'Is he black?': Airbnb host accused of cancelling booking over guest's skin colour
Published Friday, August 10, 2018 7:12PM PDT
Last Updated Friday, August 10, 2018 7:32PM PDT
A B.C. student and his friend found their stay in an Airbnb suite in Richmond cancelled, apparently because one of them is black.
When they complained on social media, Airbnb cracked down and dropped the listing from its online service – a move that also removed from his account the receipts and messages that authorities could have used in a human rights complaint.
The double whammy has Corne Van Hoepen, a Toronto journalism student who is staying at home in Chilliwack, in shock.
“We do not want other people to go through what we experienced,” Van Hoepen said. “It should not happen. It’s 2018.”
Van Hoepen wanted to spend a few days in Richmond before heading back to school in Ontario. The pair booked a Richmond suite called “High-end apartment at Heart of Richmond Centre,” listed as being run by a woman named Grace.
Then Grace started asking questions about his companion. One preserved screenshot shows her asking: “Is he black?”
“’There are no blacks allowed in this building,’” Van Hoepen recalled she said next. “I couldn’t believe what I saw on my phone.
“What does that have to do with anything? People are not anything less because of their skin colour."
The company didn’t respond to private email complaints, but did react to a social media complaint. Airbnb offered a credit to Van Hoepen and took down the listing.
But that meant the messages, receipts, and other records Van Hoepen was using to keep tabs on the case were taken down too.
“As soon as we reported the incident, it disappeared. No address, communication, everything was gone,” Van Hoepen said.
This could cause problems if he wanted to pursue a human rights complaint in B.C., said Ravi Kahlon, B.C.’s parliamentary secretary for multiculturalism.
Van Hoepen even lost a receipt, which contained the identity of the host – a crucial element in filing a complaint.
“How do we get that data? What policies are in place to ensure that data is available to this person?” Kahlon asked.
“Airbnb has a responsibility to have policies and practices in place so that these events don’t occur and when they do, it’s documented so if a person takes it to a tribunal, the tribunal has some information,” he said.
Kahlon is spearheading the creation of a B.C. Human Rights Commission, which would be able to broadly investigate trends and patterns of human rights abuse.
“If a human rights commission saw a trend of this, a new commission could start investigating, and they would have the powers to ask for information so that this would never happen again, not just with one company but companies across the board,” he said.
An Airbnb spokesperson said on background that the data has not been deleted, but that it exists within Airbnb’s systems. However, she said such data would only be available with a court order.
CTV News tracked the building to the Carrera in Richmond. A building manager told a reporter that the building does not prohibit black people.
However, in response to questions about the incident, and whether Carrera welcomes people of all races, strata agent Mary Chen with Rancho Group declined to comment.
The building sports a “No Airbnb” sign on one of its doors, saying “No Airbnb or any other short-term rentals allowed.”
That’s consistent with Richmond laws, said city spokesman Ted Townsend.
“Short-term rentals are not permitted in apartments under our bylaws,” he said. “Fines are $1,000 per offence.”
Airbnb has been tackling racism on its platform for the last two years as complaints of racist hosts come in.
Part of that is agreeing to a “Community Commitment” which says, “I agree to treat everyone in the Airbnb community -- regardless of their race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, or age – with respect, and without judgement or bias.”