An Airbnb host in California has been banned after an Asian American guest claimed her reservation was cancelled at the last minute because of her race.
Airbnb spokesman Nick Papas told The Washington Post in an email that the host's behavior was "abhorrent and unacceptable." The company has in recent years faced growing complaints of racial discrimination by its hosts.
Dyne Suh, a 25-year-old law student in Riverside, said she and her fiance had been looking forward to a short vacation over Presidents' Day weekend in Big Bear Lake, a popular ski getaway about two hours by car east of Los Angeles.
About a month before their trip, Suh booked a mountain cabin on Airbnb listed as a "Tree House Loft and Private Bathroom" in Running Springs, Calif. Suh told The Post in a phone interview Friday that she later messaged the host to ask if she could add two friends and two puppies to the reservation and was told it would be fine.
"We were looking forward to it, especially with law school and working and being really busy," Suh told NBC Los Angeles on Wednesday. "It was a welcome break."
On Feb. 17, the group of four set out up the mountain. An intense winter storm was then hitting the area, making road conditions hazardous and prompting flash-flood warnings.
When they were minutes away from the cabin, Suh sent a message to the host through the Airbnb app to let her know they were close and asked how they might pay for adding the two friends to the reservation.
That's when their trip took a turn.
"If you think 4 people and 2 dogs ate getting a room fir $50 a night on big bear mountain during the busiest weekend of the year ..... You are insanely high," the host texted her, according to Suh's screenshots of the exchange. The host, identified as "Tami" in the images, also called Suh "a con artist" and canceled the reservation.
Suh said she was shocked, then protested, telling the host that she had screenshots of their earlier messages showing she had agreed to the reservation changes.
"Go ahead. I wouldn't rent to u if you were the last person on earth," the host wrote back to Suh. "One word says it all. Asian"
When Suh replied that she would report the host to Airbnb for being racist, the host told her to "Go ahead" and "It's why we have trump."
"And I will not allow this country to be told what to do by foreigners," the host added.
Suh took pictures of the exchange and posted them to her Facebook page. "Just had an airbnb cancel on me spewing racism," she wrote.
To compound the problem, the continued snow was making it increasingly dangerous to get down the mountain, according to Suh. "By the grace of God," Suh said in a Facebook comment, there was a crew from KTLA 5 News that happened to be parked near them on the mountain while covering the winter storm. One of the station's reporters, Steve Kuzj, interviewed Suh using his smartphone.
Still reeling from what had just happened, Suh sobbed as she recounted what she said were the host's messages. Video from that KTLA 5 interview was uploaded to YouTube this week.
Suh said in the video that she has been living in the United States since she was 3 years old. She currently is enrolled in the Critical Race Studies Program at the UCLA School of Law.
"I'm an American citizen. This is my home," Suh said in the video. "It stings. It stings that after living in the U.S. for over 23 years, this is what happens."
In a comment to her original Facebook post that night, Suh said Airbnb issued them a full refund immediately and offered to reimburse the group for a hotel. Suh also told friends that they "finally found shelter at a cute cabin after two hours of roaming around the snowy mountain."
One of her travel companions added on Facebook: "The f-ing woman nearly killed us tonight. We basically ended up stuck up the mountain with no where to stay and the snow coming down harder and harder."
Though the incident took place in February, Suh's story became publicly known this week after NBC Los Angeles and KTLA 5 News reported it on Wednesday and Thursday. It is unclear why KTLA 5 did not air the story earlier.
Suh told The Post that she was surprised by all the attention it has suddenly received.
"I didn't even know it was uploaded to YouTube until NBC contacted me," she said. The spotlight is "pretty terrifying but if it encourages more people to come forward, then that's great."
Papas, the Airbnb spokesman, confirmed to The Post on Friday that the host had been banned.
"We have worked to provide the guest with our full support and in line with our nondiscrimination policy, this host has been permanently removed from the Airbnb platform," Papas said.
Airbnb would not respond to questions about when exactly the host was banned, if the host had had a history of complaints or how long the host had been actively renting out the home on the platform before the February incident. Airbnb also would not confirm the host's name.
When contacted by NBC Los Angeles, the host said she had "no comment." The Post attempted to confirm the identity of the host to reach out for comment, but was unable. The listing from the incident no longer appears to be available on Airbnb.
Founded in 2008, Airbnb is now a $30 billion company that operates in 50,000 cities in 191 countries. In response to a rising number of allegations that hosts were refusing certain guests because of their race, the company launched a three-month "comprehensive review" last year that "generally confirmed public reports that minorities struggle more than others to book a listing."
In response, the company said it would require all users to agree to the following commitment:
We believe that no matter who you are, where you are from, or where you travel, you should be able to belong in the Airbnb community. By joining this community, you commit to treat all fellow members of this community, regardless of race, religion, national origin, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age, with respect, and without judgment or bias.
The company also rolled out several measures to fight discrimination on its platform, including publishing a more detailed nondiscrimination policy, trying to increase the number of "Instant Book" listings and making user profile photos less prominent during the booking process, presumably to prevent hosts from discriminating based on guest appearances.
Under a new "Open Doors" policy, Airbnb said it would guarantee alternate lodging for a guest who was unable to book an Airbnb listing because of discrimination. An Airbnb representative pointed to that new "Open Doors" policy when asked about Suh's case on Friday.
Airbnb received some criticism for not doing away with user photos entirely, The Post's Emily Badger reported last year. However, civil rights groups and others who had been pushing for changes at the company welcomed the new policies as a step in the right direction.
"The metric of success, though, will be less dehumanizing, less discriminatory treatment of black folks," Rashad Robinson, the executive director of the group Color of Change, which had organized a public campaign pointing out racial bias on Airbnb, told The Post then. "We think the work that has been done has been good work, and we hope it results in change. But the change is what will determine how successful all of this is."