Published on October 9, 2020
It was every Airbnb host’s worst nightmare.
In 2011, a host named EJ returned home from a weeklong business trip. While she was away, she had listed her apartment on Airbnb, hoping to make some extra cash from the space while she wasn’t using it.
But when EJ arrived at her home, she could hardly recognize it. It had been ransacked and vandalized. And to make matters worse, EJ’s property and information had been stolen while she was gone by the guests who rented the apartment.
Over the next 24 hours, EJ tried every way she could think of to get help from Airbnb. She called every phone number she could find listed for the company online. She emailed the customer support email address she had used before. She called the so-called “urgent” help line for hosts. But she wasn’t able to reach anyone at Airbnb.
EJ eventually blogged about her experience, and the article she wrote went viral. Airbnb, facing an onslaught of bad press, promised to come up with a system to provide better support to hosts like EJ.
And that’s how the $1 Million Host Guarantee came to be. If you’ve ever hosted on Airbnb (or even considered it), you’ve likely seen the site’s slick landing page for its Host Guarantee. It seems straightforward enough — Airbnb promises to pay up to $1 million in damages to hosts who are otherwise unable to recoup losses caused by their guests.
But dig a little deeper — like into the $1 Million Host Guarantee’s terms and conditions — and you’ll find that Airbnb’s promise is not so black and white. In fact, the Host Guarantee comes with a list of exclusions that the company can cite to keep from paying for a host’s losses that’s longer than the list of what actually is covered.
Airbnb hosts have to know every detail about what’s protecting them from nightmare situations like the one EJ faced. The best way for them to protect themselves is to know policies like the $1 Million Host Guarantee backwards and forwards — and to know what options they have if protections like the Airbnb Host Guarantee end up letting them down.
Before we get started, a quick note: It’s hard to find a good summary online, in plain English, of what Airbnb’s $1 Million Host Guarantee does and doesn’t cover. But keep in mind that Airbnb reserves the right to change any of its policies at any time without warning. Additionally, a summary is a great way to kick start your learning, but it’s no replacement for the real thing. If you plan to host on Airbnb, you have to read and understand the terms and conditions of the $1 Million Host Guarantee — in their entirety. Ultimately, it’s up to you to protect yourself, and learning and documenting Airbnb’s own policies are the best way you can do that.
The Airbnb Host Guarantee is a promise from the company that, according to its website, “If a guest damages your place or belongings during a stay and doesn’t reimburse you, you may be protected with up to $1,000,000 USD property damage protection.”
The $1 Million Host Guarantee also offers hosts some tools that they can use to better protect themselves, their homes and their property, including:
It’s important to note that this is not an insurance policy. It’s also not a guarantee, despite the language. There are a lot of circumstances that Airbnb says can void its promise, and there’s a whole list of items and situations that are exempt from coverage according to the $1 Million Host Guarantee terms and conditions (but more on that below).
Even if your damages as a host appear to fall under what Airbnb promises to cover with its Host Guarantee, the company can deny coverage, or only pay part of your damages.
The $1 Million Host Guarantee automatically applies to Airbnb hosts around the world, except in Mainland China and Japan, and hosts who offer accommodations through Airbnb Travel, LLC.
According to Airbnb, the $1 Million Host Guarantee may cover:
Note that even Airbnb itself hedges this language on its website. Even though this is sold as a “Guarantee,” Airbnb doesn’t guarantee that it will cover anything.
Much longer than the list of what may be covered is the list of what’s definitely not. For that, you have to dig deep into the terms and conditions for the Airbnb Host Guarantee.
There is a lot that Airbnb uses its terms and conditions to exclude from covering with its $1 Million Host Guarantee.
Once again, the best way to learn about all the exclusions to this policy is to read the entire terms and conditions yourself. But we’ll sum it up below.
