House fire sparks million dollar dispute with Airbnb – NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth

What there is to know

  • Before making your home available to guests on a vacation rental app or website, check with your home insurance provider.
  • Home insurance may not fully cover damage caused by renters if your policy is not up to date
  • Vacation rental apps may offer liability insurance and property damage coverage – but read the terms and conditions carefully

Millions of homeowners around the world are making what seems like easy money renting their homes through vacation rental websites and apps. Airbnb, HomeAway, VRBO, and others offer short-term rental reservation services for owners and renters.

Whether you’re already renting your home or considering it, we’ve got a warning. This follows a five-month investigation by NBC Bay Area Responds that became the largest case we have dealt with.

At stake: $ 1 million because a couple’s house in Sonoma burned down while Airbnb guests rented it out.

“The house is on fire … the whole house!” “

This story begins in the wee hours of May 21, 2017, when a frightened young woman called 911 from a mountain just west of Sonoma.

In an audio recording of the call obtained by NBC Bay Area, a hint of panic can be heard in the woman’s voice as she describes the situation to an emergency dispatcher.

  • CALLING: “We are in the mountains. “
  • 911 DISPATCHER: “I see that. We are already starting to help. “
  • CALLING: “The house is on fire.
  • 911: “What part of the house? “
  • CALLING: “Whole house!”

The 14-year-old girl seriously injured in a shooting in Michigan is improving, relatives said on Tuesday, adding her condition had gone from severe to fair, NBC News reported. “Our daughter is fighting … and winning! HER CONDITION HAS TAKEN FROM SERIOUS TO FAIR,” said a statement posted on an online fund for Abigail Kopf. “Please keep holding this amazing girl on her rise and help us bring her home.” Kopf was shot on February 19 in a Kalamazoo Cracker Barrel, the last of three sites where Jason Brian Dalton allegedly sprayed bullets at random people. By the end of the rampage, six people were dead, including four older women who Abigail was with. Kopf’s condition was so severe that her doctors originally thought there was a possibility that she would become brain dead – but pressure from her mother’s hand proved otherwise. Her father, Gene Kopf, said last week that his daughter “is going to have a very difficult road to recovery.”

Eight Airbnb guests were staying in the three-story home that overlooked the Sonoma Valley. Fortunately, all eight of them escaped the flames unscathed. A few minutes after their release, the burning house collapsed.

The Sonoma Valley Fire and Rescue Marshal’s report on the incident notes uncoded electrical work near an outdoor wooden deck. Investigators also noted that two of the Airbnb tenants admitted they were smoking on this bridge, about an hour before the fire started:

  • It was possible that one of them threw cigarette butts over the railing of the bridge or dropped some on [the] platform.

Ultimately, the cause of the fire was declared “undetermined” by the fire marshal. But no matter what started the flames, the house was a total loss.

The million dollar question

After the fire, the owners got a contractor’s estimate to rebuild. The estimate: $ 1.8 million.

The owners – who remain anonymous – told NBC Bay Area they received a payment of $ 600,000 from their home insurance provider, but not the $ 1 million they were counting on from Airbnb. His “Host Guarantee“Provides homeowners” property damage protection of up to $ 1 million for each host and listing at no additional cost. “

Consumer advocate Robert Tauler says promises like the Airbnb Host Guarantee aren’t always easy to keep.

“They don’t just write million dollar checks without breaking the tires, that’s for sure,” Tauler said.

Tauler specializes in holding tech companies accountable for their advertising. He says the simple assurances spelled out on an app seem easy, but putting those promises into practice – like after a fire – might meet resistance.

“Often their actions are inconsistent with their words,” Tauler said. “This is a real serious problem.”

The owners of Sonoma said Airbnb took them around the world. They said they filed a claim shortly after the fire, in June 2017, and expected the million dollars promised by the Host Guarantee. Sixteen months later, they were still waiting for a response. That’s when they contacted NBC Bay Area:

“It’s one thing if they contact us and dispute our claim; it is another to remain silent. “
– Owner of Sonoma, in an email to NBC Bay Area Responds

NBC Bay Area reviewed the 25 page host guarantee and contacted Airbnb. We kept a conversation going for five months. Then, last week, Airbnb closed the case.

Do Sonoma Owners Receive the $ 1 Million Payment? It’s confidential. They just told us, “We’re not supposed to discuss this any further. However, in that same final email that was sent to us, they added, “The story is as we told you before, and we are extremely grateful for your help.”

We asked Airbnb to tell us about what happened. He has answered :

“The issue has been resolved, but as part of this one, we will not be able to participate in your segment.”
– Airbnb spokesperson, by email

AirBnB later responded with an extended statement.

“We support our guest community, which is why our Host Guarantee offers up to $ 1 million in free protection on every booking for property damage caused by guests. It’s unmatched in the travel industry. In this case, the issue has been resolved to both the satisfaction of the hosts and Airbnb. “

Courses for other owners

The owners of Sonoma were lucky, in a way. Not all home rental sites offer a $ 1 million guarantee like Airbnb. And as the couple in this story learned, you can’t count on comprehensive home insurance coverage every day.

Janet Ruiz, Director of Strategic Communications for the Insurance Information Institute, says homeowners should carefully consider their coverage before taking out a short-term rental agreement.

“If you are considering renting out your home, your usual home insurance may not be adequate,” Ruiz said.

Insurers are firm: the risk increases with tenants under your roof. Before registering guests, owners should check their policy. Additional insurance may be required.

“These blankets are not expensive,” Ruiz said. “But they save you a lot of money if you have a loss.”

Ruiz said if landlords had the wrong insurance they couldn’t get anything after a tenant caused damage. For some policies, a small add-on will do; others may need a “guest room” or “owner” policy.

“Having the right insurance coverage will help you at the end of the day,” Ruiz said.

AirBnb responded to that report on Thursday afternoon with the following statement:

“We support our guest community, which is why our Host Guarantee offers up to $ 1 million in free protection on every booking for property damage caused by guests. It’s unmatched in the travel industry. In this case, the issue has been resolved to both the satisfaction of the hosts and Airbnb. “

We support our guest community, which is why our Host Guarantee offers up to $ 1 million in free protection on every booking for property damage caused by guests. It’s unmatched in the travel industry. In this case, the issue has been resolved to the satisfaction of the hosts and Airbnb.

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