Tourism & Cruises

Airbnb bans ‘party houses’ after California killings. Miami Beach mayor welcomes move

Airbnb plans to rid the short-term rental website of “party houses,” the CEO announced after five people died in a shooting at an Airbnb party house outside of San Francisco on Halloween night.

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said in a series of tweets that the company will crack down on such rentals, marking a shift away from the company’s standard posture of declining to police the site’s content.

A spokesman for Airbnb declined to comment on what the crackdown will look like in Miami Beach. The city has the highest number of Airbnbs per capita in the country and is appealing a recent court decision weakening its enforcement.

Chesky said Airbnb will ramp up manual screening of reservations marked as high risk, create a party house rapid response team, remove users who violate the policy against party houses, and task executive Margaret Richardson, a former Justice Department official, to oversee the effort.

“We must do better, and we will. This is unacceptable,” Chesky said in a tweet.

The Halloween party at the four-bedroom house in Orinda, California, was widely promoted as a “mansion party,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Residents of the quiet neighborhood began making noise complaints at 9 Thursday night. Police officers were on their way to the house when shooting started just before 11 p.m. The five victims were 19 to 29.

Some residents are calling on city leaders to respond by temporarily banning short-term rentals.

But banning short term rentals is no easy task. Just ask Miami Beach, which imposed the highest fines in the country for illegal short term rentals — $20,000 per offense — in 2016 only to see a judge overturn the fine structure this year. Miami Beach prohibits rentals of six months or less in most residential areas, but allows them in a few sections of the city. Hosts are required to obtain a business license and resort tax registration certificate.

Airbnb has long claimed that the company is not responsible for policing the content of its site under the Communications Decency Act, which prevents websites from being held responsible for content on their platforms. The listings on its site constitute “third-party content,” Airbnb has said, and the company is prohibited from monitoring, altering, prohibiting or removing it.

Of the thousands of entire homes offered on the site in Miami Beach, several promote themselves as “party houses” or include comments from guests about suitability for parties.

Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said he welcomes the company’s crackdown.

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“I think we’re getting well past the point where these platforms can claim that their hands are clean,” he said. “They know precisely where they are renting and who they are renting to. They should take it upon themselves to do the right thing and affirmatively police their website.”

Tuesday is the deadline for Airbnb and other short-term rental sites to comply with Miami Beach’s most recent vacation rental ordinance that requires listings on the site to display their business tax receipt numbers. Only hosts in areas the city has designated as legal for short-term rentals can obtain business licenses.

During a Miami Beach code compliance raid in March, the Miami Herald found several apartments illegally rented on competing short-term rental sites that displayed fraudulent business tax receipt numbers. Airbnb said the website will provide a field for hosts to enter their business tax receipt number, but will not ensure the number is real.

Gelber said hosts who display fake business tax receipt numbers will face jail time.

“I suspect if we arrest a few people in this, it will very quickly chill the misconduct,” he said. “And we will, by the way.”

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Taylor Dolven covers the tourism industry at the Miami Herald, where she aims to tell stories about the people who work in tourism and the people who enjoy it. Previously, she worked at Vice News in Brooklyn, NY, where she won a Front Page Award from the Newswomen’s Club of NY for a national investigation of police shootings.
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