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Should you rent a vacation home?

Vacation rentals, whether near the ski slopes or on the beach, can be a great way to create memories with family and friends. It’s never been easier to find the perfect place at an affordable price thanks to websites like Airbnb and VRBO. As with everything else, though, there are potential legal issues you want to be aware of going in.

For example, what happens if you get hurt while renting? Chances are you’re not going to get an opportunity to inspect the property beforehand, and there could be hidden hazards, such as poorly mounted shelves, loose floorboards, steps that aren’t up to code, and a whole host of other potential traps. You’re certainly not going to be able to tell from pictures on a website. If, for example, a shelf fell on you as you slept or you tripped on an unlit stairway, who would be at fault?

If you were staying at a hotel, the hotel owner would be responsible. When you have a short-term lease on a house, apartment or condo, it’s not as simple. It may be the property owner. If you’re renting a place for the weekend from a long-term tenant, it may be the landlord. If you’ve rented through, say, Airbnb, you may have a claim against the company.

In most cases, the property owner will be responsible. But even then, you have to be able to prove the owner was “negligent.” In other words, you need to show the owner either was or should have been aware of the defect and failed to take reasonable steps to fix it.


In most cases, the property owner will be responsible. But even then, you have to be able to prove the owner was “negligent.” In other words, you need to show the owner either was or should have been aware of the defect and failed to take reasonable steps to fix it.


What if you decide to host a small party at your rental and one of your guests gets hurt? If it’s because of one of the hazards mentioned above, the owner probably is still responsible. On the other hand, if you caused the injury by failing to wipe up something that spilled on the floor, you potentially can be held accountable.

Of course, it’s not always that simple. For example, the Virginia Supreme Court recently ruled that the owner of a beach house wasn’t responsible for injuries suffered by an 82-year-old renter who tripped over a raised lip dividing a carpeted floor from a tiled one.

The court found that the owner, who’d apparently been told about the lip before, shouldn’t be held to the same standard as an “innkeeper” and that a landlord-tenant standard applied. Under that standard, a landlord has no obligation to maintain safe conditions for premises under a tenant’s “exclusive control,” which the court found the renters had at the time.

Even if you’re hurt and can hold the owner accountable, there’s still the tricky issue of collecting damages. In Airbnb rentals, the company provides the owner up to $1 million in coverage per incident, though it won’t cover damaged or stolen valuables, harm to pets or intentional acts. If you attend a party at someone’s beach rental and a drunken, out-of-control guest decides to take a swing at you, your injury probably won’t be covered.

Meanwhile, if a tenant in an apartment building rents out a unit on Airbnb and the renter gets hurt, coverage of the injury may be in question, particularly if the landlord hasn’t authorized the tenant to rent out the place.

On the other hand, if you’re not staying at an Airbnb or VRBO rental, then the owner’s homeowner’s insurance policy might cover the injury. However, that’s only if the owner’s insurance covers injuries stemming from the commercial use of the property, and many policies don’t. If the policy excludes coverage for homeowners running businesses from their homes, the insurer likely will deny coverage.

Most likely, the rental you decide on will be fine and you’ll have a great time. You’ll still want to find out ahead of time what kind of insurance the property owner has. If you do get hurt during your stay, you’ll want to document everything and call a personal injury lawyer right away to find out what rights you have.

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