Is Airbnb Safe, Reliable, and Legal?

Last updated: January 29, 2017 - 2:58pm EST

We understand that, to some people, staying in the house of a person you barely know while out of town won't sound like the smartest idea in terms of personal safety and security. Rest assured, though, serious incidents with bookings made through Airbnb.com are very rare, and you can take steps to further decrease your risk of having something unpleasant happen during your stay.

Is Airbnb legal?

Airbnb is legal but regulated in many areas of the world now.  If you want to become an Airbnb host, make sure that you learn and follow regional housing laws and protocols.  If staying as a guest at an Airbnb property, make sure to have a backup lodgings plan in case you or your host run into legal trouble.

Legal regulations on Airbnb can differ from area to area, and are most often designed to keep Airbnb (and other peer-to-peer property rental services) from having an unfair advantage over hotels and other traditional temporary occupancy services.  For example, in many areas, Airbnb hosts have to abide by many of the same rules as hotel owners: they must acquire a hosting license from the local government, purchase liability insurance, and pay transient occupancy tax (also known as "hotel tax").

In other areas of the world, Airbnb hosts are only allowed to rent out limited areas of their property (e.g. singular bedrooms as opposed to full apartment units), or must have their property's function officially changed by the local government before they start renting it out.  And in some areas, Airbnb is more-or-less illegal due to local laws prohibiting residential properties from being rented out for less than a specified amount of time (usually a month), with certain exceptions.

Is Airbnb safe?

Airbnb has several tools in place that make it about as safe to use as booking a hotel.  For example, it has identity verification (though this is optional), review systems for both hosts and guests, and private internal messaging.  Also, your host doesn't get paid until you approve of the property and check in.

Here's a bit more information on some of the systems that Airbnb has that you can use to keep yourself safe while booking rental properties with it:

  • Multiple verification methods -- Both hosts and guests have many different personal details that they can confirm, such as email address, phone number, professional photos of their property, social media account, and even government-issued photo ID. The more information someone has, the more likely it is that they're trustworthy. Airbnb's staff, however, doesn't verify the hosts themselves. If you are looking for a service that has their staff verify property owners, try FlipKey.com.

  • Community-centered reputation system -- Both hosts and guests can rate or review each other, and only after a booking and stay is complete. People can also comment on reviews that they have received or viewed publicly. Finally, people can request letters of reference from others whom they know. All of this means that other guests know who is safe to stay with, and other hosts know who is safe to book.

  • Internal email system -- You can use Airbnb's internal email system to privately ask a fellow guest who has stayed at a place before to give you their feedback on whether or not you should book it. You can also use it to contact a host directly and ask them questions about themselves and their property.

Top 5 Airbnb safety tips

1. Read listings closely.

We know that reading fine print isn't everyone's idea of a good time, but doing so can prepare you for things such as what amenities you're getting, what rules you have to follow during your stay, and whether or not you'll receive a refund if you cancel a reservation.  The more you know ahead of time, the less chance you'll run into a nasty surprise.

2. Hold your host accountable.

Ask your host about things such as available amenities, the reputation of the local neighbourhood, the house rules, and whether anyone else will be sharing your stay space.  Also be sure to check the host's profile and reviews, and ask them questions about these, too.  Finally, look for hosts who have lots of verified credentials, or ask your host to update their credentials before you book with them.  See this help article on Airbnb for instruction on how to get in contact with a host.

3. Use Airbnb's internal services when handling payments and personal information.

Part of why Airbnb is so successful and so safe is that it gives its community of users the tools self-police.  Using Airbnb's internal tools for payment and messaging means that if someone's running a scam, word will get around quickly via ratings and reviews, and Airbnb will have the communication and booking evidence necessary to single out and punish the scammer.

4. Buy travel insurance.

As easy as Airbnb makes it to book a place to stay with a reputable property owner, it can't protect you from every little thing that might go wrong on your trip.  Therefore, it might not be a bad idea to get some affordable travel insurance to protect yourself in case your baggage gets delayed, lost, or stolen, or you experience an unfortunate injury or other emergency.

5. Be courteous and considerate.

Talk to your host and let them know a little bit about yourself so they're able to get a sense of how they can best accommodate you.  Ask them about the neighbourhood, including if there are any local hotspots they'd recommend.  Let them know about any potential problems or issues, such as if you're going to be late (but try not to be anyway!) or if you want to invite other people over.  Above all, follow the house rules, and show the host's neighbours the same level of respect.  Remember, the better you behave during your stay, the better the review your host is likely to give you.  And that means the better the chance that someone else on Airbnb would love to have you stay with them!

Is Airbnb reliable?

Airbnb's self-policing community structure makes it fairly reliable, as both hosts and guests who gain bad reputations get weeded out fairly quickly.  However, there is still the rare chance that you will get stuck with a host who misrepresents their property or treats you poorly, especially if they're new to Airbnb.

The best way to ensure Airbnb will be reliable for you is to prepare accordingly.  Look for hosts with verified I.D. credentials, and add verified I.D. credentials to your own profile so that hosts are more likely to trust you and accept your booking requests.  Read a listing's details carefully, and don't hesitate to contact the host to ask them anything about themselves or their property that you are concerned about.  Finally, it's also a good idea to have a plan for getting alternate lodgings in case your rental property was misrepresented, your host treats you poorly, or -- in very rare cases -- you or your host (or both) get into legal trouble over breaking local lodging regulations.

 

That's our primer on Airbnb's safety, reliability, and legality.  To learn more about some things that you should be aware of before using Airbnb (both good and bad), read our review of Airbnb.  If you want to look at other services like Airbnb to see what they have to offer, visit our overview of Airbnb alternatives. Or, if you think you're ready to start renting properties to stay at through Airbnb, our next lesson will show you how to set up an Airbnb account.

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