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How to Use Airbnb Safely

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The well-publicized Airbnb horror story of a young man who says he was held captive and sexually molested by his host in Spain this past July raises the question of how to use the popular site safely.

As was widely reported by the New York Times, on NBC's Today Show, and elsewhere, Jacob Lopez, 19, from Massachusetts, was staying with his host in Madrid when he was locked in his room from the outside. The host then "pressed him into a sexual act," according to the Times, although the host denies this.

But the worst part was Airbnb's response: The company refused to give Lopez's mother the host's address or to call police (the host had shut off his Internet access, so he was unable to contact her).

Things happen in hotels, too, but Airbnb guests need to realize that they will never have the same safety net that hotel guests have. It's a chance they take in exchange for saving money. The same applies to home rentals and exchanges.

And although the thousands of guests who use the popular website each day enjoy their experience, this has hardly been the first sensational report of Airbnb stays gone horribly wrong--everything from guests claiming they were drugged by hosts to guests being attacked by a host's dog. There have been instances of fraud (hosts listing apartments without the right to do so).

Airbnb does not do background checks on hosts (or on their pets for that matter). It does not require even rudimentary safety devices, such as smoke detectors and fire alarms (much less the automatic sprinkler systems found in many modern hotels), or bedroom doors that lock from the inside, in the accommodations it lists. There is no front desk to call if there's an emergency, nor are there safe deposit boxes or room safes for guests to store valuables. In short, most of the regulations and safety norms that guests have become accustomed to, even in the most rudimentary hotels, are lacking.

What Airbnb Should Be Doing

The company is making enormous profits and is valued at $25 Billion. They can well afford to begin doing thorough background checks on hosts. Perhaps hosts who have gone through such checks could be listed as such.

Airbnb suggests that hosts have working smoke and carbon dioxide detectors, but doesn't require them or check to see if they are in place and functioning. Again, the company should at least do spot checks. Same thing for "clearly marked fire escape routes," which the company suggests that hosts provide, but doesn't require.

If something goes wrong with your stay--malfunctioning air conditioning or heat, for example--it's difficult to get compensation or switch to another accommodation. In a hotel, it's fairly easy to march down to the front desk and insist that something get fixed, and if it isn't fixed most hotels will at least adjust your bill or refund that night's stay.

Steps You Should Take to Protect Yourself

  • Talk to your host extensively before you arrive. It's just like online dating: if you get a queasy feeling, back out. Ask questions. This isn't foolproof but it is essential.
  • Do due diligence. Is this rental legal? You don't want to get a knock on the door from the building's management saying you have to leave or learn that the person you gave your money to had no right to rent the unit.
  • Stay with hosts that your friends or acquaintances have stayed with previously. Don't rent "blind."
  • If possible, choose to rent accommodations where the host will not be sharing with you (Airbnb rents both types--sharing with the host and staying on your own).
  • Before you arrive, get the local emergency numbers for police, fire and ambulance services and know how to use your mobile phone to reach them. Make sure your mobile phone works where you're staying.
  • Tell friends, family, or another responsible party where you'll be staying. Ask them to check in with you by text or phone.
  • Ask if the room you'll be occupying can lock from the inside, and check to see that it cannot be locked from the outside.
  • Ask if your host has working smoke detectors. Don't be afraid to test them.
I think Airbnb is still learning, after all these years, what it takes to keep guests safe but the company needs to put safety over profits and their stock price.

Also on HuffPost:

