Study links Airbnb listings to increased rates of violence

US: New research published this week has suggested that the presence of Airbnb listings in neighbourhoods is leading to an increase in violent crimes being committed over time.

The peer-reviewed study, published in the journal PLOS ONE and conducted by Northeastern University in Boston, USA, analysed the veracity of news reports linking short-term rental platforms such as Airbnb with violent crime, using data gathered between 2011 and 2017.

The researchers found that the greater the number of Airbnb listings there were in any given neighbourhood, the higher the rates of violence there were in that neighbourhood, however, the link only developed at a gradual rate, suggesting that tourists were not typically the perpetrators of the crimes themselves, such as public social disorder or private conflicts.

Instead, they observed that social dynamics may have been “eroded” when housing units were being converted into short-term rentals, due to the fact that home-sharing platforms “remove social capital from the neighbourhood in the form of stable households, weakening the associated community dynamics”, according to the study.

One of the authors of the report, Professor Babak Heydari, accepted its limitations, such as the fact that the study was only conducted in Boston, however he added that the eventual goal was to understand if these findings were reflective of the situation in other cities around the world too.

Professor Heydari told Sky News: “We show that it’s not the number of Airbnb tourists who stay in a neighbourhood that causes increase in criminal activities, but it’s the creation of transient properties spread throughout a neighbourhood that undermines social organisation and social capital and over time and can cause disorder and criminal activities as a result.

“This paper is one of the first papers that measures the causal social impact of sharing platforms at neighbourhood level for short-term rental platforms and quantifies the causal effect of short-term rentals on criminal activities and disorders in neighbourhoods.

“More importantly, this paper identifies the mechanism behind such effects. Identifying causal mechanism is for more effective governance of these platforms, either through government regulations or via designing self-regulating mechanism by platforms themselves,” he added.

Following the publication of the study, Airbnb countered the findings in a blog post: “Over the last year-plus, various reports indicate the unfortunate trend that crime has risen in many American cities [even as travel and tourism, including short-term rentals, have suffered in urban markets]. There are many complex issues that contribute to rises and falls in crime rates that require serious research to help inform and guide public policy work.

“As a society, we should be working to advance serious research. In this context, Airbnb will be formally reaching out to Northeastern University to express our concerns about the lack of academic rigour in this paper and learn more about the protocols the University applies to assure the quality of the research performed by those associated with the school.

“While the approach taken by these authors resulted in conclusions not supported by the facts or the methodology, we continue to welcome the opportunity to work with those who want to approach these important issues with a seriousness of purpose,” it concluded.

It comes as reports emerged of an American student, Victoria Yordanova, suing Airbnb after she was attacked and left injured during a stay at a property listed on the platform in Barcelona. Yordanova, a student at Simmons University in Boston but currently studying in Dublin, suffered two neck fractures and a broken arm three years ago in what was described as an attempted abduction, according to The Times.

Meanwhile in June, it was revealed that Airbnb had 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, coming in the form of blank checks, had been given to both hosts and guests so that they would not “imply responsibility or liability” on the company, which went public in December.