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 are very rare, and you can take steps to further decrease your risk of having something unpleasant happen during your stay.
Airbnb.com is legal but regulated in many areas of the world. If you want to become a host, make sure that you learn and follow regional housing laws. If staying as a guest at an Airbnb property, make sure to have a backup lodgings plan in case you 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, 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, the company's services are 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.
Airbnb has several tools in place that make it about as safe to use as booking a hotel. For example, it has identity verification, review systems for 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 it 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.
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.
If you're looking for an Airbnb alternative that offers payment protection and insurance plans for properties you book, try VRBO.com.
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.
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.
Part of why Airbnb is so successful and so safe is that it gives its community of users the tools self-police. Using its internal tools for payment and messaging means that if someone's running a scam, word will get around quickly via ratings and reviews, and the support team will have the communication and booking evidence necessary to single out and punish the scammer.
As easy as they make 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.
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!
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 the service.
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. If you you're ready to start renting properties to stay at, our next tutorial will show you how to set up an account.
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