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Local Airbnb Hosts Struggle With Cancelled Reservations And Empty Properties

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The following article was originally published May 2, 2020, and republished through a collaboration with KPCC and LAist.

Story by Gina Pollack

Airbnb hosts are facing difficult times as reservations are cancelled and rooms go unused due to coronavirus stay-at-home orders.

It's particularly hard for those who make their primary living from short-term rentals — they aren't generating the income they would normally use to pay mortgages or other essential bills. Multiply that by two or three, and the problem intensifies for those who operate multiple rentals at different properties.

It's a potential house of cards not only for hosts, but also for the tech company itself, which takes a comission on rentals around the world and had reportedly planned to go public this year. Now, according to the Wall Street Journal, Airbnb is facing hundreds of millions in losses.

According to AirDNA, a website that tracks the Airbnb economy, only one-third of hosts have a single listing. Another third have between two and 24 listings, and one-third have more than 24. That means the majority of hosts fall into the multiple-properties-bleeding-money-right-now category.

Debbie, who called into KPCC's AirTalk With Larry Mantle on Friday, said she's been renting out two rooms in her Sherman Oaks home for the past six years, and over the course of the pandemic has seen "a tremendous amount of cancellations."

In the past, she's relied on Airbnb profits as her primary income. Now, she's signed up for the unemployment program that was recently expanded to independent contractors, and is making a small amount from renting the rooms out to doctors who are isolating from their families. But that doesn't fill the gap in her income.

"Our host community is feeling the same impact that hotels are feeling, that airlines are feeling," Christopher Nulty, a spokesperson for Airbnb told Larry Mantle.

In response to the criticism Airbnb has received from hosts who say the tech company hasn't given them enough financial support, Nulty said the home-sharing app's "extenuating circumstances" policy does pertain to the pandemic, which he classifies as a true crisis. That policy allows users to cancel reservations without paying fees, which helps users, of course, but not hosts.

"We made a decision that we did not want travelers to be forced to decide between putting their health and the health of their families and those around them at risk," said Nulty, adding that the company has created a $250 million fund for their "host community," as well as guiding them on how to apply for small business loans under the federal stimulus program.

Anthony, who called into AirTalk, said he owns an Airbnb property in Palm Springs and was able to find a month-to-month renter, which allowed him to pay his mortgage and keep the property.

"I think it's really important for owners of properties to be acting as opposed to waiting for things to change," he said, adding that many Airbnb hosts in the Palm Springs area faced huge losses when Coachella was cancelled in March.

Airbnb is now offering a search option for monthly stays, as well as a new feature — virtual "experiences" in which users can purchase activities such as a digital soundbath from a host in Singapore or songwriting lessons from a musician in Nashville.

Listen to the full episode of AirTalk here.

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