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Airbnb agrees to let California conduct fair housing tests on hosts

Short-term rental site's users now subject to fair housing rules

California homeowners who rent out their properties on Airbnb could now potentially be the target of fair housing investigations, thanks to an agreement between the short-term rental website and the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

Over the last several months, Airbnb implemented a series of anti-discrimination policies after some accused the company of allowing racist behavior by its users.

Part of those anti-discrimination policies was the introduction of a “Community Commitment,” which users are now required to sign to use the site and specifies that the Airbnb user is “committed to treating everyone equally, regardless of race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age.”

Now, a new agreement between Airbnb and California will allow the state to test whether Airbnb’s more than 76,000 hosts in the state are really holding to that commitment.

According to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, the agreement is the result of a complaint filed by the department in June 2016 that led to a 10-month investigation of Airbnb. The agreement is the result of collaborative work between DFEH and Airbnb, the DFEH said. 

Under the voluntary agreement, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing will conduct fair housing testing of “certain California Airbnb hosts,” the regulator said in an announcement this week.

According to the DFEH, its fair housing testing involves “the use of trained individuals and/or the creation of customer profiles with specific characteristics to pose as prospective renters in order to gather information about whether a host is complying with fair housing laws.”

The agreement also lays out a series of other steps Airbnb is taking to “combat racial discrimination” on its platform.

As part of the agreement, Airbnb said that it will:

  • Continue its ongoing efforts to publicize its nondiscrimination policy, including preserving its pre-existing requirement that all users agree to the Airbnb Community Commitment, which requires users to certify that they will not discriminate against anyone when using the Airbnb platform
  • Continue its pre-existing efforts to train its employees, hosts and guests to identify and combat bias and discrimination
  • Continue to expand its efforts to make it easy for users to file discrimination complaints, and offer additional information for users who seek to file complaints with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing

According to the DFEH, Airbnb is also required to regularly report to the department on guest acceptances by race in California, the DFEH said in a statement.

“We will continue to work collaboratively with Airbnb to prevent racial discrimination by its hosts,” said DFEH Director Kevin Kish. “California is committed to removing all discriminatory barriers in housing, including in new platforms and marketplaces. Fair housing testing is an important and powerful tool in enforcing fair housing laws.”

In a separate statement, Airbnb said that it is committed to fighting bias and discrimination and helping ensure that all consumers have access to listings offered on the platform.

“Fighting discrimination is fundamental to our mission and we are committed to creating a community that is open to everyone,” said Airbnb General Counsel Rob Chesnut. “Our work with the State of California builds on our ongoing efforts to fight bias and we look forward to continuing to work with state leaders to ensure the Airbnb community is fair for everyone.”

To read the full agreement between California and Airbnb, click here.

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