If you want to travel on a budget or make some extra money by letting vacationers stay in your home, Airbnb might seem like the perfect option. The business’s model is fairly simple, in theory: web users can post either a room or their entire house or apartment to rent out to other site users, and they can also search for Airbnb rentals available in cities they want to travel to. Airbnb bills itself as a platform for a sharing economy; it’s up to the site users to bargain with one another and work out the price and length of stay.
While this might seem ideal on the surface, there are some liability issues behind the house-sharing model. If you’re injured while staying in an Airbnb rental, you might find it difficult to hold the company or the homeowner liable and to recover the monetary compensation that you desperately need.
How Airbnb Works
Airbnb is to the hospitality industry what ride-share programs like Uber are to the transportation industry, meaning that the company acts as a sort of intermediary and allows normal people to provide a professional service. They’ve already built up an extremely large network, with home shares available in 190 countries and thousands of cities (as of this writing, there are over 800 Airbnb home shares available in Las Vegas alone). Because there’s very little overhead—hosts only need to offer up their homes rather than furnishing and staffing an entire hotel—the rates offered on Airbnb are typically much lower than those at nearby hotels.
Unfortunately, this may be a “you-get-what-you-pay-for” situation. Hosts post pictures of their spaces and will often communicate with interested parties online before reaching an agreement, but there’s no way to guarantee that a home that looks great in a couple of photos will be entirely safe. What if, for example, an unstable shelf in the room you’re renting crashes down on you? Or the wooden stairs outside of the cabin you’re renting turn out to be rotten, and you injure yourself when you fall through them?
If you are staying in a hotel, liability in the event of an injury is a little more clear-cut. When the hotel owner fails to maintain a safe environment and a guest experiences an injury as a result, then the hotel is liable for their injuries. If you’re injured in an Airbnb rental, on the other hand, you may end up dealing with up to three parties—Airbnb, the homeowner, or—if the person you rented from is renting themselves—the property landlord.
Who Is Liable in an Airbnb Rental Accident?
In some cases, it might seem obvious that the homeowner is liable for an accident that occurred on their property. Let’s say that they misrepresented their home on the Airbnb website by failing to inform their Airbnb guest that there was a large hole in the backyard covered with vines and a few old boards. If the guest unwittingly stepped on the hidden boards and injured themselves falling into the hole, the homeowner is responsible for knowing about the danger and failing to remedy it by either filling in the hole or clearly informing their guest of the danger.
However, their homeowner’s insurance may have a clause stating that they will not be covered if they are using their home for profit (people who use their home as a bed and breakfast typically have to carry extra insurance coverage, for example, and if an Airbnb homeowner hasn’t informed their insurer that they’re renting out their home, the injured party may be out of luck).
The situation can get even stickier when someone who rents their home or apartment decides to turn around and rent out their place to someone on Airbnb. In this type of case, it’s highly unlikely that any renter’s insurance they might carry would cover a guest’s accident. It’s also unlikely that the property owner would cover the accident, especially if their tenant did not inform them that they were renting out space to Airbnb guests. The landlord may avoid liability by showing that the tenant violated the terms of their lease by using the property for commercial gain.
And when it comes to Airbnb itself, injured guests are out of luck. Airbnb specifically states in their Terms of Service that the company is not liable because anyone using the service assumes liability. However, just because recovering compensation in an Airbnb personal injury case might be difficult doesn’t mean you should just stay quiet if you’re seriously hurt. Airbnb’s model is still relatively new, and the company may be forced to assume greater liability or carry better coverage if injured guests draw attention to existing issues. Talk to a Las Vegas accident attorney to learn more about what you may be able to do if injured while using Airbnb or another home share service.
About the Author:
Andrew Winston is a partner at the personal injury law firm of The Law Office of Andrew Winston. He has been recognized for excellence in the representation of injured clients by admission to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, is AV Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, and was recently voted by his peers as a Florida “SuperLawyer”-an honor reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the state-and to Florida Trend’s “Legal Elite.”