There have been “bad guests” since the very beginning of Airbnb hosting and vacation rentals, but judging from posts on the various host community groups, this problem has been growing in recent years. Yet, even though this has been an issue for many years, one of the difficulties I see is that some hosts tend to dismiss others’ stories, and to not believe the serious problems some hosts have had, until they have those same problems themselves. If we could learn more from things that others go through , rather than insisting on re-inventing the wheel a million times by not believing others and only “believing” when we ourselves have the same problem arise, I think this could help all hosts gain strategies to protect ourselves best.
As well, some Airbnb and other Short Term Rental platform policies have in my view unfortunately contributed to this problem. For instance, chargeback fraud is reported by hosts to be a common problem on http://www.booking.com. A guest will book a stay, come to the host’s home and stay there, no complaints, all seems fine, and then after staying, will call their credit card company and claim that the charge for the stay was fraudulent and that they didn’t actually stay at the listing. And surprisingly, this often works. Even when provided with evidence that the guest actually stayed at the listing, credit card companies may still approve the chargeback and in essence support the guest in stealing from the host.
Difficulties getting reimbursed for damages done by guests, are well-known to hosts using Airbnb who read about the great many stories hosts share about this problem. Certainly many hosts do get reimbursed for the damages they have suffered, but particularly for claims with larger dollar amounts, hosts report that they are really put through a tortuous process in order to get compensated. Many hosts speak of being asked to submit the same information multiple times, or of being given very short periods of time to come up with certain documentation, eg 24 to 48 hours, or of not hearing back from Airbnb staff for long periods of time, and some hosts who have a lot of experience with this process feel that Airbnb has intentionally designed the Resolution center and/or Host Guarantee process, in order to trip up hosts in their claims and thus allow Airbnb to deny more claims. For instance, the host in this video states that Airbnb policy is that it permits itself to close any resolution case and deny the claim, if the host becomes “uncooperative”, which could mean abusive, but it could also simply mean very frustrated, something that would be a very natural response to all the hurdles Airbnb puts up in the Resolution Center claim process.
There are many other policies and practices on some of the STR platforms which make it more difficult for hosts to protect themselves and their property. The essential dilemma as I see it, is that the short term rental platforms, particularly when they get paid on a commission basis rather than through a flat annual fee, have an investment in getting as many bookings as possible on their platform. This interest of the platforms, can easily be at odds with hosts’ own interest in keeping themselves and their properties safe and secure.
The divergence of Airbnb’s interest (and that of other STR platforms) from property owner’s interests, begins in a seemingly innocent place. I contend that the basis of many of the problems hosts experience, begins in Airbnb’s portrayal of the process of booking a stay in a private home, as a simple, easy process, very similar to booking a stay in a hotel. Yet as I will go on to describe, the renting out of private property is anything but simple in the number of problems and complications that can occur.
Airbnb and other platforms want a guest to be able to easily book a stay, because the more easily this is done, the more profit for them. Many hosts will tend, certainly at first, to agree with this, as they too want to maximize their profit. So many hosts, at least in the beginning before they have much experience, are led to think that simplifying the booking process can only be to their advantage. As well, the Airbnb rhetoric about being “welcoming” (more prevalent in the early days of Airbnb) of guests to one’s own home, exerts a pressure on hosts to “welcome” everyone, and if Airbnb’s advertising doesn’t do it for you, perhaps their bias for Instant Book hosts will, where they are clear that if you don’t use Instant Book setting on your listings, you can expect second-rate results in terms of how many bookings you’ll be able to get.
From the start, Airbnb’s business model was to treat private homes like hotels, and this depiction has only increased over time. Obviously this is less of a problem for those “hosts” who actually ARE hotels (for Airbnb allows hotels to list on their site), or who are large real estate companies which can much more easily be run as a “hotel”, accepting all comers, than a private home where the host lives when they welcome guests.
Yet even “hosts” who are in essence hotels or large real estate companies, can have difficulty with Airbnb’s policies, which actually place more limits upon them, and reduce their ability to protect themselves, compared to their ability for self-protection when they take direct bookings..e.g. through their own hotel or property website. For instance, the man who made the video above, about how a guest “cleaned him out” and stole everything in the listing, $7500 worth of furniture and appliances, is a “host” with 60 listings. That actually makes him larger than many Ma and Pa hotels, but he’s considerably less protected getting his guests on the Airbnb site.
