Until recently, questions such as “What do I do if I find a dead body in the garden of my Airbnb?” probably didn’t cross the minds of many vacation-home renters. That is, until a group of friends renting a home outside of Paris found just that in late February.
The corpse-in-the-garden incident is an extreme case. But as more travelers turn to the sharing economy to rent private rooms and homes from strangers via Airbnb, HomeAway, VRBO, FlipKey and other sites, there’s been a corresponding rise in concerning incidents, says D. Hardison Wood, a personal-injury attorney and owner of the Law Office of D. Hardison Wood in Cary, N.C. Wood’s practice focuses on issues in the sharing economy.
Scan the headlines for a dose of vacation-rental horror stories: scam listings, hosts sexually harassing and even allegedly assaulting guests, drug discoveries (and an ensuing police raid), death and more. Because there’s no regulation in this area, renters must be on their guard, Wood says. To cover themselves, he advises travelers to check with their credit-card company before renting to be sure they’re covered in cases of fraud, accidental death and accidental injury.
“To me, this is kind of the dark underbelly of the sharing economy,” Wood says.
In response to a number of real-life cases, Wood shared tips on what steps to take if a vacation rental goes wrong.
The house you rent turns out to be (a) Occupied by people who never put it up for rent or (b) Nonexistent. (Both happened on the same day to two different parties in Key West, Fla).
Clearly, both scenarios are scams. Wood says the first thing you as renter should do is notify the service that listed the property. Then, if you used a credit card, contact the credit-card company and alert the company to the fraud. After that’s taken care of, you’re still faced with the challenge of finding a place to stay. That burden, Wood says, is still on you. “If you don’t have a plan B, then you’re kind of stuck, and you’re going to have to turn around and go home,” he says.
You’re injured — or worse — at a vacation rental. (A man who was staying at an Airbnb near Austin died when a tree branch holding a rope swing snapped and hit him on the head. His son wrote about it here).
First, seek medical attention, Wood says. Then tell the property owner or manager what happened and let him or her know that you’ve sought treatment. Wood says that the homeowners insurance policy may cover the medical bills. Depending on the extent of the injury, Wood says, you may want to talk to a lawyer.
Your host is a creep. (A man who booked a room in an apartment in Madrid claims he fell victim to the host, who locked him in a room and then sexually assaulted him).
If you’re sharing a home with someone, or sleeping on a stranger’s couch, it’s common sense to have your guard up. Wood says he’s spoken with many people who have dealt with hosts who get a little too close for comfort. “If this person isn’t a close friend or family member, you’re essentially treating them as such,” he says. “And you need to be very, very wary about that type of arrangement.” Wood says that if you feel unsafe, call the police. When you’re out of harm’s way, he suggests speaking with an attorney if you’re considering civil litigation.
You find a body in the garden. (In late February, a group of friends renting an Airbnb outside of Paris found a woman’s body decomposing in a garden).
Call the authorities, Wood says. “I think in most states you’re required, immediately, to call the police if you see a dead body, and I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t do that first.” Then, he says, call your credit-card company and challenge the charge.
You unknowingly rented a grow house. Members of a family on vacation in Sydney, Australia, was preparing to barbecue when police kicked in the door of their Airbnb and found eight cannabis plants in a closed-off room.
Dial 911, Wood says, and contact a lawyer. “You need to talk to a lawyer, because God knows, you don’t want to be the person being held responsible for those things.”
Silver is a freelance writer and author of “Frommer’s EasyGuide to Chicago.”
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