AirB ‘n Bullsh%#

Who’s that stranger in your neighbor’s pool? What’s the deal with the new cars in the driveway? Is home-sharing legal, even? Your rights as an Airbnb neighbor, plus links to info you may need — especially with what’s happening on Ainslie… 

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Have you heard of AirBnb? Maybe not: in a recent Pew survey of Americans, about half were not aware of the home-sharing service that’s created a whole new travel niche, and is quite possibly changing the world.

Launched in 2008, Airbnb connects hosts who want to share their homes with guests who are looking for a short-term place to stay (like a weekend or vacation). Airbnb lists the property, connects the two parties, and collects a booking fee.  With dozens of rental properties sprinkled throughout our neighborhood, East Falls is finally experiencing some backlash.

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Enter Tova Tenenbaum. We knew her first as “Lolly’s mom” on our Pack Walks when she lived on Sunnyside, and then we were invited to her “mini house warming party” last Spring — everyone brought miniature-sized food to celebrate her tidy little new home on upper Ainslie (I think we brought fun-sized chocolate bars). A very cool thing, a single woman in her 20’s buying her own home.

Initially, all was well with her neighbors but then around 7am on a Monday morning earlier this Summer, someone noticed an elderly man reading a newspaper on her porch. Suspicions arose: Who is this guy? Why is he here?

Over the following weeks, Tova’s neighbors observed a few other “strangers” visiting her house. Eventually, someone figured out maybe she was home-sharing, and found her Airbnb profile. Last month, her neighbor politely confronted Tova with this information, and let her know the other families on the block were not comfortable with her opening her house up to people on the internet.

This was a residential area — a family block, with children running around. She was putting everyone at risk, inviting strangers here.

EastFallsLocal Tova airbnb listing DEACTIVATED

Oh no! Tova de-activated her listing but now worries the damage may be done: she feels a new frostiness on her block ever since. To be fair, though, one of her Airbnb guests accidentally parked in the house nextdoor’s driveway, d’oh.

She moved her car as soon as Tova asked her to, but still. Accidents will happen when visitors are new to the area — and they can cause all kinds of headaches for neighbors. The guy nextdoor didn’t know how long he wouldn’t have a parking spot.

Who can’t empathize, especially on a block where parking is a premium? Peacefulness is also valued here, and security.

What’s to stop Tova’s visitors from throwing a party or trashing the street or casing everyone’s house when they’re at work? Who’s to say the “guests” she’s finding online aren’t thieves and murderers and molesters of all kinds?

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Turns out: Airbnb — they have a system of safeguards they’re always refining.

They verify all users’ IDs, plus they also do background checks on hosts & guests. Anyone can report issues on Airbnb’s Neighbor Complaints page for both anonymous claims and help solving & mediating home-sharing concerns of all kinds.

TRUE STORY:  Airbnb has been legal in Philly since 2015, and we’ve got about a hundred short-term rental properties right here in East Falls.

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Surprised? So were we. Even Tova raised her eyebrows  — and she’s not only an Airbnb host, but a guest who’s been using the service for years. Who would imagine East Falls was such a popular area for visitors to Philadelphia?

Tova’s guests were most frequently teachers and students from either nearby Philly U or Drexel Medicine. She also has hosted old neighbors returning to visit friends or family. And the gentleman on her porch who first caught her neighbors’ attention was actually a long-time homeowner around the corner — he and his wife now rent out their house to pre-med students, and once a year they come back for a week to pay taxes, do maintenance, etc.

Tova wasn’t a host for the money, but rather the company:  meeting new people, playing host, sharing the cool stuff she loves about East Falls. When she travels, she has incredible experiences at other Airbnbs, and she likes to return the hospitality.

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Tova’s even tagged along when one of her guests was looking for a house — he’s moving to East Falls next month to teach at PhillyU. Another guest liked Tova’s street so much, she’s now living a few doors up after relocating from Vermont earlier this Summer. She told us that “absolutely,” staying with Tova was a big factor in deciding to live here when she accepted a teaching position (also PhillyU).

Home-sharing can not only attract new residents, but in Japan it invigorated a small, nondescript city in the middle of nowhere with enterprise, and created a cottage tourist industry. Co-founder Joe Gebbia describes in a TED Talk from earlier this year how Airbnb has actually been designed with social change in mind.

The Airbnb community, he says, has the power to influence social bias, to counter natural human instincts to distrust new people and experiences. Sharing your home is a leap of faith; even just listing your property requires photos of your most intimate spaces: bathrooms, bedrooms, pantries and closets…

Home-sharing cultivates bonds across race/class/religious divides thanks to admirable human qualities like trust, acceptance, honor, gratitude, generosity, and curiosity. Users learn from each other’s stories, the most powerful way humans relate. And quite a reliable way to size each other up.

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For Tova, reviews played a huge part in deciding whether to accept an Airbnb guest or not — she could view the user’s entire history, and read personal, detailed accounts from other hosts, written for other hosts. She’d also email back & forth with potential guests and get to know them before their stay.

