California regulators will soon be able to test select Airbnb hosts to determine whether they’re discriminating against users of the app based on race, according to The Guardian. The state’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing announced a first-of-its-kind agreement with Airbnb yesterday, which will apply fair housing testing — something that traditional housing providers (landlords) have long faced — to the home-sharing service.
Airbnb has for years grappled with claims of racial discrimination from users who’ve had bookings cancelled or worse. In late 2015, Harvard University researchers found that guests with African American-sounding names had a more difficult time renting rooms through the popular app.
Last September, Airbnb published a report outlining steps it would take to combat bias on the platform. “We have been slow to address these problems, and for this I am sorry,” CEO Brian Chesky wrote in a message that accompanied the 32-page document. Among the measures was a new “Community Commitment” (instituted in November) that requires hosts to certify that they won’t discriminate against renters. Airbnb’s terms of service effectively prevent major litigation against the company over these issues.
But a good-faith pledge wasn’t enough for California officials. Now, the state will be permitted to conduct fair housings tests on hosts with three ore more listings who have received discrimination complaints. Testers will be able to create accounts posing as potential renters “in order to gather information about whether a host is complying with fair housing laws.”
However, most of California’s Airbnb hosts will never be tested; approximately 6,000 of Airbnb’s 76,000 hosts in California meet the “three or more listings” requirement, The Guardian’s report says. Airbnb has also pledged to continue ongoing efforts to train employees, hosts, and guests on identifying and combatting bias and discrimination across the platform, and it will make it easier for users to file discrimination complaints — both with the company and with the DFEH.