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Airbnb to block one-night bookings on Halloween weekend to discourage partying

TORONTO — If you're looking for a place to stay over the Halloween weekend, your options may be limited.

TORONTO — If you're looking for a place to stay over the Halloween weekend, your options may be limited.

Airbnb said it will take extra steps to prevent Halloween parties at short-term rental homes, including blocking one-night reservations of entire homes in the U.S. and Canada on Friday, Oct. 30, and Saturday, Oct. 31. 

The company says the restrictions are an effort to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The home-sharing app already has a party ban in place and announced in August that gatherings would be capped at 16 people. 

"We have done a number of things in the past couple of months ... we have brought legal action against guests who are hosting parties in listings, we banned parties globally. This is really just one more step to leverage our technology to make sure we are doing everything we can, and playing our part to prevent large gatherings amidst a global health pandemic," said Christopher Nulty, who works in public affairs at Airbnb.

Airbnb will also sending guests warnings if they book between Oct. 28 and Nov. 1, and restrict longer reservations that seem like they are at risk of being used for parties. 

The company says you’re deemed as a potential risk to throw a party if you don’t have a history of positive reviews or book locally at the last minute. 

"Currently, we score every reservation on our platform ahead of time for a variety of different risk factors and over Halloween weekend we are expanding certain criteria — such as location and timing," said Nulty.

Anyone who has already booked a one-night, entire-home in their local area on the Halloween weekend will be reimbursed by the company. Hosts will also get to keep any payments that were already made for bookings.

The extra precautions come after Airbnb suspended more than 40 listings across Ontario on Sept. 21 for hosting parties, with plans to pull listings in other provinces over the next few months. 

In the past, Airbnb has said it would rein in party houses. The app restricts people under the age of 25 to booking hotels and single rooms for short-term stays unless they had three positive reviews and were outside their local area. The company also created a hotline for neighbours to make complaints — and staffing will be beefed up during Halloween. After COVID-19 hit, the company also removed the “event-friendly” search filter from the app.

Vancouver and Toronto have taken steps to licence Airbnb hosts in recent years, after violent incidents and concerns about displacing long-term renters. Nova Scotia is also exploring restrictions.

Some advocates say more restrictions are needed. A group called Fairbnb said that it has identified listings in Toronto that exceed the number of residences or stays allowed by the rules. 

"Airbnb users that are continuing to host parties in defiance of the provincial emergency orders and in defiance of the city bylaws are putting the heath and safety of our neighbourhoods and our communities at risk," Chris Glover, the member of provincial parliament for Spadina–Fort York, said on behalf of the group on Sept. 24.

Nulty said that he welcomes "any ideas that advocates may be interested in sharing."

"We have taken significant measures over the last year, and especially amidst the current health crisis, to do everything we can to stop parties on our platform. But we are not infallible, and there are unfortunately those who attempt to break the rules, which is why we’ve implemented steep consequences for anyone who tries to skirt them," he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 2, 2020.

Anita Balakrishnan, The Canadian Press