“I’m a single woman, I can’t take chances,” she told us, If anything felt off, or if the guest didn’t have any reviews at all, I’d decline. I had to feel like I was welcoming a friend. This is my home, I am not running a hotel.”

Boom, that’s the main issue of contention when cities fight back against Airbnb: instead of home-share, the service promotes vacant rental properties owned by commercial landlords who are making a killing by operating what amounts to illegal, unregulated hotels in residential areas,  Particularly big, touristy cities like NYC, Paris, London, San Fran, and LA, where hotel rates are sky-high and affordable housing is scarce.

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Despite rule-breakers in aggressive markets, most Airbnbs are private homeowners like Tova. The vast majority  of overall users advertise only one listing — and Airbnb will bounce commercial landlords if they find them. Every day this year, 785,000 Airbnb users in 191 countries stay in a stranger’s home or welcome one into theirs. With 2+ years’ experience, fantastic ratings, and no complaints ever, Tova was the ideal Airbnb host and an ambassador for East Falls.

Aside from the one parking snafu, Tova’s guests have been model citizens, respecting the “House Rules” included in her listing. Perhaps most importantly, she only hosted when she could be around to make sure everything went smoothly (and to enjoy her company). But big nope from her neighbors, anyway. Not here, thanks.

Seems a shame. What’s that say about a neighborhood, where folks’ll shut down a source of fun, community, and even commerce despite any problems or issues or even a real conversation?

How ironic, too: although Airbnb is engineered to quell “stranger danger” impulses between hosts & guests, home-share can have the opposite effect on neighbors. Especially those who aren’t familiar with all the standards and safeguards, or even aware that people are traveling this way now.

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Fearing the unknown is no way to live! Combat limiting primal influences with knowledge and reasoned judgement. Handy links below, annotated for your convenience. We’d also love to hear from neighbors on Ainslie, and any locals who’ve had good or bad home-sharing experiences — this phenomenon only seems to be growing* (please comment below or email us privately).

AIRBNB READING LIST

My Neighbor is a Host:  Airbnb explains trust & safety guidelines, plus links to Help Center and related articles.

Airbnb neighbor complaint form: Choose from the drop-down list of issues, and they’ll put you in contact with the host and help mediate a solution -or- keep you anonymous & investigate your claims.

Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr:  Check local regulations or voice your opinion in his contact form.

Airbnb rentals in East Falls:  Since properties are listed (and taken off) every day, the number of available rooms here fluctuates.

Questions to Ask Any Airbnb Host:  Almost exclusively, home-sharing horror stories concern commercial landlords, often absent from the property. This list of questions can help ferret out these bad apples. (Nextcity.org, July 28, 2016)

The New Digital Economy: Current stats and research on how Americans are navigating new business models of the “shared economy” like Uber, Kickstarter, and Airbnb. (Pew Research Center, May 19, 2016)

Airbnb & Urban Planning: Earlier this month, the home-share giant created a city planning lab in Japan where they aim to redesign modern small towns, using the data they’ve gained from user preferences for features and amenities. (Fast Company, August 2, 2016)

Why is Everyone Cracking Down on Airbnb:  CNN Money report from June this year on how home-share is creating a housing crisis for many major cities. (CNN Money, June 23, 2016)

Love Thy Airbnb Host Neighbor:  Instead of cracking down, cities can explore enormous potential for tourism, commerce, and community. (Voice of San Diego, February 17, 2015)

How Airbnb’s ‘Neighborhoods’ Feature Can Revive Local Economies: Users can discover authentic travel experiences thanks to pics, tags, and links from neighborhood “experts” steering guests to local business. (Fast Company, November 13, 2012)

Airbnb Anaylist: Explains the crucial difference between host-resident “private room” rentals vs host-absent “entire place” rentals — plus tons of stats & resources to inform both sides of the argument. (Blog at the-airbnb-analyst.com)

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*source, TED Talk

6 Comments

  • Brian

    I find it surprising that in an area that has so much student renters in it would have such a problem with Airbnb as part of the mix. I would much rather Airbnb renters than students on my street.

  • Truly Saddened By This

    Puleeze. Any neighbor who makes up their own rules – “we don’t think you should host an Air Bnb in your home” – and then tries to impose them on other neighbors – is the problem. That behavior’s not neighborly, and shouldn’t be catered to. Tova, you should reactivate your Air Bnb if that’s what you want to do, and tell your neighbors if they’re so worried about strangers in their neighborhood they should move to a gated community.

  • Joyce Brady

    When we first moved to East Falls (before we had children) we rented out our one spare room on AirBnB. We had these two lovely German students stay with us. We ended up hanging with them the whole weekend and gave them a tour around Philly. Great experiences as a host and renter. I am all about Airbnb!

  • Denise

    Sad that some people in East Falls can’t embrace worldliness. I’m all about block harmony but if my neighbor said I couldn’t have visitors, I would tell them to pound sand. Tova is well within her rights as a homeowner.

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