5 things to know before picking a vacation spot on Airbnb

News, Money, Rights

The pitfalls of renting out your place through short-term rental sites like Airbnb, including possible eviction, destructive partiers and, of course, squatters, are well documented. But what about the risks to vacationers? Use this checklist to gather the information you need to ensure a stress-free stay before you put down that deposit.

Airbnb renters’ checklist

1. Find out if it’s legal. Guests of short-term rentals face fewer legal issues than hosts, but they still take on the risk of a ruined vacation, says Andrew McConnell, CEO of VacationFutures. McConnell, who has a legal background, says laws vary state to state and city to city.

In some places, like New York City, short-term rentals are considered illegal hotels. While the host will likely not get in trouble with the landlord, the renter might. “There have been numerous instances where people have had their rental canceled one day, two days before, because the owner gets cold feet,” says McConnell. It can be worth the extra cost of a hotel to know your stay is guaranteed.

2. Know the cancellation policy. Sometimes it’s not the host who cancels, but you. If so, you don’t want to get stuck paying the full amount, which is what happened to Ada Hung of Miami after she and her husband had to cancel a reservation she made on Airbnb.

Hung says that when she canceled the reservation less than a day later, it was already too late, and they were on the hook for the full $2,400. Hung uses Airbnb often and had never experienced something like this, but the unexpected does happen. “I would say there are surprises 50 percent of the time,” she says.

Airbnb and HomeAway allow hosts to choose their own cancellation policies, which range from forgiving to strict. Don’t assume that you’ll get your money back if you cancel. The bottom line: “Read the cancellation policy,” says Hung.

3. Find out the fees. Service fees and cleaning fees add up quickly. Plan for them when shopping around for the right rental, especially if you’re on a budget. And be aware that they may be nonrefundable. Again, read the cancellation policy carefully.

4. See if the host is responsive. It’s always a good idea for a potential guest and host to feel each other out via email or phone before committing. If the host is not responsive during the research phase, move on. Odds are the host will be even less responsive during your stay.

5. B.Y.O. essentials. Don’t assume that the place you’re renting has everything you need, like air conditioning, towels or even salt and pepper. McConnell has seen this before. “There’s no toilet paper in the bathroom – that’s a huge shock for a renter,” he says. He recommends asking your host what will be provided and what you’ll need to bring so you can arrive prepared.

It’s also a good idea to ask what safety measures are in place, including whether the smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors have been maintained.