Sleeping With Strangers: The Airbnb Primer

by Shilpi Paul

Sleeping With Strangers: The Airbnb Primer: Figure 1
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.

Sleeping With Strangers: The Airbnb Primer: Figure 2
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 https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/sleeping_with_strangers_the_airbnb_primer/4897

DC Real Estate Guides

Short guides to navigating the DC-area real estate market

We've collected all our helpful guides for buying, selling and renting in and around Washington, DC in one place. Visit guides.urbanturf.com or start browsing below!

Northern Virginia

Profiles of 14 neighborhoods across Northern Virginia

Looking to Give People A Reason to Stay Past 6pm
Happily Straddling the Line Between City and Suburb
Columbia Pike
Arlington’s Neglected Stepchild is Getting a Makeover
Crystal City
Turning Lemons into Lemonade
Lyon Village
Developing An Air of Exclusivity?
Hitting Its Growth Spurt
An Urban Village Hitting Its Stride
Del Ray
Virginia’s Small Town Near the Big City
Eisenhower Avenue
The Vibrancy Might Take a Few Years
The Quiet Neighborhood By the Beltway
Old Town
Mayberry By The Potomac
132 Commerical-Free Acres
Downtown Falls Church
Staying the Same in the Midst of Change
Tysons Corner
Radical Change Could Be On The Way

See more Northern Virginia »


Profiles of 14 neighborhoods in suburban Maryland

Small-Town Living in the State Capital
Bedroom Community Gets Buzzing Cache
Cabin John
In With The New While Maintaining the Old
Chevy Chase
Affluence, Green Lawns and Pricey Homes
Downtown Silver Spring
Experiencing a Resurgence After a Bumpy History
A Suburb on Steroids
Rockville Town Square
Despite the Dynamism, Still Somewhat Generic
Takoma Park
More Than a Little Bit Quirky
A Foodie Magnet on the Verge of Change
Capitol Heights
Kudzu, Front Porches and Crime
Glass Half Full or Half Empty?
Mount Rainier
Artists, Affordable Homes and A Silo Full of Corn
National Harbor
A Development Rises Next to the Potomac
Riverdale Park
A Town Looking For Its Identity

See more Maryland »

Northwest DC

30+ neighborhood profiles for the city's biggest quadrant

16th Street Heights
DC's Sleeper Neighborhood
Where (Almost) Everyone Knows Your Name
AU Park
One of DC’s Last Frontiers Before the Suburbs
DC’s Northern Neighborhood on the Cusp
DC’s 535 House Neighborhood
Cathedral Heights
Do You Know Where That Is?
Chevy Chase DC
Not to Be Confused With the Other Chevy Chase
Cleveland Park
Coming Back After A Rough Year
Columbia Heights
DC’s Most Diverse Neighborhood, But For How Long?
An Island of Serenity East of the Park
Dupont Circle
The Best of DC (For a Price)
Foggy Bottom & West End
Where the Institutional Meets the International
Forest Hills
Ambassadors and Adventurous Architecture
Foxhall Village
350 Homes Just West of Georgetown
Friendship Heights
A Shopping Mecca With a Few Places to Live
History, Hoyas and H&M
Glover Park
One of DC’s Preppier and More Family-Friendly Neighborhoods
A Posh View From Embassy Row
LeDroit Park
A Quiet Enclave in the Middle of the City
Logan Circle
Trendy Now, But Not By Accident
Mount Pleasant
Sought-After Homes Surround Main Street in Transition
Mount Vernon Triangle
From Seedy to Sought-After
The Long, Skinny Neighborhood at the City’s Northwest Edge
Park View
It’s Not Petworth
Penn Quarter/Chinatown
DC’s Go-Go-Go Neighborhood
Getting a Vibrancy of Its Own
The Duke’s Former Stomping Ground
Shepherd Park
DC’s Garden of Diversity
Spring Valley
A Suburb With a DC Zip Code
Not To Be Confused With Takoma Park
Not Quite Like Its Neighbors
U Street Corridor
The Difference a Decade Makes
Woodley Park
Deceptively Residential
Adams Morgan
No Longer DC’s Hippest Neighborhood, But Still Loved by Residents

See more Northwest DC »

Southwest DC

The little quadrant that could

Southwest Waterfront
A Neighborhood Where A Change Is Gonna Come

See more Southwest DC »

Northeast DC

Profiles of 10 neighborhoods in NE

New Development Could Shake Up Pastoral Peace
A Little Bit of Country Just Inside the District’s Borders
Not to Be Confused With Bloomingdale
Fort Totten
Five Years Could Make a Big Difference
H Street
A Place To Party, and To Settle Down
The Northeast Neighborhood That Few Know About
Michigan Park
A Newsletter-On-Your-Doorstep Community
Evolving from a Brand to a Neighborhood
Ripe for Investment Right About Now
The Difference 5 Years Makes
Big Houses, A Dusty Commercial Strip and Potential

See more Northeast DC »

Southeast DC

6 neighborhoods from Capitol Hill to East of the River

Capitol Riverfront
Still Growing
Hill East
Capitol Hill’s Lesser Known Neighbor
Congress Heights
Gradually Rising
Notable for Its Neighborliness
Historic Anacostia
Future Promise Breeds Cautious Optimism
Eastern Market
A More European Way of Living

See more Southeast DC »