Updated December 13, 2017
There have been a host of articles recently about Airbnb – specifically, what they do to protect their guests. Airbnb, like other "sharing economy" companies, is in a bit of a weird spot. They claim that all they do is connect guests and hosts, that they are a neutral, third-party platform, but the truth is more complicated. Airbnb technically offers primary liability insurance to hosts, something they decided to do after multiple controversies and a San Francisco law requiring it. At the same time, Airbnb notes that they have "no control over the conduct of Hosts and disclaims all liability."
Airbnb is going to have to figure out exactly how much liability they’re willing to take on sooner rather than later. Even though incidents are still relatively rare, they are happening more frequently now that Airbnb is gaining popularity. Zak Stone wrote about his father dying in an Airbnb rental earlier this month at Matter, and Ron Lieber at the New York Times has covered Airbnb liability issues this past August (host assaulted guest), April (dog mauls guest), and back in 2012 (nothing bad had happened yet – more innocent times).
Hosts shouldn’t be caught off guard while Airbnb struggles to resolve their liability question, however. There are a number things that hosts can do to make their property safer and to protect themselves legally in the case of an accident.
Buy some real insurance
Chances are, your homeowners or renters insurance policy isn’t going cover your commercial activities. We suggest calling your insurance company and asking about expanding coverage to include commercial activity. Coverage will vary, and your insurance company may not offer any expanded coverage.
If your homeowners or renters insurance policy won’t cover your guests (or damage caused by them), look into a type of insurance called an "umbrella policy." Umbrella policies are named that because they cover just about anything – including the possibility of a guest suing you because they were injured on your property.
There’s also a company called Peers that offers a home liability insurance product for $36 per month. Peers claims the product will cover you no matter where your home is listed – Airbnb, Homeaway, or even Craigslist. While we can’t vouch for whether or not Peers is a trustworthy vendor, it’s worth investigating further if you list on marketplaces besides Airbnb. [Note: Peers is no longer active.]
You might be thinking, Hey, wait a minute, I got an email from Airbnb telling me that their Host Protection Insurance is now the primarily liability insurance for Airbnb hosts! You’re correct, but that doesn’t mean you’re protected. A guest could still choose to sue you or your insurance company for damages in the case of an accident. Plus, there’s always the chance that Airbnb won’t cover a claim. Note that this is different from Airbnb’s Host Guarantee, which is not a type of insurance.
Why is insurance so important? If something bad happens on your property, whether you’re there or not, you are personally liable for it. Insurance is the best way to protect yourself from the potential financial devastation of a lawsuit.
Get a home safety inspection
Zak Stone’s father died because a tree with a rope swing had rotted through – something a home inspector could’ve warned the host about. While Stone argues in his article that Airbnb should send professional hotel inspectors to Airbnb homes, it seems unlikely that they actually will. As Stone notes, "such a program… might jeopardize Airbnb’s covetable neutrality as a platform."
Depending on where you live, you may have access to a number of home inspection options. For starters, there are probably professional home safety inspectors in your area. If you can’t find any online, try contacting a home realtor – safety inspectors are often part of the home buying process.
If you have a local bed and breakfast association, they may be able to provide you with contact information for a professional inspector. However, they may also make you join their association in order to get that information, and you may not qualify.
If all else fails, call your local fire department. At the very least, they can inspect your home or apartment for fire safety hazards for a small fee.
Invest in smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, and first aid kits
This one should be a no brainer – every room should have a smoke detector and a carbon monoxide detector. (If you really want to get fancy, grab the WiFi-enabled Nest Protect – if you don’t live on the property you rent out, the Nest app will notify you of problems at your Airbnb rental.)
You should also put a small fire extinguisher in the kitchen, and it should be in an easy to reach and obvious place. You should also put a fire extinguisher anywhere else there might be a fire hazard – an outdoor fire pit or barbeque, for example.
Get a few first aid kits as well, and place them in strategic areas around the rental. Make sure you restock the kits after each guest.
Leave safety information for your guests
You know how hotels have those signs on the back of the doors telling guests where the emergency exits are? You don’t necessarily have to get signs made up, but you should provide safety information for your guests, either in an email or something physical in the rental. Let them know how to get out of the rental in an emergency, as well as where first aid kits and fire extinguishers are.
Ron Lieber covered the case of a man who was mauled by a dog at an Airbnb rental last April. The Airbnb listing never said anything about a dog at the property, and there’s a good chance that the man never would’ve chosen this listing if he knew there was a dog.
Guests don’t want to feel like they’re being lied to, even if it’s a lie of omission. Be as open and honest with your guests as possible, especially if they staying in a property where you permanently reside. While this won’t protect you in every situation, it’s good to try to have a good working relationship with your guests.
Have more tips?
We’d love to hear from experienced Airbnb hosts who either rent out their own homes and apartments or have properties that are specifically used for Airbnb rentals. What safety measures have you put in place? What kind of insurance do you have? Do you feel comfortable with how much liability Airbnb is shifting to their hosts? Let us know in the comments below.
Image: Tim Regan