Considering that the digital age has made traveling easier, more affordable and convenient, it’s no surprise that the world’s largest accommodation provider is a website that, ironically, doesn’t own any property.  Of course, we are talking about Airbnb, which has over 3,000,000 lodging listings in 65,000 cities and 191 countries.

South Africans have also jumped on the bandwagon with a reported 7,500 (and counting) active hosts. However, there has been some backlash from more traditional lodging providers.  The National Accommodation Association of South Africa has highlighted the fact that Airbnb listings create unfair competition since hosts don’t have the same overhead expenses as a guesthouse and can usually offer lower prices.  But, there has been no clamp down on Airbnb listings in South Africa yet.  Of course, signing up as a host is incredibly easy and a sure way to make extra moola there are some legalities that must be considered beforehand.

The Starter Checklist for a Potential Airbnb Host

1. Get Permission from the Home Owner or Landlord.

According to LAW FOR ALL legal expert, Cwayita Vellem, if a host does not own the house or apartment that they wish to list on Airbnb, they must first get permission from the owner/landlord because rental contracts typically forbid subletting. If a host doesn’t have the necessary permission, they are breaching the lease, and the landlord can take legal action against them.

2. Check City Regulations and By-Laws.

Vellem also encourages hosts to do their homework and acquaint themselves with their particular city, town and province’s regulations and by-laws. Being thorough about consulting their local government will ensure that they don’t land on the wrong side of the law.

To be more specific hosts must check whether or not their local government has regulations regarding the specific building requirements and housing standards (safety and maintenance history, for example) before welcoming guests into their home. Some cities might require that the relevant authorities need to conduct an inspection. Certain permits and licenses might also be required.

Cities usually stipulate zoning laws that regulate how someone can use their home.  Hosts must check that their listing is consistent with the zoning requirements in the area.

3. Consider registering a Business.

While it isn’t specifically necessary for hosts to register their offering as a business, it is worth consulting a lawyer to find out what the pros and cons are.  However, since renting out your home will result in you receiving cash, you have to declare your income for tax purposes. If you earn more than R1 million a year from Airbnb, you will have to register for VAT.

According to Vellem, hosts must keep in mind that Airbnb only provides the means for hosts and guests to transact.  As a host, they are seen as an independent contractor, and any contracts or agreements regarding a stayover are between the host and the guest. It is probably a good idea to enlist the help of a legal expert to facilitate drawing up a contract.

 Airbnb’s Terms and Policies

 Airbnb also stipulates certain terms and conditions that the relevant parties must obey.  Amongst others, these are:

  • A Non-discrimination Policy: hosts are not allowed to turn away guests based on race, gender identity, sexual orientation, disabilities or marital status.
  • An Extenuating Circumstances Policy: while hosts are required to implement and manage their own cancellation policies, Airbnb could intervene in cases of extenuating circumstances that are out of the host and visitor’s control. In this case, Airbnb will override a host’s cancellation policy and make refund decisions.
  • A Guest Refund Policy: If for some reason, a host cancels a reservation, you can transfer your payment to a new Airbnb reservation or request a refund.
  • Extortion Policy: Reviews may not be used to coerce a user to engage in something that they are not obliged to. If any form of blackmail is detected, Airbnb may suspend or terminate the account in question.

How to Treat Your Airbnb Guests.

In July 2017, a video showing an AirBnB host allegedly pushing a South African guest down a flight of stairs for reportedly not checking out in time went viral. Needless to say, this is NOT how you should treat guests.

When you welcome guests into your home (which is basically a business now), you must ensure that your hospitality in top-notch and that they have a positive experience; essentially, you have to take on the role of a hotel concierge to a certain extent.  This will benefit you because they will likely give you a good review and increase your chances of getting more guests.

 What Will Airbnb Do If a Guest Damages Property?

 As mentioned before, the online hospitality site does not get involved with matters that are directly between host and guest.  If a visitor destroys anything in a room/home on purpose, they will be liable for the damages (remember to include this in the initial contract!).

 That said, Airbnb does offer some protection:

  • A Host Guarantee, which covers accidental damage to the property and if the visitor cannot be blamed for it.
  • Host Protection Insurance, which provides primary liability coverage for hosts and landlords for up to R13 million per occurrence against third-party claims for property damage or bodily injury that take place in a listing during a stay.

So, with the above in mind, it’s clear that becoming an Airbnb host is more than just registering on the actual website and that seeking expert legal advice is essential.

Need to draw up a legally binding agreement? Have a look LAW FOR ALL’s free contracts for some inspiration.