Mon | Nov 19, 2018

Patria-Kaye Aarons | The downside of Airbnb

Published:Tuesday | November 6, 2018 | 12:00 AM
The 20 South apartment high-rise that looms large on South Avenue, St Andrew. Airbnb fever is beginning to sweep Jamaica, and homeowners in communities with diverse socio-economic textures - whether Trench Town, the Blue Mountains or upper St Andrew - are cashing in.

I know several people who are paying their mortgages in full every month by listing on Airbnb. Some have acquired income properties solely for the purpose of doing these short-term rentals, and they generate enough money for the houses to pay for themselves - mortgage, maintenance and utilities.

Many of these folks see the real estate acquisitions as their retirement plans, and swear it's the best investment they ever made. Others, at the drop of a hat, move out of their actual homes and turn them over to online bookers multiple times a month. Just to earn a buck. I know one guy who doesn't even take his clothes out. He moves out for weeks at a time, to squat with friends or family until his paying houseguests leave.

Some have converted their spare bedroom to a dedicated Airbnb rental. They willingly share their personal space with a perfect stranger. Sight unseen. But they all say it's worth it.

I have aspirations of realising my dream of a vacation home this way. In my head, rent it out three weeks a month and enjoy it myself with the people I love the fourth week.

Essentially, Airbnb is affording people islandwide a free house. So many Jamaicans are in search of a second source of income, and especially one that doesn't require much time and effort on their part. Airbnb provides that solution.

It's not all kumbaya and money, however. The Airbnb revolution in Jamaica has brought with it a growing problem. 'The undesirables' are penetrating the fortress enclosures of gated communities and security guard-manned apartment buildings. Legitimately. As often as I hear the joyous celebration of people who are benefiting from Airbnb rentals, I hear the worrisome lament of their neighbours.

 

Hiding place

 

Citizens who have opted for the security of high-priced, upscale, impenetrable homes complain that they see strangers lurking inside their communities. Strangers who look like trouble. And even as I write that, I remember what happened to Donisha Prendergast. How the neighbour in Florida called the police on her and her travel partners because they looked like they didn't belong. And that was wrong.

I am conflicted. I can see how Airbnbs can attract not only tourists seeking new adventures in new countries. It's easy to understand how these short-term rentals can also become a safe haven for cash-rich criminals seeking a hiding place.

The anonymity that the booking process allows could make it easy for criminals to float around one fancy condo to the next. And with many persons accepting bookings indiscriminately, without any sort of screening of their tenants, neighbours are getting upset and feeling like their spaces are being invaded and their security is under threat.

Another downside to Airbnb is that it's pushing rental prices up. Why rent your two-bedroom, Kingston 6 apartment for US$1,000 a month when you can get US$200 a night for it online? Property owners looking at opportunity costs and driven to maximise the earning potential of their assets are only taking on short-term rentals. So young professionals, new families, students looking for a place to board are all chasing a shrinking pool of properties.

Supply and demand laws are impacting the cost of the available housing stock, especially in the Corporate Area and in resort towns. Complications aside, I'm still a big fan of Airbnb. It's the kind of disruptive technology that gives more people access to wealth. When I hear stories of folks in Trench Town renting rooms in their modest homes to people who want a full reggae music immersion, my heart is happy.

Strata managers will now have additional complications on their hands. Collectively, decisions need to be made in complexes for a happy compromise to be struck between those who rent and those who reside.

- Patria-Kaye Aarons is a broadcaster and confectioner. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and findpatria@gmail.com.