Renters through a popular homesharing site have been victimized by unverified customers who ended up inflicting huge damage to their apartments. Today, AirBnB announced new renter criteria as well as damage insurance.
Every time an innovative type of new business appears, the positive aspects are well covered - it affects companies, business models, as well as culture and individuals. But there are blind spots in all new territories, and sometimes people have to be hurt or at least inconvenienced before these blind spots are known and addressed. In this case, home sharing was brought to the forefront of e-commerce-related news last week when a business traveler named EJ came home to her AirBnB-rented apartment to find it ransacked and vandalized.
The eloquent defacement of EJ's apartment has been well-documented in her blog and other media coverage, while others have come forward who have suffered the same fate at the hands of renters through this site. AirBnB.com offers customers a network to travelers as an alternative to either commercial hotels as well as open marketplaces such as Craigslist. Optimally, AirBnB connects cosmopolitans to enjoy staying like a local, while giving some sense of security through member vetting. This vetting takes place with user profiles and online transactions, and failing that, AirBnB customer support.
All of these system components fell through for EJ et al, and after a few days, the homeshare site finally took action. AirBnB issued a response and declaration of action today, with a plan that includes a $50,000 insurance policy for renters (retroactive for the unfortunate victims), a 24-hour customer hotline (at the suggestion of EJ), and a doubled customer support team. The Web site now is equipped with a safety page, will verify customer profiles and give renters customizable trust settings - if renters do not meet certain trust criteria, they will be unable to rent those homes.
While one could argue that these safety measures should have been in place from the start, CEO Brian Chesky has certainly acted to meet necessity. Michael Arrington even commented on TechCrunch today that this "goes above and beyond what I would have considered necessary. Insuring against valuables is a bit of a slippery slope and can encourage fraud. I think insurance against property damage probably would have been enough, along with a warning for people to remove valuables and personal information from their homes before renting."