In ancient times, and today in traditional societies, the law of hospitality is taken deathly serious. For the Ancient Greeks, to refuse a weary traveler was one of the greatest offenses against the gods. A host would have to do all in his or her power to assure the comfort and safety of their guests. The guest, in turn, could do nothing to take advantage of the host’s trust, least of all harm the host or the host’s family. This code of conduct enabled people to travel with a sense of safety and security in a world before inns were common and before roads were smooth.
With the advent of industrialized travel, hotels, inns, hostels, and even PodShares have replaced roadside cottages and huts. Rather than knocking on the door in the dead of night, you can book online months in advance or at a moment’s notice. The hospitality industry may spare both guests and hosts some of the dire moral responsibilities of the old customs, but it also takes the personal element out of hosting.
Airbnb offers travelers a chance for a stay experience with more personality, often at a lower price. For Airbnb hosts, the app service allows them a chance to extend their hospitality more broadly and meet new people. Of course, there is also the opportunity to earn some money from your hospitality.
While being smote by the gods may not be a major concern for hosts, there are still a good many rules and consequences you should be aware of before opening your home to strangers.
20 If The Government Is Your Landlord, No Luck
A recent article in The Boston Globe profiled the controversy around one Airbnb on the city’s south side. The innocuous listing for one bedroom in a two-bedroom apartment has landed the host in some deep, deep trouble. Eviction-level trouble.
The stellar-rated apartment, which is located right next to the beach, is in a government housing project. The tenant is now facing eviction proceedings, which move very slowly in Massachusetts, even separately from public housing issues, on the grounds that he was subletting in violation of his lease.
Officials pointed out that running a business out of one’s subsidized housing unit is not illegal, but by renting out the bedroom the single tenant was depriving a needy family of a home.
19 Rent Control Also Presents Issues
Under rent control, government forbids the raising of rent by more than a certain percentage every year. While the government may not directly own your unit, potential hosts living in rent-controlled apartments ought to be aware that the government probably has special rules just for you.
One court case ruled that an Airbnb host was “profiteering” by leasing out her rent-controlled apartment and decided against her in favor of her landlords. Airbnb, on its “Responsible Hosting In The United States” page, anticipates trouble on this front: “If you live in rent controlled or stabilized housing, there may be special rules that apply to you. Contact your local Rent board to ask questions about this topic.”
18 A Private Landlord May Crack Down On Subletting
Becoming a landlord, even if temporarily, through Airbnb can pose real problems if you have a landlord of your own. As mentioned above, one resident of a Boston housing project is facing eviction on the grounds that renting out his spare room through Airbnb constitutes subletting. Even if you are renting from a private landlord, whether an individual or a firm, this same restriction could apply to you.
Check your lease to see if subletting is allowed and what permissions you need from the landlord to approve of it. In this case, it is better to ask permission rather than forgiveness.
17 There May Be Taxes
Death and taxes, famously, are the only two certainties in life. Wonderful as Airbnb may be for many travelers and their hosts, the hosting site cannot save its users from taxes.
In a brief page dedicated to “What legal and regulatory issues should I consider before hosting on Airbnb?”, the hosting service writes that it can take care of all tax issues in certain jurisdictions. For everyone else, Airbnb encourages hosts to “In the meantime, please review your local laws before listing your space on Airbnb.” Such an injunction is a common theme both of this list and of the Airbnb website.
16 The Homeowners Association May Forbid It...
Owning your own place has a lot of benefits. Being your own landlord comes with a “host” of other problems, though, especially when you consider renting out your space through Airbnb. While you no longer have to ask your landlord for permission to remodel your own home, you may still be bound by the regulations of a Homeowners’ Association (HOA) or condominium contract, which may have a good deal of power over what you do to the exterior of your very own pad. Bummer, right?
Again, check with the powers-that-be before you go into business as a host through Airbnb.
15 ....Or The City
You have your own place. You are your own master. Having finally escaped the tyranny of your landlords, you decide to become a landlord yourself. No one can stop you—except City Council.
