As often happens among young collegians, 19-year-old Jack Worth, a sophomore at Emerson College in Boston, found himself short of ready cash this January. Then inspiration struck, and Worth turned to the residence-sharing website Airbnb.com, where he posted an invitation for visitors to the city to take advantage of a “private, single-bedroom” at a central downtown location, highlighting its commanding views of picturesque Boston Common.
Although the charges for the lodgings weren’t stated in Worth’s ad – making it impossible to say how great a bargain the resourceful student was offering — the listing did attract paying customers three times during the two weeks Worth’s rental was available. But before long, Worth found himself hauled before the college’s disciplinary officials, charged with violating school policies.
The precise nature of Worth’s alleged offense? The property he was renting out through the internet was not in an off-campus residence to which he had access. Rather, the private, one-bedroom listing was for Worth’s dormitory room, in a 12-story residence hall housing about 750 Emerson students.
And attempting to rent out or sublet a room, or even a bed, in a college residential hall violated the housing contract students had signed before being admitted in the school’s housing (with a minimum of three other suitemates and a cost of $14,700 per academic year), Emerson officials explained, adding the prohibition was to protect students and the college from safety and security risks.
After Emerson residential life officials called Airbnb to complain about the ad, the home-sharing service (which advises its listers to check with the property owner to make sure sublets are legal, but does not require them to provide proof that’s the case) pulled Worth’s ad and fined him $150. He’s now facing school disciplinary proceedings on several charges related to his foray in residential rentals.
For his part, Worth — surprisingly, not majoring in business, but in visual and media arts — says he rented his dorm room for money, but adds he was also trying to “help some people out.” He was no doubt thinking of those poor souls hoping to visit Beantown without surrendering their life savings to the Marriotts or Hiltons of the world.
A quick perusal of Airbnb in recent months also shows Worth was onto an emerging trend, since it would have turned up listings for dormitory spaces in locations across the nation, ranging from Brooklyn to Berkeley – although the publicity given to Worth’s case and similar students-turned-internet hoteliers may reduce such listings, by making college residential housing officials more wary of, and vigilant against, such underground rentals. Worth maintains he did not recall having ever read an explicit warning from the school that such sublets were forbidden; expect to see very, very clear statements to that effect become more common on campuses.
While some dorm-dwellers might not welcome the prospect of sharing their digs with unknown transients, Worth has drawn some outpouring of support. A student-posted petition on Change.com calling on Emerson College not to punish Worth has, at last check, gathered about 500 signatures.