Airbnb and other online marketplace hospitality services have become more and more popular for both guests and property owners seeking temporary housing or additional income. The manner in which an Airbnb host operates their property can affect both the host’s and guest’s legal rights. Specifically, this article will address the potential liabilities arising out of personal injury and tort law. Airbnb hosts and guests both face the prospect of personal and property losses when engaging in the home sharing event listing an apartment on Airbnb, renting an apartment on Airbnb.
With most arrangements on vacation rentals, both the host and the guest may face claims for property damage or loss. For example, a host may face property damage or loss due to criminal conduct (theft) of a guest. On the other hand, a guest may face additional liability due to the loss or damage of the host’s property.
Companies like Airbnb and Vrbo have completely changed the way that many people vacation. No longer do you have to pay hotel prices for few amenities. Now you can stay in the houses of real people who choose to put their home up for short-term rental. However, with this new way of vacationing, new questions arise in the world of premises liability.
In long-term rentals, such as apartments, rules have been established through the years based on different situations. Even hotels have established set premises liability rules and bought the insurance to cover the possible claims. But who is responsible for premises liability issues in short-term rentals? Before you book your next vacation, educate yourself on some of these sites and what the services the offer.
The name of this site is almost synonymous with short-term rentals these days, and its reputation as one of the best vacation rental sites is well deserved: Airbnb offers abundant listings in most popular travel destinations, and its site is cleanly designed and easy to use. There’s a prominent map of properties on the main listing page, so you can quickly browse by location—or you can turn off the map feature if you don’t find it useful. The main listings page offers useful information right off the bat, including the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, traveler rating, price (both per night and for your total stay), guest capacity, key amenities, and type of accommodation—such as “entire apartment” or “private room in house.” You can also scroll through a listing’s photos right on the initial results page.
Acquired by HomeAway in 2006, Vrbo (originally called VRBO, which stands for “vacation rentals by owner”) is the better-known of the two brands in the United States. However, as far as travelers are concerned, the two sites are virtually identical. A search returns the same results in the same order with the same prices and filter options. Everything that makes HomeAway one of the best vacation home rental sites is also available on Vrbo, so there’s no need to search both.
Booking.com lists just about every type of accommodation imaginable, from hotels and B&Bs to vacation rentals and apartments. This is a perk for travelers open to a variety of lodging options, while those who know they want a vacation rental will have to take the extra step of filtering out extraneous search results. (That’s easily done via a “Show homes first” button at the top of the results page.)
Property listings offer plenty of information, including amenities, guest reviews, house rules, and an option to contact the host through the site. The site clearly labels whether your booking is nonrefundable, or you can cancel without penalty up to a certain date. (In some cases, you’ll pay less if you’re willing to make a nonrefundable booking.)
Expedia offers a variety of accommodation types, but it has a dedicated vacation rental search page so you can skip the filtering step. The site offers a good selection of results, though for certain searches I got some listings that really didn’t seem like vacation rentals (TownePlace Suites by Marriott, Outer Banks Motel).
Expedia isn’t the best vacation rental site if you prefer to use the map view to browse; although a map is available, it doesn’t have the site’s filter options, so you’ll have to set your preferences on the main listing page first and then toggle over to the map.
Once you click into a listing, you’ll find photos, amenities, policies, reviews, and a list of nearby attractions. However, there does not appear to be a way to contact the owner of a given property. The total price is not visible until you click “reserve,” at which point you’ll see an additional amount listed vaguely as “taxes and fees,” with no detailed breakdown. On many properties, the site notes that you can save 10 percent if you log in as an Expedia member.
An industry giant, HomeAway is one of the best vacation rental sites thanks to its user-friendly design and wide breadth of inventory (the company, part of the Expedia Group, also owns other short-term rental sites such as Vrbo and Stayz). Its cleanly designed search results page shows both a map view and detailed listings, including the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, square footage, number of guests, user rating, nightly rate, and type of accommodation. (Note that private rooms in someone else’s home, which Airbnb and some other sites offer, do not appear to be available on HomeAway.) You can click through each listing’s photos or save properties you’re interested in right from the results page.
There are many options for filtering your results, including property type, location (oceanfront, lake), features/amenities (pool, Wi-Fi), and the ability to book instantly. Unlike some other vacation rental sites, HomeAway lets you filter your results by the number of bathrooms in addition to the number of bedrooms which is useful for families or groups traveling together.
Once you click on a listing, you can see a full price breakdown (which includes HomeAway’s service fee), as well as reviews from past guests, detailed information on amenities and policies, and a way to contact the owner through the site.
Although this list cannot do the entire vacation rental industry complete justice, it does provide an interesting mix of size and type of company currently active in today’s market. While it does appear that certain companies clearly hold an advantage when it comes to investment dollars and sheer size, there are a few quality sites that offer a different approach to marketing short-term rentals. Wherever you decide to travel, try doing some initial research on some of these websites and see for yourself.