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Airbnb should've done more to prevent the Orinda shooting, victims say

After the family of a shooting victim says it's suing the short-term rental company, Airbnb pledges to pay for funeral expenses and counseling services.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
3 min read

Photos of Raymon Hill Jr. displayed at a memorial for the shooting victims of an Airbnb house party in Orinda, California.

Getty Images

Five young people died in a mass shooting last week during a house party at an Airbnb rental in the San Francisco Bay Area town of Orinda, California. In the aftermath of the shooting, the short-term-rental company pledged to ban house parties on its website and verify all its rental listings. But one victim's family wants Airbnb to do more.

The family of slain 23-year-old Raymon Hill Jr. said Thursday that it's filing a lawsuit against Airbnb for allegedly not doing enough to vet its listings and the people who rent homes through the platform.

"Airbnb only decided to change any of their policies when they saw public opinion turning against them after multiple lives were lost," Jesse Danoff, an attorney representing the Hill family, said in a statement Thursday. "There was ample knowledge and ample time to know this could and should have been done long before."

Shootings at Airbnb rentals happen regularly. In the past six months, at least 42 people have been shot at short-term rentals in the US and 17 people have died, according to a report by the San Francisco Chronicle. These shootings have occurred in 12 states, including Ohio, Minnesota and North Carolina. Sacramento County, California, has seen at least two fatal shootings in Airbnb rentals over the last year.

The four-bedroom house where the Orinda shooting happened was rented to a woman who reportedly told the owner that her family was trying to escape the smoke from a nearby wildfire, according to the Associated Press. The party, which drew around 100 people, was advertised on social media as a "mansion party." The owner reportedly said he was unaware there'd be a party at his house and contacted the renter after neighbors complained.

Hill grew up in San Francisco and was a resident of Oakland. The other four victims, Omar Taylor, 24, Oshiana Thompkins, 19, Tiyon Farley, 22, and Javin County, 29, were also residents of nearby cities.

Police are still investigating the shooting and no arrests have been made. An Airbnb spokesman said the company is working with the city of Orinda and its police department in their investigation. He also said Airbnb is offering a reward for any information leading to the arrest of the perpetrator or perpetrators and offering support to the victims' families.

"We have set aside funds to support the victims' loved ones with funeral expenses and counseling services, and we have been in contact with those representing Mr. Hill's family in this regard," the spokesman said in an emailed statement Friday.

The announcement to assist with funeral expenses comes a day after attorney Danoff publicly criticized Airbnb for not helping Hill's family. Danoff referred to Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky's tweet last Saturday, which said the company was "working to support" the families, and said that wasn't the case.

"The family had reached out to Airbnb attempting to have them pay for some of their unexpected funeral expenses only to be completely ignored," Danoff said Thursday. "They haven't even reached out to apologize. They have merely responded in public with platitudes and thoughts and prayers or have made nebulous promises to 'do better' and 'improve trust.'"

Chesky wrote a blog post Wednesday titled "In the business of trust." He said Airbnb is "fueled by trust" because its business is getting people to rent their homes to strangers. Bad actors, like those in Orinda, have taken advantage of that trust, he said.

He detailed Airbnb's plans to verify all 7 million listings on its site by Dec. 15, 2020, and expand screenings of suspicious reservations. Chesky said these are the most significant safety steps Airbnb has made to its platform since its inception in 2008.

But for Danoff and the Hill family, they come too late.

"These are promises that could and should have been made before these senseless deaths," Danoff said. "There had been enough warning signs to see that what happened to these young men and women was not only predictable, it was inevitable."