Once upon a time—not so long ago—if you needed a place to stay, you had two choices: spring for a hotel, or sleep on a friend’s couch. Now we have Airbnb.
Airbnb’s online marketplace helps people rent out their spare rooms or entire properties on a short-term basis. The company takes commissions from both hosts and guests. Airbnb has grown rapidly and offers accommodations all over the world. It is just one of many startups and sites commonly known as participants in “the sharing economy.” These startups have a low overhead because
they do not own the inventory. Airbnb, VRBO, and similar apps do not own the real estate. Because the overhead is lower, rates are generally much cheaper than hotels in the same area.
New Model, New Questions
The problem with this new approach is that it raises several challenging legal questions in regards to liability. If you decide to stay in a stranger’s home, what happens when something goes wrong? If you are injured on the premises during the rental period, who is liable? Is Airbnb responsible? The host who owns the property? How about the host’s insurance company? The roles, responsibilities, and liabilities are often unclear, and many of the legal issues are still being worked out in courts nationwide.
Hotels have a legal responsibility to protect their guests from hazardous conditions, acts of third parties, and other foreseeable risks. In order to protect their guests, they have employees, maintenance workers, security precautions, and other safety measures. Airbnb is different. Although Airbnb gives the host a list of recommended responsibilities, such as emergency procedures, occupancy limits, or security measures, there is no oversight or enforcement of these recommendations in the manner of a hotel or similarly-regulated industry.
In a 2017 case, a guest sued Airbnb alleging that she was sexually assaulted by the host while staying at the property. She argued that Airbnb was negligent for failure to properly run a background check. Airbnb responded that it did comply with host screening procedures, but the host was never convicted of a crime previously; therefore, he was allowed to act as a host. They did, however, remove the host from their site shortly thereafter.
Is Hosting Through Airbnb a Real Business?
Maybe. Licensing and other state and local regulations vary widely, but in most cases, hosts do not have a license to conduct business. This issue affects insurance coverage. There are several types of insurance policies available to cover residential property. Insurance companies offer policies tailored to homeowners, landlords, business owners, tenants, or vacation property owners. These are typically combined liability and property damage policies, with similar clauses; they can, however, differ in a few key areas. Airbnb hosts must know whether business activities are conducted on the insured premises and whether the host is in compliance with any local laws. Some companies exclude claims from homeowners who are Airbnb hosts.
Is Airbnb Liable?
In its Terms of Service, Airbnb states that it is not liable because the person using the service assumes liability. If you were injured as an Airbnb guest, however, you should immediately seek legal advice.
What About the Host’s Liability?
In most states, the guest would be considered a “business invitee” of the host. Therefore, the host would be held to a higher legal standard of care to keep the guest safe, similar to a business. For example, a host is likely required to ensure no dangerous hazards or conditions on the premises are present that could injure a guest.
Will Insurance Cover It?
Insurance professionals are concerned about coverage for vacation and short-term rentals. In many cases, a host’s homeowner insurance excludes coverage for business activities operated out of the home. Even a personal umbrella policy may not cover a host for Airbnb or a similar arrangement.
In 2014, Airbnb announced it would provide hosts with as much as $1 million in liability protection if they are ever sued by a guest. Depending on the severity of the injury, however, this may not be sufficient coverage. Additionally, many exclusions are included in these policies, which can make it difficult for injured guests to seek compensation for injury.
Call the Florida Law Group if You Were Injured During Your Vacation
If you have been injured while staying in an Airbnb rental, let us help you navigate these complex liability issues. This area of the law is rapidly evolving, and it’s vital for individuals injured as a result of negligence to seek justice. Since 1984, the experienced attorneys at The Florida Law Group have been protecting the rights of the injured. For more information, call us today at 813-463-8880.