SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — Bay Area based Airbnb is taking new steps to keep large groups from ringing in the new year at vacation rentals by discouraging house parties.

From coast to coast, authorities have been targeting people who choose to celebrate regardless of the pandemic, throwing so-called “COVID parties.”

In Los Angeles, hundreds packed a vacation rental for an illegal house party.

“It is frustrating and a little bit scary,” said Southern California Airbnb host Cy Pilkington, who has four vacation rentals near San Diego listed on the platform.

His properties are booked for new years eve. He said he has made it clear parties are not allowed.

“I’ve had a few that try and sneak a few people in and, you know, being on site, I catch that,” said Pilkington.

Airbnb is also enforcing tougher global policies to stop large gatherings due to a spike in COVID cases.

“If you’re coming to Airbnb and you don’t have a 5 star rating and you’re seeking to do a 1-night reservation on New Year’s Eve, you’re just not going to be able to do that,” said Airbnb Senior Vice President for Global Policy and Communications Chris Lehane.

The platform has been updating its policies since the start of the pandemic, including putting a cap on occupancy, restricting guests under 25 without a history of positive reviews to book a listing and even taking legal action against those who violate the rules.

“It is just absolutely critical to prioritize public health,” said Lehane.
Hosts like Pilkington are doing just that, abiding by the site’s enhanced cleaning protocols.

“Every unit, between a stay, is gone through and completely misted and sprayed with anti-bacterial cleaner to clean anything that may have been missed by the cleaning people,” said Pilkington.

The stepped up efforts are designed to protect guests and keep vacationers from taking the virus home with them.

Earlier this month, Airbnb suspended or removed more than 65 properties in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose from its platform after they received complaints or violated the company’s party and event policy.

“Everyone in the Bay Area has a role to play in reducing the number of large gatherings and parties, and that includes Airbnb,” said Matt Middlebrook, Airbnb’s regional policy lead.

On December 10, the San Francisco-based home sharing company made a triumphant debut with its initial public offering as shares closed at $144.71, more than double the $68 price that Airbnb had set.

Michelle Griego