Since 2008, Airbnb has offered affordable accommodations, owned privately by individuals, in cities across the world. The company created a platform for homeowners to rent out rooms or entire homes for people to stay in temporarily, allowing the owners to operate like a hotel. The renters book the visit through the website, and the acceptance or rejection of the visit is up to the homeowner.
In May 2016, a discrimination claim was filed against Airbnb after a renter was denied accommodation by a host due to the renter’s race. Soon, other Airbnb renters began to share their stories of discrimination from hosts. It wasn't long until Airbnb faced backlash from the community.
To end user discrimination, in September 2016 Airbnb created a new policy that renters and hosts must follow or face suspension/termination from Airbnb. The policy is an inclusive and broad policy that considers U.S. law and the variations within each jurisdiction. The policy is patterned after anti-discrimination laws.
So what do hosts need to know about their new policy? What do renters need to know?
What Do Hosts Need to Know?
Under Airbnb's new policy, hosts cannot decline accommodation on the basis of race/color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, and marital status. There are a few exceptions to the policy, such as:
- A host has a right to pick a renter of the same gender if the host will share common spaces (I.E. bathroom) with the renter.
- If allowed by the host's local law, may refuse to rent to individuals with pets or who smoke.
- If a host maintains something like a kosher or vegetarian environment, then they can refuse accommodation to an individual who will not maintain it.
- A host may accurately describe accessibility in the accommodation, but the renter must determine if the unit will fit their needs.
While hosts are free to turn down guests for any valid reason, Airbnb encourages hosts to do all they can to welcome all renters. If any host shows a pattern of rejecting renters from a “protected class,” then Airbnb may suspend the host’s account. If any host violates Airbnb’s anti-discrimination policy, then Airbnb can suspend the host’s account and use any required “steps to enforce this policy.”
What Do Renters Need to Know?
If a renter faces discrimination from a host, then they should report the discrimination to Airbnb. But as noted above, a renter will not be protected by anti-discrimination laws if the renter:
- Wishes to bring a pet (disability accommodation aside)
- Will not be able to respect something like a kosher or vegetarian environment
- Requires accommodations that the unit cannot provide
But sometimes, the difference between protected and non-protected is a fine line. For example, maintaining a kosher kitchen is a Jewish tradition. But if a renter was denied accommodation for not being able to maintain a kosher kitchen, it does not mean that the renter was denied because they are not Jewish.
Yet denying accommodation solely because the renter is or is not Jewish, would be a violation of Airbnb’s anti-discrimination policy. But how can Airbnb determine if the renter was discriminated or if they were lawfully denied accommodation?
The Policy is Broad and General to be Inclusive, But That Makes it Harder to Implement
Airbnb uses the words “inclusion and respect” to describe the ultimate goal of their policy. But to achieve full inclusion and respect, Airbnb must examine and decide the outcome on every filed complaint.
They will need to ensure that each unique case results in a consistent outcome, to reach their goal of “inclusion and respect.” Since the complaints will vary in circumstances and facts, each complaint would be addressed on a case-by-case basis. It is not clear how Airbnb plans on handling complaints, but the nature of the policy shows how difficult it will be to enforce.
In the end, only time will tell if Airbnb’s new policy will curb or end renter discrimination.
Authored by Janice Lim, LegalMatch Legal Writer