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Airbnb in Ontario displays hate symbol and company responds three weeks later

Warning: Some readers may find this article disturbing.

A Toronto woman won't rent from Airbnb after she found a symbol of hate prominently displayed at a property.

Patricia Joong, along with her partner and friend rented an Airbnb near Belleville for a three-day getaway in early March. Joong tells blogTO she has rented with Airbnb in the past and always enjoyed the experience.

On March 4, the trio went on a hike before heading to the property, so they ended up arriving around 6 p.m. It was getting dark.

The place they rented was above a garage, and through the glass door they could see inside. The symbol of hate, a Confederate flag, was hard to miss inside the garage.

"The Confederate flag was hanging on the wall and there was a spotlight," Joong tells blogTO. "The whole garage was very dark except for the flag, which was shining."

They couldn't avoid seeing it. Unsure of what to do next and exhausted from a day of travel and hiking, they went upstairs to the unit.

"We were really tired and we kind of just wanted to just relax for a bit," she says.

They had some snacks and talked about what they had seen.

"We hadn't ever really encountered anything like that before and we started to talk about how we were all feeling uncomfortable by what we saw."

The Confederate flag, popular among white supremacists and people from southern United States, has long been denounced as a hate symbol.

As three people of colour, Joong says they were feeling unwelcome and very uncomfortable staying at the home. They decided to call Airbnb but the agent they reached told them they have "have no control over hosts' décor."

She pushed the agent further asking what if there was a Nazi flag or racial slurs on the wall. "Everything was like, 'it's not something we can control. I'm sorry'."

They asked for a cancellation and were told they would have to contact the owner directly.

"I was quite shocked that was what they recommended because it's the Confederate flag it symbolizes white supremacy."

They decided not to contact the owner at that time and instead drove back home to Toronto that same night.

A few days later, she contacted the host who gave them a refund but it didn't include the Airbnb fees. The host said they were sorry the group had that experience but didn't say anything about the flag.

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The three travellers launched a petition for the company to update its policies.

In an emailed response, Airbnb said it "does not tolerate discrimination and our policies ban hateful and discriminatory objects — which specifically includes the Confederate flag."

They admit the case was mishandled and apologised.

"We deeply apologize to Ms. Joong and Mr. Ford (Joong's partner) that our Community Support team member appears to have mishandled this case and gave them an incorrect account of our policy — we never want our guests to have this type of experience, especially when they've brought us such a serious claim. We have indefinitely suspended this listing as we investigate further."

But Joong feels that this response only came after she went to the media. After numerous attempts to contact Airbnb and resolve the issue, nothing changed until the media reported.

"We had to put this much pressure on them to address one case that was reported, and I'm just wondering how many more are out there who might not have the time or energy to pursue action on the house."

While Airbnb has a policy against hate, harassment and discrimination, the statement doesn't say what they will do for customers in this situation. There is a policy in place called Open Doors as of 2016, the company clarified If a guest feels like they have been discriminated against, Airbnb will find a similar place to stay if one is available or an alternative accommodation elsewhere.

But that didn't happened for Joong.

"They're saying now in their policy that they don't tolerate that, but then what does that mean?" she says. "Because they didn't actually do anything about what we reported on, they just didn't, they didn't follow up on it at all."

This story was updated on April 1 to include Airbnb's Open Doors policy.

Lead photo by

Patricia Joong

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