Nobody knows exactly what legal rights Airbnb hosts have because the business is so new.
The legal rights of Airbnb hosts are unclear because there is little case law about short-term rentals. That gives judges; and local governments, no clear guidance when they make decisions about Airbnb. To make matters worse lawyers; legislators, officials and even judges, are often just as confused about rights as the Airbnb hosts.
Only a few of the legal rights of Airbnb hosts are currently known, and those can change at any time. This means hosts should pay careful attention to all news stories about Airbnb; because the courts have the power to expand or limit hosts’ rights at any time.
That means there is no clear list of Airbnb hosts’ rights available right now. Instead we can only list some of the rights that Airbnb hosts lack.
What You Need to Know About Airbnb Hosts’ Rights
Here is a quick and dirty rundown of information you need to know about Airbnb hosts’ rights:
- There is no right to Airbnb; local and state governments have the power to ban short-term rentals anytime they want. Always check with local government before listing a rental.
- Governments also have the right to restrict and regulate rentals. Check your city’s regulations section on Airbnb to see what the rules are in your area.
- Airbnb is not exempt from taxation. That means you may have to pay a sales or occupancy (hotel-room) tax on Airbnb. This might be paid by Airbnb; or you might have to pay it directly. Check with whatever agency collects the local taxes in your area to see what you should be paying. In most of the United States this is the county or city treasurer.
- The IRS regards Airbnb as taxable income. That means you will have to declare it on your tax return. It also means you can deduct your expenses, but be careful the IRS can declare you a “real estate professional;” if you make a lot of money from Airbnb and limit how much you can deduct. Under current regulations the IRS considers anybody who makes more than half their income from any real estate related activity (including Airbnb); or spends more than 750 hours a year working at it, a “real estate professional.”
- Owning a property; or condominium, does not give you a right to rent it through Airbnb. Short-term rentals can be banned or restricted by zoning, local law, home owners’ association (HOA) covenants and a variety of other means. Check your deed and any other documents; such as HOA agreements, to see what is allowed before listing a rental.
- Nobody knows if Airbnb hosts have the right not to rent to guests because of race or religion. The 1964 Civil Rights Act makes it illegal for hotels to discriminate, but it may not cover some Airbnb hosts. The original law contained a provision called the “Mrs. Murphy exemption;” that allowed owners of small rooming houses to discriminate. Under that exemption, a renter can discriminate; if he is renting less than six rooms, and lives on premise.
- A federal class-action lawsuit against Airbnb; filed by a Virginia man named Gregory Seldon, might settle the matter – but it has not gone to court yet. Seldon’s lawyers are arguing that Airbnb is a hotel; and not covered by the Mrs. Murphy exemption, because it has millions of users. That means the question of discrimination will have to be settled by the courts.
- Generally, renters only have the right to rent out rooms or space; if it is granted by the lease or rental agreement. Check the agreement, and make sure you have the right before listing. If it is not check with the landlord; and make sure permission is granted in writing before you list, because verbal agreements are not enforceable in court.
Airbnb hosts need to be careful; because their rights and responsibilities have not yet been determined. That means it is a good idea to watch the news carefully and keep in touch with local government. The rights Airbnb hosts have could change anytime.