Nick Shapiro, Airbnb global head of trust and risk management, insisted “safety is our priority” and said: “All hosts must certify that they follow all local laws and regulations.”
Shapiro was responding to a study of 120,000-plus properties in 16 US cities by the Centre for Injury research and Policy at the John Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.
It found “safety deficiencies” at Airbnb properties which the authors described as “troubling”.
Shapiro said: “Every listing on Airbnb clearly states the specific safety amenities it has, including smoke and CO detectors, fire extinguishers and first aid kits.”
The study found 80% of a sample of 120,691 Airbnb venues reported having smoke detectors, but only 56% reported CO (carbon monoxide) detectors, 42% fire extinguishers and 36% first-aid kits.
It drew on data “self-reported by hosts” and collated by InsideAirbnb.com from October 2015 to December 2016 for cities including Austin, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Nashville, New Orleans, New York, Portland, San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington DC.
The report on the study, entitled Reported Fire Safety and First-Aid Amenities in Airbnb Venues in 16 American Cities, was published last week by the BMJ (British Medical Journal).
Airbnb raised a series of objections to the findings, arguing: “Every home in Airbnb’s Plus Collection must have a smoke and CO detector to be included. The study used data from three years before Airbnb Plus even debuted.
“It looks to be designed to help an incumbent industry who has its own fire safety issues.”
Airbnb Plus was launched in February this year with a list of 35 requirements for hosts with “high quality homes” only one of which refers to safety facilities. This requires: “Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are installed.”
Shapiro said: “Whether a home is listed on Airbnb or not, all homes and hotel rooms should have smoke and CO detectors, fire extinguishers and first aid kits.
“We will continue to ensure our guests know exactly what safety features their Airbnb has before they book it.”
He added: “We will reach out to the authors of the study as we would like to work with them to increase awareness of safety measures for all homeowners.”
Dr Vanya Jones, a lead author of the study, welcomed Airbnb’s offer to work with her department.
She said: “We would love to partner with Airbnb. We’ve partnered with all sorts of safety organisations and worked with fire departments, [and] we would welcome working with Airbnb.”
However, Jones dismissed Airbnb’s criticisms of the study, saying: “There was no outside funding.” In fact, she said: “We had no funding. There was no hidden agenda.”
She explained the study was triggered by a high school student, Hudson Kennedy, who was working on a study of smoking in Airbnb properties and surprised to find these did not have standard safety amenities.
Jones said: “We started to delve into it. I was surprised by the findings. In the US we have a lot of statutes around smoke alarms and CO monitors. You would expect homes to have broader coverage. The discrepancy from city to city was troubling.”
She noted: “The onus is on the host, but Airbnb could do more.”
Responding to Airbnb’s suggestion that the study “has not undergone any ethical review”, Jones said: “Our approach [at the Johns Hopkins School] is to review a human subjects study. In this study, we’re not looking at people, we’re looking at data that is publicly available.”
She acknowledged the data “was from a secondary source” because Airbnb does not make data available. However, she said: “The data base was not small.”
Jones insisted: “We were not trying to make any commentary other than what the data shows, which is that in this period there was a discrepancy in the safety amenities Airbnb hosts provided. That is a pretty interesting finding.
“The impetus for this study was a young man who had an interesting thought on safety. Our intention was to highlight the safety challenges someone renting an Airbnb might face. A consumer can [then] make choices. We’re not trying to give Airbnb a bad rap.”
She added: “We’ve not heard from Airbnb.”
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