Can Airbnb Guests Sue Their Host? What You Need to Know

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Updated: December 7, 2020

Author: Benjamin Harty

Hi, I'm Benjamin, Digital Media Strategist for Skyline STR. I have been involved in content creation for over a decade and love helping people develop strategies to grow their business. My wife and I are AirBnB photographers that are experienced in rental arbitrage and hosting on the platform.

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SkylineSTR.com is a participant in several affiliate programs and may be compensated for referring traffic and business to these companies at no additional cost to you.

Unfortunately, Airbnb is no stranger to lawsuits. Unlike major hotel chains that adhere to strict occupancy and reservation rules, Airbnb accommodations can be a little more hit-and-miss for both guests and hosts.

But when guests suffer an injury, property damage, or refund issue, are they allowed to sue the host?

Airbnb guests can sue Airbnb hosts, or they may opt for arbitration. Airbnb’s Terms of Service prevents guests from suing the company directly for injuries, resulting in the host potentially becoming liable. Hosts may also be sued for other reasons like property damage, refunds, or just because.

We’ll be exploring the reasons why a guest may want to sue an Airbnb host, in addition to the difference between suing a host and suing the Airbnb company.

We’ll also be detailing how you might take an Airbnb to small claims court or handle a guest who is threatening to sue. So buckle up, this is going to be a bumpy ride!

Why Would Guests Want to Sue?

There are several reasons why an Airbnb guest may want to sue their host or the company. Guests may feel like their accommodations are not adequate, or they may feel concerned about the condition of various furniture and appliances. Heck, they may even want to intimidate their host to get their way.

However, when this happens, the guest typically contacts Airbnb within the first 24 hours of their stay.

At this point, Airbnb’s system will create a case file that is sent to a manager for review. If they find that the guest’s complaints were valid, they may provide a refund or alternate accommodation. 

As such, there are only a handful of things that could cause guests to create a valid claim against an Airbnb host. Some of the common liabilities a guest may successfully sue an Airbnb host for include:

  • Injury
  • Property Damage
  • Refunds

These categories are rather broad. To help you become more familiar with what they mean and how they could impact an upcoming court case, we’ll need to take a closer look at each one.

We’ll begin with one of the most common claims levied against Airbnb hosts: Injury.

Injury

Picture this: An Airbnb guest arrives at their lodgings as planned. They confirm their arrival and begin to unpack their belongings. As they walk toward the unit’s front door to return to their vehicle, their shoe snags on the rug, and they take a nasty tumble onto the floor, injuring themselves.

This has happened to me plenty of times in our own home, let alone our Airbnb with fresh, slippery floors.

Who is liable in this situation? According to Airbnb, it’s not them.

Guests that become seriously injured can accrue massive hospital bills, and their attention may quickly turn to the host that allowed such tripping hazards in their rental unit.

Property Damage

Landlords need to maintain and care for their rentable spaces. What if a vacationer arrives at a rental property, stores their belongings inside that unit, and then that unit floods or catches fire?

The landlord will likely be responsible for replacing that guest’s possessions. 

Still, the rules and regulations regarding an Airbnb host’s liability change from time to time. Additionally, state laws differ in many ways. An attorney may help determine whether a host or guest has legal grounds to pursue a property damage claim.

Refunds

If the Airbnb claims department denied the guest’s request for a refund, they might seek restitution from the host by contacting them directly. They also have the option to file a claim. Fortunately, these types of situations tend to be solved out of court.

In most situations, giving your guest an acceptable refund will be much less expensive then going to court.

Suing Hosts vs. Suing Airbnb

If you’re a guest seeking information on how to file a suit against an abusive Airbnb host or the Airbnb company itself, you’ll need to take time to read through Airbnb’s Terms of Service.

Depending on when you experienced the negative experience, you may or may not file a suit against the Airbnb company.

The cause of your complaint (injury, property damage, etc.) will also influence your decision to file a claim against Airbnb or the host involved. For example, Airbnb is not liable for any injuries sustained on a rental property. 

