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Reflections on sectional title living and AirBnB
There is a great deal of anxiety about short-stay visitors, and their impact on established communities such as ours. This anxiety is misplaced, because problems do not arise as a result of AirBnB itself, nor the way it works, they arise because of how AirBnB hosts manage their spaces and the people who come as guests.

You may have heard that in New York people letting out their spaces to AirBnB visitors (and possibly visitors from other 'sharing' services, of course) are now limited to 90 days of such letting each year, beyond which they will become subject to the kinds of regulation that apply to fully commercial guest houses and hotels.

We are beginning to hear the same kind of arguments here.

My wife and I use AirBnB in two cities - Cape Town and Liverpool - to make the best use of accommodation in these places that is ours, places where we often live ourselves, generating a modest income that we need in our retirement. We have had more than 60 guests over almost three years, and we have enjoyed almost every moment of it. Out of all those guests, only three have really been problematic: a young first-time-AirBnB-er from China who turned up with four friends to stay in our Liverpool house (where there are only two beds!); another older couple from Malta (still first-timers) who left the place in some chaos with partly drunk champagne bottles, dirty crockery put back in the cupboard, and trash spread around the place; finally, a South African couple who were slightly less chaotic but who left used condoms on the floor in the bedroom. Yuck!

The other 57 visitors have been an absolute delight. I will leave you to imagine the pleasure in meeting people from all over the world, who have 'self-selected' in the sense that they chose not to use a hotel or guest house preferring to stay in someone's home instead. And it is important to understand that that is the intention of AirBnB - to make it possible to live the life of a local, for a few days, weeks, or perhaps a couple of months. The AirBnB system is brilliant (in my view!) and constrains (or enables) almost everything that might be a problem (or an opportunity). Guarantees and warranties, discounts, special offers, dynamic demand-related pricing, choice of currency, rules of the house, cleaning costs, and so on. Of course, what it will never do is manage the more difficult people (almost always, in our experience, first-timers) who tell lies, fail to keep to schedules, and then complain when they do not get hotel-quality service.

So, what should we do about it, here in the Mutual Building? First, we need to distinguish between two very different situations that might both be seen as 'AirBnB apartments' if we do not acknowledge the differences. Let's use the terminology with which we are familiar. Where an owner offers a space as a 'chance to stay in my house', there is a quite different situation to where an owner engages with an agency that will handle the visitors omn behalf of the owner. It is rather like going to a restaurant or pub, where meeting and being engaged by the owner is likely to be a completely different experience to meeting a disinterested member of staff, to whom the whole process is just a job. In the worst cases, visitors come with no sense of living-like-the-locals, they are hell-bent on having a good time, and ignore their responsibilities to those of us who actually live in the building.

How many of those cases have we had, in Mutual Heights? The answer is we don't really know, and so that we can understand the extent of the problem we have instituted a scheme to collect 'community reports'.

Whilst the original idea was a response to the perceived problems with short-stay visitors, the facility can be used to make any kind of report. The structure of the report includes the possibility to enter two apartment numbers: that of the person reporting, and (if appropriate) that which is the subject of the report. Think of it as a quality management system, if you like. Trustees will review these reports with the management team and take the necessary action, which will be added to the report for all to see. No names, email addresses or phone numbers are requested, and the contact information that is associated with each apartment or section will remain private in the public view of the reports.

Let's see how it goes. You must tell us what you think, and you must remember to USE the facility if you feel you need to! If you don't tell us, we will never know.

The Community Report facility can be found here.




Last updated: 1 August 2017
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