Stay safe with peer-to-peer vacation rentals

Summer is high season for travel and this year many adventurers used services like Airbnb to keep vacation costs in check or to customize their experience. Almost 17 million summer travelers stayed with hosts they found via the online peer-to-peer vacation rental service, according to an Airbnb report.

But the company also made headlines for other reasons. Last month, media reports surfaced about Jacob Lopez, 19, who was allegedly sexually assaulted while staying at an Airbnb rental in Madrid on July 4. As the incident unfolded, Lopez contacted his mother via text message. She called Airbnb representatives who directed her to call the Madrid police, but she got no response.

There have been other reported horror stories: like the man who was attacked by his host’s rottweiler, or the woman who met a potential guest on Airbnb then rented her home offline only to have the guest use her house as a brothel.

“When it is peer-to-peer you are basically on your own,” said Anirban Bardalaye, co-founder of VaycayHero, a service which lists rentals from professional property managers instead of individual owners. “We wanted to eliminate all kinds of surprises, situations where the house is not as clean or not accurately depicted or the heater blows out at 2 a.m. and you don’t get a good response.”

This Buckhead treehouse is available for rent on Airbnb.

This Buckhead treehouse is available for rent on Airbnb.

The company came to be after Bardalaye’s co-founder lost $1,000 on a vacation rental in California, that turned out not to be a rental at all. They have seen renters post prices online then up-charge because it’s a holiday weekend or Coachella season (true story.)

A concierge service links guests and the property owners if necessary and listers must adhere to VaycayHero’s standards to remain on the site. Though rental prices run the gamut, Bardalaye says they are not catering to individuals who are just looking for the cheapest accommodations possible.

If you do choose to go with a peer-to-peer service, here are a few tips to keep in mind:

Avoid shared occupancy rentals.”With any peer-to-peer marketplace know the situation and make sure it is right for you,” Bardalaye says. “If you are traveling with your family or kids (shared occupancy) may not be the best idea.” If you don’t have a choice, get as much information on your housemates as you can from social media. If something looks suspicious, don’t ignore it.

Communicate with your host. Sam Wingate of Atlanta used Airbnb two weeks ago during a visit to Iceland. The 25-year-old actor and bartender traveled with his brother and stayed at a remote beach cottage and on the main drag in the city. They were able to contact the hosts beforehand and felt the hosts were trustworthy and helpful.

Travel in groups. If possible, reserve peer-to-peer rentals for when you are traveling with someone else. It is built in insurance that you will have some protection in case of an emergency. If you travel solo, be sure to share your address and host information with friends and family. If you’re out of the country, make sure your phone has international service.

Research the area. Ask the host for information and check online sources like Zillow or Google for demographics and maps of the neighborhood where you will be staying. Bardalaye recalled a family trip to the Grand Canyon three years ago when they arrived to discover a fantastic home in the middle of nowhere, and not in a good way. They locked the doors and stayed inside most of the trip.

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