One More Question to Ask Before Booking an AIRBNB on Your Family Vacation
Last year, The Littlest Passport published it’s how-to guide for booking a baby and toddler friendly home rental on popular home sharing platforms like AirBNB, Booking.com, HomeAway and VRBO.
Since that time, many municipalities have passed laws restricting vacation home rentals, responding to citizen concerns about noise; safety and shrinking inventory of affordable housing. In Miami Beach, certain neighborhoods have been deemed “residential only”, making vacation rentals illegal in those neighborhoods. Under New York state law, it is illegal for most apartments to be rented out for less than 30 days unless the permanent tenant is present. Toronto has banned short-term rentals of less than 28 days while it sorts out an appeal to its laws that would require AirBNB hosts to become licensed with the City.
What does this mean to AirBNB guests? Municipalities fine the hosts of illegal lodgings, not the guests. However, guests of illegal home rentals may be required to vacate if the apartment receives a complaint from a neighbor and a visit from an enforcement officer during their stay. This can be highly stressful and inconvenient for any guest - but especially so for a family with a baby or young children. Therefore, before booking a home rental on AirBNB or other home sharing sites, parents will want to ensure that the listing is legal.
How will AirBNB help if I get removed from an illegal listing? The home booking website may be less helpful than you expect. AirBNB takes the stance that it is simply a platform facilitating transactions between hosts and guests. As the New York Times explains, the company “does not review the listings that appear on its site and [it] ‘also advises its hosts and guests to be aware of and comply with local laws.’”
This means that, if an enforcement officer or a condo board forces you out of an apartment in the middle of your trip, you will be required (at least initially) to work with the host to receive a reimbursement and/or sort out new lodgings. Hosts can run the gamut from highly accommodating to hostile and unresponsive. And some guests who have reached out to AirBNB directly have found that the company refuses to reimburse them.
Why do sites like AirBNB not do more to crack down on illegal listings and reimburse guests that unwittingly find themselves booking an illegal home? Home sharing sites like AirBNB are currently waging lawsuits against various municipalities, arguing that the regulations are too arduous for the platforms. At the end of the day, home rental websites don’t want to be on the hook to review and monitor listings, and reimburse guests, because doing so would eat into their profits. So the responsibility - and risk - is passed on to the guest.
I want to book a home rental for my next family trip - how do I ensure the listing I’m considering is legal?
If you plan to book a family vacation rental from an online platform like AirBNB, you’ll need to conduct some research to determine whether such rentals are restricted - or downright illegal - in the municipality you plan to visit.
In a December 2018 article, Condé Naste Traveler listed 13 places cracking down on AirBNB, though the list is far from exhaustive. (Passive AirBNB has compiled a list of 59 cities that already have regulations). To start, you’ll want to do a web search for terms like “AirBNB (place you plan to visit) regulations”.
If your research confirms that your travel destination does indeed restrict short term occupancies, you may need to do more digging to understand the ins and outs of the regulations. You’re best bet is to track down information on an official government website (search “short term rentals” or “vacation rentals” within the site), and if you still have questions, to reach out directly to the appropriate government office.
Read all host emails and home instructions carefully. If a host asks that you not talk to the concierge or other tenants, or stipulates that you need to bring suitcases into the building in a surreptitious way, you’re probably dealing with an illegal listing.
Being direct also doesn’t hurt. Directly ask your prospective host whether the unit is legal, and ask for their registration number with the city (if required).
Act quick. Some cities, like Miami Beach, offer a tool that visitors can use to look up whether their intended vacation rental is legal. The catch, of course, if that exact rental addresses are not provided on most home sharing sites until after a booking is made. AirBNB’s cancellation policy does allow guests to cancel a booking “up to three times a year if the guest cancels within 48 hours of booking”, but depending on the host’s cancellation policy (flexible, moderate, or strict), if the booking is considered “last minute”, you may not immediately get your full refund.
Though reporting an illegal listing to AirBNB should result in an automatic refund, you may need to do much more than click the “Cancel Reservation” button to ensure you get your refund, and AirBNB could argue that you’re in violation of their cancellation policy if you don’t bring the issue to them quickly enough.
Despite the potential headaches, many families with babies and toddlers do prefer renting out homes versus a hotel room for their vacations. The Littlest Passport will continue to post new articles on a regular basis to help make the search for comfortable, safe and legal vacation homes easier and less stressful!