Commentary / Creative disruption

Can Airbnb consolidate the messy, time-consuming and anti-tenant long-term rental process?

Overreaching landlords and rent-seeking property agents that refuse to provide any service for your money – can Airbnb reign in the tyranny of jealously protected long-term rental markets?


Photo: House in Szeged – Balázs Papdi @

I have experienced more than my fair share of renting, and it came with negotiating landlords and navigating various countries’ property agent systems. I’ve been asked to provide breathtaking details about my private life and obnoxiously intrusive paperwork to landlords. When asked why on earth he would need my company’s bank account statement, one of them said it was “because I haven’t seen one before”. He asked for it because he could.

I have called property adverts only to talk to agents who may or may not answer questions about the property, show it to me, or refrain from insulting me for not knowing how it works.

  • One landlord refused to proceed without filling out a form that included a statement on my future professional and reproductive intentions.
  • One landlord demanded to know if I cook and whether I use “excessive spices”.
  • Another insisted to send her own cleaning lady every week to check out “that I use the property according to its purpose”.
  • Another one just happened to pop in regularly and open the fridge and the cupboard.

Sure, I could have terminated the contract upon every single incident and got down to finding another place, but I don’t have a month to find a new place every time I run into an idiot – or years to litigate for privacy infringement. I don’t know about you but I don’t even have money to pay lawyers to do it for me – if I had, I would probably not be renting.

Meanwhile, property agents worldwide are lobbying their ass off to turn their services into what amounts to extortion. I met agents whose only contribution was to release the phone number of – no, not even the owner, but another agent – in exchange for two months’ rent.

In Berlin, a website counts as a property agent and gets a 20% cut in eternity if you find an apartment through it. You have to do all the legwork, call all the owners, set up all meetings and escape all nutcases yourself. But before you even start with it, you have to download and return a signed contract from the website that grants the site 20% of the contract value in eternity. In exchange or the owner’s contact information and nothing else. There was no live agent at any point, it was all automated, but they could afford to be this arrogant and minimalist in their services, as the state granted them their cut in law. Property agents (read: website owners) used the enforcement arm of the state to go after you and investigate whether you had extended the contract with the landlord. How much did it cost the taxpayer to provide website owners with henchmen to collect their dues from every single rental contract in eternity? It is mind-blowing.

But I don’t have to be limited by my own experience. There is an entire porn genre daydreaming about being a landlord who can have sex with his powerless tenants. Taking their money and even sexually relieving yourself in them is The Dream, better than marriage! And it is not a porn fantasy, it actually happens to poor tenants around the world. Just how deep a tenant has to sink to comply?

Any entity that disrupts the landlords’ reign, the agents’ monopoly, and cuts back on their arbitrary abuses cannot come soon enough.

I can’t wait for the day I can just browse homes and rent them long term – as long as I put up the money and have decent enough reviews.

And when I can also read reviews of landlords, because I knew nothing about them thus far. Learning that he had 5 tenants before me who gave him 4.7 stars on average is so much more than I was allowed to know about my off-Airbnb landlords of the past!

I can’t wait for the day when no one will ask for my bank statement, my company’s bank statement, my character references, my parents’ guarantee, or the color of my underwear before allowing me in.

I can’t wait for the day when I’m on equal footing with the landlord, who has to behave like a decent human being if he wants my money.

I can’t wait for renting out a place to be a service – not a favor they grant me in exchange for my money and with a thousand conditions.

And I want an agent that helps me, answers my questions and mediates disputes – and an agent that is a platform, not a moody person. I want that platform to consolidate the renting process that is so obnoxiously complex and arbitrary at the moment, making outsiders helpless when entering it.

I want to make the interaction with the landlord as impersonal as possible.

I want a disinterested third party to mitigate disputes, without expensive legal fees.

I will be happy to pay a cut for that service.

Enter Airbnb.

Airbnb introduced a new feature to help long-term rentals globally. Can it reigns i the tyranny of landlords and real estate agents?

Airbnb introduced new features aimed at longer-term stays triggered by the pandemic and the opportunities it created. “Airbnb is betting how and where people work will evolve; in the company’s view, it’s heading toward longer-term stays. Recent data shared by Airbnb supports that view. In the last two weeks of March, the company saw the number of guests booking longer-term stays within their same cities nearly double. Meanwhile, 80% of Airbnb hosts now accept longer-term stays and about half of the company’s active listings now provide discounts for stays of one month or longer… Airbnb has more than 1 million listings that offer monthly stays, according to the company. These homes are equipped with the kinds of amenities required for a longer stay, such as kitchens, laundry facilities and Wi-Fi.”

The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have given Airbnb the last push to venture into the heavily protected playground of useless rental agents sitting on state-guaranteed cuts of your rent, and whimsical landlords demanding breathtaking breaches of privacy. But the trend has already been afoot in 2019. According to Airbnb, one in every seven nights booked in 2019 was for a longer-term stay.

Nationally vs Globally

It is customary to moan at Airbnb, but let us separate two things.

Would you like booking sites to clean up and consolidate the messy rental markets within countries? Would you like a sleek website with verified photos and built-in mediation systems to keep you and your landlord on equal footing in the process? Of course you would.

The worries about Airbnb are that it is a global marketplace and it can consolidate not just the harebrained renting process but also the prices – and towards the higher end globally.

While that is a legitimate worry – but not for people in the first world.

And it doesn’t have to be just Airbnb. I don’t mind a dozen different platforms competing for my business by providing actual, useful services – not just extorting a cut for not withholding contact information.

But as things are only a global giant can crack down on the dominance of landlords and the rent-seeking of real estate agents that is enshrined in law country by country, maintaining their own, inscrutable little fiefdoms. They have all cornered their own captive markets, with captive customers and services bordering on extortion. And we even have to pay for that.

Berlin, I’m looking at you…


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