- Watch Out for These Hazards If You’re Planning to Use Airbnb or Other, Short-Term Rentals on Your Holiday Travels
Watch Out for These Hazards If You’re Planning to Use Airbnb or Other, Short-Term Rentals on Your Holiday Travels
The holiday season should be a joyful time, filled with cherished memories and unforgettable experiences shared with friends and loved ones alike. For many of us, trips to faraway places are an important part of the mix. In recent years, short-term rental services like Airbnb and VRBO have helped millions of travelers find safe and affordable places to stay. Most of the time, such rentals are cost-effective and convenient – but sometimes they can end in unexpected tragedies.
Take, for instance, the case of Enora Lavenir, a 19-month-old toddler who died from fentanyl exposure while staying with her family at a Florida Airbnb rental property. Her parents allege the child was killed by exposure to drugs left by a former lodger, who had hosted a party in the rental unit just prior to their visit. They blame inadequate cleaning procedures for the presence of the drug that coroners deemed responsible for their baby’s death.Or consider another incident where three friends staying together at an Airbnb unit in Mexico died of carbon monoxide poisoning. To its credit, Airbnb offers free smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to property owners enrolled in their system (who are known as hosts), and has so far distributed hundreds of thousands of these lifesaving units to qualifying property owners. But another recent incident involving injuries related to carbon monoxide poisoning at a different Airbnb rental – this time in Pennsylvania – shows that there may still be potential dangers that remain unaddressed when staying at short-term rental properties.
These deaths and injuries (among others) would almost certainly have been avoidable if only the property hosts had taken proper care to inspect, clean and maintain their rental units. Sadly, it could require wrongful death or premises liability personal injury lawsuits targeting both the negligent owners and the rental management companies to ultimately force change and help safeguard travelers from similar tragic incidents in the future.
Know the Risks of Short-Term Rentals
Holiday travelers who avoid hotels in favor of privately-owned rentals through companies like VRBO and AirBnb may save some money, gain some convenience, and enjoy more pet-friendly surroundings than they’d find in typical hotels. But remember that the licensing requirements which must be met by more traditional types of lodgings intend to ensure the safety and wellbeing of guests — and may not necessarily apply when you choose to stay at someone’s personal residence.
Hotels and motels are usually inspected and licensed by local or state authorities, and generally have liability insurance coverage in place to safeguard their business operations and to help protect their customers from slip-and-fall accidents or other situations resulting in personal injuries to visitors or guests. The private homes, condominiums, and apartments listed on short-term rental websites might not always offer such protection for tenants. So, here’s some advice to consider whether you’re a property owner seeking to supplement your income or a lodger seeking a place to stay while traveling this holiday season or any time of year…
Renters Should Choose Reputable Companies to Avoid Unpleasant Surprises… or Unexpected Dangers
It may be tempting to find a short-term rental through personal connections, or to book a stay by checking out listings on websites like Craigslist or Facebook. But by renting from an established organization, you’ll enjoy some protections you may not otherwise receive. For example, Airbnb has a complaint resolution department that might be able to offer assistance if you run into a problem with a host or rental property. NerdWallet offers some additional tips for seeking a refund, as well as other recourses you can attempt if you have issues with the rental unit when you arrive, or it doesn’t live up to expectations during your stay. VRBO offers the opportunity to write reviews about properties (as does Airbnb), and you can leave a negative rating if you’re disappointed with your experience at properties listed by either website. While publishing a scathing review won’t necessarily get you your money back, it does let you help protect other travelers from bad experiences and, frankly, can be a satisfying way to express your frustrations.
Don’t forget that using a credit card to secure your rental reservation offers additional protection, since you can dispute the charges if you arrive at a location that isn’t as described in the rental listing or has unexpected problems like bedbugs, noisy neighbors, or other issues which make it impossible for you to enjoy the rental as you’d planned.To help make your dispute claim airtight, we suggest taking detailed photographs of the unit and clearly documenting any issues you’ve observed or encountered. This will permit you to share evidence as needed with the property owner, the customer service department of the rental company, your credit card company, or – if necessary – with your insurance company or personal injury attorney.
Owners Should Purchase Liability Insurance Coverage
As a homeowner, your standard house insurance policy more likely than not offers insufficient protection if you plan to independently make your private home available as a short-term rental property. As explained by The Zebra, most typical property insurance coverage excludes liability protection for home-based businesses – which is what insurers will consider your home-sharing income to represent. So, if someone suffers an injury while renting your property, you could find yourself facing denial of coverage – which poses a tremendous financial risk unless you’ve safeguarded yourself with a home-based business rider on your insurance coverage or taken out a policy specifically designed for landlords. Airbnb and VRBO do provide their hosts with some liability coverage, but you may wish to speak with your own insurance agent to see if you need additional protection based on your personal level of risk or financial exposure. For instance, the liability insurance provided by VRBO and Airbnb is limited to $1 million – but a wrongful death lawsuit could result in settlements far exceeding that limitation. If you have substantial assets or own numerous properties, inadequate liability coverage could wipe you out in the event of a suit being filed against you for premises liability or negligence.
Other risks you face when renting your property to others on a short-term basis include vandalism, fires, water damage, and theft of personal property. Again, unless you have acquired specific coverage for these potential losses through your insurance policy, you could find yourself at significant risk.Furthermore, whenever a renter vacates your unit, you’ll need to have it thoroughly cleaned and prepared for your next lodgers. While you may wish to save some cash by doing this work yourself, beware of the risks that can bring to you and your family. If, for instance, you fail to remove a dangerous substance, or you improperly maintain your property so that it becomes unsafe for renters, you could be found negligent in a personal injury lawsuit. That’s why you may be more comfortable hiring licensed and bonded property management and cleaning services to take care of your rental property. If something unexpected happens, you can depend upon your contractor’s coverage as a backstop against the legal risks you might otherwise face entirely on your own.
Remember, too, that the guests who stay in your rental unit are legally called “invitees.” As such – which this Forbes article explains – they are entitled to your highest level of care. Failure to provide guests with that high degree of safety means you’re taking an enormous chance of losing a premises liability case if you’re ever taken to court.
If You’ve Been Injured in a Vacation Rental Unit,Take the Following Steps:
Hopefully it will never happen, but if you or someone you love are harmed in an incident at a short-term vacation rental anywhere in Michigan, there’s one step you should take (after calling 911 as needed and thoroughly documenting the scene, of course): contact us at 855-MIKE-WINS (855-645-3946) and ask to speak with one of our attorneys specializing in premises liability law. We are currently seeing numerous cases unfold across the state following changes to Michigan premises liability laws due to a recent decision by the Michigan Supreme Court. So now might be a great time for you to take that vital step and seek the compensation you deserve for the pain and suffering you’ve experienced. But, don’t wait too long – the statute of limitations for filing personal injury lawsuits in Michigan is generally just three years, and even a short delay could derail your case!
Content checked by Mike Morse, personal injury attorney with Mike Morse Injury Law Firm. Mike Morse is the founder of Mike Morse Law Firm, the largest personal injury law firm in Michigan. Since being founded in 1995, Mike Morse Law Firm has grown to 150 employees, served 25,000 clients, and collected more than $1 billion for victims of auto, truck and motorcycle accidents. The main office is in Southfield, MI but you can also find us in Detroit, Sterling Heights and many other locations.