Airbnb moves to ban parties, but Metro residents and hosts say it may not be enough

Published: Jun. 29, 2022 at 7:30 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV) - With around 15 short-term rental units across different neighborhoods, Brandon Kattenbraker and his partner have been working hard to create a guest experience that draws visitors to St. Louis.

“It’s not the money, it’s the experience we get to provide,” said Kattenbraker. “A home away from home.”

Together they are set to open a new short-term rental property in the coming days. It’s through Airbnb and is located in the Tower Grove area, just steps away from their own home.

“Our goal is to provide the best experience for everyone and so we always keep looking at growing,” he said.

However, owning a short-term rental has not always been easy. During the pandemic, hosts like Kattenbraker were presented with a new challenge.

“We got a couple bookings and we got super excited, and they ended up being party people,” he said. “And so it turned into our house being demolished. People kicking in door frames and just thousands and thousands of dollars worth of damage, having to kick people out, and people sneaking back in.”

Those concerns felt by Airbnb hosts led the company to create a temporary party ban, which was instituted back in August 2020. This was a commitment to holding guests and hosts accountable when utilizing short-term rentals for unauthorized parties.

“We had to put more rules and policies in place to prevent people from booking from the area, having parties,” said Kattenbraker.

While necessary, the ban also made it challenging for Kattenbraker in other ways.

“Any time I get an inquiry, I’m nervous. Is it someone looking to have a party? What brings them? We have to dig and dig and dig more and it doesn’t feel like we’re able to provide the experience we used to,” he said. “Just saying, ‘Welcome, we’re so excited to have you,’ because we have to question and constantly ask all these questions and make them feel a little more, I would say interrogated than it used to be.”

Since implementing a ban on parties, Airbnb says there has been a 44 percent year-over-year decline in the rate of party reports.

This week, the company moved to make the ban permanent. There will be no cap on how many people can stay in an Airbnb, which is unlike the temporary ban. However, any guest that violates the party ban could face account suspension or full removal from the platform.

“I’m glad that they’ve permanently adopted it. I still think that there’s some tweaking and adoptions that need to keep moving forward,” said Kattenbraker.

That is how Les Sterman feels, a Downtown resident who has seen a number of parties escalate to violence and disruption in the streets in just the last year.

“The ban was in place for the last two years and we still had those incidents associated with short-term rentals, so I don’t think this really changes anything at all,” said Sterman. “In fact, I think it’s more a public relations move to help head off cities from regulating short-term rentals.”

He says even if this wards off some Airbnb units from becoming party houses, that does not necessarily mean other places will not pop up.

“I think we also have to remember that Airbnb is not the only way that people rent some of these units for parties. There are other services. They are rented through social media, through Craigslist, so there’s a lot of ways that these short-term rentals are marketed and leased,” said Sterman.

Sterman is the Chair of Citizens for a Greater Downtown St. Louis. The group has been pushing for the city to consider its own form of regulation like an ordinance addressing short-term rentals.

“First of all, short-term rental units need to be licensed by their owners so we know where they are. Owners need to be held accountable when there are security incidents associated with their units. The occupancy of these units needs to be limited,” said Sterman. “There should be a license fee. It doesn’t have to be a very large one, but that pays for inspecting the units to make sure they’re safe.”

He also argues that short-term rentals should be regulated like hotels and motels and be required to pay the hotel/motel tax.

7th Ward Alderman Jack Coatar tells News 4 several people from the board of aldermen are set to discuss solutions to regulate short-term rentals in the city this Friday and plan to introduce the outcome of those discussions in the coming weeks.

However, Kattenbraker says he has some concerns with what an ordinance could mean if it were to regulate the properties they already use for guests.

“We ultimately would have a lot of conversations in figuring out what are we going to do. It would be very difficult on us, and we would have a lot of difficult situations that would be on our hands having all these homes with no revenue stream coming in and all of these mortgages with no opportunity to pay our own rent at that point,” he said.

News 4 asked another major short-term rental company, Vrbo, about what policy it has when it comes to regulating parties inside short-term rentals.

We’re committed to preventing even one bad actor from abusing vacation rentals on our platform or violating house rules set by hosts to protect their properties and neighborhoods. Policies and programs in place to prevent improper use of Vrbo properties include:

· A no tolerance policy for party houses. Vrbo will ban from booking on our website any traveler who violates the published house rules and breaks their rental agreement by turning a rental into an unauthorized party house and any host who knowingly allows it.

· Not allowing same-day bookings and providing the option for hosts to disable Instant Book for short booking windows so they have sufficient time to vet their guests.

· A nationwide relationship with remote noise monitoring company, NoiseAware. Hosts who are enrolled receive real time updates when there is a nuisance problem.

· Stay Neighborly is a first-of-its-kind web portal through which local officials and neighbors can contact Vrbo customer service to help address nuisance complaints.

· As mentioned in their announcement, we have a partnership with Airbnb to develop the Community Integrity Program, an industry-wide collaboration to address community safety by sharing important information about listings and strengthening action against repeat partyhouse offenders.

· A full-time trust and safety team that continually improves ways to keep bad actors off our platform and prevent abuse of properties. For example, the team recently developed a technology-enabled risk-detection solution to identify and mitigate high risk bookings.