Today, I’m wanting to chat about something I used to love, but have found myself feeling not so great about lately: AirBnb. I’m from the Nashville, Tennessee area, where bachelorette parties flock in by the plane full each weekend to celebrate their upcoming nuptials. Many of these parties rely on AirBnb (or other short term rental platforms) to host their stay. Because of this demand for short term rentals, some serious gentrification is occurring. Families who have depended on their rental properties for years are suddenly being out-priced, forced out, or having to move for other reasons. Housing that is on the market is becoming harder to afford (if it can even be found) and a real housing crisis is occurring.
I recently posted a thread about this in our Girls Who Travel Facebook group and found that I am not alone! Cities like Amsterdam, Portland, Medellín, Toronto, Barcelona, and countless others are experiencing the same problems that Nashville is. It’s almost as if AirBnb is creating an entire new wave of urban gentrification that is harming the cities that many listings occur in. If you aren’t aware of the AirBnb gentrification issue, I urge you to take a few moments and give this article a read.
While this is a clear negative aspect of AirBnb, the platform also has many positive aspects. AirBnb’s use fewer greenhouse gases than traditional hotels, are often more affordable, and can allow families to make a little bit of extra income. This platform is likely not going away any time soon, so how can we ensure that we are using it in a way that doesn’t harm the cities we’re staying in? Luckily, many of the women in our Girls Who Travel community had some fantastic tips for staying in AirBnbs in an ethical way.
NOTE: Throughout this piece, I’m discussing ways to stay in short-term rentals ethically. I use the term “AirBnb” because it is the most common short-term rental platform, but these guidelines also apply to sites like Booking.com, VRBO, Expedia Vacation Rentals, and all other short-term rental platforms.
Know Your Host
I cannot stress this enough! While AirBnb started out as a way to help hosts make a bit of extra money renting out their homes, rental companies quickly started flooding the market. These companies often buy up local listings or manage properties listed on the platform. Basically, this is the main cause of gentrification related to AirBnb.
This is where knowing who your host is comes in.
You can easily visit a hosts profile and see their other listings (usually as “guidebooks” for multiple homes). If they have more than a few at different locations around the city, then they are probably a member of an AirBnb management company. Also, you can read the listing description. If the host says that they won’t be available to communicate with you once you’re in the city, but so-and-so is, it’s possible that they’re using one of the management companies. I really recommend only staying with hosts who have one home listed.
Stay in Shared Listings
Remember how I was just talking about those groups that buy entire houses to rent out? One way to avoid supporting those groups is by staying in shared listings. Shared listings are typically an extra room, entire floor, or even an entire guesthouse on a local family’s property that they rent out to make a little extra money.
By staying in shared listings, you’re supporting that family. You can often experience a more authentic side of the city, as these families are usually more than happy to share their favorite spots in the city!
Of course, there are those who exploit shared listings by listing multiple rooms in the same house separately. This is where knowing your host comes back into play, as you can check all of their listings.
Know the Local Laws
With the housing crises occurring in places with many AirBnb listings, it’s not surprising that cities are regulating and, in some cases, banning AirBnb listings. AirBnb even has a page on the “Become a Homes Host” section of their site outlining what some of those regulations might be. What AirBnb doesn’t do very often, though, is remove illegal listings from their site. In fact, AirBnb has gone on the record multiple times and stated that they aren’t responsible for vetting to see if listings are legal. They even keep listings up in zip codes where short-term rentals are banned entirely. When cities demand listings are removed, AirBnb often drags their feet in getting those listings down. It’s not pretty.
This means that users are responsible for making sure the places that they’re staying are legal.
Knowing the legalities requires a bit of research. I usually do a simple Google search “city + AirBnb” to see what pops up. There’s usually at least one article outlining any laws that hosts should be following if the city or country restricts the platform in any way. If the city requires some sort of permit, I’ll make sure that the listing has a proper permit attached. If the city says that the host has to be on site, I’ll message the host to make sure this is the case. Make sure you know the listing is legit.
When it comes down to it, it is the users who have to hold platforms like AirBnb accountable. Speak with government representatives about how AirBnb is impacting your community or a community that you’ve traveled to. If you know a listing is illegal, report it to local law enforcement. Leave honest reviews of places you stay if hosts have profiles that check all the legal boxes, but listings that don’t. It’s users responsibility to ensure that these gentrification practices come to an end, before the cities they’re happening in are changed forever.
About KB: Originally from Kentucky, Katie-Beth Gamblin is a freelance writer and the blogger behind Her Life in Ruins. KB is a trained archaeologist, lover of history, and passionate traveler. When she’s not on the road, you can find her hanging out with her dog, Indiana Jones.