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Wednesday 09 November 2016

What will Airbnb's new policy actually mean for LGBTI users?

Posted in: Our Communities
By Sarah Murphy - 4th November 2016

Airbnb have announced a new anti-discrimination policy that all users must sign if they wish to use the website, but is a policy such as this one legally binding in New Zealand?

The “community commitment” aims to “fight bias and discrimination in the Airbnb community” and asks users to commit to treating everyone without judgement or bias, regardless of “sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, religion, national origin, ethnicity, disability or age.”

We spoke to lawyer, Stewart Dalley, of Ryken and Associates about how Airbnb’s new policy fits within the constructs of New Zealand law.

Dalley says while each country would be subject to its own laws, solely on the basis that the accommodation provided through Airbnb is in New Zealand, the Airbnb policy aligns broadly with New Zealand’s Human Rights Act.

“Specifically, section 53 of that Act guarantees that in providing accommodation services to the public in New Zealand it would be unlawful to refuse to provide accommodation to any person by reason of any of the prohibited grounds of discrimination,” he says.

“The prohibited grounds of discrimination includes, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, marital status, disability etc. There are some limits to that depending on the type of accommodation being offered. Here, however, assuming a person was letting out their own home or apartment then they could not seek to protect themselves with those exclusions.”

“The simple fact of it is that if you offer your goods, services, facilities, accommodation etc. to the public, you have to offer it to everyone on the same terms. You cannot pick and choose who to serve based on your own bias, if that were to breach the law.”

While the Human Rights Act and anti-discrimination policies such as Airbnb’s protect those in New Zealand from discrimination, the reality is that people still face discrimination based on their sexuality or gender identity.

Daley says anyone who faces discrimination when using a rental service such as Airbnb is encouraged to lodge a formal complaint.

“It is not acceptable to face discrimination,” he says.

“If you find it hard to put forward that complaint on your own then you can seek assistance from a professional like a lawyer, or with the assistance of a family member or friend. We need to stand up to bullies when we come across them. Hiding will not make a difference. Here, the law is actually designed to help you.

“If it was a New Zealand based accommodation then the effected person can make a complaint to the Human Rights Commission who would investigate the matter and seek to provide mediation. If mediation failed to resolve the matter the effected persons could then seek to bring a claim to the Human Rights Review Tribunal who have the power to impose penalties, and order compensation.”

As Airbnb is a globally service, offering accommodation in 191 countries including Uganda and Russia, Dalley says “If a New Zealander faced discrimination in another country then it would be that country’s laws that would apply, and direct the dispute resolution process.

“In addition, such effected persons should contact Airbnb to report the conduct so that they can review whether such persons should be allowed to offer accommodation through their company in the future.”

While the laws of a country dictate the legal constraints of Airbnb’s new policy, it will help to ensure that anyone using the service is subject to it’s terms and those in breach will be removed from the website, unable to provide accommodation or seek accommodation.

Sarah Murphy - 4th November 2016

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