Airbnb and similar house-sharing services can be a great way for homeowners to earn extra cash and for travelers to enjoy the “comforts of home” while paying less than they would for a hotel. But what happens if someone is injured at an Airbnb-type rental?
Hotel guests generally know that a hotel has a legal duty to keep them safe. When guests slip on poorly maintained stairs, take a fall because a railing has come loose, or are hit on the head by a falling shelf, they can generally sue the hotel – and can assume that the hotel can afford to compensate them for their injury.
But it’s not as clear with Airbnb – and the “sharing economy” model is so new that many of the legal issues are still being worked out.
Unfortunately, the fact is that injuries may be much more likely to occur at an Airbnb rental than at a hotel. Unlike a hotel, an Airbnb “host” doesn’t typically have a full-time maintenance and housekeeping crew, employ lifeguards and night security staff, undergo regular electrical and fire safety inspections, routinely monitor childproofing issues, and so on.
So what happens if someone is hurt?
You might assume that the person could sue Airbnb itself. But the problem is that Airbnb’s “Terms of Service” – which guests have to agree to when they sign up – say that you can’t sue Airbnb for an injury. (Most every other home-sharing business has a similar contract.) In theory, it might be possible for a guest to get around this provision, but it could be very difficult.
So more likely, the guest would sue the host for compensation.
In most states, the guest would be considered a “business invitee” of the host. That means that the host must exercise a very great degree of care to keep the guest safe. In other words, an Airbnb host would likely be held to a similar legal standard of care as a hotel, department store, or other business.
Many hosts assume that if anything happens, they’ll be covered by their homeowner’s insurance. But they might be surprised to discover that that’s not true. Most homeowner’s insurance policies exclude coverage for “business activities” operated out of a home. And presumably, renting your home for a profit is a business activity.
Some homeowner’s policies allow you to rent your home once a year, or for a limited number of days per year.
But even then, the insurance company might require you to notify it of the rental in advance, or to purchase a separate endorsement.
A host’s personal umbrella policy might not cover a business activity either.
If an Airbnb host is a tenant rather than a homeowner, it gets even more complicated. Some tenants have renter’s insurance, but renter’s insurance generally doesn’t cover business activities. An injured guest might be able to sue the landlord, but a landlord might get off the hook if he or she didn’t know the tenant was renting the property on Airbnb, or if such rentals were prohibited in the lease. Also, many landlords’ insurance policies exclude coverage for short-term, home-sharing-type sublets.
Recently, Airbnb announced that it would provide hosts with up to $1 million in liability protection if they get sued by a guest. That’s a welcome development, but some other home-sharing companies have not followed suit.
If you use Airbnb or a similar service when you travel, you might want to confirm that the host is covered by insurance. And if you’re injured, you’ll want to speak to a lawyer right away about what options you might have for being compensated.
If you’re a host, you’ll want to think carefully about your insurance coverage. A lawyer may be able to help you understand your policies and what additional protections you may need.
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