Let’s first explore the greater risks even for the larger “hosts” (and hotels) listed on Airbnb, and then move to looking at the many additional risks Airbnb imposes on the smaller scale hosts.
To begin with: hotels taking direct bookings are able to develop their own policies, rules and procedures, (such as refund and cancellation policies, extra guest fees, pet rules, extra service fees, late check out fees, rule violation fees, security deposit and damage fees) which they can then enforce…and they are not able to do this when listing on Airbnb. Starting with the point of booking: hotels take their customers’ credit card directly, and check ID of the guest at the time of booking.
When I stayed in 2 small hotels on the Southern California coast recently, I was asked to show my Driver’s license, in order to pay for the room. This protects the hotel in case of chargeback fraud (they then know my real name and could sue me in small claims court over the chargeback, or for any other damage I might cause , if they wished). If the same hotel listed on Airbnb, they would NOT be able to get the guest ID at the time of booking. Yes, Airbnb does offer hosts the option, ( if they have Instant Book set, ) that they can choose to allow only guests who have uploaded government ID with Airbnb. Other hosts not using instant book could have this as a requirement for booking. However, it’s important to understand that this Government ID that the guest shares with Airbnb will never be shared with YOU the host, under any circumstances, because Airbnb claims it would violate the guest’s privacy to do that. Also, Airbnb now states openly that it allows guests to use fake names or pseudonyms on their Airbnb account, when they book with you. Using one’s real name is not required on Airbnb. Thus, even if someone has uploaded their Government ID to Airbnb, you wont’ be able to see it or perhaps even know their real name. This means that even with uploaded ID to Airbnb, a guest could put a fake name on their account, book your listing, completely vandalize the property and steal all your belongings, and you would not be able to file a police report on them or sue them in court because you wouldn’t even know their real name.
And likewise, if this was a fine guest, but they had a serious injury in your home or died on your property, how would you feel if you had to call the police and say “someone renting a room here has died in my house but I don’t know who it is…can you come get them.”
It’s a fact now that police departments in many cities are starting to tell property owners directly, that Airbnb poses a threat to the community, because it’s hiding vital information about those booking stays at people’s homes, allowing people to book under false names as well as other people’s accounts. At times there are instances of serial burglars using Airbnb to find prey, as in this article where police warn people about using short term rental platforms: https://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2016/08/22/mountain-view-police-warn-of-airbnb-burglary-trend/
Police in other areas have had to warn property owners that prostitutes are using Airbnb for “pop up brothels” https://www.flyertalk.com/articles/police-warn-airbnb-hosts-pimps-are-turning-rentals-into-pop-up-brothels.html
Most of the illegal party bookings that we read about on the news almost every day now (in some of which, people are fatally shot), are being booked with other people’s Airbnb accounts. Meaning, the person owning the account is not even attending, and may not even know their account has been used to book the property. Read here for a summary of many news stories on these illegal parties and homes trashed by Airbnb guests: http://globalhosting.freeforums.net/board/49/crimes-assaults-egregious-problems-guests
Suffice to say that these problems are less likely to occur at standard hotels, as hotels do not have third party platforms standing between them and the guest and depriving them of guest’s vital information.
When I booked the room, the hotel was able to place a “hold” on my card, if they wished, in order to compensate them for any damages I might cause to their property. The same hotel could not do that if listed on Airbnb or Booking.com
Also, many hosts operate under the very mistaken assumption that Airbnb “screens” guests, so that they dont’ have to. This is one of the leading causes of serious problems for hosts — the idea that has been unfortunately common in the host community from the start, that not only one doesn’t have to screen guests, but some hosts even suggest, by their critical comments of other hosts, that it is somehow rude to do so! Airbnb definitely does not screen guests, and if you think about it, how could they, because what “screening” means is different for everybody. Every host has to decide what kind of guest works for them and what would be a problem for them. Particularly for in home hosts, this can vary widely. Some hosts are bothered by behavior that others dont’ mind, for instance a guest smoking marijuana on the property, or bringing an unregistered guest to stay overnight, or bringing along their dog, 2 cats and pet gerbil. All Airbnb does, is a very basic type of background check, which they don’t even do for all guests, only those in the USA. This background check looks for certain types of crimes — not just any crime, but only certain types. https://www.airbnb.com/help/article/1308/does-airbnb-perform-background-checks-on-members
Hotels generally don’t “screen” their guests the way hosts do, but they do have a tool that many may not know about — hotels have access to guest blacklists, whereby hotels work together to help each other avoid problematic guests, for instance those who have caused major damage in previous stays. The same hotels would not have this tool to help them, if they take guests from Airbnb or other STR platforms. The guest blacklists that hotels share among themselves, have guest’s real names and identifying information. But on Airbnb, the guest could hide their real name and use a pseudonym on their account.
