Airbnb Updates Rental Policy In Effort To Fight Discrimination By Hosts

In an effort to ensure that anyone who wants to rent a place to stay through Airbnb can do so without fear of being rejected based on their race, religion, gender, ethnicity, age, or disability, the company has updated its short-term rental policy to add some new anti-discrimination measures.

Airbnb published a 32-page report [PDF] today outlining the changes, after critics called out the company for making it all too easy for hosts to deny potential renters they might have a problem with. For example, in July there was the story of a Texas man who said he was refused a room rental when the host realized he was gay. In December, as The New York Times points out, Harvard University researchers released a working paper that found guests with African-American-sounding had a harder time renting rooms through Airbnb.

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky admits that the company has been “slow to address these problems.”

“Discrimination is the opposite of belonging, and its existence on our platform jeopardizes this core mission. Bias and discrimination have no place on Airbnb, and we have zero tolerance for them,” Chesky wrote in a letter to the Airbnb community. “Unfortunately, we have been slow to address these problems, and for this I am sorry. I take responsibility for any pain or frustration this has caused members of our community. We will not only make this right; we will work to set an example that other companies can follow.”

This new policy goes beyond what is contained in several anti-discrimination laws on the books, Airbnb claims. The company will also have users agree to a “community commitment” as of Nov. 1 that asks users to work with others on the platform “regardless of race, religion, national origin, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age.”

Airbnb is also going to figure out a way to make user photos less prominent, as they can help signal race and gender, and speed up the use of instant bookings which let renters grab a place to stay without the host’s prior approval.

In addition to asking users to treat each other like human beings, the company is also changing how it combats bias from within: there’s a new permanent team of engineers tasked with rooting out bias, and all discrimination complaints will now be routed to a group of trained specialists.

To help with this process, Airbnb brought in some experienced advisers, many of whom worked on compiling the new report, the NYT notes: Laura Murphy, a former director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington legislative office, a former United States attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr.; and John Relman, a civil rights attorney based in Washington.

“While Airbnb did not accept all of the recommendations we offered, they did thoughtfully consider them, and this report is evidence of that,” Wade Henderson, president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which advised on the report, tells the NYT.

Airbnb Adopts Rules in Effort to Fight Discrimination by Its Hosts [The New York Times]