As longtime DC residents and Airbnb superhosts since 2017, Harris, 67, and her husband, Noble Davis, 66, have spent many evenings on their patio, getting to know their guests over a drink of wine (and, lately, around a distance of six feet). “We had people from Russia, from Saudi Arabia,” she said. “We definitely made some friends that we keep in touch with.”
Harris and Davis learned to recognize the patterns of inbound and outbound travel to Washington. “When we get multiple requests, we know there’s a protest or some sort of march going on,” Harris said. So when two arrived for the first week of January at the last minute, they took a look at the calendar and realized that potential tenants were probably considering protesting the Electoral College vote.
Usually, Harris does not hesitate to house protesters. “We’re quite used to people coming to Washington to exercise their First Amendment rights. In general, they are peaceful, respectful and they take care of our property and our neighborhood, ”she says. But she had seen reports that these particular protesters could be violent. “At that point, we looked at each other and thought, ‘We can’t have this.’ “
Harris and Davis narrowly avoided the horror that many Airbnb hosts around Washington did not. Of the few thousand Trump supporters who participated in the violent Jan.6 attack on the Capitol, a number have found accommodation through Airbnb, despite the company’s efforts to cancel bookings made by members of hate groups. . But now, with the looming Joe Biden inauguration – an event hardline Trump supporters have already vowed to protest – the hosts are once again worried about inadvertently quartering the insurgents.
Airbnb announced on Monday that it will take various measures to keep hosts safe, including reviewing all reservations in “the Washington, DC metro area,” canceling reservations for any guest associated with hate groups or “violating certain community policies prohibiting violence or engaging in criminal activity” and banning them from the service. Yet some hosts have designed their own creative ways to keep potential insurgents out of their homes, while activists promote the idea of making short-term rentals unavailable all week.
On Thursday, a group that had booked Harris’ Airbnb rental for the week of Jan. 18 almost a year earlier canceled their reservation. They were coming to Washington for a meeting, not for the inauguration. But after Wednesday’s terrifying spectacle, they feared their visit would put them in danger.
At first, Harris was relieved; nor did she want her guests to find themselves in a dangerous situation. But Harris’ English basement rental suddenly appeared available again. So she decided to deter potential renters in the most polite way she could think of: she more than doubled the price, to $ 500 per night. “We don’t get any takers at $ 500,” she says. Later, she simply made him unavailable on those nights.
Other hosts have incorporated subtle (and not so subtle) signals into their profiles to telegraph that potential disruptors of the inauguration will not be welcome.
A few weeks ago, Elisa Cordova, an opera singer and Airbnb host who divides her time between New York and Northwest DC, turned down a booking request from a young woman who said she was coming to Washington first. week of January to help “stop the robbery.” The young woman texted Cordova asking how far her house was from the White House and if the property was “patriotic-friendly”.
“I am also a patriot!” Cordova responded. “I believe in freedom of expression and freedom of demonstration. More importantly, I believe in respecting free and fair elections and respecting our Constitution. “
After witnessing the attack on the Capitol, Cordova, whose property is available for rent during the opening week, “did a little check before the damage.” In the photo section of her ad, she added a smiling photograph of Michelle Obama with a caption below: “For the following dates, January 16-21, please be aware that this is not a suitable listing to “patriots,” as some have called for. This is a peaceful, covid-aware home, and I am a responsible neighbor. Have a nice day. “
“It was a fancy way of letting people know, like ‘Don’t even bother’,” Cordova said.
Cordova has also stepped up efforts to screen potential guests. If she received a reservation request for inauguration week, “I would google them to see what their online presence looks like,” she said. “Or I could say, ‘I know it’s a lot, but could I see your Facebook profile?’ And [I] could sort of see what their attitudes are there.
Massa Gongbay-Brown, a 30-year-old government company, rents a portion of Hillcrest Heights, Maryland, a house she shares with her husband. She also started asking potential clients a series of three straightforward and polite (possibly misleading) questions before accepting their reservations: what brings them to town, how long will they stay, and if they will. need special accommodation.
In November, a guest who had booked Gongbay-Brown’s Airbnb for the inauguration canceled his reservation, telling him his plans had changed: “My candidate didn’t win. Good luck.”
She didn’t think much about it at the time. But looking back, she’s happy to have asked the guests who landed the resulting vacancy her three standard questions – if only because they revealed, to her relief, that the guests were a couple with one child. In this case, “it’s pretty clear you’re with the Biden train,” she told the Post.
Collective efforts are also increasing. James Benson, 30, a nonprofit Salesforce consultant who lives in the city’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood, started the #DontRentDC campaign on Nextdoor and later Twitter to encourage local short-term rental hosts to take down their properties during the opening week. Benson’s hope is that Airbnb and other short-term rental companies step in and pay hosts so their properties aren’t available for the week, so tenants don’t have to choose between income and public safety.
Late last week, Patrilie Hernandez, a 35-year-old community activist from northeastern DC, saw a number of Facebook friends and friends of self-help groups posting similar efforts online. Over the weekend, she enlisted the help of her partner to start a MoveOn.org petition explicitly calling on Airbnb to “get people not to rent their properties in the DC metro area.”
“I feel like the owner is largely responsible, but this would be a great time for businesses to put their money where they are in terms of supporting racial justice,” Hernandez said, referring to rioters from the Capitol. -Signs of the hand of supremacy and confederate flags. “We’ve had all these companies putting black squares on [their Instagram feeds] over the summer, having all these very public messages that they denounce white supremacy. Why don’t they put money [into] this?”
Airbnb has so far declined to officially comment on whether the company is considering subsidizing a massive rental cancellation in DC. A representative also declined to say whether hosts will be reimbursed for income they lose due to cancellations promised by the company.
VRBO, another popular short-term rental service, said in a statement that it has “a zero tolerance policy regarding acts of harassment, violence or discrimination and we will remove any guests or hosts from our website. that exhibit or promote such behavior. stay or offline ”, according to“ government, media or customer ”reports.
For now, these Airbnb hosts plan to keep potential rioters out of their neighborhood at their leisure, both serious and cheeky: Another strategy Cordova discussed with friends, half-jokingly, was to simply let Trump supporters reserve the property. but by informing them in advance that their rents would quickly be returned to Black Lives Matter.