Wednesday, June 21, 2023

They Bought a House With Plans to Airbnb. Then They Were Banned for Knowing the Wrong People

by Maxwell Strachan

June 7, 2023, 1:21pm

Kristin Turner’s first few months as an Airbnb host had gone off without a hitch. She and her husband had purchased a home in Austin, Texas, in 2022 as a place to stay when they commuted into the city to work at a downtown trauma center, where they are both nurses.


To make the constant travel more bearable, they started to look into buying a home in Austin proper, but found the housing prices too high for them to afford on their own. 

“So we said, ‘Well, let's look into buying a house in Austin as a place that we can stay part time and rent out other times,’” she said.

In July, they closed on a three-bedroom home, planning to put it on short-term rental sites like Airbnb. One month later, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said recruiting more hosts was the company’s top priority as it tried to meet demand for rental properties and reduce nightly costs. The company regularly advertises the benefits of putting one’s home on the platform.


Then, one night last October, Turner received an email that changed everything. It was from a member of the Airbnb team who identified herself only as “Eleanor,” saying that the company had decided to remove her from the platform not because of her own behavior, but because her account had been “closely associated with a person who isn’t allowed to use Airbnb.” 


Turner was shocked and devastated. Soon enough, all her home’s bookings had been deleted and she could not get into her account. The potential consequences were clear. She had purchased a home on the idea that she would rent it out to help cover the mortgage, and now  the company that dominated the short-term rental market had suddenly and permanently banned her from doing so. Immediately, she began to fear that her family would face financial ruin. She didn’t sleep for the rest of the night.

For a decade now, Airbnb has had background checks performed on its users in hopes of making the platform as safe as possible for both hosts and guests. The checks, which are carried out by a third-party service that claims to complete them on average in less than a second, have been criticized for their arbitrary nature as people fight bans for infractions as small as not keeping a dog leashed, or, in Turner’s case, knowing the wrong people.


Hoping to overturn the ban, Turner wrote back to ask for additional information, but Eleanor replied only to say the company had given her “case and its details careful consideration” and was unwilling to reverse the decision or even offer “additional support.”


Airbnb had not provided her with the association that had led to the ban, so she was left to try and piece together what had happened herself.


Recently, she had tried to help her 70-year-old mother, Janet, and her mother’s partner, Carl, find a new place to stay after their landlord revealed plans to renovate the building and push renters out.

Janet, who lives on a fixed income and has a disability, was having trouble finding a new place. The week she had to leave, Turner suggested they look on Airbnb for a month-long rental. While at the hospital visiting a family member, Turner decided to set up an account for them. Because Janet didn’t have her ID on her, Turner set up the account under Carl’s name, using his phone, email, and ID information.

Shortly afterward, Carl received an email informing him that he was not allowed to be an Airbnb user because of information that had surfaced on a background check. The report, which Motherboard reviewed, showed that Carl had been convicted of two non-violent offenses in 2015 and 2016—theft and drug possession, which Turner said she had been unaware of.


[Kristin was not able to contact a live human at Airbnb.]

Airbnb has told Motherboard in the past that it knows “no background check system is perfect,” and that it continually tries to make the system “as effective and thoughtful as possible,” including through the appeals process Turner was attempting to use.


She only ever heard back by email, and the responses that she did receive felt automated and often repeated phrases word for word. Airbnb would not even say definitively who Turner had been associated with, only that it was enough to kick her off.


For guests, a ban can be an inconvenience. But for hosts like Turner, the stakes can be much higher. Airbnb’s domination of the market means a robotic ban from the platform is essentially a ban from a large swath of the short-term rental market. Lost income is all but assured.


It was only after Motherboard reached out for comment about the specifics of Turner’s situation that Airbnb decided to reverse its decision and reinstate Turner. Airbnb told Motherboard that it had revisited Turner’s case and determined her association with her mother’s partner was “not close enough” to justify a ban.  No new information was obtained.

Such a series of events has become something of a pattern at Airbnb. A user is banned for a questionable and/or vague reason and then stifled by a customer service representative like “Eleanor” who offers a series of boilerplate explanations. Unable to reach a human with power, they are only reinstated after reaching out to a reporter or going public with their story.


Monday, June 19, 2023

Atlantic Hurricane season off to a fast startf


Mon.  June 19, 2023

Ocean waters are  hitting record highs. Warm water fuels hurricanes. It's possible that it might not mean more hurricanes, because warmer air can also cause more wind shear which tears hurricanes apart. So far, there have been mostly about the same number of hurricanes per season, although we ran out of the 21 hurricane names the list for the year in 2005 and 2020 for the first time in history, and had to start using the Greek alphabet. In 2020 there were 30 named storms in the Atlantic!  So the  World Meteorological Organization now creates a supplemental list of another 21 names for that situation.

What we can be confident about is that the hurricanes that do form will be stronger.

And this year the Atlantic hurricane season is starting a couple of months early.  A couple of days ago a weather system off the coast of Africa started organizing. It quickly organized to a tropical wave.  Today it strengthened from tropical wave at the beginning of the day to tropical depression  three, now tropical storm Bret.  Forecast to become a hurricane by late Wed. or early Thurs.  As fast as it has developed the last few days, I wouldn't be surprised to see it reach hurricane status even earlier. It will be interesting to follow it.  At 2pm, it was still a tropical wave, and they said a tropical depression could form in a couple of days.  Well, three hours later it was tropical depression three, and one hour after that tropical storm Bret.  And there is another tropical wave behind it, which is strengthening.

Weather predictions are based on what happened under similar conditions in the past. Since we are having conditions that have not been seen in the past, predictions will be less accurate.

National Hurricane Center and Central Pacific Hurricane Center web site:

Official Facebook page for the NOAA NWS National Hurricane Center:

On twitter: