Lawsuit over sexual assault calls for Airbnb to clarify what exactly a ‘superhost’ is

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The domain of the superhost.
Image: Jeff Blackler/REX/Shutterstock

A lawsuit in California this week claimed that Airbnb creates a “false sense of security” for its customersand one way it does that, the lawsuit contends, is through its superhosts.

The woman who filed the lawsuit, Leslie Lapayowker, said she was sexually assaulted by a Los Angeles Airbnb host. As part of the lawsuit, she noted that her host was a “superhost”a designation granted by Airbnb to denote the very best of what the home-rental platform has to offer.

“Thats why, she said, she was not concerned with booking the Los Angeles residence with the man for an entire month,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

But the qualifications for becoming a superhost have to do with hospitalitynot safety. For any safety concerns, superhosts are pretty much on the same level as anyone listing their property on Airbnb.

Superhosts must host at least 10 trips a year, maintain at least a 90 percent response rate, receive five-star reviews 80 percent of the time, and not cancel their reservations. If anyone hosting guests on Airbnb meets these qualifications, Airbnb automatically grants them the title.

Airbnb checks superhosts’ activity four times a year to ensure they’re keeping up with these requirements. But those check-ins check up on the aforementioned hospitality standards.

As for background checks, Airbnb relies on vendors that examine records for an assortment of red flags. Airbnb also uses a risk scoring system that uses machine learning and predictive analytics to keep tabs on any potentially dangerous reservations before they happen.

“We run background checks on all U.S. residents, both hosts and guests, looking for matches with terrorist watch lists, financial sanctions, felony convictions, sex offender registrations, or significant misdemeanors,” Airbnb Global Head of Trust and Risk Management Nick Shapiro said in a statement.

It’s comforting to know that Airbnb has these systems in place, and that they work most of the time. But guests booking stays through Airbnb don’t know all thatand they don’t know what exactly a superhost is unless they go looking for the definition. Instead, the designation just implies some sort of approval from Airbnb.

The vast majority of Airbnb reservations go off without a hitch. And any platform that connects two strangers deals with these kinds of concerns.

In the case of the California lawsuit, Airbnb quickly jumped into action. The lawsuit describes details of a sexual assault allegedly committed in 2016 by an Airbnb host who had a 2013 arrest for battery against an ex-girlfriend in Florida.

“We are outraged by the reports of what happened to our guest, and we immediately removed this host from our platform,” Shapiro said in a statement.

“The abhorrent behavior described has no place in our community and we will not tolerate it. We have been trying to support her in any way we can and we will continue to do so. The safety of the Airbnb community is the single most important thing we work on every day. Nothing like this should ever happen to anyone and we can’t imagine how hard this has been for our guest.”

Lapayowker is seeking damages and legal fees through her lawsuit. Besides paying up in her case, Airbnb could use this situation to clarify what exactly makes a host super.

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