houses.”
The decision resonates throughout the country, and especially in Palm Beach County, where transient and vacation rentals from online companies such as Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO abound.
Chesky promised swift action against hosts and guests who abuse the new rules and said Airbnb would expand manual screening of high-risk reservations as flagged by the company’s information technology team.
He also committed to forming a “party house rapid response team.”
What exactly that looks like and how it might work has not been answered. Chesky provided no details and Airbnb did not respond to a request for more information.
“My take on why they are not providing details is because they can’t,” said Wellington Town Manager Paul Schofield. “They don’t do a great deal of background checking on anybody.”
Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputies in July broke up a party in Wellington after hundreds of teens, some of whom paid $5 each to attend, spilled out onto nearby lawns and parked in private driveways.
Dozens of neighbors complained about alcohol, drugs and noise. One person was arrested. Schofield reported “significant” damage to the residence.
It would no doubt be a herculean task to monitor every Airbnb rental. The company reports that more than 2 million people stay in Airbnb units every night.
Until now, raging get-togethers were typically no more than a nuisance — something neighbors had to bear if they had the misfortune of living near a party house.
But with the recent slayings, the spotlight is now on Airbnb to make sure a tragedy is not repeated.
The best line of defense against party houses may be the commitment of community members to report them, said PBSO spokeswoman Teri Barbera.
“We only enforce rules, we don’t make rules,” Barbera said. “If someone sees young kids, and if they are concerned a homeowner is not there, they should definitely contact local law enforcement.”
Barbera said it is the landlord’s responsibility to know their renters. But that can be difficult, if not impossible, for the many homes on Airbnb that are rented sight unseen from offsite landlords.
It also assumes that landlords care if renters throw parties.
A google search of “Airbnb party house” results in pages of suggestions for homes that are expressly marketed as party houses.
A current Airbnb rental in Delray Beach that is listed for $1,750 a night says it sleeps “27+” and is a “perfect place” for bachelorette and holiday parties.
A West Palm Beach house listed on Airbnb for $660 per night says it sleeps “16+” and is available for events, weddings or retreats. The owners even offer to coordinate parties for an additional fee.
The list goes on. Some landlords tempt renters with promises of party lights, speaker systems, extra chairs and even security and limo services.
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For those who live near Airbnb party houses, the Orinda shooting, while heartbreaking, is not necessarily surprising.
Large parties can spiral out of control as swarms of partygoers, often under the influence of alcohol and drugs, end up in fights.
Music can be heard blocks away and neighbors must contend with piles of trash and bottles spewed up and down the street.
Some charge admission
But for hosts, party houses bring big money.
The reputation of a good party house spreads quickly via social media. And hosts, who sometimes charge admission, are ready to cash in.
Homes in foreclosure are particularly susceptible. Landlords don’t care if renters trash the house, because the goal is simply to generate as much income as possible before eviction.
Even tenants can cash in. While often prohibited by Airbnb rules or lease agreement, tenants, who are renters themselves, sometimes sublet. In fact, entire web pages are dedicated to advising tenants the best ways to get around restrictions.
While Airbnb grapples with how to prevent another tragedy, entrepreneurs on Facebook already are talking about how Airbnb’s crackdown will open up opportunities for someone new to take over the “party house” space.
To crack down on party houses, Wellington officials say they are committed to ensuring Airbnb hosts are properly registered and pay bed taxes.
Schofield said he has little faith Airbnb’s “party house rapid response team” will add up to much.
“I don’t know how they can do it,” he said. “Organizations like Airbnb, where there is so much anonymity, open themselves up to it. They don’t really know the people who are putting their houses up for rent or the people who are renting them.”