Finally, hotels are completely free to develop their own policies and rules on all issues pertaining to guest stays, only being limited by and subject to the laws of their city, state or nation. These same hotels would not have this same freedom when they list on Airbnb. For instance, ADA law is clear that “emotional support animals” are not service animals and do not come under ADA policy allowing people to bring them into hotels whenever they wish, thus hotels which dont’ allow pets can refuse to admit guests with emotional support animals in tow. Which would be a really good idea given the proliferation of abuse of the emotional support animal category by any random person with a pet they dont’ want to leave at home, and would like to be able to bully everyone into having to allow them to bring in. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/18/us/emotional-support-animal.html
For instance, take a gander at the “emotional support peacock” one woman tried to bring onto an airplane flight:
However, Airbnb takes a different approach, imposing more burdens on hosts than the law itself contains. https://www.airbnb.com/help/article/1405/airbnb-s-nondiscrimination-policy–our-commitment-to-inclusion-and-respect
Airbnb lumps in emotional support animals, which truly are nothing different than ordinary pets (because everyone gets emotional support from their pet!) with service animals, thus prohibiting hosts from denying guests with these pets, even hosts who have clear no pets policies.
So the same hotel which has its own policy prohibiting emotional support animals, would be unable to apply that policy if they listed on Airbnb.
Any number of other rules and policies could be set up by the hotel or small time host, to protect themselves, but be prohibited by Airbnb. For instance Airbnb does not allow hosts to fine guests for rule violations. Though hotels routinely bill guests $200 to $300 if they smoke in a no-smoking room, Airbnb refuses to allow hosts to similarly bill guests violating a no smoking rule at the listing. Airbnb claims that you have to be able to show damage to get compensation, and the pungent and at times disgusting smell of smoke is not evidence that can be submitted to them via email, so you’re out of luck on that one.Eg see here: https://community.withairbnb.com/t5/Hosting/violation-of-smoking-policy/td-p/16198 and http://globalhosting.freeforums.net/thread/647/guest-smokes-nonsmoking-listing-airbnb
Yet, as many hotels found, the fact that rules can actually be enforced, or that there are consequences for violations, is about the only thing that makes them work.
Dan Cole checked out of his Connecticut hotel early on a Saturday morning last month and found an unwelcome surprise. The Courtyard Marriott Hartford-Farmington had slapped him with a $250 charge for smoking in his nonsmoking room. Mr. Cole is a smoker but insists he didn’t light up in the room. He got busted, he thinks, for throwing a few cigarette butts he had stowed in his pants pocket into the room’s trash.
He pleaded his case to the front desk, but the clerk refused to take off the charge.
Mr. Cole is among the growing crowd of smokers ensnared by hotels’ new and more stringent no-smoking policies. More hotels are starting to introduce fines for smoking, are increasing fines or are beginning to more aggressively enforce those that are already on the books. As more hotels institute 100% smoke-free policies, hotels say the fines are necessary to get people to stop lighting up and to cover cleaning costs for those who won’t. Nonsmoking guests, they say, are getting more sensitive about smelling any hint of cigarette smoke in a nonsmoking room.
Last week, Sheraton and Four Points by Sheraton, divisions of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., announced all of its North American properties will have a $200 smoking charge when the brands become 100% nonsmoking at the end of 2008. Walt Disney Co.’sWalt Disney World Resort hotels started applying a new smoking charge of as much as $500 in June 2007, when the brand became totally nonsmoking. Swissotel Chicago started charging $175 for smoking in a nonsmoking room in the beginning of 2007 but raised the charge to $250 when it announced a 100% nonsmoking policy in December.
