Airbnb “black box” team pays guests and hosts millions after incidents in rental properties

US: Reports have revealed that Airbnb has been spending approximately $50 million a year to keep serious incidents in its rentals out of the press through the use of a “black box” team.

The cash has been given to both hosts and guests so that they will not “imply responsibility or liability” on Airbnb. These payments came through the form of blank checks that are provided to members of the “black box” team by the company, which went public in December.

The “black box” consists of around 100 agents across the world. Many of these agents include those with military or emergency services background. Nick Shapiro (pictured above), former National Security Council advisor to former President Barack Obama and deputy chief of staff at the Central Intelligence Agency, was among those hired to the team. He has since left his position as global head of crisis management at Airbnb,
but has described his experience with the “black box” as similar to the White House situation room.

Shapiro said: “I remember thinking I was right back in the thick of it. This brought me back to feelings of confronting truly horrific matters at Langley and in the Situation Room at the White House.”

During the pandemic, 25 members of the team were laid off after CEO Brian Chesky announced that about half of Airbnb’s staff would be let go in May 2020, which received pushback from agents. However, 15 of these workers were hired again. They were given time-and-a-half pay.

In interviews with Bloomberg Businessweek, former members of the team described their role. The agents said they provided support to those who had encountered or experienced events, such as rape, assault, and murder. Agents also described paying for bullet holes to be covered in walls and body fluid teams to remove blood. The money also went towards counselling, sexually transmitted disease testing, flights, new accommodations, health costs, and more.

Agents described meeting with hosts who had found human remains and guests who had to hide or run from perpetrators while they were staying in an Airbnb.

In one incident, Airbnb paid an Australian woman $7 million for a rape that occurred on New Year’s Day in 2016. Airbnb flew the woman’s mother to the United States from Australia, flew them home, and offered to pay for health and counselling costs. She received $7 million two years later in an agreement that she would not sue Airbnb or the host of the property where she was raped.

Another agent reported an incident in which a guest was found naked in bed with a host’s seven-year-old daughter.

In another incident, a woman, Carla Stefaniak, was found murdered near the Airbnb apartment where she was staying in Costa Rica in 2018. She was murdered by the security guard at the apartment complex. Stefaniak’s family filed suit against Airbnb for not performing a background check on the security guard who murdered Stefaniak. It transpired that the security guard was working in the country illegally. This suit was settled, but details of the settlement are unknown. Bismark Espinoza Martínez, aged 33, was eventually sentenced to 16 years for Stefaniak’s murder.