Airbnb says AI program thwarts thousands of party houses in Florida

Minsk, Belarus. May, 2019. Travel around the world with Airbnb. Logo Airbnb and the city on the background. Home concept. Popular rent company.
'We believe it worked. Those (holiday) weekends were generally quiet.'

In the eyes of weary neighbors, in the worst-case scenarios for hosts, and in the debates of City Hall and the Legislature, few things about Florida’s vacation rental home business inspire more consternation than the prospect of the “party house.”

Think of the out-of-control scenes from the movies “Almost Famous,” “House Party,” “Sixteen Candles,” “Risky Business,” or “Animal House,” spilling out onto the lawn next door — only not so funny. And imagine it happening on a regular basis.

“My issue is the proliferation of party houses,” said Rep. Dan Daley, perhaps the Legislature’s most strident advocate of effective regulation of vacation rental homes, during a committee debate last week.

Now Airbnb, the vacation rental home marketing platform that has formally banned house parties in its host properties, contends it has data showing that computer technology has thwarted tens of thousands of potential party house plans around Florida.

The technology profiles likely party house renters, and then has the Airbnb online platform refuse to rent houses to them.

With data Airbnb released late last week, the company contends 49,600 people were blocked from renting houses in Florida in 2021, the first full year the anti-party house program has been in use. That included more than 2,300 who were trying to find houses to rent for the 4th of July, 1,750 who were trying to find houses to rent for Halloween, and more than 1,400 who were trying to find houses to rent for New Year’s Eve.

Airbnb said its program works like this: Anyone age 25 or younger who does not have a history of good reviews as a guest at Airbnb properties is steered away from renting any full, unoccupied house in the same city where the renter already lives. They won’t be told they’re banned, exactly; they’ll be told a given house they’ve requested isn’t available. They’ll be directed to other options, most likely places where host owners live on the premises and are renting out an extra bedroom or two.

The company concedes its software is not fool-proof. It may be blocking well-behaved, good-intentioned young people along with those looking for party houses. There’s also the prospect that people who don’t quite fit the profile, perhaps those over 25, get through to rent a house for a party. But Airbnb officials insist the program so far has been very effective, based on feedback.

“We believe it worked. Those weekends (Independence Day, Halloween and New Year’s) were generally quiet, and these initiatives were well-received by our host community,” the company stated in a news advisory providing the data.

While the company says it has a zero-tolerance for party houses, it may have been the coronavirus crisis that spurred the strongest response, including the anti-party house software, which first went into use in 2020.

On Aug. 20, 2020, the company announced a global ban on all parties at Airbnb listings, as well as an occupancy cap of 16. The ban, the company said, remains in effect indefinitely, until further notice.

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected]



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