Sleeping With Strangers: The Airbnb Primer

by Shilpi Paul

Donna R.‘s home. Photo courtesy of Airbnb.

In 2009, Donna R., a retired Hyattsville homeowner, spent a few minutes filling out a profile about her home on Airbnb, a home rental website she had read about in The Washington Post.

“I couldn’t imagine who would want to stay at my house, but I didn’t have anything to lose, so I listed it,” Donna told UrbanTurf.

Within a few months, she was one of the mostly glowingly reviewed Airbnb hosts in the DC area. “Donna made our stay amazing in every way. She went out of her way to make sure we were comfortable,” says a typical review.

Somewhere in between couchsurfing and a traditional bed and breakfast is Airbnb. Launched in 2008, the website gives people an easy way to rent out their rooms, apartments or houses. You can find everything from an air mattress in Silver Spring for $25 a night to an Italian villa for $6,448 per night. Airbnb founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia said they created the website “to take the hassle out of renting out a house, a spare room, or even just a couch.”

The level of interaction between Airbnb renters and hosts varies. Some hosts act almost like extended family; others limit their interaction to the key drop-off. Donna picks guests up from the airport, stocks the kitchen and gives them access to three empty bedrooms, a TV room, a kitchen, and a library. She will drive them to the Metro and help them plan their days in DC. Her rates start at $50 per night, and she often hosts large families visiting DC. In contrast, some UrbanTurf staff and friends rented a place in New York City through Airbnb this past weekend and the renter-owner interaction was limited to a brief meet and greet and then the apartment was ours for the weekend.

New York City apartment. Photo courtesy of Airbnb.

DC area residents looking to make a little extra income via Airbnb should take note of a couple things, though.

While the laws are a little more unclear in Maryland and Virginia, Jonathan Addison of RentJiffy told UrbanTurf that the rental license law in DC has been amended, so whether renting out a whole house or just a bedroom, the property owner needs a one-family rental license, business tax registration, a basic business license and a rent control license or exemption. (One family licenses do not require a certificate of occupancy.) The base fine for not having a basic business license is $2,000 and fines also apply for not having other licenses. For condos or co-ops, the host will need to verify with the board of the building that renting the unit out is OK.

Airbnb also made headlines this past summer when a San Francisco woman had her life turned upside down in a particularly scary incident in which a tenant completely trashed the property and stole documents and valuables. At the time, Airbnb’s contract left the company with no liability in the matter, and the blogs railed against them for weeks as they figured out what to do. Ultimately, they created a $50,000 guarantee to cover vandalism, and offered it retroactively to the woman and anyone else who had been vandalized.

In an effort to prevent situations like this from happening again, Airbnb has a process where the host and tenant communicate and learn a little bit about one another before the owner gives the tenant the green light. There is also a review system for both hosts and renters.

“We like how you can read a little more about renters and see their reviews,” Ken M. an Airbnb host on Capitol Hill told UrbanTurf. Ken rents out the basement unit of the row house that he lives in with his wife and two kids.

While she may be the exception, Donna said that she’s never had a bad guest. “I wish I had time to tell you the many great stories I have heard, from the Germans about their fathers fighting in WWII on the German side, Hungarians who were there when the Russians ran the country, a lady from Taiwan whose father fled China in 1949 with Chiang Kai-shek.”

Bad guests or not, one thing is clear. With over two million nights booked, Airbnb is slowly taking the place of hotels, traditional bed and breakfasts and Craigslist in the eyes of travelers out there.

See other articles related to: editors choice, airbnb

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/sleeping_with_strangers_the_airbnb_primer/4897

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