Online hospitality marketplaces like AirBNB and VRBO have radically disrupted the hotel business. Property owners love the chance to offset the cost of ownership of homes and vacation getaways, all within the scope of a well-established rental system. At the same time, owners need to be careful to take stock of how having paying guests may affect their legal liability in the event that a guest is injured during their stay.
Homeowner liability for guest injuries, in general
When someone is injured at someone else’s home the usual question is whether the homeowner committed an act of negligence that caused the guest’s injury. For negligence to apply, the homeowner must have owed the guest a duty of care and breached that duty. Ordinarily a homeowner owes a guest fairly limited duty of care. Specifically, homeowners are not required to continuously ensure that their homes are free of dangerous conditions that might lead to an injury. For example, a homeowner who lives in a place with freezing conditions doesn’t need to constantly look out for buildup of ice on a walkway. On the other hand, once a homeowner knows about a dangerous condition there is a duty to warn guests about the problem and to make reasonable efforts to resolve it.
The character of a homeowner’s legal duty can change if a guest is paying the homeowner for the privilege of using the property. When someone pays for lodging the legal duty can be more strict than would otherwise be the case. A homeowner who does not take care to inspect the property for risky conditions takes a chance that a visitor will be injured and sue.
The heightened risk means that homeowners should take care to analyze their insurance policies to ensure that they are covered against liability. AirBNB covers homeowners with a Host Protection Insurance policy. The AirBNB policy provides up to $1 million per incident. But there are some important limitations that the homeowner may still be responsible for paying. For example, the policy does not cover loss of earnings. It also does not cover things like a guest’s car, loss of electronic data, or injuries that the host should have expected to happen (such as by ignoring unsafe ice buildup on the front porch). A guest who suffers an excluded injury likely will sue the homeowner to recover whatever cannot be recovered from the AirBNB insurance policy.
As such, the homeowner should not rely solely on the coverage provided by the online marketplace. Hosts should also verify that they are adequately protected by their homeowner’s insurance policy. Some policies may not cover rentals, and some may also carve out exclusions that are similar to those carved out by the rental site’s policy. If there are gaps left over, the homeowner must decide if bearing the excluded risks is worth it.
Homeowners should also bear in mind that in many jurisdictions short-term rentals are prohibited by law or subject to specific licensing, zoning, or other rules. An insurer may be quick to deny coverage for a rental that violates local laws. In addition, breaking such laws could expose the host to fines and even criminal prosecution.
GGRM is a Las Vegas personal injury law firm
The law firm of Greenman Goldberg Raby Martinez has represented clients in personal injury cases for over 45 years. If you have been injured during a stay at a short-term rental or if you are a host with questions about your potential liability, call us today for a free, confidential attorney consultation. We’re available at 702-388-4476 or contact us through our website.