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If you're an Airbnber, know your liability risks

If you are a well-traveled individual you may be aware of Airbnb. Wikipedia describes the company as simply "a website for people to list, find, and rent lodging." But when you consider that it only launched in 2008 and now has about a million and a half property listings in 190 countries, you realize this is not what one would call a simple operation.

In the short time it's been around, the company has gone from nothing to one that reportedly has a value of around $20 billion. And as it has grown, so have regulatory concerns. The reason is obvious. With the volume of guests put up by Airbnb hosts being as large as it is it should come as no surprise that accidents are happening. And where accidents occur, questions of liability are bound to arise.

Exact numbers on injuries and deaths are hard to come by, so determining the scope of liability is something of a mushy issue when it comes to operations like Airbnb. Regular hotel operators tend to carry significant liability insurance policies when accidents on their properties occur. But that may not be the case with a lot of Airbnb hosts.

Indeed, as a recent New York Times article observed, up until a year ago Airbnb hosts were flying solo when it came to premises liability coverage. Some hosts may have been smart enough to obtain specific policies, but the suspicion is that most probably thought their personal homeowner's insurance was enough. What they and their Airbnb guests may not have realized, however, is that most personal home policies explicitly exclude protection for events that happen as a result of commercial activity.

Airbnb now offers hosts free coverage for claims up to $1 million. But experts question whether it's enough. The company reportedly caps claims at $10 million a year and some experts estimate that Airbnb's volumes could result in $50 million in claims on any given single night.

The upshot of all of this is that hosts are being urged to at least inform their personal insurance carriers when they invite renters in, even with Airbnb's free coverage. And on the other side of the coin, renter guests would do well to ensure that critical safety devices like carbon monoxide and fire detectors in the units they book are all up to code. That's not something to discover after the fact.

Source: The New York Times, "Death in Airbnb Rental Raises Liability Questions," Ron Lieber, Nov. 13, 2015

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