Tragic Airbnb Story Shows the Need for Safety Regulations and Host Screening

Zak Stone's personal loss should spark necessary changes.

A Los Angeles-based writer just poured his heart out for Matter today, sharing a very personal story about losing his father while vacationing at an Airbnb.

Living and Dying on Airbnb,” centers around the family of author Zak Stone during a 2013 Thanksgiving trip to a cottage in Texas.

His father tragically died on the trip while using a rope swing attached to a dead tree in the Airbnb’s backyard. The hosts were unaware that the swing was dangerous, so they neglected to note it on the listing. As Stone points out, however, it was not their fault but Airbnb’s, which consistently lets such measures go overlooked.

Airbnb provided an official statement to Inverse regarding Stone’s story and its commitment to guest safety:

“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 his piece, Stone examines Airbnb’s response to his family’s situation, as well as what it’s done in similar instances. For example, when a Canadian woman died at a Taiwanese rental in December 2013 because it lacked a carbon monoxide detector, Airbnb issued a very formal-sounding statement, saying they “permanently removed the host from [the Airbnb] community.”

The victim’s family received a $2 million settlement, but without any “basis for liability… It [was] offered only for humanitarian reasons.” Stone’s family received compensation, but from the hosts, not Airbnb.

Stone’s piece demonstrates Airbnb’s reluctance to offer any semblance of safety measures or regulations. Hosts and their homes can be screened, but generally are not. The company remains concerned with its image, not its substance. As he writes:

“Airbnb is willing to send someone to make sure your trees look beautiful in their photos, but won’t deal with whether or not those trees will fall on your head.”


Apparently, Airbnb claims it would be too difficult to make sure that each home is safe. Currently, the website has a page called Responsible Hosting, which offers vague suggestions on how to be a good host. For example, on the page specifically for New York City hosts, the very important legal tidbit that it’s against the law to “[rent] out a Class A multiple dwelling for periods of fewer than 30 days” is buried in the text instead of being — I don’t know — in all-caps and bolded. Elsewhere, under Fire Prevention, Airbnb says you must “ensure you provide a functioning fire extinguisher and complete required maintenance.”

There is not, however, a way to monitor that the standard is being upheld. Stone offers a simple suggestion for regulation: “Couldn’t Airbnb peek inside 1,000,000 properties if that would make its ‘community’ safer? Tip from the sharing economy: Just hire some TaskRabbits.”

Airbnb has been very busy lately. Earlier this month, the company threw its weight behind an organization dedicated to defeating Proposition F, which would have placed restrictions on short-term and private housing rentals. Airbnb and its supporters prevailed on Election Day, defeating the proposition and mobilizing its customers to fight future such limitations. But while the company is trying to keep its own freedom, it may want to take a step back and make sure that its customers are safe and sound.

Its ability to defeat Proposition F showed its political clout, as well as its business acumen. Stone even concedes that he was readying his own L.A. apartment for rental before tragedy struck. It’s an easy way for young people to earn some supplemental income and many take advantage of the system. But Airbnb may not be able to afford to be so loose with its requirements.

While fatal accidents are rare, smaller occurrences could surely happen if expansion continues rapidly and without protection. In 2011, for instance, guests robbed a San Francisco host of family possessions. There’s no reason why the reverse situation could not occur with guests as the victims.