The ongoing salvo between the New York City hotel industry and Airbnb has moved beyond the standard, documented grievances—like the company's alleged roles in diminishing the housing stock, contributing to gentrification, enabling racism—and into dark new territory, with the release of a new scaremongering ad suggesting Airbnb is bringing terrorists into your home.
That's the outcome suggested by a new attack ad paid for by the Hotel Association of New York City and a New York hotel workers union, which asks "Are you at risk?" before flashing to footage from the Manchester terror attack. That question is followed by excerpted media coverage noting that suicide bomber Salman Abedi stayed in a "short term rental" where he had "massive packages" delivered.
Former NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton also makes an appearance, via his 2015 warning that, "We still remain the number one terrorist target in the world."
Airbnb does not publicly provide the addresses for more than 40,000 Airbnb listings in New York. That information is available in cities like Chicago, San Francisco, and New Orleans, but not in New York, according to the ad.
"Who's in your building? Airbnb won't say," the ad portentously concludes.
Predictably, Airbnb is not happy about the insinuation. On Monday, the company released a statement labeling the ad "an outrageous scare tactic by big hotels," and noted that they do run background checks on both hosts and guests. (According to their website, they run background checks "if they have enough information to identify a guest or host who lives in the United States.") The statement also called on Hotel CEOs to explain "why they continue to fund this sort of despicable, cynical advertising."
But according to New York Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, a vocal opponent of Airbnb, the intense messaging of the ad is intended to convey that "most people don't want strangers who they don't know roaming through their apartment building, whether it's terrorists or it's someone who ransacks the apartments or someone who doesn't belong there."
She also noted that the ad ties in with a bill she introduced earlier this month, which would require Airbnb hosts to disclose their exact addresses on the website. Asked whether the attack ad qualified as fear-mongering, Rosenthal noted that heated rhetoric is "part of a campaign going on on both sides."
The question of whose campaign is winning remains unclear. Late last year, Rosenthal's bill to impose a fine of up to $7,500 for hosts advertising on Airbnb was signed into law by Governor Cuomo. And in February, the Mayor's Office of Special Enforcement also started handing out fines for the illegal listings, fueling doubts about the start-up's future in New York.
But so far, that enforcement has been pretty lax. According to a recent analysis by Crain's, approximately 30,000 residences are still available for short-term rental in New York, with listings in areas like Bushwick, Harlem, and Bed-Stuy actually rising since the anti-Airbnb laws have gone into effect.
"Airbnb has refused time and again to admit and remedy the troubles it has created for both affordable housing and the health and safety of residents," Rosenthal said. "I think the ad reflects that concern."