Read on esquire.com
I don’t really know what to make of Airbnb anymore. I literally stayed in an Airbnb over the weekend. I was browsing Airbnb options for a friend’s wedding just this morning. Airbnb makes sense.
It makes sense, at least, to a portion of the population: Instagram obsessed, adventurous BUT NOT TOO ADVENTUROUS, expendable-income-having white folk. Airbnb is turn-key cool. “We went upstate,” you tell your friends. “But we stayed in a cabin on a pond with no indoor plumbing, and there were guinea hens wandering the grounds, Oh, and there was an outhouse with a scoop and a bucket of mulch. It was like a litter box!”
All of that is true, and it was all allegedly charming. Let me just skip the part about that large spider with visible brown hair that I killed early Saturday morning. I didn’t mention that to the host, either, because I wanted her to give me a good guest rating. You know, so I’d have an easier time booking future Airbnbs.
Airbnb is the $25 billion middle man that markets itself as removing the middle man. Why stay at a Best Western when you can live like a local? One good reason is that Best Western can’t deny you a bed and free HBO based on the color of your skin.
Today The New York Times notes that Airbnb’s 34-year-old CEO Brian Chesky has made a vow “to root out bigotry from his business.” Of course, those who rent out their lofts and lakeside Airstreams on Airbnb are not actually Chesky’s employees. And those of us who rent said properties aren’t really Chesky’s customers, either. If we were, we’d be able to participate in class action lawsuits, the mere threat of which, according to the Times, Airbnb has successfully stonewalled as part of its updated terms of service. You can sue Starbucks for not filling your latte, or McCormick for skimping on the pepper. Right this very minute, you can score free tickets to Darius Rucker (lol) from Ticketmaster as part of a class action settlement.
But Airbnb is different, because Airbnb (and Uber, etc.) is the Silicon Valley dream realized—the dream that eschews rules and regulations and industry standards in the name of disruption. London cabbies have to train for four years before they’re allowed on the road; I had a speeding Uber X driver last week who was maybe 24? The system works!
Zak Stone’s father died in an Airbnb. Nearly two years ago, Jessica Pressler wrote about New Yorkers’ woes with this hot newish rental service, summed up in a saucy-quote-turned-headline:“The Dumbest Person In Your Building Is Passing Out Keys to Your Front Door!” Any day now Airbnb is about to become more illegal in the state of New York than it was last week,pending a signature from Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Keep in mind that it’s already illegal to rent out your property for less than 29 days at a time, because of basic laws about what constitutes a hotel. But also because when you’re paying money to stay somewhere, you deserve a working smoke detector, or some semblance of security. As do your neighbors, who signed their leases without the intention of being an accomplice to your illegal hotel scheme.
That’s where the guilt comes in.
I am happy and grateful to be able to afford to take vacation this summer, even just a 48-hour weekend trip to somewhere that will let me “live like a local.” The thing is, you almost always get more for your money in an Airbnb than a hotel. More is good! But what about those neighbors and townsfolk who never agreed to this, and to whom Airbnb owes literally nothing?
The basement apartment in my old walk-up was a permanent Airbnb. The greasy surrogate of my all-but-invisible landlord even outright called that unit “the Airbnb.” He had nothing to hide because it’s become such a hard thing to enforce. Even these new rules—increasing fines of $1,000 to $7,500—are a total joke compared to the amount of money you can turn on strategically renting out a property you probably don’t even own.
That roadside Best Western is not a tree house, and the bath soap is not artisanal, and the coffee is closer to motor oil than freshly ground fair trade. But when something shitty happens, someone will take responsibility for it. You won’t think twice about calling the front desk to report a large hairy spider. It is an old, antiquated, non-disrupted idea—but at least it’s a fair one.