AIRBNB & ETHICS – PERHAPS NO GREATER OXYMORON EXISTS


We learned via a Media article today that Airbnb had been paying someone to act as an ethics officer. He’s yet another of Airbnb’s execs that has of late ‘jumped ship’. Ethics and Airbnb - difficult to comprehend, given that Airbnb is synonymous with the piercing objective of circumventing residential zoning, thereby aiding and abetting on a global scale the illegal use of residential housing. In an interview with the Sunday Times, Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky says he recognises the problem and the damage done and will undertake “a really serious audit” that will see the removal of professional landlords. He also gave an assurance that Airbnb will provide legislators with information about the scale and scope of Airbnb listings and transactions, which will help local government authorities penalise unscrupulous operators. One suspects that this ‘pledge’ is as genuine as Airbnb’s guarantee to verify the identity of its reported 150+ million platform users and its mostly illegal operations in some 65,000 cities, to close down deadly ‘party houses’ – now a reported 122 shootings at North American Airbnb homes since May 2019 - to end the racial discrimination, human and drug trafficking associated with its platform, and to deploy a rapid response team when called upon by distressed neighbours.

Airbnb’s Chesky failed to elaborate on what classifies as a ‘professional landlord’, or whether an outfit, such as Melbourne’s Complete Host with 75 Airbnb listings, falls into this category. As of 02 August, Melbourne is under COVID-19 Stage 4 Restrictions. One can travel to work in certain permitted workplaces only and other essential businesses and industries. In terms of necessary goods and services, Melbourne residents are advised: “You can only travel up to 5km from your home. You should stay as close to your home as possible, for example shopping at the nearest supermarket. For some people the nearest essential goods and services will be more than 5km away. In this situation you may travel beyond 5km to the nearest provider.” And, Only one person per household can leave home to get necessary goods and services… Complete Host’s Dan Barker sought advice from fellow Airbnb operatives when some of his contract cleaners showed reluctance after it was requested that they “write out their own permits”.

If Airbnb Management is ethical, will they share with Melbourne authorities all the identities/details of those staying in Airbnb rentals so that State Police can verify whether platform users are within a 5km radius of their homes? We bet they won’t.

A NSW Police Officer is quoted as saying that a brutal stabbing last week is the “worst he’s ever seen”. A total of nine teenagers have now been charged after an Airbnb party in a residential apartment block located on Wattle Crescent Pyrmont. A 36-year-old passerby was bashed and stabbed multiple times. Local residents write that the residential apartment block is 70% Airbnb. Pyrmont resident Paul Cochrane posted a written account on social media and in a statement to 9News, said that residents who are Owner/Occupiers are “fed up with it” – Airbnb and violence. How do 15-, 17- and 18-year olds rent an apartment through Airbnb, with no checks whatsoever? The victim of the attack has been left with horrific injuries, blinded in one eye and was in a coma. The perpetrators allegedly sent text messages bragging about the attack afterwards, with the magistrate who heard the charges reportedly reeling at the “abhorrent case”.

City of Sydney CEO Monica Barone wrote in March 2020 (2019/582591) that Council has decided to “no longer respond…on issues of short-term letting in Sydney”.

NSW Minister for Better Regulation and Innovation Kevin Andersen MP has recently determined that the issue of illegal short-term rentals “fall(s) primarily under the scope of Minister Rob Stokes’s (sic) portfolio responsibilities…”

Contrary to multiple levels and areas of legislation plus NSW Land and Environment Court judgments, Luke Walton, Executive Director Planning Policy, NSW Planning, Industry & Environment wrote on 24 July 2020: “Currently there is no standard definition or a dedicated state-wide planning pathway for short-term rental accommodation in NSW state legislation. Short-term rental accommodation is therefore regulated at a local government level via provisions within a council’s local planning controls. Any questions regarding the legal use of a dwelling for short-term rental accommodation should be discussed with the relevant local council.”

On this, City of Sydney’s Monica Barone challenges residential ratepayers: “If you feel the City’s decision is unfair, you can contact the NSW Ombudsman’s office or complete an online complaint form at www.ombo.nsw.gov.au/complaints.”

The NSW Ombudsman writes: “…it is not our role and we do not have the power to direct council on what it should do regarding matters that fall within its lawful authority…we would not be able to act as an appeals body for council’s decisions.”

Following a June settlement with Airbnb, New York City has now fined a Manhattan building owner US$290million for illegal short-term rentals. When will NSW Local Government Authorities be mandated to enforce residential zoning? In the meantime, and in the midst of a pandemic, residents must suffer threats, intimidation and health issues associated with the “illegal use of residential premises”.

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