Cities have been hostile to Airbnb for a variety of reasons. Airbnb is a threat to hotel tax revenue. Disturbingly, Airbnb has been associated with landlords evicting long-term tenants in order to profit off of short-term rentals. Additionally, there are a host of safety issues.
Airbnb has a series of pages dedicated to the particular rules and regulations of major towns and cities. A link to your locality’s particular rules can likely be found at the bottom of Airbnb’s “Responsible Hosting in the United States” article.
14 Check The Exit Routes
Another issue that cities take with Airbnb rentals is that there are a host of regulations public places, like hotels and restaurants, have to follow in order to ensure safety. These regulations, however cumbersome they allegedly are to business, save lives and prevent property loss. On its “Responsible Hosting in the United States” article, Airbnb recommends that hosts design exit routes and post a map of them in their rental unit. Beyond that, no specific instructions are given.
In general, two exits are a minimum for public space occupancy. For bedrooms, there should be at least a door and a window in case of fire or another emergency.
13 Ensure Proper Ventilation
Even if you do not plan on renting your space out on Airbnb, many of its recommendations and rules for hosts are things you ought to be doing in the first place. If you have not yet chosen two or more exit routes from your living areas and bedroom, go do that right now. It could save your life in an emergency.
Airbnb also recommends that hosts check ventilation and make sure guests can properly use space heaters. The concern here is carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide is colorless, odorless, and deadly. Every home, rented out or not, should have a working carbon monoxide detector along with a smoke alarm.
12 Obey Occupancy Limits
This regulation, again, is aimed at preventing loss of life in the event of a fire. Look around any restaurant, banquet room, or other public space and you will find, posted, the number of occupants permitted, often with variants given for sitting or standing. Exit routes are only designed to accommodate a certain number of people in the short time that exists to evacuate a burning building.
Also, like many of the other regulations and recommendations of Airbnb, the website refers prospective hosts to local laws on the issue. So, hosts should do their research and exercise their best judgement.
11 Provide Fire Suppression Measures
Are you seeing a pattern yet? This directive on the “Responsible Hosting in the United States” page is again directed at protecting Airbnb guests from fire emergencies. This recommendation is, again, one of those regulations that public spaces have to follow. A final similarity is that this is something everyone should be doing already, for their own sake.
If you plan on hosting with Airbnb, buy, store, and maintain a fire extinguisher. As it stands, everyone should do this to protect themselves.
Also, tell your guests if and where smoking is permitted in your space. Cigarettes, fallen from a sleeping persons’ hand onto bedclothes, are a common cause of fires
10 Stock A First Aid Kit
Fire is not the only risk that hosts need to protect guests—or just themselves—from. From splinters to blisters to close encounters of the kitchen knife, living and traveling are full of little bumps and bruises. A first-aid kit can prevent injuries from becoming serious and infected, or leave guests with more time to enjoy out on the town rather than at the E.R.
Airbnb recommends stocking a first aid kit and letting guests know where it is kept. Be sure to check the kit after visits and restock anything that is missing. Basic recommendations on how to stock a kit are available online, as are premade kits.
9 Ditch The Security Cameras
This one veers into the territory of “Why Would You Do That Anyhow?” On the “Responsible Hosting” page, Airbnb warns “Always be mindful of your guests' privacy. Fully disclose whether there are security cameras or other surveillance equipment at or around your listing. Make sure you are aware of and comply with applicable federal, state, and local laws.” Those federal, state, and local laws likely forbid recording anyone without their permission, and likely forbid recording devices in private spaces such as bedrooms and bathrooms.
If you are so worried about guests’ behavior that you want to tape them, ask for a security deposit instead. Or, better yet for your worry, don’t host.
8 Talk With Your Roommates
This one is not a rule or a regulation, but it does come as a recommendation from Airbnb and from common sense. The best roommate or housemate arrangements are based on trust, communication, and clearly defined boundaries. If you are considering rent out your space, make sure your roommate knows, especially as your guests will likely be sharing common space.