A charge of “$175 wasn’t quite enough to get people to stop,” says Nicole Jachimiak, marketing director for the hotel. Ms. Jachimiak says the steeper fine seems to be working: The hotel is now catching — and fining — fewer smokers.
Hotels can set up their own cancellation policies, and then impose those easily on guests, when guests have paid them directly. But when the same hotel takes a guest from Airbnb, they lose control of those funds, and Airbnb can easily override the hotel’s or any host’s cancellation policy, for instance by enabling the guest to abuse the “extenuating circumstances” policy and get a full refund if it happens to be a rainy day, or their fifth cousin twice removed has died in a distant city in another continent, or they have a hangnail and a bad hair day.
Many other rules can be readily enforced on direct booking guests, but not when they book through Airbnb. Let’s take some examples of various hotel rules.
Begin with the CERN hotel, which is close to the European center for nuclear research, located in Geneva Switzerland. Here are their rules as listed on their site:
Hotel Rules – Code of conduct
- Guests shall acquaint themselves with the fire safety procedures and comply immediately with fire or other safety drills, alarms and instructions.
- Guests shall behave appropriately and with discretion at all times, respectful of the Hotel environment and staff, as well as of other guests.
- During the quiet hours from 11pm to 7am, guests shall be particularly considerate and refrain from any conduct that could disturb others in the vicinity.
- Only registered guests are permitted in the Hotel, other than for brief visits in common areas. No overnight visitors are permitted.
- Parties or gatherings of more than 10 people are not permitted in the Hotel. Group meetings under the authority of a leader or teacher are tolerated provided that they do not disrupt the environment for other guests.
- Food must be consumed only in common areas and food waste must be properly disposed of.
- Smoking, alcohol and recreational drugs are strictly prohibited.
- The facilities of the Hotel are for the enjoyment of all guests. To this end, care shall be taken to respect the infrastructure. In particular, furniture shall not be moved and nothing may be fixed to furniture or walls.
- Guests are expected to keep their rooms and the common areas clean and tidy at all times.
- Proper care should be taken of personal valuables. The CERN Hotel is not responsible in the event of their theft, loss or damage. Lost and Found items will be kept by the Housing Service for 3 months. They can be retrieved at the Hotel Reception only. No items can be sent. Perishable items will be disposed of immediately.
The CERN Hotel reserves the right to charge guests additional cleaning or damage fees, or to evict guests without refund and/or inform their CERN hierarchy and/or home institution1, should they fail to comply with the above mentioned rules.
As should be fairly obvious to anyone, rules are only effective to the extent that they can be enforced. So, the CERN hotel makes clear that they have the right to evict guests without a refund, should they violate any of these rules such as no unregistered guests staying overnight or no parties, no drugs, no eating in rooms, and quiet during quiet hours.
By contrast, this same hotel listing on Airbnb would lose their right to evict guests without a refund. Airbnb has now come out and clearly stated that if guests have to be asked to leave because they violated the host’s rules, Airbnb will NOT uphold hosts’ house rules which may state, as CERN Hotel does, that in case of cancellation of stay/eviction due to rule violation, no refund will be given. Airbnb will require the host to refund any days not stayed, as Airbnb customer service has made clear here:
Now take a look at the rules of an American Hotel chain, All Seasons hotels: http://allseasonsinnandsuites.net/hotel-policyhouse-rules.html
Notice that down below in the “enforcement” section, in addition to evicting rule violators without refund, they state that they will apply a $300 cleaning fee to any rule breakers:
All staff is trained and required to respond to potential violations of our Hotel Policy/House Rules. Guests who refuse to abide by the reasonable standards and policies established by All Seasons Inn & Suites for safety of all guests, staff, owners, property, and the operation and management of the hotel will be evicted, with no refund (MCA 70-6-511). In addition to the room charge, a minimum $300.00 cleaning fee per room will be charged for infraction(s) of our Hotel Policy/House Rules.
