Airbnb, a company that started as a way for people to make a little side money by renting out a room in their home, has become a $31 billion company that is disrupting the hotel industry. But any success story has its thorns, and one of Airbnb's involves squatters, people who overstay their welcome. Airbnb squatters are the same type of parasites property owners have been dealing with for centuries. If you rent using Airbnb, you'll want to learn how to avoid them.
What makes someone an Airbnb squatter?
Guests who stay in Airbnb facilities are supposed to use the Airbnb accommodation the same way they would use a hotel: for a short-term stay, typically while traveling. And most times, that's what happens. But what if an Airbnb guest doesn't leave? They then become an Airbnb squatter.
Fortunately, squatting doesn't happen often. If it did, Airbnb would not be as successful as it has been. But squatting can happen. It's one of the risks of managing an Airbnb rental. If it does occur, the Airbnb host has a problem. There are ways to get rid of an Airbnb squatter, but the best method an Airbnb host has at their disposal is to do all they can to prevent this behavior from happening in the first place.
How to avoid an Airbnb squatter in your rental
The best way to avoid an Airbnb squatter is to limit the stay. To put it simply: Don't rent to any one person longer than 29 days.
There's a now-famous case in the Airbnb community that happened to a Palm Springs, California, Airbnb host who rented a 600-square-foot condo to the Pashanin brothers for 44 days. The brothers paid upfront for the first 30 days and then refused to pay the balance or leave when their time was up. The Airbnb host found they could not simply call the police or sheriff to remove the squatting brothers; since they stayed in the home longer than 30 days, they became tenants. And in many states, there is a big distinction between a transient (a hotel word that simply means a traveler) hotel guest and a tenant.
Landlord-tenant law varies from state to state. In California, for example, if a tenant rents a place for 30 days or longer, they become a month-to-month tenant, and as such, are subject to the landlord-tenant laws of the state. What that means for landlords, which is what Airbnb hosts become in this situation, is that they must follow the eviction protocol for their state to remove a tenant at sufferance (a tenant who stops paying the rent and won't leave). Because the eviction process can take months, the Airbnb host can kiss goodbye any prime vacation rental days if they have a squatter.
How to screen an Airbnb guest
Employers routinely screen job applicants. Landlords routinely screen prospective tenants. And Airbnb hosts should screen guests to help minimize risk to their investment. Here's how.
Require your guests to be verified by Airbnb. If they have been, they will have a "verified ID" badge associated with their name. Being verified means that Airbnb has ensured applicants really are who they say they are.
Check out the guests' profiles. You are looking for guests who have filled in pertinent information and have perhaps added a photo of themselves, as opposed to people who have just filled out the required basic information with no elaboration. You can also check out their social media if they've linked that information, or you can simply research their name online. A search for the Pashanin brothers, for example, now reveals that years before they overstayed their Palm Springs Airbnb welcome, they were evicted from a San Francisco apartment for nonpayment of rent.
Read the reviews. Both hosts and guests can write reviews. Although the review system is typically not 100% accurate, many reviews are. Use this as just another verification method, not as your sole verification method.
Gauge your online interactions. When you start communicating with potential guests, you can get an idea of whether they communicate in a straightforward and timely manner or not. You can use your gut instinct here to determine whether this person gives you the warm fuzzies or makes you uncomfortable.
Hire someone to screen and rent your place for you. Airbnb has a screening service called Air Concierge. They do for an Airbnb host what a property manager does for a landlord. For between 15% and 22% of your nightly rate, Air Concierge manages your Airbnb unit.
Book through the Airbnb platform
You or your potential guest might be tempted to save some money by making the deal without using Airbnb. If you don't use the Airbnb platform, Airbnb, obviously, will not protect you in any way. If you do sign up with Airbnb, you're covered by Airbnb's Host Guarantee program.
With that said, if you have a squatter, the Airbnb Host Guarantee program will not help you much in dealing with that situation. What the Host Guarantee program does, however, is to cover you for up to $1 million worth of property damage. The longer a squatter stays in your rental, the more likely it will be for damages to occur, not to mention they are not the most ethical type of guest you could have, so you might as well err on the side of caution and take advantage of this Airbnb perk by using the Airbnb platform.
Make a contract and have guests sign it
Just as a landlord has tenants sign a lease, Airbnb hosts can require guests to sign a contract. If you do that, you have some ammunition on your side for getting a squatter out. In the contract, make sure you specify the check-in and check-out dates and times. Use that as proof the squatter is absolutely not allowed to stay any longer in your rental. While you're making a contract anyway, you might as well list any other rules of importance to you, such as house rules and expectations regarding noise, parties, etc.
Regarding squatters, if you have a signed contract that lists the dates of the stay, if you need to take a squatter to court, you have proof they overstayed. Otherwise, your now-unwanted guest could claim you said they could stay longer.
History of squatters
The practice of squatting on someone else's land has been happening since just after the American Revolution. The modus operandi (MO) of the squatter is to find land that no one is currently occupying and claim it as their own. The mentality is not unlike the "finders keepers (losers weepers)" one -- in other words, sneaky and unethical. The early squatters often had little money to buy land on their own, so they just took it.
Squatters today operate in the same manner they always have. But centuries have made them somewhat more sophisticated. Squatters now try to use the law to help them and have devised a term called "squatters rights," a term that many squatters believe means that they have laid claim to a property just by occupying it, and too bad for the owner. That's a nice try from the squatter, but that is not how squatter's rights work.
There's a term in real estate law called adverse possession. This occurs if a squatter openly lives on someone's property and the owner allows this to happen continuously for years. The theory behind the concept of adverse possession is that land is scarce and should be put to good use. If an owner isn't using their land and someone else has been putting it to good use for years without objection from the owner, that other person may be able to gain title to the land. This is hardly what happens when an Airbnb guest overstays their welcome.
The bottom line
Squatters have long been the bane of property owners. And unfortunately they have entered the Airbnb space. Most Airbnb users play by the rules, but not all. Airbnb hosts are wise to protect themselves as best as possible from squatters.