Would you like to wander into the bathroom, bleary-eyed, to find a stranger brushing his teeth and wearing your bathrobe? Neither would I.
The happier your roommates are with the situation, the likelier it is that you will be able to keep renting out your space without having to find someone else to split your own rent.
7 Warn The Neighbors
Like the recommendation to talk to your roommates before opening your home up to strangers, however fascinating or well-traveled, Airbnb and good sense say that potential hosts should talk with the neighbors before taking the plunge. Your guests will not be familiar with neighborhood rules and norms. Review with your neighbors issues such as parking, noise, and schedules so that you will be able to provide your guests with guidelines that make life easier for everyone.
The happier your neighbors, the less likely they are to complain, making it less likely that your neighborhood or city might decide to impose new regulations on Airbnb hosting.
6 Brace For Inspection
With permitting comes inspection. Once registered with your city or town as a hotelier, innkeeper, or landlord, you will probably be subject to a visit from inspectional services. The inspector will ensure that you and your property have complied with all of the relevant health and safety regulations required of a public accommodation. This will include not only the particular applications of the recommendations of Airbnb’s “Responsible Hosting” page, but the specific requirements for displaying your permits and evacuation charts.
As always, check with your locality to establish if and when inspectional services will need to visit the space you want to rent out through Airbnb. Inspections may be required every few years.
5 Mark All Hazards
While Airbnb hosts may or may not have to submit to inspection by local authorities, the proactive entrepreneur can go ahead and identify any hazards that could pose a risk to guests.
Is there a slight rise in the floor that you tripped over for the first two weeks after moving in? Best to mark it with some caution stripes on the floor. Is there a wire in the laundry room dangling down that you always remember to avoid? Your guests will not have the luxury of experience.
If you anticipate that guests will bring children, be sure to review child-proofing techniques.
4 Post Your Contact Info
In the United States, everyone knows to call 911, but foreign guests may not. Be sure to post the emergency number, and any lesser-known numbers such as that for Poison Control, in a prominent place.
While losing a key does not require a call to emergency services, it does require a call to you. Make sure to post your own contact info so as not to leave your guests in a lurch. Aside from risking bad reviews, a frustrated guest may try to remedy minor household issues in ways that are less than helpful…bringing us to our next point…
3 Get Your Own Insurance
Insurance. Get it. Get it now.
The sad thing about insurance is you never know how much you really need until you need it, so it is best to overestimate your risk.
Airbnb does have a Host Guarantee program that provides up to a million dollars in coverage for property theft or property damage. However, as the page on the Host Guarantee spells out, this does not take the place of renters’ or homeowners’ insurance. Airbnb recommends you get the appropriate kind of insurance. If you are a renter yourself, you likely have insurance as part of your lease, but make sure you have enough for the new risk you are taking on…
2 Remember: All The Liability Is On You
Why do you need insurance separate from the Host Guarantee program provided by Airbnb? Because there, in the not-so-fine-print, is Airbnb’s disavowal of any liability. This means the liability for injuries (or worse) that befall your guests falls squarely on you, making you subject to lawsuits and possibly responsible for their medical bills. Renters’ and homeowners’ policies have specific coverages for injury to third parties or damage to third-party properties in your residence.
If you do not want the liability—the legal responsibility for someone else’s well-being—consider not hosting. It may not be the threat of divine punishment, but it is a heavy burden nonetheless.
1 Check Permitting Requirements
While this list is not comprehensive, and is not intended as legal or business advice, it has been may aim to give you a head-start in compliance and above-board behavior if you decide to become an Airbnb host. In staying legal, you will need to comply with all local laws surrounding Airbnb, as the site recommends. It is likely that you will have to register with your locality as a hotelier, innkeeper, or landlord. As always, do your due diligence and research your city or town’s requirements.
Admittedly, getting to tell people that you are officially an “innkeeper” does have a certain charm.