They would not be able to do this enforcement, with guests who booked them through Airbnb, because Airbnb does not allow eviction without refund of remaining days, and does not allow hosts to fine guests for rule violations. See for instance, here: https://www.reddit.com/r/AirBnB/comments/4fkcow/from_trust_safety_team_guest_fees_house_rules_not/
In addition, All Seasons Hotels and Suites doesn’t just have the ability to bill the guest directly (without having to get approval from any other authority) for damages, but they bill damages at 120% of cost to replace, not just at cost. On both those counts they would lose with Airbnb:
DAMAGE TO ROOM: Damage to rooms, fixtures, furnishing and equipment including the removal of electronic equipment, towels, art work, etc. will be charge at 120% of full and new replacement value plus any shipping and handling charges. Any damage to hotel property, whether accidental or willful, is the responsibility of the registered guest for each particular room. Any costs associated with repairs and/or replacement will be charged to the credit card of the registered guest.
By the way, as you’ll note by looking at most any hotels’ house rules, all these sets of rules are “long”, and they would earn the hotel the honor of being berated by many Airbnb hosts who have come to the bizarre idea that “long rules/bad host”. I point out the length of the hotel rules in particular to demonstrate that even those people who are running their property most like a hotel, that is to say the hotels themselves, do not have “short” house rules. This whole misguided concept of the value of “short” house rules is problematic and is totally contrary to the general wisdom of the business of renting property and running a hotel. Here for instance is a 2 page summary of rules from the “Classic Hotel” in Budapest, Hungary:
In fact I believe that the whole idea of the value of “short” house rules comes from Airbnb, and is aligned with the misrepresentation of the hotelier business and the property rental business as something “simple.” Granted that many people may book a hotel room in a few seconds and never read the hotels’ house rules, but their booking still contractuallly binds them to everything stipulated there. And the hotel or any host operating independently, has far more power to enforce its own rules, than they would when listing on Airbnb. In essence, we could say that one of the main reasons hosts are so upset by guests “who dont’ read the listing/rules” is not because they arrive without knowing what they are supposed to know, or because their expectations may be off, but because if they complain to Airbnb to mediate a dispute, Airbnb may well side with the guest even when the guest clearly did not follow through on his responsibilities, booked without reading the info presented, broke the rules, etc.
Hence the fact that the same hotel or host with the same house rules, can end up with more of a problem when the guest doesn’t read these, if the guest books via Airbnb, seems to have led many hosts to put the blame on the host for having these rules, rather than appropriately blaming Airbnb for its failure to support hosts (or hotels!) in being able to protect not only their own property but also the experience of other guests.
Increased risk for the Small Property Owner or In Home Host
Now that we’ve looked at the dilemmas and loss of protections even for large hotels and large real estate companies that list on Airbnb, let’s look at the risk faced by small in home hosts or those with just a small number of listings.
It should be obvious that a host is at greater risk, when they have problem guests, when they themselves live in the house where they are welcoming the guests. They may have a family with small children, their home may contain valuable art or other objects, they may have neighbors looking out their windows all day just waiting for evidence of an “Airbnb guest problem” that they can take to their city to try to lobby to get short term rentals banned in their city. Or, if nothing else, these in home hosts just might have something in their home which oddly has become almost culturally marginalized in the STR community at this point in time — gasp— they might be people who actually live in their own home. Though Airbnb ostensibly started out as a place to welcome guests into one’s own home, the cultural values that Airbnb is now promoting, and the rise in “hosting” among those who dont’ live in the properties they rent, has now almost sidelined the in home host and made them into a bit of a freak. At the very least, it sometimes seems that Airbnb finds it inconvenient that hosts live in the home where they welcome guests. After all….this introduces so many uncomfortable complexities that they would rather not have to cope with. Such as…guest is sharing the bathroom and kitchen with the host or even other guests. The house has a “lived in” feel and has antiques and heirlooms, rather than featuring all brand new furniture from IKEA.
People who live where they host will obviously need additional protections and precautions, above the hotelier who rents rooms to people in a hotel which is not his own primary residence. A hotel which is not where his family lives, where his pets live, where all his valuables are stored.
