Airbnb and You: The Ultimate Guide to Liability, Legality and Safety When Using Airbnb

AirBnB in Florida

Consumer’s Guide to
Legality, Safety, and Liability

In the wake of the sharing economy, short-term rental sites such as Airbnb have flourished. They’ve been especially successful in Florida, providing a viable source of supplemental income for homeowners and a competitive alternative to hotels for tourists.

But despite the positives, Airbnb largely remains a company with unclear rules bolstered by a seemingly unregulated presence in cities and counties. This most commonly includes issues regarding:

The guide serves to clear up some of the confusion regarding Airbnb rentals.

The Growth of Airbnb in Florida

As of August 2017, Airbnb accumulated:

  • 4 million listings worldwide in 191+ countries
  • 660,000 listings in the United States alone
  • Over 200 million total guest arrivals since 2008

Florida in particular has experienced some of the largest growth. In 2017,

  • 40,000 Floridians had listings on Airbnb.
  • Hosts made $450 million in total earnings – approximately $6,700 per host.
  • 7 million guests stayed in Florida listings – a 75% year-over-year increase.

Miami-Dade County was the overwhelming top county for rentals, with the most stays and highest income. Interestingly, third-ranked Broward County accrued over 100,000 less stays than Osceola County, but earned roughly $5 million more.

Miami-Dade 667,200 Stays $134.6 Million
Orange 229,500 Stays $25 Million
Osceola 358,400 Stays $39.6 Million
Broward 239,600 Stays $45.7 Million
Pinellas 140,200 Stays $24.5 Million
Polk 101,600 Stays $10.5 Million
Hillsborough 78,700 Stays $10.4 Million
Palm Beach 72,500 Stays $17.1 Million

The state of Florida has benefited from these Airbnb stays too, thanks to tax revenue from the rentals

In 2017, Airbnb earned $45.7 million in total tax revenue for the state:

LegalityIs Airbnb Legal in Florida?

Although Airbnb listings are legal in more than 40 counties in Florida, finding definitive statutes on rules and regulations can be difficult, if not outright impossible. The most common regulations imposed by counties and cities in Florida include:

Zoning Rules.

  • Most cities in Florida have zoning restrictions for short-term rentals. For example, in Coral Gables, Airbnb rentals are only permitted in Commercial-Limited, Commercial, or Industrial Districts, and not in any designated Single-Family Residential Districts. Look into your city’s zoning codes as they relate to Airbnb rentals.

Permit and/or License Requirements.

  • Most Florida cities allowing short-term rentals require hosts to apply for a business license or a conditional use permit. Some counties, such as Miami-Dade, have even passed regulations requiring hosts to apply for a certificate of use.

Any Relevant Taxes.

Because regulations vary on a city by city (and neighborhood by neighborhood) basis, it’s always best to consult your city’s regulations first.

Airbnb lists six specific cities on their website with relevant regulations:

The Grey Areas of Airbnb Listings

Because of the relatively new nature of the industry, short-term rentals remain largely unregulated; most Florida cities use pre-existing laws to regulate and control Airbnb listings. As such, there remain a number of laws that can lead to a number of “grey area” questions, including:

  • If I am renting a home, can I sublet that on Airbnb?
  • If I am a homeowner looking to Airbnb, does it violate any agreements set forth by my HOA?

Ultimately, these questions are generally dependent not on laws put forth by the city or the state, but rather on contractual agreements made with other parties. For example, most lease agreements have clauses explicitly forbidding the use of the home as a sublet, but others also allow subletting as long as it is for “permanent resident purposes.”

Transparency and communication are key during this process, especially considering the consequences. Before listing your home on Airbnb, carefully read your lease agreements or neighborhood contracts for any clauses restricting short-term rentals or sublets. Do not stop until you get a definitive answer.

The Penalties for Illegal Airbnb Rentals

Some hosts list their homes on Airbnb, regardless of legality, with the mindset of “if I don’t get caught, nobody will know.” However, consider the risks involved with such a practice. Violating any laws regarding illegal or unauthorized Airbnb listings can come with hefty, pricy consequences.

Eviction.

  • Subletting without prior notification and permission may be expressly forbidden under your lease agreement and is often punishable by eviction effective immediately.

HOA Fines.

  • Your Homeowners Association may cite you if your short-term rental isn’t in compliance with their requirements – even taking you to court if necessary. In San Diego, a man was fined $106,000 by his condo association after a Superior Court Judge ruled that he violated the terms of his HOA agreement by renting out his condo on a nightly basis.
Miami Beach takes the crown for highest fines in the state, charging
$20,000
to homeowners for renting rooms in single-family homes for less than six months and one day.

Municipal Fines.

  • Violating city codes can result in hefty fines, especially in Florida. In Key West, those who do not apply for a license to operate an Airbnb can be fined up to $8,000. In Clearwater, a couple was fined $500 per day for simply listing their property on short-term rental sites – for a total of $35,000 in fines. Miami Beach takes the crown for highest fines in the state, charging $20,000 to homeowners for renting rooms in single-family homes for less than six months and one day.

Civil Lawsuits.

  • As a host, you are liable for any and all guests that stay on your property and may thus be held responsible for any actions and damages incurred by them. Landlords, Homeowners Associations, and other governing bodies may file a lawsuit against you to pursue compensation for any subsequent damages are infractions caused by your guests.

