In the seven years since its inception, Airbnb has exploded in popularity as web-savvy travelers want a more adventurous and affordable means of lodging than what the traditional hotel offers. Like Uber, which allows anyone with a vehicle to be a cab driver, Airbnb provides a source of income for anyone looking to rent out their homes.

However, according to The Wall Street Journal, the service that's rumored to have a stunning $24 billion valuation has its fair share of concerns. Both travelers and their hosts might be apprehensive about sharing their living space with total strangers. So if you've considered using Airbnb in any capacity, here are some safety features offered by the popular booking service.

First and foremost, all prospective hosts must check with their city government to ensure that they can even list their property on Airbnb. Even though Airbnb boasts over a million and a half listings across 190 countries, “hoteling” out your apartment could violate a rental, zoning or business law particular to a city. For instance, New York forbids all rentals of less than 30 days if the owner is not present at the property, while San Francisco is a bit more lenient, capping the ability to host on Airbnb at 90 days a year. Several cities around the world levy hotel taxes and certain boroughs of Montreal even require a business license to operate an Airbnb accommodation.

Protection for the Host

After the legal hurdles, there's the issue of ensuring the host’s safety when letting strangers into their home. It's a valid concern, as there have been more than a few cases of theft or robbery stemming from Airbnb. First and foremost, hosts should ask for verified ID from travelers before booking the accommodation. According to Airbnb, this means a photo of a government-issued ID (driver’s license or passport), connecting the Airbnb account to the traveler's Facebook, Google or LinkedIn profile or uploading a profile photo with a phone number and email address.

There's also the possibility the traveler could damage the home during their stay, while hosts could face legal ramifications should the traveler get injured while staying in their home. Airbnb attempts to address these issues with its Host Protection program, in which hosts are covered for up to US$1 million in case of damage and injury claims. However, Host Protection comes with caveats. For one thing, it's currently only available in the United States (a similar service available in Canada only protects against unresolved damage claims with the guest), and Host Protection acts only as excess coverage over any existing insurance policies, such as homeowners insurance

Protection for the Traveler

While Airbnb has no protections that replicate traveler’s insurance, it has certain provisions in place to try to ensure guest safety and satisfaction. As the quality of hosts is based on their reviews, guests are encouraged to only book with highly-recommended providers. Once the lodging has been booked, Airbnb offers a 24/7 customer service line to resolve any disputes and will provide refunds if one of the following three categories are met: (1) the host cancels the reservation shortly before check-in or fails to provide access to the listing booked, (2) the listing booked is misrepresented or lacks promised amenities or items or (3) the listing is not generally clean or as described. Points two and three are further expanded below in the Airbnb Refund Policy:

  • The listing lacks an amenity promised in the listing’s description or photos.
  • The room type of the listing isn't what was booked.
  • The number of bedrooms or bathrooms in the listing doesn't match what was booked.
  • The listing itself or its location is not what was booked.
  • The listing does not have clean bedding or towels available for all guests included on the reservation, unless the host has clearly stated that linens aren't provided or hasn't included essentials in their offered amenities.
  • The listing is unsanitary, unsafe or hazardous to the health of the guests.
  • There is an animal in the listing which was not disclosed prior to booking.

The Bottom Line

As Airbnb continues to grow in popularity, it has become an increasingly viable source of lodging for travelers as well as providing extra income for hosts. However, prospective hosts and travelers should exercise caution, particularly when it comes to potential legal concerns.