Also, whereas a hotelier might easily accomodate guests with service animals and emotional support animals, because they themselves are not staying in their own rooms, and they may have so many rooms that they can set aside some for those with animals, reserving others for those who are allergic to animals, the host with only 1 or 2 bedrooms to offer guests in her own home does not have that luxury. Yet ironically, she is given less freedom by Airbnb to decline guests with a service animal, than the hotelier operating independently. The hotel may refuse all emotional support animals: the in home host may be afraid that if she declines a guest with an ESA, the guest will complain to Airbnb and Airbnb may simply terminate the host on the basis of the guests’ complaint, without bothering to get any additional information. If you have trouble believing that Airbnb would do such a thing, consider the recent case where a guest contacted Airbnb and claimed the host had an unsecured firearm in a doggy basket by the front door. Airbnb terminated this host, without bothering to further investigate, and completely dismissing the hosts’ statement (and the truth) that this “firearm” was in fact a rubber dog toy. https://globalhostingblogs.com/2019/03/06/when-an-airbnb-host-is-terminated-based-on-false-statements-by-the-guest/
It took this host going to court, to get herself reinstated on Airbnb, and the judge in the case was very displeased with Airbnbs’ practices and indeed its whole TOS, which the judge flat out said that “no one should sign.” The Airbnb attorney in this case argued that Airbnb had the right, basically, to terminate anyone, without doing any investigation, without giving any reason, at any time, because it had given itself these ‘rights” in its own TOS.
But whereas in home hosts need additional protections and precautions, the problem is that Airbnb’s platform and policies make it increasingly difficult for hosts to employ these.
(1) Airbnb has pushed instant book on hosts, essentially promising to punish them with demoted status if they don’t allow all comers, and insist on screening guests.
(2) Airbnb doesn’t allow guests to provide contact information, weblinks, before booking, making it much harder to screen them eg by looking at a LinkedIn page for them, or getting references.
(3)Airbnb has removed the ability of hosts to see photo of the guest before booking, which could be used to get a sense of the person’s character, or provide host a “gut sense” of whether they feel comfortable with the person.
(4)Airbnb insists that hosts provide an explanation of why they are declining a guest, each and every time they decline someone, which has a chilling effect on hosts’ willingness to decline, as they obviously do not want someone standing over their shoulder monitoring who they let into their homes. Also, it’s well known that declining guests can lead Airbnb to “punish” a host for declines, by demoting their status in the search results.
(5) Even beyond these other potential punishments for declining a guest, a host has to worry that if they decline a guest who turns out to be in one of the “protected categories”, eg race, disability, sexual orientation and so on, that Airbnb could punish the host, even to the point of terminating their account, based on interpreting the decline as discrimination.
(6) Airbnb does not allow hosts to fine guests for rule violations.
(7)Airbnb fully refunds guest for days remaining on a stay, if guest is asked to leave due to rule violations, and often, they also do this if guest cancels, even in violation of the host’s cancellation policy.
(8) Airbnb apparently intentionally makes it difficult for hosts to get reimbursed for damages to their property, by imposing demanding conditions, for instance, that hosts must have all documentation of damages by 24 hrs after the guest checked out, if another guest is checking into the same listing.
So, given all these limitations on how we can protect ourselves on the Airbnb platform, what are hosts to do?
I submit that if you really want to avoid problems with guests, you need to first of all avoid falling under the spell, or the misrepresentation, that renting out property is some very simple easy thing that anyone can do and which should be quick and simple for the guest to do…and if it’s not, then it’s somehow your fault.
Anyone who ventures into the business of renting out property can find, often to their horror, how complex it really is. Coming back to a listing to find every single item of furniture stolen, really reinforces this fact. Having drug dealers book your home, and then getting your account terminated by Airbnb when you kick them out and put their luggage outside, drives home the point of the complexity of this business. Having any guest book, who promises up and down that they read all your house rules, and then arrives and begins to break most every rule, drives this home.
There is fortunately, a traditional and long-standing method to prevent many of these problems — but the difficulty is that this method is adamantly opposed by many arrogant hosts. The method is called “screening your guests” and one of the big problems in the host community groups, is that you will see a lot of people giving very bad advice and basically telling you not to screen guests, or advising only minimal screening, and calling you rude and invasive of people’s privacy when you try to take adequate measures to protect yourself, your home, and your livelihood. Suffice to say I find this quite concerning, if not at times absolutely detrimental to hosts’ businesses.
Simply put, here is what I advise to hosts: be pro-active, rather than re-active, in protecting yourself.
