Airbnb is the perfect alternative to a hotel stay, right? For avid business travelers, backpackers, and the usual vacationer trying to save a bit of money, the answer is often “yes.” But what are Airbnb travelers giving up in exchange for that extra space and cash savings? The answer might be personal safety and security.
As tales of Airbnb New Year’s horror stories abound, lawmakers around the country are contemplating what to do about the inherent risks associated with the successful travel platform. While most travelers’ stays at Airbnb rentals go off without a hitch, the horror stories are the ones that make headlines.
According to BBC, an Australian family who rented an Airbnb around Christmas found themselves smack dab in the middle of a drug bust, when the Airbnb home they were renting was raided by police. Apparently, the home the family was renting also housed a hydroponic cannabis room. Police held the family for nearly five hours before letting them go. That’s certainly one way to ruin a vacation.
But travelers aren’t the only ones at risk when an Airbnb rental goes wrong. Many people rent out spare rooms or their entire homes in hopes of making extra cash or creating a supplemental income stream, but the risks aren’t always worth the reward.
Following New Year’s Eve, many hosts recounted their stories of horrible guests trashing their place and having wild sex parties. According to the Guardian, one such story involved an 18-year-old posing as an older adult and renting a place through Airbnb in Oakland, California, to throw a massive party. The home owners were alerted about the party by neighbors, and their home was already in shambles when they arrived to check it out.
The homeowner said, “Sofas were outside. The TV was in my bathroom. Objects … photos, memorabilia … I have pictures of my nieces that are on my fridge that were on the floor, trampled on and torn, with shoe prints all over their cute, little faces.”
Airbnb also released an official statement about the issue by stating, “We have zero tolerance for this kind of behaviour and when something goes wrong we work quickly to make it right … our Trust and Safety team has reached out to the hosts to work with them under our $1m Host Guarantee, which covers a host’s property in the rare event of damages.”
Although the perks to renting a stranger’s home in lieu of a small, cramped hotel room are obvious, the risks cannot be avoided. The rise of the sharing economy, with platforms such as Airbnb and Uber, has made lawmakers around the country question the legality of renting a place that isn’t a licensed hotel or bed and breakfast.
Sen. Mark Warner (D – Va.) tackled the subject of the sharing economy at CES in Las Vegas by saying, “We have to maintain this innovation but also ask some fundamental questions. What happens when the stuff hits the fan as it always does? What will the social contract look like in the 21st century? Washington is rarely ahead of the curve. Wouldn’t it be cool if there was policy that was bipartisan and was framed around a notion of social responsibility?”
The Airbnb topic is one that polarizes both ends of the political spectrum: On one side there are raving fans, and on the other side are those who have been harmed either physically or financially by these mostly unregulated industries.
If regulators continue to track down unlicensed Airbnb rentals, will travelers be forced to go back to hotels? Not necessarily. A tourism expert from Diamond Rentals in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, says, “Alternatives to hotels have always existed. Cabin rentals companies and professional vacation rental companies have always been options, but without all the spotlight. The benefit to choosing one of these over an airbnb rental is that they’re licensed and thus you don’t have to worry about some of the unknowns that you get when you’re renting from or bunking with a complete stranger.”
Only time will tell where the chips will fall when it comes to Airbnb regulations, but hopefully lawmakers will be able to find a way to keep hosts and guests safe, without infringing on the sharing economy.
[Photo Credits: Wikipedia/Raysonho, Diamond Rentals, Wikipedia/Financial Times]