If you were injured due to landlord negligence, you’d need to file a claim against the host, not Airbnb.

Of course, you could also choose to file more than one suit. A small claims lawyer and a corporate lawyer may be able to guide you in your decision-making.

How Do You Sue an Airbnb Host?

If you feel like your claim is against an Airbnb host, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the process of filing such a request. You may also want to find a small claims lawyer. An attorney will help you through the claims process and help you prepare your court case.

However, before you begin doing hours of valuable research, you may want to take a moment to determine whether your claim is valid for small claims court. Unfortunately, the criteria for small claims vary from state to state.

You can learn more about this type of court process before reaching out to a lawyer. It can also be summarized into a straightforward five-step process. To sue an Airbnb host, you’ll need to:

  1. Determine Your Claim’s Validity
  2. Prepare a Letter of Demand
  3. Fill and File Paperwork
  4. Deliver the Paperwork
  5. Go to Court

And it is also worth noting that winning a lawsuit is one thing, collecting damages is an entirely different battle and you may never see a dime of what you are owed.

A professional lawyer can help you determine your claim’s validity and assist with paperwork and filing. Simple mistakes could cost you valuable time and add to your frustration, so having an attorney on your side is crucial.

How Do Hosts Handle an Airbnb Guest Lawsuit?

Now that we’ve covered how a guest might levy a claim against a host, it’s time to discover how a host might protect themselves from an Airbnb guest lawsuit.

Sadly, Airbnb doesn’t provide an exceptional level of legal protection for their hosts, so this section is relatively brief.

When an Airbnb host receives a threat of a lawsuit or a genuine court summons due to a small claim, there are a few options at their disposal. This is where your liability insurance comes in, and the very first thing that hosts should do is professionally address the complaints.

Address the Complaints

When a guest makes a formal and official complaint about their accommodation, Airbnb must inform hosts of any ongoing rulings and determinations. If Airbnb rules against the guest, they may decide to seek a lawsuit against the company, the host, or both.

If the guest decides to contact you directly or via a court summons, you could choose to call, text, or message the guest and address their complaints before the court date. If you can defend yourself with evidence or factual information, you may encourage the guest to remove their suit. 

This is why having clear documentation of any conversations you have with your guest is crucial, and you should only communicate via written platforms, such as through the Airbnb app.

However, some guests may want to arbitrate outside of court. This is typically a civil, mediated experience that concludes in either a settlement or decision to take the claim to court.

Arbitrate Out of Court

With the assistance of an arbitrator, you could decide to settle outside of court. This activity often requires some amount of negotiation on the part of the host. It’s helpful to have an attorney by your side during the arbitration process.

Of course, if the guest is amicable and willing to settle privately, both parties could save money on legal fees and services. Settling privately could be an ideal solution for Airbnb hosts.

Settle Privately

If you can avoid both court and arbitration costs by settling the dispute or claim privately, do so. Though your pride may suffer slightly, if there’s any chance that you may have been at fault for the issue, this option will likely be the most beneficial for you.

However, if you feel that the guest’s claim isn’t valid and that they have zero evidence to implicate you as the liable party in their lawsuit, you could choose to go to small claims court out of principle.

Go to Court

If you receive a summons to go to court, it’s probably in your best interest to attend the trial or court meetings. You’ll also want to hire a lawyer if you haven’t already done so. Any evidence you may have to prove that the guest’s claim is invalid will be valuable during this process.

However, once you go to trial, there’s no guarantee that you’ll win. You’ll also likely owe money in court fees. As such, going to court is typically the most expensive and risky route.

Conclusion

Airbnb guests can sue Airbnb hosts over injuries and property damage sustained while residing on the rented property. The Airbnb company is not liable for injuries, and their Terms of Service outlines this policy. 

As such, unhappy guests may decide to sue hosts when lodging issues arise. Hosts may address complaints, arbitrate, settle privately, or go to small claims court to settle pending lawsuits.

This is why it’s important to be properly insured if you are going to be hosting to the public in any meaningful capacity, like as a way to earn extra income or as a business.

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