When Bernard Charles created an account on Airbnb to book a stay for his family members coming to town for his upcoming wedding, it didn’t occur to him that two summary convictions for a 7-year-old non-traffic offense would ban the use of the popular Airbnb account. vacation rental service.
Less than an hour after joining the app and trying to use it to book a stay, Charles, a creative project manager in Pittsburgh, received an email from Airbnb saying his account was under review. Soon he was no longer able to access his account.
Charles told CBS News that the 2016 convictions stemmed from his defense of a domestic dispute and that he pleaded guilty only because he was unable to attend the court hearing at the time .
Airbnb became aware of Charles’ convictions because it uses a company called Inflection Risk Solutions to conduct background checks on customers in the United States and India after they submit “at least a first name, last name, and date of precise birth”. The company discloses on its website that it shares this information with authorized third-party service providers for processes such as background checks.
Inflection Risk Solutions uses user information to generate a consumer report that includes all criminal charges linked to the person’s name, date of birth, and phone number. Charles said he believes such blanket background checks are unfair and don’t take into account mitigating factors.
Charles’ experience is not unique. Other users hoping to book vacation rentals through the California company founded in 2008 say their accounts have also been suspended or indicted because of their criminal records. Now, many are speaking out and asking the company to reconsider how it handles the appeals process.
“There’s no personalization and they never really take the time to understand your criminal history,” Charles said of the consumer report generated by Inflection Risk Solutions. “Society wants to shame you for having a history, and sometimes it’s just that you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Airbnb told CBS News they have two types of appeals. If users believe there is incorrect information in their report, they contact Inflection directly, which will then notify Airbnb. If Inflection’s report is correct, the second type of appeal would involve responding directly to Airbnb’s email for the company to then review the appeal based on the context of the crime and whether the rehabilitation was successful. place.
“It was embarrassing”
Shortly after searching online for information that might explain why he had been reported, Charles came across a Tweeter posted by Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Bethany Hallam, who was a longtime Airbnb user before also receiving a ban for a previous criminal conviction.
“It was embarrassing, and it just made me feel like all the work I had done over the last seven years was meaningless, at least to them,” Hallam told CBS News.
Following the viral tweet, Airbnb lifted the ban on Hallam.
Hallam said her conviction was for drug possession and said she struggled for 10 years with substance abuse after becoming addicted to painkillers. Hallam said she believes her status as an elected official motivated the company to reinstate her account.
Like Hallam, Charles also contacted Airbnb to ask the company to restore his account. But Airbnb refused, asking him to contact Inflection Risk Solutions if he believed information provided by the consumer reporting company regarding his criminal record was inaccurate.
Attorney Mark Mailman, co-founder of consumer protection law firm Francis Mailman Soumilas PC, previously sued Inflection Risk Solutions over what a client claimed was an inaccurate background check.
Mailman explained that companies that conduct consumer background checks must comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which requires accurate reporting of a user’s information. The 1970 law also gives consumers the right to know what information is contained in a background check report.
Mailman told CBS News that the FCRA gives consumers the right to see the contents of their report and requires companies to notify them when the information in it is used against them. This is why Airbnb sends an email to notify users when they are banned due to a criminal background check.
Checkr, which acquired Inflection in 2022, said in a statement to CBS News that it is “committed to the highest standards of accuracy and fairness.”
“As a consumer reporting agency regulated by the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), we only report on criminal records filed with a court. We take any disputed inaccuracies seriously and promptly investigate and remedy them if applicable.”
Banned by association?
Matt, who lives in New Mexico and asked to be identified by his first name only out of concern that speaking out about his experience could affect his job, told CBS News that Airbnb banned his wife from using its services simply because which, according to Matt, associated with him.
“My wife wasn’t there with me doing (drugs), she wasn’t doing any of that,” Matt said. “I met her when I was in recovery, and now she can’t use a company because she’s associated with me.”
Airbnb told CBS News that this is a “necessary safety measure” and restricts the accounts of people who may be traveling with a banned person.
“We want to prevent people who have been removed from Airbnb from using the platform both as a guest and as a host through someone else’s Airbnb account,” the company told CBS News.
Matt says he has struggled with substance abuse in the past and has several misdemeanor convictions for public intoxication and a felony conviction for possession of a controlled substance. He says he’s been in recovery for nine years and now, as a clinical psychologist, he’s looking for ways to help people with substance use disorders.
Matt’s experience with Airbnb isn’t unique either. In 2018, an Airbnb user named Michael Haynes detailed his attempt to challenge his own ban in an online essay.
Haynes said the Inflection Risk Solutions consumer report showed three charges against him, but the court’s final ruling was only a misdemeanor traffic offense. Haynes attempted to edit the report to support his arguments for overturning the Airbnb ban. But he said Inflection Risk Solutions refused to agree to any changes without Haynes submitting his Social Security number in order to “eliminate anyone else with the same name and date of birth.”
CBS News has reached out to Haynes for comment on his experience.
Airbnb has not shied away from enforcing policies it deems necessary when it comes to safety precautions. In 2019, the company began reviewing U.S. and Canadian reservations forsuch as customers who have booked an overnight stay close to home.
In an effort to reduce large gatherings and damage to guests’ property, the company has also limited occupancy of its rental units to 16 people.
CBS News reached out to several Airbnb hosts for comment on the company’s background check policy.
Veronica Horowitz, an assistant professor at the University at Buffalo whose research focuses on criminal sanctions, says she had her own brush with Airbnb in 2022 because of two misdemeanor drug convictions, for which she served 13 months from prison. She contends that if Airbnb had followed its own policy regarding reinstatement eligibility, her account would have been reinstated at that time.
Initially, Horowitz believed the ban was placed on his account because Inflection’s first report inaccurately dated one of his convictions. But even after she appealed Inflection’s corrected report, which cited drug convictions dating back nearly 20 years, her account was not reinstated.
“It makes me angry, that’s how I feel. And Airbnb is just one example of a company that discriminates against people with criminal records,” Horowitz said. “There are a lot of them.”
Like Hallam and others, Horowitz said she doesn’t plan to use the vacation rental service unless it changes its policy to be “less exclusive.”
Contacted by CBS News, Airbnb reviewed the cases of Matt and his wife, Charles, and Horowitz, and reinstated their accounts on the platform.
Airbnb said in a statement to CBS News that the background check was “not perfect.”
“As part of our efforts to protect our community, Airbnb conducts criminal background checks on hosts and guests in the United States. That said, background checks are not perfect. We have worked with criminal justice experts , academics and advocates as we continue to evolve our policies and processes. Additionally, we offer an appeals process so we can make decisions on a case-by-case basis,” Airbnb said.
Horowitz said she doesn’t plan to return to the app despite her reinstatement unless Airbnb starts “implementing” the nuanced, personalized approach “that they claim on their website.”
Charles said the company failed to deliver an experience for his wedding – a moment that meant the most to him.
“They stole this gift from me because they outsourced their responsibilities,” Charles said. “Airbnb is anti-human.”