It should be obvious to hosts, based on things I’ve mentioned above about how Airbnb and other Short term rental platforms work, that you absolutely should not depend upon getting made whole by the STR platform after a situation with a problem guest or after damages occur. You hope you’ll get reimbursed, and in most cases you probably will (as long as you know how to document damages very well) …but I advise not depending on it.
Hence, a viable business model is NOT one which incorporates the assumption that you will always be paid by Airbnb for any damages or cancelled bookings.
Hence, you need to set up your business so that YOU are the one protecting yourself rather than rely on hoped for protection from Airbnb or any outside authority or platform.
You should be running your business actually on the assumption that you will NOT be paid for damages, that you will NOT be paid if a guest cancels early, etc. It wont’ always be the case that you wont’ get compensated, but what I’m saying is that your business will be more viable if not built on the assumption that you will always get compensated.
One of the things I think comes through when reading hosts’ stories, on this and many other host community groups, is that as much as possible, whenever possible, it is far far preferable to (1) PREVENT bad guests from booking, (2) from ENTERING the premises if they do book, from (3) STAYING for any length of time if they enter the premises and start breaking rules, ….than allowing any of this and trying to get compensated afterwards for the results.
So, as to #1 here, screening guests is very important, and not enough people know how to do this. In fact a lot of hosts seem to have absolutely no idea how to screen guests. The key involved in screening, is a good understanding of human nature, and a close reading of stories of problems other hosts have had with guests. The more you understand about what kinds of problems occur, the more you’ll learn ways to prevent those problems by looking for signs of the “type” of person likely to bring that type of problem. The more intuitive you are, actually, the more likely you will be good at screening prospective guests.
As well, the skill of screening guests depends on our own understanding and valuing of our own needs. If we don’t know what we ourselves want, or what our own needs are, it’s harder to screen guests in order to attend to our needs. For instance, I recently helped a new Airbnb host set up her listing. I helped her set up her house rules as well, and when she got her first guest requesting to stay at her house, one of her first responses to him, was that she thought he would have trouble with one of the house rules, just based on some random impression of him that she had. She was then inclined to exempt him from what is actually a pretty important rule, because of her orientation to accomodate him and the needs she perceived he “might” have (which she had not ascertained definitively). I pointed out that she was minimizing her own needs in this situation, and so she did not exempt him from this particular rule, and it turned out that didn’t bother him at all because he was fine with that rule. So this is an example of how hosts undermine themselves to try to “please” others.
Screening…for types of people….
Now some people, as soon as they hear the term “type”, become reactionary and will argue that we are “stereotyping” people. Okay, if you don’t want to learn how to screen people, or think it can’t be done, no one is going to force you to do it, and you can live with the consequences. The fact is that there are “types” of people who bring “types” of problems …. and while it is not an exact science to determine risk from information available to you, please keep in mind that you are not a judge in a court, you are a property owner engaged in a business, the kind of business which has a right to have this statement on your business shingle:
If you don’t absolutely believe in your right to refuse service to ANYONE, then you may need to spend some time asking yourself why.
How to screen guests?
First determine the kinds of problems that could occur with guests. You can get this information by reading host community group posts or going to this forum and reading posts there.
This is Queenie’s list of questions for prospective guests:
As well, read this post on “red flags” for hosts.
And this post which contains amusing depictions of some of the problematic “types” of guests:
Some things you may not realize: you can ask the guest for their full name, which will allow you to do much more screening on them than you could without that. You can look for them on LinkedIn, social media. If they claim they are coming for a work project, you can also look up the company they are working for and those they will be working with. You can if you want also ask for names of previous landlords, in case you’re considering offering them a long term stay.
If you get their full name, you might be able to find their photo online, which could help you get a better sense of them.
Other things to take care with in screening and communicating with guests: make sure you have a well crafted set of house rules and that you ensure guests have read these before you let them book. I used to think it was sufficient to just tell guests, when they made a reservation request, that they needed to read the house rules. After all, I thought, Airbnb also requires them to check a box stating they have read the house rules, in order to request to book. So I would be a bit redundant asking them to read the rules.
I found that even these two statements asking them to read the rules were not enough.
