At time of writing there are over two million properties listed on Airbnb. So it’s safe to assume that a lot of people stayed in Airbnb rentals last night, will tonight and will tomorrow night. And I suspect that 99.99% of them had a trouble-free and wonderful stay.

However, there are some listings that are not exactly 100% legitimate and if you rent one of these, you could be asking for trouble. It’s not that these places are illegal as such (although that’s a word headline writers seem to like), it’s more that some hosts are advertising properties that they are not allowed to under the terms of their lease, HOA rules or rental agreement.

When a host lists their accommodation with Airbnb they agree that they have the authority to rent out space in their apartment or house. However, the fact is that some hosts simply don’t have that permission.

But why should this bother you as a guest?

Surely your stay won’t be damaged by this? Isn’t it the person who is renting you the place that is at fault? You’re just an innocent traveller, after all. Well, the truth of the matter is that with the best will in the world, Airbnb staff cannot vet every property that is advertised on their site.

After all, if they did then it would be an added expense and the cost of staying in an Airbnb rental would shoot right up – and probably be beyond the means of many travellers. So guests need to beware. And there’s no way to tell in advance of booking that the place you are renting isn’t 100% legit.

The main warning signs

You will have some correspondence with your host before your trip.  And there are several messages that you may get that should start the alarm bells ringing. The most important issue are messages similar to the comments here:

  • ‘Please do not mention Airbnb to any of the neighbours’
  • ‘If anyone asks who you are, please tell them you are my friend/cousin who is staying with me’
  • Please do not have any conversations with the doorman/security guard’

In other words, anything that makes you suspect that the host does not want the neighbours or the building staff that they are using Airbnb. And your next thought is to wonder why.

Of course, some hosts might have legitimate reasons (although none quite spring to mind at the moment) but there’s a implication here that the host is renting you the accommodation without proper permission.

How can this affect you as a guest?

It might not. I’m sure that there are thousands of people who have stayed in Airbnb accommodation that isn’t strictly legit and haven’t had a problem. But there have also been guests who have been thrown out of the accommodation by the building manager, landlord or some other official.

If your stay is for one night, if there are hotels nearby and if you have the money to afford one of them, this might not be much of an issue apart from the extra expense and the inconvenience. And multiply that inconvenience if you are in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language.

However, if your stay is for two weeks and it’s a trip of a lifetime, then you can’t afford your holiday plans being disrupted. I have heard about this happening to guests on their honeymoon – and that’s not the best way to start married life.

What to do?

If your host messages you before your stay with any comments that seem suspicious, call Airbnb at once and alert them. Note that it is always better to call rather than email. You can also get good results of you contact them on Twitter. Likewise, if the host gives you this information after you’ve arrived then you have to weigh up the odds.

Of course, having to lie to any neighbours or staff you meet might make you uncomfortable. If the building has a doorman or security officer who is often to be seen, then you’ll need to steer clear of them or again, you might be forced to lie to them. This will bother some guests more than others. This would take the edge of my trip – I don’t want to spend vacation time sneaking around and walking on eggshells – whereas the thicker-skinned guest might not mind, especially if they are staying in budget accommodation for a short stay.

Either way, you can alert Airbnb and future guests. To let future guests know, simply mention it when you write a review of the property. This way, potential guests can decide for themselves whether they are prepared to take the risk. Some will, especially if the place is exceptional value for money.

You can also report the listing to Airbnb. Simply go to the listing and you’ll see a ‘report this listing’ link. (In the sidebar on the right if you are using your laptop). Describe your experience and Airbnb will evaluate the listing and contact the host if they deem it necessary. They will not mention your name.

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