There is a belief that Airbnb listings cause increased crime in residential neighborhoods - or at least annoying late-night parties which increase risk of crimes. However, a new paper suggests that while Airbnb listings can be linked to a reduction in the local social dynamics that prevent crime, it isn't the tourists committing the crimes. And it takes years, which means Airbnb listings may be a symptom rather than the cause.

To better understand the relationship between Airbnb listings and crime, the authors did a statistical analysis of listings and data on different types of crime (using categories of 911 calls) in Boston, MA. Covering a period from 2011 to 2017, they focused on two mechanisms by which the presence of short-term rentals might boost crime. First, tourists themselves may generate or attract crime. Second, the presence of Airbnb listings may disrupt local social dynamics that would normally mitigate or prevent crime.

The researchers found that the prevalence of Airbnb listings in a given neighborhood was linked to higher rates of violence, but not to public social disorder or private conflict. In addition, this link did not appear immediately after the listings became available to tourists, but rather arose and grew over several years.

These findings, especially the lag in increased violence, suggest that Airbnb tourists themselves do not cause or attract greater amounts of crime. Instead, an increased proportion of a neighborhood's housing units being converted to short-term rentals may gradually erode local social dynamics, leading to increased violence.  

"The creation of transient properties spread throughout a neighborhood that undermines social organization and social capital and over time and can cause disorder and criminal activities as a result," said co-author Babak Heydari of Northeastern University.