get in or get out

Airbnb is enforcing a strict new anti-discrimination policy for hosts

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Effective November 1st, home-sharing startup Airbnb is requiring all users sign to a “Community Commitment,” an attempt to foster a more inclusive community following months of scrutiny and allegations of racism. Sent to all Airbnb users via email, the commitment seeks to battle the allegation that pre-existing policies allow hosts to tacitly discriminate against potential renters, either by declining guests based on profile photos or for having “black” sounding names.

The commitment requires all Airbnb users to “treat everyone in the Airbnb community—regardless of their race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or age—with respect, and without judgment or bias.” Per Airbnb’s anti-discrimination report released in early September, hosts who decline to adhere to this commitment are barred from using the service altogether.

Here are the some of the new rules they’re implementing:

  • Race, Ethnicity and Origin
    Hosts can neither decline, nor impose different conditions for guests based on their identity, listed as: race, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status. Hosts can be flagged for making statements in their listing that indicate any preferences for or against guests because of their identity.
  • Gender
    Hosts are allowed to decline guests based on gender, but only if they’re personally sharing living spaces with the guest and prefer someone of their own gender.
  • Disability/Accessibility
    Hosts cannot decline guests based on disability, nor impose different conditions for a guest with disability. Hosts may not refuse or discourage communicating with guests via accessibility technology, i.e. “relay operators (for people with hearing impairments) and e-mail (for people with vision impairments using screen readers).”

Accompanying the commitment is a lengthy blog post detailing the specifics of the new pledge to prevent hosts from discriminating against guests. Airbnb says it “appreciates that local laws and cultural norms vary around the world,” but still expects hosts to uphold the spirit of the commitment and allow for guests regardless, “even when [hosts’] views may not reflect their beliefs or upbringings.” What’s most striking is that these commitments are being implemented worldwide, across countless cultural norms, and do not make exceptions for religious beliefs. From the site’s FAQ:

I have strong religious beliefs that do not allow me to host LGBTQ guests. What should I do?

Hosts may not decline guests based on their sexual orientation. While your views may be different than those of your guests, please remember that being an Airbnb host does not require that you endorse all of your guests’ beliefs, but simply that you respect the fact that such differences exist and be inclusive despite the differences.

Interestingly, Airbnb acknowledges that hosts who offer legitimate reasons for declining a guest (poor reviews, smoking, pets, etc.) can use those as a guise for denying people of color or LGBT folk. The commitment warns that they “may suspend hosts who have demonstrated such a pattern from the Airbnb platform,” seemingly implying that guest rejections are tracked and analyzed by the company. We’ve reached out to Airbnb for clarification, and will update this post if we hear back.

The commitment is only one part a larger anti-discrimination overhaul at Airbnb. Online unconscious bias training will be available beginning November 1 and the product team has considered making guests’ profile photos viewable only after booking. There will also be a rule against hosts canceling reservations and then re-renting spaces to others, a response to how some black guests have reported being accepted, then retroactively rejected, over white guests.

An email about this new policy comes on the heels of Airbnb releasing its own diversity numbers. The company is now requiring that all candidate pools for senior level positions include at least one woman or person of color, and there will be anti-bias training required for all employees.