The Tenant That Never Leaves: Risks Facing Airbnb Landlords

by Shilpi Paul

The Tenant That Never Leaves: Risks Facing Airbnb Landlords: Figure 1

In the past, UrbanTurf has written about Airbnb, the website that gives people an easy way to temporarily rent out their rooms, apartments or houses, with a focus on how DC-area residents are utilizing the service. However, we recently spoke with several landlord and tenant lawyers in the city who laid out potential risks associated with the service.

As we wrote last week, landlords in DC must apply for several licenses, including a Basic Business License, in order to be legally recognized by the city, and to have the ability to enforce a lease or evict a bad tenant.

Since many Airbnb landlords have no certifications, they may have little legal ground to stand on when trying to get rid of a bad tenant, attorney Emilie Fairbanks told UrbanTurf. As more and more tenants use Airbnb to find short-term rentals lasting a month or longer, landlords may find that a home that is too comfortable may be a liability.

"If you happen to get someone who doesn't want to leave, you could be without a remedy," stressed Fairbanks. "DC is one of the hardest and riskiest places to be a landlord, so unless it is a long term business and you are willing to comply with all of the regulatory requirements, you aren't ready to advertise on Airbnb."

Attorney Peter Glazer reiterated the concern. While it's not impossible to evict an Airbnb tenant, he said that city laws make it extremely difficult. "It's very cumbersome," said Glazer. "I would never suggest that somebody do it. When it comes to Virginia, where eviction is more straightforward, it's less of a concern. But within the boundaries of DC, tenants have a great deal of leverage."

Richard Sternberg, a lawyer who specializes in landlord/tenant issues, is also quick to warn would-be landlords.

"The most frightening possibility may be that a landlord in many places, including the District of Columbia and Maryland, is not permitted to engage in self-help. So, if your overnight guest decides to stay until she finishes college, only the sheriff or a marshall can put them out, and that isn't going to happen quickly without a lease tailored to the circumstances," warns Sternberg. "In short, the landlord may have invited a long-term house guest with no binding lease terms."

Additionally, Sternberg worries that Airbnb users could unknowingly be operating as an inn, without any of the necessary licenses.

"Being in the hospitality business without professional help could be a formula for disaster," said Strenberg. "Some jurisdictions don't permit leases of less than a month. Overnight leases are actually hotel stays, and that requires a commercial license and a significant regulatory gloss. Running a hotel business in a residential neighborhood may violate local zoning and use laws, as well, and significant fines or damage claims are possible."

Readers who rent out their homes with Airbnb, have you had issues with a tenant that required legal action? Email us at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

See other articles related to: tenant-friendly, airbnb

This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/the_risks_facing_airbnb_landlords/6998


  1. Law violators said at 9:20 pm on Friday May 3, 2013:
    People who "rent rooms" in their homes for 1.2,or 3 nights at a time when their homes are not zoned for bed and breakfasts or hotel are violating DC law. They are simply trying to earn money with none of the attendant expense of operating a legitimate hotel. The only reason they are in this business is to supplement their income. , these visitors are paying less than they would be paying to hotels and bed & breakfasts who charge higher fees because They pay for licenses COOs, are insured with commercial insurance and are paying the Sales tax and the hotel taxes the city requires. These homeowners are inconsiderate of their fellow neighbors and it is unfair to legitimate hotel operators. They also may be evading income taxes. Aside from landlord tenant laws, It is illegal to run a hotel from a residence that is not zoned for that use and is not in compliance with all business laws that apply to a hotel or bed & breakfast. What is going to happen if something happens to a "guest" and the homeowner gets sued. Homeowners insurance will not cover the liability. If they get a judgment against the homeowner they could lose their home if the judgment holder forecloses on the judgment. They are just as bad as developers who renovate houses and do not obtain proper permits. We are plagued by one of these illegal home /hotels on our block.
  1. um said at 9:30 pm on Friday May 3, 2013:
    I thought DC had a special rule where you could rent your place for up to a week without any licenses. BTW. People who also get roommates (whether long term or short term) are technically also likely violating a bunch of laws. Just saying. On a scale of bad things going on in the city - I say this is pretty low on the list. I'd rather the city spent its time reducing violent crime or ending subsidies to these thugs and their families. But that's just me.
  1. Anecdotal evidence? said at 9:50 pm on Friday May 3, 2013:
    Lawyers are always doom and gloom; it's their job (and I say this as a lawyer). Is there any evidence that this has been a problem for hosts in the area or anywhere in the world? I'll be interested to see a follow up article if people email the editor or some real life holdover airbnb tenant stories are discovered.

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