Audiovisual producer Jonas Silva has booked a house on Airbnb to spend a weekend with his friends. However, the site administrator’s attempt to cancel the reservation at the last minute – alleging problems in the documentation of the only two blacks in the group – hampered what should have been a moment of reunion. He considers that there was racism.
The story that Jonas shared on his Twitter is not the only one of its kind — also on the social network, another black client said that his reservation was canceled alleging problems with the property, but the owner continued negotiating leases for other guests. The issue on Airbnb doesn’t come from today: in 2016, a study showed that African Americans were less likely to get leases, and a hashtag on the topic brought together reports that reinforced that problems like this happened frequently. The platform has taken steps, such as excluding 1.4 million property owners who have not committed to non-discrimination, but the cases continue.
Administrator tries to cancel the day before
Jonas has reserved a house in Morumbi, in São Paulo (SP), for the weekend of October 8th. The plan was to find four longtime friends who hadn’t seen each other since before the pandemic. The night before, the administrator of the place contacted him via WhatsApp and asked for pictures of the documents.
Upon verifying that it was the customer’s first time on the platform, she questioned the intention of the lease and reinforced the rules: parties and noise were prohibited, as well as smoking in the place. The producer said that he had already read these conditions on the Airbnb website and agreed to everything — the plan was just to spend a weekend with friends.
The administrator then asked for photos of other documents from the guests. Finally, he informed him that he would need to cancel the reservation because, when consulting all the RGs on the Civil Police website, restrictions had been found on his and a friend, both black. Upon verifying this information, however, Jonas discovered that his friend’s document had no restrictions, but that of another white member of the group.
After being asked about this difference in checks, the hostess backtracked and said she had not checked the documents of everyone in the group on the site. She reasoned that checking the site was not making sense, because of inconsistencies, and proceeded with the reservation. Jonas also decided not to cancel, as it would be difficult to reorganize the meeting.
The producer tells the Techblog that, while the administrator asked questions and asked for more documents, her friends already expected that there would be some allegation against the only blacks in the group. He considers that there was racism on the part of the hostess.
Consulting the RG does not tell you exactly what the problem is when there are restrictions. The Civil Police page only says that the most common reasons are death, disappearance or registration of a report of loss, theft or theft of the document. Jonas says neither of the two documents fit these cases.
When the consultation says that there are restrictions, the Civil Police’s recommendation is to look for Poupatempo (a São Paulo service that brings together several bureaucratic instances) to issue a new route. O Techblog it sought out the São Paulo Public Security Secretariat to better understand what these restrictions are and whether they can be used in cases like this, but still has not received an answer.
Jonas told your case on Twitter on Monday (11), and her report went viral on the network. In his tweet, he asks if other people have been through this. In conversation with the Techblog, he says he believed that maybe it could be standard procedure. In responses to the post, other users said their reservations were not as demanding.
A week before, another black user shared on the same social network that the host had refused his reservation, which had already been paid, alleging problems in the property. When trying to rent the same place with a white person profile, the negotiation went smoothly. Remember that the guest’s photo is only shared after the reservation is made, one of Airbnb’s policies to avoid discrimination. The suspicion, therefore, comes from the fact that the owner is willing to rent to someone else.
Discrimination reports even have a hashtag
It is not the first time that hosts of the platform for renting rooms, apartments and houses have been accused of racism. In 2016, an experiment by Harvard students found that guests with “names that sounded African American” were 16% less likely to get a reservation, and that black hosts were also prejudiced — they charged an average of 12% less than non-black owners of equivalent homes due to lower demand.
Reports of discrimination on Airbnb even gained a hashtag of their own, #AirbnbWhileBlack, where users share their stories of this type.
Lawyer recommends looking for the police
In conversation with the Techblog, lawyer Adriano Mendes recommends that people who go through situations in which they feel victims of discrimination seek the police and register a police report. He emphasizes: racism is a crime in Brazil.
As Airbnb acts only as an intermediary between owners and interested in renting, it disclaims legal responsibility in these cases. Even so, a BO can help the platform take appropriate action against those who practice discrimination.
Mendes also considers that it is advisable to file a criminal action in cases of this type, so that the accused can provide explanations and the case can be investigated. If the court considers that there was even a crime, they can be convicted.
Airbnb investigates allegations of racism
Wanted by Techblog, Airbnb sent the following note:
There is no room for prejudice and discrimination on Airbnb. Inclusion and respect are fundamental principles that apply to both hosts and guests. Regarding reports of discriminatory incidents on bookings, Airbnb is conducting a detailed investigation into what happened in each case and will take appropriate and necessary action in accordance with our policies.
To combat prejudice and discrimination on the platform, Airbnb implemented several measures, including:
– In 2016, it developed a strict Non-Discrimination Policy. Since then, more than 1.4 million people have refused to agree to this policy and have therefore been denied use of the platform or their accounts cancelled.
– From 2018 onwards, the guest’s profile photo is only shown to the host, as part of the booking process, after confirmation.
– In addition, Airbnb has the Open Doors Program, if a guest feels they have suffered any kind of discrimination that violates Airbnb policy — whether trying to reserve a space, having a canceled reservation, or in any other interaction with a host — the Airbnb will find an equivalent place for that guest to stay if there is space available on the platform. If not, we will find alternative accommodation for him elsewhere. This program will also apply retroactively to any guest who has reported discrimination to us in the past.
In an interview with AxiosBrian Chesky, CEO of the company, said the changes that have been made since 2016 came after the company became aware of the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack and the experiment done at Harvard.
Airbnb also contacted Jonas on Tuesday (12), mentioning the investigation and possible punishments for the hostess. The producer, however, says he no longer intends to use the platform.