In addition to the above business issues arising for property owners and renters working with the big online homestay networking companies, there is of course safety and security issues that can cause injury and even death. With each property rented through the online marketplace network being unique, rather than the cookie cutter accommodations of the hotel industry, comes the challenge of each property having unique safety and security issues that are less than predictable. The online marketplace homestay networks do not do much in the way of guaranteeing safety other than stating safety is of utmost importance and then giving disclaimers of their liability or responsibility for safety issues. The industry is not regulated like the hotel industry with health and safety rules or inspections. The safety and security risks range from sexual or physical assaults to physical injuries, with no guarantees that renters or property owners will not suffer harm. One example of safety going awry is the story of a man killed in 2013 by a fall he took when he tried to sit on a charming rope swing an Airbnb network rental offered. Unfortunately, the tree trunk was rotten, so it broke and came down on the man, causing massive brain injuries that were fatal. Yet another horror story involves a story of a 19-year-old male being locked into a room he rented through the Airbnb network in Madrid to be sexually assaulted by the property host. Although the young man desperately tried to get help by texting his mother over and over, Airbnb would not give the mother any information about the property due to privacy issue concerns. Now, at least, Airbnb added a spot for individuals to list an emergency contact while booking properties. Yet another sad story is that of a Canadian woman dying of carbon monoxide poisoning in Taiwan in 2013 due to improper ventilation and a water heater with a leak. Safety and security are certainly volatile issues in an industry in which properties and renters are global and very different. In addition to the above tragedies, there are also many reports of rental properties being completely damaged and trashed, used for highly illegal purposes (such as temporary sites for brothels, parties, violence, or drug use), as well as property owners being accused by neighbors of their renters disturbing the peace or ruining the neighborhood.
If this litany of problems with the online homestay networking industry has brought vows to never utilize it, take heart, as there are things property owners and renters can do to be proactive in safety and security. When traveling and utilizing Airbnb, VRBO, or other homestay rentals, it is important to alert others about details relating to one’s stays, with emergency contacts and services at the ready. It is wise to also research the area where the rental is located and make decision on whether it might be better to stay in a hotel with 24-hour on-site management. It is also wise to look for reviews or testimonials and to look through the online FAQ section that describes safety and security issues, as well as being willing to be part of an online community in which members give real life recommendations and bad experiences. Renters should not be afraid to be picky when narrowing down possible rentals, looking for properties willing to cite safety and security factors, and also messaging with the hosts of properties to ask thorough questions about things like the property, safety, security, rules, and cancellation policies. At the same time, owners should not be afraid to check out possible renters and ask their own questions. Other protective measures against being taken in by fraud can be simple things like checking listed phone numbers to assure they are valid and know that it is recommended to confirm things with property owners by phone before paying. Watch out for property owners, or renters, who want to do everything through e-mails like Gmail, yahoo e-mail, or Hotmail. Property owners that take payment methods that are reversible, such as PayPal or credit cards, are preferable and immediately seen as more professional and secure for both parties.
It is important to know that thousands and thousands of stays occur using online homestay networks without a hitch. However, even a handful of bad experiences and tragedies are too many. The main safety advocate in one’s life has to be one’s self, so it is important to do the homework and research, as well as ask all the questions, before committing to rent one’s property to others or rent a home-style experience from a property owner. The young man who was assaulted in Madrid wanted people to know about his experience so that others might be saved from something similar and stated it is important that individuals listen to their own instincts and intuitions when situations seem off. One should understand that often the individual has to be one’s own best advocate. Doing so could assure enjoyable, safe travels, and literally save one’s life.
A partner with Inserra & Kelley, Attorneys At Law since 1993, Craig Kelley focuses on personal injury law with a large emphasis on motorcycle and bicycle related cases and claims with the goal of first helping clients heal and then getting speedy resolution of their disputes.