Important Warning For Anyone Using Airbnb

When I first heard of Airbnb it sounded like Couchsurfing but without the creepiness.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love the concept of couchsurfing, but for some people the idea of crashing on someone’s couch/bed/floor/kitchen for completely free sounds a little too good to be true. There must be a catch, right? (For the record, there often isn’t. It’s just nice people who want to meet travelers, including the Bedouin guy in Jordan who lets people couch surf in his cave).

Which is why when Airbnb came along it seemed a bit more, how shall we say, legitimate.

Sure, you’re still sleeping in a stranger’s house, but since they’re charging you money all the psychological weirdness about the situation goes right out the window. It’s kind of like a hotel, but in someone’s house, and thereby it’s much more acceptable. Right?

Well, according to a recent article by the New York Times, in many cases that’s exactly the problem.

In this trying economy it would only make sense that people rent out an extra room in their house as a means of supplementing their income, but according to the New York Times article, many local laws aren’t exactly accepting of this win/win form of subletting.

The article cites a man in New York City who hosted guests in his East Village apartment, only to see his landlord slapped with $40,000 in fines for violating local laws. Out in Maui, where I live, anyone caught operating a “transient vacation rental” without a permit can be subjected to fines of $1,000/day if caught by the local authorities, so the issue is one, which spans both sides of the country.The sticking point, of course, is if you get caught. Enforcement on this sort of thing is lax at best, so you pretty much need a neighbor or community member to rat you out in order to be discovered. Still, it’s skating on thin ice.

So is it illegal to host someone on Airbnb? Apparently that depends on where you live, and the website makes this apparent in their terms and conditions. For some Airbnb hosts who are in hot water, however, these terms aren’t made clear enough by the company and leave many users taking risks they are unaware of.

While Airbnb will likely remain a popular service, if you plan on renting out a room or serving as a host, be sure you’re aware of the local laws, lest you receive a knock on the door that isn’t from a paying guest.

[Photo Credit: OuiShare via Flickr]