Questionmarks raised over Airbnb consumer protection

Hospitality trade associations have called for reform of UK consumer protection to extend existing legal provisions to Airbnb following legal opinion that consumers “are at risk in using” the accommodation platform.

Airbnb was poised for a multi-billion dollar public listing this week, but a coalition of UK Hospitality, the Bed and Breakfast Association, the Professional Association of Self-Caterers (PASC) and the Tourism Alliance urged the government to act on reform proposals submitted by QC William Audland, a specialist in personal injury and package travel law.

The associations sought Audland’s legal opinion on Airbnb’s terms and conditions and he concluded: “Consumers are at risk in using Airbnb, which does not appear to check or ensure compliance with its state requirement that properties advertised must confirm to any applicable laws (including health and safety laws and standards).

“A consumer who suffers personal injury as a result of accommodation provided through Airbnb has no apparent recourse against Airbnb. Any civil claim against the host is fraught with difficulty.

“Consumers are demonstrably in a substantially riskier position in booking accommodation through Airbnb.”

Audland, of 12 King’s Bench Walk Chambers, argued: “This state of affairs needs to be remedied.”

He has suggested three reforms – mandatory registration of all short-term lets with local councils, mandatory third-party insurance for short-term lets sufficient to cover catastrophic injuries and fatalities, and primary legislation that renders Airbnb liable for the acts and omissions of hosts.

UK Hospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls welcomed the legal opinion, saying: “At a time when thousands of small businesses are struggling to survive and have made huge investments in extending guests’ safety to include Covid-19 secure operating, it is wrong that giant platforms have been allowed to avoid all responsibility.

“They are putting their guests at risk. We call on the government to take note of this leading QC’s expert warning, to implement his ‘suggestions for reform’ and give all consumers the protections currently enjoyed by those of hotels, B&Bs, lettings agencies and tour operators.”

B&B Association chairman David Weston said: “No commercial business should be allowed to opt out of responsibility for customer safety in the way that Airbnb and similar platforms have been able to.”

Audland found Airbnb’s small print avoids responsibility for the safety – and even the legal compliance – of the accommodation it offers.

Its T&Cs claim that the global accommodation business is a “platform”, taking no responsibility in law for the accommodation that “hosts” advertise and sell through its website and app.

The QC found: “Airbnb’s position starkly contrasts with more traditional holiday letting businesses which must comply with coronavirus regulations as well as other more general health and safety
regulations.

“Airbnb… circumvents this by virtue of its stated position as a ‘platform’ offering short term lets, disavowing itself of any responsibility for the listings.

“A consumer who suffers personal injury as a result of accommodation provided through Airbnb has no apparent recourse against Airbnb. Any civil claim against the host is fraught with difficulty, particularly if the host is domiciled abroad.”

Audland added: “By contrast to more traditional… holiday letting contracts, which are subject to both mandatory regulatory compliance and a far easier liability regime, consumers appear to be in a substantially riskier position in booking accommodation through Airbnb.”

 

Airbnb is set to raise as much as $2.5 billion in its initial public offering, expected this week.

UK consumer group Which? last month awarded Airbnb its ‘Recommended Provider’ status in the accommodation booking site category. Airbnb was the only company in the category to be recognised with the award this year.

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