The Tragic Airbnb Problem You've Probably Never Thought About

When you're booking a stay on Airbnb, a lot of things come to mind. You've got to consider your budget, the rental's location, the amenities it offers, and the neighborhood it's in. But while you may think a lot about the safety around the rental, you're likely not thinking about your safety in the unit itself — and this is a problem.

Writer and editor Zak Stone and his family rented out an Airbnb for Thanksgiving two years ago. The property had a rope swing attached to a tree. His father got on the swing, and was then killed: A large piece of trunk broke, falling on his head. The story, which Stone shares on Medium, is incredibly tragic, but the incident isn't a one-off: Others have died because of poor safety standards at Airbnb rentals, and without a change to how Airbnb works, it's possible that more tragedies like that of the Stone family will happen in the future, too.

Unlike hotels or even bed and breakfasts, Airbnb rentals have to follow virtually no health and safety regulations. It takes only a few minutes to sign up and get your property listed; initial acceptance is based on self-reporting about your place. Most rentals are likely just fine — condos and apartments (in the U.S. at least) have to adhere to local structural and safety standards, after all. But, when you venture onto private properties, or overseas, things aren't so clear.

In 2013, a Canadian woman visiting Taiwan with friends died of carbon monoxide poisoning from a leaking water heater and a lack of proper ventilation in an Airbnb rental, Stone writes. And as for his family's case, a traditional bed and breakfast inspection could have revealed the danger in the inviting-looking rope swing before an accident happened. Hotels are legally required to offer safe premises, and there are stringent guidelines about what that means. As it stands right now, there are no in-person safety checks for Airbnb properties, so there could be hidden dangers lurking in and around rentals.

Regarding Stone's situation, Airbnb gave Refinery29 the following statement:

"We were shocked and heartbroken when we learned about these incidents and we continue to keep these guests and their families in our thoughts. Nothing is more important to us than safety. Over 60 million guests have stayed in an Airbnb and we are proud that accidents are incredibly rare. We know that every industry, every community, and every city grapples with safety issues, and no one has an absolutely perfect record, but that’s what we strive for and we’ll keep working as hard as we know how to make our community safer for everyone."

In response to a handful of horrible experiences Airbnb hosts have had, the site now guarantees up to $1 million in property damage coverage for people renting their places out. Hopefully, this story and others will help Airbnb rethink how it considers renters, and regulations it can put in place to better serve its entire user base.