Five people were killed at an Airbnb house party on Halloween this year. This incident resurfaced the ongoing debate about safety in peer-to-peer rental lodging. Is Airbnb more dangerous than hotels? Should you think twice about booking an Airbnb for your next trip?
Hotels are subject to regulations about things like fire detectors. But Airbnbs are not subject to the same laws. In theory, Airbnb properties are governed by other safety regulations. This includes home owners insurance rules, and city and state laws. The regulations that help ensure safety in a home should benefit short-term rentals of these homes. But they don’t always work. A few years ago there was a lot of talk about one man’s death at an Airbnb house. The accident happened on a rope swing in the back yard. I’m not sure any regulations could have prevented that death.
Hotels vs. Airbnb Safety
According to a San Francisco Chronicle story, 42 people have been shot at short-term rental properties in the months between May and October. 17 of those people died. This is too many shootings. But is this specifically a problem with Airbnb properties?
Airbnb reports: “Between August 1, 2018 and July 31, 2019, 0.05 percent of trips on Airbnb had a safety-related issue reported by a host or guest.” On average, two million people stay in Airbnbs per night. Not everyone stays solo, so that reflects 800,000 stays per night. Lots of people using Airbnb adds up to a lot of safety incidents, even if the percentage is super low.
I couldn’t find any comparable data on hotel safety. Probably because it’s not collected in any systematic way. Airbnb is unique in the single platform for all the bookings. I did find some data on New York City hotels. In 2015 there were 2,223 hotel crimes reported city-wide. That included 81 felony assaults and 255 third-degree assaults. There were just over 100,000 hotel rooms in NYC in 2015. Does that seem high to you? That’s a 2% crime rate per room. I don’t have a good way to make this comparable to the Airbnb “safety-related issues” statistic. But it seems like Airbnb is on par with society in general.
What should Airbnb do?
In response to the halloween house party tragedy Airbnb declared their intention to ban “party houses.” The company also rolled out some additional safety measures including stricter property verification, and a hotline for neighbors to call in concerns. It seems bad publicity does inspire Airbnb to take some positive actions. Whether or not these actions will have an impact on safety remains to be seen. But in the mean time I’d like to see all industries releasing more data publicly. Having access to information about safety in peer to peer lodging as well as hotels and other vacation lodging will make it possible to assess risk scientifically. Decisions about safety measures should be driven by data and not public relations.