SafetyAirbnb’s Role in Member Safety

The issue of safety has always been a point of contention for both Airbnb guests and hosts alike – and the company itself does not help much in that regard. Although Airbnb does display a list of safety tips for both guests and hosts, they do not uphold any standards or requirements hosts must follow in order to offer a safe environment for guests.

In fact, Section 1.3 of Airbnb’s terms explicitly states:

While we may help facilitate the resolution of disputes, Airbnb has no control over and does not guarantee (i) the existence, quality, safety, suitability, or legality of any Listings or Host Services, (ii) the truth or accuracy of any Listing descriptions, Ratings, Reviews, or other Member Content (as defined below), or (iii) the performance or conduct of any Member or third party.

Airbnb does not conduct any safety inspections of their listings. By doing so, they inject themselves into questions of liability, which they want to avoid at all costs.

Airbnb and Background Checks

Airbnb implements a loose background check system of their members, using their name, email, and phone number. However, both hosts and guests have exclaimed it’s unreliable at best. Although Airbnb claims that they check criminal record databases in the United States, including sex offender registries, they themselves have acknowledged that it isn’t comprehensive. According to Airbnb, this is because:id

  • The information necessary to run a background check is not required. Airbnb does not require all the identifiers necessary for background checks from members when they book a reservation or post a listing.
  • They may only screen the guest who books the accommodation. This means any other guests sharing the space are not screened at all.
  • Databases may not be incomplete. Airbnb only checks public databases for criminal records and sex offender activity – and not all information is made public. For example, a registered sex offender may not always appear on a public database.
  • Airbnb does not do background checks on every single person. The company explicitly states that they “may” obtain a background check for their members but does not say they conduct them for every single member.

Airbnb ultimately puts the responsibility of safety on its members – on its hosts to provide safe rentals, and on its guests to make smart, informed decisions when booking their accommodations.

LiabilityAirbnb’s Solutions for Liability

In all Airbnb matters, liability can be the biggest question: who is responsible when a host suffers property damage at the hands of a guest? Who is liable when a guest suffers an injury in a host’s accommodations?

Airbnb repeatedly makes it known that they do not have any hand in matters regarding liability – when members sign up for the website, they acknowledge that they waive all rights to file a lawsuit against Airbnb. However, Airbnb has implemented some initiatives to help its members with issues of liability.

Security Deposits

Airbnb allows hosts to request a security deposit from guests before their stay. This ensures that any minor property damage is covered and does not have to go through a long-winded claims process to be recovered.

The Host Guarantee

The Host Guarantee offers peace of mind to hosts who are worried about any property damage to their listings. It reimburses hosts for any eligible damages up to $1 million. However, it’s important to note that it is NOT considered insurance and does not replace your existing homeowners or renters insurance.

Host Protection Insurance

Unlike the Host Guarantee, Host Protection Insurance is a legitimate insurance plan that provides primary coverage for Airbnb hosts at no additional cost in more than 15 countries, protecting against third-party liability claims up to $1 million. This includes both property damage and personal injury occurrences in the property.

Limitations

Although these three plans theoretically offer secure coverage in case something happens, there can be drawbacks that serve to be a pain.

  • The security deposit must go through Airbnb’s website. Requesting a cash security deposit is a violation of Airbnb’s terms and conditions and may result in an automatic ban from the service.
  • The security deposit reimbursement process is unreliable. Because compensation must first go through Airbnb, the process can be just as long-winded as filing a claim. If the guest fails to respond or disputes the host’s claims, the request for a deposit may be outright denied for seemingly no reason.
  • A Host Guarantee claim must be made before the next guest checks in. This can prove disastrous in cases where the full extent of property damage is not known until after the fact.
  • Host Protection Insurance only covers damage to your home. It does not cover your personal belongings, including furniture, electronics, and other personal property. In theory, the Host Guarantee offers coverage to supplement that – but because it is not true insurance, that may not result in protection either.
  • Host Protection Insurance only covers accidental damage. It will not provide protection from intentional property damage and theft.
  • Host Protection Insurance coverage is only limited to a booked stay. If a guest arrives early or leaves late and injures themselves in that short window of time, Airbnb’s insurance does not cover those injuries.
  • Host Protection Insurance excludes loss of earnings in coverage. In cases where a guest suffered a personal injury, this can negatively affect their recovery.

Most experienced Airbnb hosts recommend calling their personal homeowners or renters insurance providers and seeing what they can offer in terms of supplemental insurance for short-term rentals. Some larger insurance companies in Florida, such as All State and State Farm, may offer limited insurance for short-term rentals.

For guests, it may be prudent to sign up for travelers insurance, which may offer adequate coverage for any damage or injuries you incur on your trip.

Liability – Filing Claims and Resolving Matters of Liability

All matters of liability go through Airbnb’s Resolution Center. They will determine whether to utilize your security deposit, use the Host Guarantee, or a file a formal claim with your Host Protection Insurance.

Before starting this process, however, it is highly recommended to contact a lawyer. While minor incidents may be resolved with little to no problem, larger issues of liability, such as major property damage or a serious injury, are often difficult to navigate. Even with an overwhelming amount of evidence, Airbnb may still deny the claim outright with little to no justification. Having a qualified attorney by your side may be able to expedite the process.