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Why Airbnb Have Been Deleting Their Listings

A push for transparency has the site weeding out commercial users

7Mar

In excess of 170 tenants were evicted every single day in England and Wales in 2015. That's 42,728 households forcibly shut down, with over half of these evictions enacted by private landlords. London, unsurprisingly, has the highest rate of evictions and the Borough of Newham saw 191 evictions per 100,000 households in the area. Whether you blame welfare cuts, the continued shortage of affordable housing or the individual greed of the landlords in question, the housing market is broken. And the buy-to-let crisis has a fresh-faced contributor - professional Airbnb landlords.

Exploiters of Airbnb's system have quickly come into operation since the site's founding in 2008. In February 2016, Vice published a piece on Bellboi, a Shoreditch cafe being used as a hub for a 'small Airbnb letting empire...made up of more than 30 properties in the surrounding area, plus a few in New York.' The token shell of a cafe allows the company to operate on the high street, a brick-and-mortar manifestation of an otherwise entirely online business.

Many straddle the line between legal practice and grey areas, with many feeling that the rules regarding professional letting are not being adequately enforced on Airbnb landlords. There is a 90 day legal limit to lettings on the site, but the laws are all too often unenforceable and many landlords choose to ignore them. Long-term or not, Vice found that around 280 days per year could be expected to be filled using the system, 'well in excess of the quota for short-term letting.' The London Evening Standard, in a similar investigation, found that London's plethora of buy-to-let landlords could actually be 'more than £100 a week better off per property' if they went down the Airbnb route. This activity means higher prices for the consumer, increased short-termism within the housing market and, doubtless, the continued growth of the buy-to-let phenomenon.

However, in a commitment to transparency about their operations, Airbnb made their data on listings public - an effort to assuage the fears of the legality of the system and the loopholes it indirectly facilitates. But the company, in the lead up to the release of the information, deleted 1,500 of the 37,000+ listings in New York City. After the move was spotted by critics - who accused Airbnb of altering their numbers to present a more favourable image of their operations - the company wrote a pair of letters to the New York State Assembly and Senate. In these, they explained that the purge was an effort to 'remove listings that appeared to be controlled by commercial operators and did not reflect Airbnb's vision for [their] community.'

Regardless of the motives behind the purge, the move is welcome. Airbnb have been accused of perpetuating the housing crisis in the cities in which they operate, through the opportunities they provide. The reveal, which came in December 2015, proved the company's assertion that 94% of its New York City hosts had only one listing on the site - according to the Fast Company, though, '38% of revenue from entire-home listings came from hosts with two or more listings.' The company - now a $24 billion giant - certainly has the capabilities to identify those overshooting the 90-day limit and could, feasibly, suspend the accounts of those confirmed to be infringing the rules. As many have commented, the move is only a valid one if followed up on - many of the listings have crept their way back onto the site, with Bloomberg finding that between November 20th and January 1st many resurfaced. The deciding factor in the issue will be whether or not the company continues the aggressive moderation of its listings. Perhaps it should.  

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