Report finds racial discrimination rife at Airbnb in Sweden

3:00 min

Airbnb - the online home-rental service that allows people to list, find and rent vacation homes around the world - has an issue with racial discrimination, reporters from Swedish Radio News and the investigative program Kaliber have found.

Tim Davis is from New York. Last summer, he tried to book an apartment in Stockholm via Airbnb, but was turned down by 15 hosts who had listed their homes on the site. Davis thinks it's because he's black.

"I was sending out requests to 15 different hosts, and all of them were declined," said Davis, who is an Airbnb host himself in New York. "I have never been to Sweden and so I started researching. Is it OK to go there? Are there going to be problems? Is there going to be a big problem for me to be there as a black man?"

In the United States, this issue has received a lot of attention over the past year, partly because of a Harvard University study which showed that it's easier to rent an accommodation via Airbnb if you have a name that is common among white Americans than if you have a name that is distinctively African-American.

Kaliber carried out an investigation to find out if this was a problem in Sweden. The program temporarily used the Airbnb accounts of several black and white individuals in Sweden.

Logging in with a black persons account, Kaliber asked 200 Airbnb hosts in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö - Sweden's three largest cities - if their homes were available during a few, specific dates. 

Just over half (109) of the hosts said yes, some didn't answer, and 83 said no.

Using accounts belonging to a white person, Kaliber approached those 83 individuals again and pretty soon nearly a third had said that, yes, their homes were available.

This is what some of the hosts replied when a black person approached them:

  • No, sorry, I have friends visiting.
  • Unfortunately we won't be home during those dates.
  • No, unfortunately the accommodation is not available - had forgotten to change the calendar.

And this is what the hosts replied when a white person repeated the question to the same hosts:

  • You're more than welcome!
  • We'll arrange that. What time are you arriving on Friday?
  • Absolutely, that works fine. Welcome!

This is how Sweden’s Deputy Ombudsman and Head of Litigation at The Equality Ombudsman’s office, Martin Mörk, reacted when he learnt of the Airbnb test.

"It's hard to say anything about the individual cases, but considering they look the way they do, there appears to be a problem."

Normally, the private sphere falls outside of discrimination jurisdiction. But in this case, where individuals have advertised on a commercial site with the purpose of making a profit, those individuals could be guilty of discrimination.

“The way the discrimination law looks today, the host – and not Airbnb – would be held responsible,” says Mörk.

What would you say if you learnt that a hotel had turned people down in this way?

"Well, then we would definitely take a closer look at that hotel."

Kaliber have been in contact Airbnb several times to get an interview but they have just replied in an email that discrimination like this is unacceptable. They also say they are taking action whenever they receive reports about a guest being discriminated against because of who they are or where they're from.