People were saying they read the rules, arriving, and doing things that made it clear they did not read the rules. So now, I do what many hosts do and put a “code phrase” in the house rules and if the guest requesting to book does not tell me the code phrase, I don’t let them book because that reveals they haven’t read the information. I wish I didn’t have to do this, because it feels a little silly, but one of the most important things to learn about accepting guests and screening them, is you can’t necessarily take everything they say at face value, particularly regarding guest saying they read everything.
Because Airbnb does not “have your back” as they should — and while some hosts think
you are “safer taking guests from Airbnb”, actually I think what I’ve shown above is that the reverse is actually more often the case. You’re safer taking guests bookings directly, because you have more ability to enforce rules and consequences for rule breaking, payment by guest for damages using their security deposit, if they book directly with you. With Airbnb, your ability to protect yourself in all these ways is weakened. Additionally, many hosts have found that they are reluctant to bill guests for damages guests did, because “they might retaliate against me in their review.” So there’s one more factor that makes getting guests via Airbnb less safe for you, than doing direct bookings. There are no reviews with direct bookings, and certainly none which threaten your business the way Airbnb routinely threatens host with low reviews that, all too often, do not represent any problem with the listing itself, but rather represent the result of the host confronting the guest over their bad behavior. Many guests thus confronted will retaliate via the review they write of the host’s listing, essentially telling lies to get back at the host.
For instance, I recently had a guest who broke an important house rule. After I confronted him about this, he wrote a scathing review basically stating that I was not to have such house rules, that this was wrong, and that my house was very unclean (a lie). Never mind that one of my house rules, was, in fact, that he was not supposed to be booking a stay at a place where he could not agree to follow the house rules without resentment or difficulty.
This is quite common, the problem of badly behaved guests retaliating against the host who tries to straighten them out, but Airbnb has shown no interest in protecting hosts from this problem of guests retaliating if we ask them to actually follow the rules they agreed to when booking. By doing nothing to address this, Airbnb is lending support to guests who break house rules.
As to #2 above, you will need to be able to actually turn away a guest at the door in some cases. If you are not comfortable doing this, then you may not have one of the skills needed to do this business and protect your own property. If the person arriving is not the one who booked, if the person who arrives appears under the influence, or homeless, or is bringing with them about 12 boxes and bags and all their worldly possessions, if they are bringing a pet which you dont’ allow….you need to learn to say no. This is very very important and a lot of hosts lack this ability.
As to #3 above, you may have to evict a guest. This is hopefully rare, but at times it is necessary. It may be necessary for instance if the guest has invited in 50 additional guests for a party, or is shooting off a gun in the backyard, or has snuck in 5 dogs, or snuck in 4 toddlers to a listing which is dangerous for children. If you are renting through Airbnb it is advised that you do this carefully and with a lot of communication with them so you dont’ end up in trouble. It’s not always preferable to evict a problem guest, and one of the issues you have to weigh is the likelihood the guest will make false statements to Airbnb about the situation. Statements which might lead them to terminate you from the platform.
Many times on the host groups, hosts tell stories about problem guests, which reveal that they accepted a reservation which came with one or multiple red flags. Just do not do this!! Or they will share the photo of the guest, which showed someone who, if a person with ordinary intuition saw that photo, they would not accept that guest. If the person looks menacing, or looks like a homeless person, particularly given that this same person could have chosen another way to present themselves, chances are they will not be a good guest. Photos are important in screening — try to get guest to tell you their full name so that you can find a photo of them online.
If your business model is such that you are not able to decline someone because you dont’ feel comfortable with how they present, or you feel you can’t cancel a reservation of someone who is breaking a lot of rules, because you need the income, then I submit to you that you dont’ have a viable business model.
Other things that hosts do to protect themselves:
Have security cameras at the property, eg Ring doorbell.
Have noise meter at the property, to notify them if there is a party going on.
Have all guests sign a rental agreement and send it to them, before arrival. To be an effective legal agreement this may need to be a long document. Several hosts I know use rental agreements that are 7 to 8 pages long.
Require that guests show their government ID on check in. Do not allow them entry if the name on the ID does not match that on the rental agreement.
Have someone at or near the property who can keep an eye on what is going on there.
Immediately communicate with guests when they break rules.
In sum, to run an effective business in property rental, you need to operate under the assumption that you alone, and not Airbnb or other platforms, are responsible for screening your guests and protecting yourself…because chances are, that in the end it will only be your own efforts that will protect you.