By David DeMoss
In the last few years, there has been a rise of short-term rentals properties like the ones advertised on Airbnb. Unfortunately, that rise also comes the increased risk of incidents during these rentals. This is one of the concerns hoteliers have with the Airbnb businesses. They are rented like hotel rooms, but without the same rules and regulations. With the use of social media, people are able to advertise parties to masses of people, and can quickly turn a rental property into a site of underage drinking, fights, noise complaints, and sadly, even homicides. During a Halloween party last week at an Orinda Airbnb house rental, a shooting broke out, which resulted in five deaths. Over the past six months, at least 42 people have been shot during one of these rental parties, and the number will continue to increase unless Airbnb cracks down on their regulations and curbs unauthorized parties. More from Anna Bauman and Alejandro Serrano, below.
At least 42 people have been shot inside or just outside short-term rental properties across the United States over the past six months — and 17 have died, according to police and news reports.
Five of those fatalities occurred during a Halloween party last week at an Orinda home that had been rented on Airbnb. The gathering of around 100 people was promoted on social media as a “mansion party.”
As in the Orinda case, many of the shootings happened during parties at Airbnb rentals and involved several victims. Airbnb refused on Wednesday to comment on shootings at the properties. The tally includes at least 23 shooting incidents in 12 states, including California, since May. Among them:
- May 31, West Covina: Four people were shot — one fatally — during a party at an Airbnb rental home that had about 30 to 40 guests, according to an ABC-7 news report.
- June 12, Charlotte, N.C.: Four people were shot — one fatally — during a graduation party at an Airbnb rental property, according to WCNC news.
- July 21, Fair Oaks (Sacramento County): A man was fatally shot during a large party at an Airbnb rental property, according to Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies.
- July 30, Columbus, Ohio: Five people were injured in a shooting at an Airbnb rental that was being used for a birthday party, according to WBNS news.
- Aug. 19, St. Paul, Minn.: A man was shot and killed at a gathering in an Airbnb rental. Police arrested a woman in the killing, and said she had been celebrating her 20th birthday when the shooting occurred, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- Sept. 9, Hacienda Heights (Los Angeles County): A man was shot and killed outside a large party at a home that was rented on Airbnb, according to KTLA-5.
- Oct. 27, Sacramento: A man was fatally shot at a house party in an Airbnb rental, according to Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies.
A spontaneous memorial has been placed outside the location in Orinda, Calif. where Raymon Hill Jr. was shot to death Halloween evening, while attending a party hosted in an AirBnB short-term rental home. Hill and three other people lost their lives that evening.
In Orinda, the Airbnb rental at 114 Lucile Way was doors away from Christine Chalmers’ home. She noticed that people were tweeting about shootings in neighborhoods across the country that eerily mirrored what happened in her neighborhood. She spent hours searching Google and poring over news archives.
“This is not just an Orinda issue,” Chalmers said.
Chalmers said she thinks Airbnb is “failing in their responsibility to the public,” because they knew about the risk associated with certain listings and property owners, but waited until a widely publicized tragedy to take action.
“I think people are thinking that the neighbors are just angry because it happened here. I’m angry because it was preventable.”
With no central database to record these rental party house shootings, internet sleuths like Chalmers have put together their own research and lists, and share them on social media.
Michael Lustig, an activist who researches issues with short-term rentals, said that with each shooting isolated to a local area, there is no macro-level perspective on how widespread violent rental house parties have become.
“People missed that, and they don’t understand (the scope),” he said. “And the reason is Airbnb has controlled the conversation … We have to start challenging that and asking deeper questions.”
On Wednesday, Airbnb officials outlined steps to curb unauthorized house parties. Among them: Verifying the accuracy of all 7 million listings for home and room rentals on its site; a hotline in the U.S. by the end of the year with a team to answer neighbors’ concerns; and expanded manual screening of reservations that an algorithm flags as potentially risky.
“Trust is the real energy source that drives Airbnb,” the company’s CEO Brian Chesky wrote in a companywide email. “But recently, events by bad actors on our platform took advantage of that trust, including at a home in Orinda, California. We intend to do everything possible to learn from these incidents when they occur.”
In Sacramento County, sheriff’s deputies have been in contact with Airbnb as they investigate the homicides in Fair Oaks and Sacramento.
“I mean two in a year … both are serious in nature,” said Sheriff’s Deputy Lacey Nelson. “One is too many.”
To law enforcement, it’s not surprising there are problems at short-term rentals. With social media to amplify the reach of a party ad, a rental property can quickly become the site of underage drinking, brawls, noise complaints and, in some cases, homicides.
“With the way social media is going, people can be a party planner,” Nelson said. “It does create issues.”
Elk Grove (Sacramento County) police spokesman Jason Jimenez said people take advantage of short-term rentals, widely promoting parties in them on social media, which can lead to violent altercations. On May 31, a 22-year-old man was shot and injured during a party at an Airbnb rental in Elk Grove, Jimenez said.
“Whether it’s intentional or not, I think you see these large turnouts that eventually either turn into a large fight, large disturbance or worst-case scenario like what we had here in Elk Grove or what happened in Orinda,” Jimenez said. “You could have people from all over that may or may not get along.”
Nearly a week after the Orinda shooting, Chalmers recalls the slamming of car doors, screeching of tires, clatter of voices and the sight of red and blue lights illuminating authorities and partygoers on the street. The next morning, she found blood-drenched bandages on her lawn.
“I feel like I’m still finding out just how horrific this is,” she said.