Embattled apartment sharing website Airbnb has been fighting a war on two fronts — legal, and public relations. Both have had their ups and downs, but today a blow was struck against the company in the PR arena when it was revealed that one of the hosts featured in the "New Yorkers love us" ad campaign (which you have almost certainly seen in the subways) was once evicted from an upstate New York barn that she rented and proceeded to Airbnb to strangers without the owner's consent. That's not a great look for a company/product that's currently trying to brand itself as safe, cooperative, and good for everyone (including landlords).
Michelle "Shell" Martinez appeared on a series of posters and also in a promotional video about how she (admirably, it should be noted) let displaced Rockaway residents stay in her loft rent-free after Hurricane Sandy. However, in 2013, the Daily Intellegencer has revealed, she rented a barn in Stuyvesant, New York from an artist and, in her words, "should have communicated better" about her intentions for the property. When the owner found the listing for his barn on Airbnb he ordered Shell out. She left, but not before renting out the barn one more time for a wedding.
It remains to be seen whether this will have any tangible effect on the Airbnb vs. New York City fight, but the fact that Shell is clearly a big believer in the company's whole "sharing" ethos casts Airbnb's rebranding in a somewhat dubious light. Shell also uses Airbnb to rent five of the bedrooms in her six-bedroom Brooklyn loft, as well as another ground-floor apartment in Brooklyn, a property in Rhinebeck, and one in Puerto Rico. But to hear her tell it, you wouldn't even think that she made any money from her endeavors — she calls Airbnb "a lifestyle" and describes herself as "a collaboration junkie" in the listing for the Brooklyn loft. She even went so far as to flatly deny making a profit in the case of the barn, which she paid $4,000 a month for and listed for $475 a night.
Clearly, this is all only part of the story when it comes to Shell and her real estate business (or whatever you call it in Airbnb lingo). But so far, one of the major criticisms of Airbnb is that it doesn't adequately screen its hosts, and considering the questionable job it has done screening the faces of its own ad campaign, there's probably some truth to that.
· Airbnb Poster-Child Was Evicted for Airbnb-ing a Converted Barn She Didn't Own [Daily Intel]
· Poster Girl From Airbnb Ads Got Evicted For Renting Hipster Barn [Valleywag]
· Airbnb coverage [Curbed]