You have some vacation time and you want to visit a far-away city. You have a basic idea of what you’d like to do in said city, landmarks to see, places to eat — but where will you stay? Airbnb has increasingly become the answer.
Usually cheaper than a hotel and with much more living space (in addition to rooms, Airbnb users often rent whole homes, complete with whatever acreage is attached to the property), the 10-year-old company has become a force in the hospitality industry and a prominent example of the sharing economy.
Amid all the benefits, though, are some serious rules and regulations that “hosts” (homeowners) and “guests” (renters) must abide by. If you’re thinking of staying at an Airbnb, here are some important things to remember.
Know where the nearest medical facilities are
Before you rent, make a list of the local emergency numbers and the address of the hospital nearest to the place where you’ll be staying. Accidents may happen, so it’s best to be in the know. If you’re renting a cabin in the boondocks 50 miles from the nearest clinic, you might want to know that before hand — or at least pack a First Aid kit. Upon your arrival, text the home phone number of the place you’ll be staying to someone back home.
Love (or at least learn) thy neighbors
Before you rent a home or apartment unit on Airbnb, you should try to get as clear a picture as possible of the neighbors that live next to your host. Many Airbnb users like to take full advantage of the amenities: outdoor jacuzzi, hammock, basketball court, etc. Will the neighbors react negatively if they see you partying outside on a Sunday morning while religious services are underway two blocks away?
Many hosts will have a “party policy” (actually a no-party policy) that they will have you sign when you arrive. This way, they hope to keep the noise — and the neighbors’ annoyance — way down.
Also, many communities are banding together to limit or outright ban Airbnb because of what they perceive as disruptive guests so you may want to tread lightly or at least learn as much as you can about the area and its residents before you plop down a bunch of money to stay there.
Watch out for hidden cameras
Airbnb addresses privacy in its rules for hosts, saying, “Always be mindful of your guests’ privacy. Fully disclose whether there are security cameras or other surveillance equipment at or around your listing.” But recent news accounts share disturbing reports about Airbnb hosts doing just that: setting up cameras to spy on renters.
In late November, Twitter user Jason Scott tweeted an image of a camera tucked inside a motion detector that his colleague found in an Airbnb rental. Security experts say guests have to take some precautions regarding privacy when it comes to Airbnb.
“You have to be vigilant to the likelihood of possibility [of spying],” Keith Roberts, a technician for bug-detecting company Advanced Sweeping, told news website The Independent. “There are some bad people in the world.”
“With cameras you should look for tiny holes, which is where the lens will be,” Roberts said. “Check common items: the back end of books, mirrors, light bulbs, house plants. Look in logical places; if someone was looking for information, they’d put a device in the lounge. If the person was a voyeur, they’d likely put a camera in the dressing down areas like the bathroom, shower room and bedroom.”
Ensure the place is child-proof
If you’ve got a little one, you know the importance of child-proofing a home. Before you rent, contact the host about concerns related to cabinets, drawers and breakable items around the residence. Once you arrive at the spot, give it a once-over to ensure it is child-safe. Are the steak knives in reach of little Johnny? Maybe they should be put up. Airbnb stipulates that hosts notify guests of potential hazards, but it doesn’t always happen.
Find out if the host has pets
Many Airbnb hosts have animals that they’ve put away by the time you get there. Guests may arrive at a place and quickly discover that they can’t stay: They break out into hives, begin itching or have sneezing fits. Why? It may be that they are allergic to pets. People who have other allergies are especially susceptible to fur allergies, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, which says that as many as three out of 10 people in the United States suffer from allergies tied to cats and dogs.
The most important rule in all of this is to stay safe. It’s sad to say, but in the service economy, where utility and availability are oftentimes the primary prerequisites to fulfilling a need, small things like trust and integrity are often secondary. When it comes to Airbnb, hosts often don’t know who they’re letting into their homes and renters likewise may be misled about what kind of situation they’re getting into.
Furthermore, if a place does not feel or look safe, do not stay there. And if it’s safe and you do decide to stay there, you can save money (like $40 off $75) by seeking out referral codes that are widely shared online. Enjoy!