Since property is a big part of what’s supposed to be covered by the Airbnb Host Guarantee, let’s start with just some of the types of property Airbnb states are definitely not covered:
So in other words, if any trees or livestock are damaged by your guests, Airbnb doesn’t cover that. Same goes for the land your home is on. And if a guest manages to steal money from you or your property, it isn’t covered.
In addition to excluded properties, there’s a long list of scenarios that can cause Airbnb to void coverage that does fit its guarantee. Some of those include:
Those are just a few of Airbnb’s listed exclusions; the actual list contains almost 1,000 words of limitations to hosts’ coverage.
But say you’re a host who incurs damage or a loss that does seem to fall under Airbnb’s Host Guarantee. What do you do then? Well, even the reporting process comes with limitations and challenges for hosts.
When making a claim under Airbnb’s $1 Million Host Guarantee, the first thing to note is that your claim must be made (i.e. you must contact the guest responsible for the damages and Airbnb) before your next guest checks in. That’s caused some problems for hosts who have consecutive bookings — there are horror stories online of guests who discover damage done by the guest before them, but since someone new has already checked in, it’s too late for the host to make a claim with Airbnb.
If you don’t have a new guest checking in right away, the claim must be made within 14 days. Here are the steps hosts have to take to claim Airbnb’s Host Guarantee.
Airbnb will ask for proof of a lot of things: That you owned the item or property that was damaged, that you lost money because of the damage, and that an Airbnb guest was responsible for the damage. You’ll need to collect as much evidence as possible to try to prove your case: Photos, videos, estimates, and receipts are a good start.
Under Airbnb’s Host Guarantee, it’s actually up to the host to attempt to collect damages from the guest themselves. That means you have to use Airbnb’s secure messaging platform to ask the guest yourself to pay for damages. They have 72 hours to respond.
If the guest doesn’t answer or is unwilling or unable to pay for the damage they caused, you’ll work with an Airbnb support specialist to submit your claim. Then, it’s up to Airbnb to review your case and decide whether to cover your damages.
The Airbnb $1 Million Host Guarantee isn’t failsafe. In fact, it’s very far from it.
A quick Google search is all it takes to see how many hosts have been let down by the policy. Even on Airbnb’s own support forums, there are hosts warning others that they shouldn’t depend on Airbnb to protect them.
One user in London told other hosts to “beware” and wrote that Airbnb denied her claim because she wasn’t able to prove her Airbnb guest was liable for the damages.
“This is more than disappointing as it means that unless you can prove your guest was directly responsible for the damage (by taking a picture of the damage while it is happening? by installing CCTVs in your property?) Airbnb will not cover you,” she wrote. “When I raised this point I was told that they are sorry but Airbnb reserves the right to make the final determination with regard to these disputes.”
The comments on that post are absolutely flooded with other hosts who agree: “There is little value in the ‘guarantee’ offered by [Airbnb],” “Sadly this is a common story, hardly a day goes past without seeing something similar,” and “It’s a gimmick.”
So how do hosts protect themselves? One way is by purchasing their own short-term rental insurance.
But if you’ve been burned by Airbnb’s Host Guarantee, you have another option.
The $1 Million Host Guarantee terms and conditions include an arbitration clause, which says that in the event of any dispute with Airbnb, hosts can’t sue the company. What they can do is file for consumer arbitration, which is a process similar to small claims court, in which an independent arbitrator hears both sides, examines the evidence, and makes a legally binding decision about who is in the right in a dispute.
For anyone who hasn’t gone through the process before, arbitration can seem overwhelming. There’s a lot of paperwork involved, and the entire process can be time consuming. That’s where FairShake comes in.
FairShake exists to help consumers navigate the arbitration process. We listen to the details about your complaint, and then file arbitration paperwork on your behalf. Using a combination of automation and one-on-one support, we guide you through the legal steps of the arbitration process and help you get the justice you deserve.
FairShake has already helped lots of Airbnb hosts and users like you by putting power (and money) back in their hands. If Airbnb is withholding your cancellation fees, tell us about it and we can help.
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