Look, I’m from the Bay Area. I get it. Landlords can be complete and utter assholes on a regular day, but when you throw in the option of them having to “worry” about tenant needs and concerns against the possibility of making cash hand over first by evicting said tenants and listing on sites like VRBO and AirBnB, the real assholes will show their true colors. Every. Damn. Time. So it comes as no surprise that people in cities like San Francisco, New York City, New Orleans, and London (to name only a few) are fed up with landlords booting tenants in favor of cashing in on “the sharing economy.” What’s worse, in many cases the owners of these units aren’t even residents of the city in which they’re renting so it’s not like the money you pay is even being put back into the local economy via their spending. That said, the biggest problem I see with vilifying the platforms themselves is they’re not inherently bad. It’s the *people* who *abuse* the platforms that deserve your (and my) derision.
I admit, I’ve never actually used AirBnB, but I’ve rented more properties than I can recall via Homeaway and VRBO (which, incidentally, are basically the same company now) so I like to think I know a little bit about what I’m talking about when it comes to choosing a good property. I understand you can’t always book a hotel room. Heck, for us, a larger apartment style accommodation is usually the preferred method of travel, especially in places like Hawaii where we have a breakfast ritual I’d be sad to miss. For others, the cost of hotels in these major cities is too much, and if you’re a family traveling together, oftentimes the cost of multiple hotel rooms can mean the difference between going on vacation and not. So no, I won’t vilify people who use these platforms to find their vacation rentals.
What I will say, however, is that you can use these sites and not contribute to the growing problem many people are angry about. If you, as a traveler, are concerned about whether or not you’re choosing a property that has had a hand in displacing tenants, over-gentrifying cultural neighborhoods, or raising the cost of rent for others in the community, there are a few ways you can reasonably work around the problem so that you’re not actively contributing to the problem but still getting the most bang for your buck. The easiest, however, is to only rent from people who are residents of the community themselves and are leveraging the power of these platforms to supplement their own incomes by renting out their homes when they’re gone, or offering travelers the use of extra rooms in their homes. But how do you do that? Well, the pictures are usually the best indication of who these owners are versus the evil, greedy landlords I mentioned above.
- Seek out properties that are decorated like you or your friends would decorate your own homes.
- Look for plants (not just fresh flowers).
- Check out the art. Is everything from Ikea or another mass market supplier? Or are there original prints or photographs on the wall? On shelves? Is there any artwork at all?
- Does the kitchen come with basic supplies like salt, pepper, olive oil, etc? People who live somewhere will have these things on hand. (Although maybe not in NYC? It’s my understanding from friends there that people eat out every night and never cook so maybe they don’t need these things?)
- Do the owners read? Are there books other than travelogues visible in the pics? (And for goodness sake, if you see hundreds of travel brochures that’s a dead giveaway this place is operated solely as a vacation rental property).
- Stay in real neighborhoods, not tourist areas.
Now, obviously these guidelines won’t always work. I’m not saying this is an absolute barometer but I generally think it’s a good guideline. And if you’re still not sure? Ask the person what it’s like living there. Talk with them. You’ll know.