Short-term rentals frequently make headlines for disrupting communities, leading to drawn-out battles over proposed restrictions and regulations.
Amidst this crackdown on STRs, it’s in the interest of property owners and managers and online travel agencies, such as Vrbo and Airbnb, to prevent rentals from becoming a party house to begin with, according to Phocuswright senior analyst Madeline List.
Both OTAs point to steps they’ve taken, with Vrbo announcing on January 30 the national deployment of party prevention technology in the booking flow that “identifies potentially disruptive parties before they take place.” Installing technology to measure violations such as smoking and noise can also help property owners and managers get in good graces with their communities.
“Disturbances to neighbors can cause community conflict and lead to stricter regulations or even bans on rentals in an area,” List says.
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She points to Phocuswright research that identifies a desire for people who run STRs to maintain good relationships with neighbors: 86% of small hosts (fewer than 10 properties) and 92% of professionalized property managers say they care about complying with regulations so they’re viewed as good neighbors.
“Sometimes that’s coming from a pure place of wanting to keep the neighborhood pleasant; sometimes it’s just good business,” List says. “But most people want to avoid getting caught up managing an STR through party drama.”
Alexa Nota, co-founder and COO of Rent Responsibly, an organization that provides resources to the national and international hosting community on topics such as good neighborliness and complying with local laws, recommends that hosts use noise monitoring and exterior cameras.
“You can do a great job vetting your guests and communicating with them ahead of a stay, but that extra layer of technology at the property helps you catch things early,” such as too many cars or trash left outside improperly, Nota says.
Nota calls the party-house problem a “recurring issue” and says “the industry is collectively working incredibly hard at addressing it,” adding that a few bad apples pose an existential threat to STR owners as a whole.
“It’s usually one or two problem properties and some neighbors who are justifiably upset, who then go and reach out to their city council,” Nota says.
Many cities that implemented outright bans of short-term rentals “are coming back and re-evaluating, ‘Did this work or not? Do we need to recraft ordinances that actually do work and allow responsible hosts to continue operating? And how do we go about that?’” he says.
It’s usually one or two problem properties and some very upset neighbors who are justifiably upset, who then go and reach out to their city council and [it’s the] city council's job to respond to their residents and their citizens.
Alexa Nota - Rent Responsibly
Tech for noise control can play an important role because it measures volume without capturing recordings and can alert operators early on if guests are getting out of hand, which can be especially helpful for hosts who outsource management or live too far from their properties to hear parties, List says.
“External cameras like Ring are also a popular option to track if too many guests are entering a property, though they can require extra supervision and some guests feel uncomfortable with the idea of operators monitoring the external cameras throughout the stay,” she says.
List says other screening measures used to avoid parties include banning stays from locals and one-night stays and setting strict age limits.
Bad actors are a “fraction of a fraction of a fraction” of Vrbo guests, partly because the OTA is laser focused on the family traveler segment, says Tim Rosolio, vice president of Vrbo’s vacation rental partner success.
Still, Vrbo developed technology on its platform to prevent bad actors from making a booking. The system generates a “risk score” for each booking based on multiple factors, including length of stay, lead time before the stay begins and number of guests who are booking. Vrbo says guests’ demographic information is not considered. If the technology determines a booking to be high risk, the host receives an email alerting them to the issue, and the host can cancel the booking without penalty.
The screening technology is live throughout the United States, and Vrbo will evaluate rolling it out in additional countries and “continuously think about how can we enhance the technology and enhance all the data signals,” Rosolio says.
The company says it has prevented more than 500 “unauthorized events” during its 12-month pilot phase.
Vrbo’s actions followed conversations with hosts, elected officials and the general public, says Philip Minardi, director of global public affairs at Vrbo. The OTA has also started coaching hosts and partnered with tech vendor NoiseAware to provide noise-monitoring devices on the properties.
Airbnb says it “explicitly bans parties, and we continually invest in measures, like our proprietary reservation screening technology and resources for hosts, to help enforce this policy, deter isolated issues and promote safe, responsible travel in local neighborhoods.”
“The vast majority of our community are considerate neighbors and travelers, and we take forceful action against those who violate our strict policies,” Airbnb says.
Last year Airbnb codified its global party ban, which the company says has “correlated with a global 44% year-over-year drop in the rate of party reports to us since it was first introduced in August 2020.”
The OTA’s reservation screening technology “blocks bookings that show an increased risk for disruptive parties and other safety-related incidents.” In Australia, the technology contributed to a 35% drop in unauthorized party incidents, according to the company. Airbnb also says it ramps up its tech around high-risk times like New Year’s Eve.
Startups are also getting into the
business of guest screening, such
as Trustd.ai. The company uses artificial intelligence to analyze what it
calls “trust attributes” about potential guests from their booking data and then delivers the results to the partner systems in real time, in
the form of a “behavioral footprint.”
Monitoring noise, smoking
Technology can help make STRs better neighbors, says Jim Netska, director of sales at smart home tech specialist PointCentral. The company’s Smart Noise Monitors measure decibel levels and alert hosts when guests are making too much noise so they can intervene if necessary, he says.
Noise monitors are a good preventative measure just by being there.
Jim Netska - PointCentral
“Noise monitors are a good preventative measure just by being there," Netska says. "Since guests must be told if noise monitors are in a rental, this normally makes them more considerate and conscientious of their immediate environment.”
Noise monitoring can also help in disputes by proving that guests in a particular property weren’t making any noise.
“This happens more often than you might think because those on vacation can be an easy target when locals don't know who to blame,” Netska says.
Gareth Rhodes, co-founder and COO of Alertify, owned a rental company for many years before deciding to develop hardware to measure noise, smoking and occupancy. Alertify was founded in 2020, and the startup is in trials with partners.
“There’s a lot of finger-pointing between residents who are very much against the STRs, and they’ll point their fingers whenever there’s a problem or if smoke was detected or if there was a loud noise, so it’s very difficult to prove that it wasn’t your guest,” Rhodes says.
Alertify’s “occupancy meter” counts how many devices are active on the property. With parties, multiple indicators will be elevated, including noise level, CO2 level and occupancy, according to Rhodes.
Alertify is working on integrating the technology with larger property management systems such as Guesty. Property owners who have the tech integrated with a PMS or another system like Airbnb can generate a certificate and submit it to Airbnb or any other platform as part of the dispute. The certificate will include the guest information, the dates of their stay and the data from that stay.
“What were the decibel levels there, or what were the smoke levels, and how long did that last?" Rhodes says. "So Airbnb or any other third party has that insight too, and they can see now what happened, who’s to blame. And that gives you a little bit of a leg up in these disputes that are otherwise very difficult to deal with as an owner.”