Alabama
This shotgun house in a quaint neighborhood has an outdoor area with courtyard and fountain.
City: Mobile
Title:Downtown Historic Shotgun House
Nightly rate: $150
Bedrooms: 2
Occupancy rate (percentage of time the place was rented from November to February): 100 percent
Reviews: 18
Alaska
This cabin features stunning views of "Alaskan wildlife, beautiful sun sets and our famous auroras."
City: Fairbanks
Title:Arctic Roots Farm Onig's Cabin
Nightly rate: $176
Bedrooms: 2
Occupancy rate: 64 percent
Reviews: 16
Arizona
AirBNB
The House of the Smiling Sun, as it's named, is "perched on the side of a canyon surrounded by the most stunning views of Cathedral Rock, Seven Sisters, the Mongolian Rim, Pyramid Rock and other red rock vistas."
City: Sedona
Title:Luxury home with breathtaking views
Nightly rate: $750
Bedrooms: 3
Occupancy rate: 63 percent
Reviews: 18
Arkansas
AirBNB
This modern cabin offers great views in a convenient location.
City: West Fork
Title:Ozark Cabin with Location & Views!
Nightly rate: $130
Bedrooms: 0
Occupancy rate: 60 percent
Reviews: 26
California
AirBNB
This large property in California's wine country offers "spectacular mountain-top views overlooking vineyards."
City: Sonoma
Title:Wine Country Villa, Pool, Views
Nightly rate: $1,750
Bedrooms: 7
Occupancy rate: 62 percent
Reviews: 22
Colorado
AirBNB
At this property "you literally put on your skis 3 feet outside the back door," the listing reads.
City: Carbondale
Title:Ski-In/Out Aspen /Snowmass Townhouse
Nightly rate: $790
Bedrooms: 4
Occupancy rate: 56 percent
Reviews: 16
Connecticut
AirBNB
"Escape the city life and unwind at this spacious country barn house conversion," the property's listing reads.
City: Washington Depot
Title:Country Barn House Retreat
Nightly rate: $459
Bedrooms: 3
Occupancy rate: 87 percent
Reviews: 11
Delaware
AirBNB
This beachfront cottage is located in a "tranquil, natural setting," the property's owners write.
City: Milford
Title:Bay/ocean view beach front house
Nightly rate: $300
Bedrooms: 3
Occupancy rate: 60 percent
Reviews: 33
Florida
AirBNB
This waterfront property offers a pool and a 70-inch TV.
City: Fort Lauderdale
Title:4 Bedroom, waterfront, modern style
Nightly rate: $650
Bedrooms: 4
Occupancy rate: 79 percent
Reviews: 12
Georgia
This contemporary property offers a porch that "overlooks a sublime view of Atlanta."
City: Atlanta
Title:Beautifully Renovated Midtown Home
Nightly rate: $495
Bedrooms: 2
Occupancy rate: 100 percent
Reviews: 22
Hawaii
This property features a 19-foot waterfall, swiming grotto and two whirlpool spas.
City: Kihei
Title:Luxury Wailea Home - 2015 Deals !
Nightly rate: $725
Bedrooms: 3
Occupancy rate: 89 percent
Reviews: 11
Idaho
AirBNB
Recently renovated, this home features a reading nook and a secret ladder leading to a room designed for kids.
City: Boise
Title:Beautiful Home in Boise’s Northend
Nightly rate: $225
Bedrooms: 4
Occupancy rate: 82 percent
Reviews: 10
Illinois
AirBNB
This vintage home in the suburbs of Chicago "has the best of both worlds: century-old character and new construction amenities."
City: River Forest
Title:Luxe Historic River Forest home
Nightly rate: $750
Bedrooms: 6
Occupancy rate: 50 percent
Reviews: 13
Indiana
AirBNB
This house is advertised as "a great special event rental house for a large family or group of friends."
City: Fishers
Title:Great House for Family Gatherings
Nightly rate: $299
Bedrooms: 4
Occupancy rate: 54 percent
Reviews: 11
Iowa
AirBNB
This house is advertised as "perfect for a football or graduation weekend."
City: Iowa City
Title:Cute House in Historic District!
Nightly rate: $150
Bedrooms: 2
Occupancy rate: 86 percent
Reviews: 15
Kansas
This cabin offers a deck, private dock and guest cottage.
City: Andover
Title:Cabin Retreat near Town
Nightly rate: $175
Bedrooms: 2
Occupancy rate: 71 percent
Reviews: 10
Kentucky
This "cozy" house features a courtyard and proximity to Louisville's shopping and restaurant district.
City: Louisville
Title:Home in the Highlands
Nightly rate: $210
Bedrooms: 3
Occupancy rate: 93 percent
Reviews: 11
Louisiana
AirBNB
This "grand mansion ... is all about comfort, privacy and relaxation," according to the listing.
City: New Orleans
Title:Mansion in the Garden District
Nightly rate: $950
Bedrooms: 5
Occupancy rate: 57 percent
Reviews: 18
Maine
AirBNB
The owner describes this property as having an "eclectic, elegant interior with a nice private yard and off street parking in quiet neighborhood."
City: Portland
Title:Portland West End Elegant Antique
Nightly rate: $500
Bedrooms: 5
Occupancy rate: 70 percent
Reviews: 11
Maryland
"Built in the 1920s, the house is full of vintage details yet offers wide open spaces, perfect for keeping an eye on kids or socializing with colleagues and family," reads the property's description.
City: Baltimore
Title:Sunny 4-5 BR near JHU, Loyola!
Nightly rate: $375
Bedrooms: 5
Occupancy rate: 60 percent
Reviews: 17
Massachusetts
This Victorian brownstone triplex offers a private outdoor patio.
City: Boston
Title:3Bed/2.5Bath Luxury Triplex Boston
Nightly rate: $700
Bedrooms: 3
Occupancy rate: 90 percent
Reviews: 13
Michigan
AirBNB
This modern beach cabin offers its own private beach.
City: Saint Joseph
Title:Modern beach house on Lake Michigan
Nightly rate: $325
Bedrooms: 1
Occupancy rate: 89 percent
Reviews: 12
Minnesota
AirBNB
This warehouse space is a "converted former peanut factory."
City: Minneapolis
Title:Cool Warehouse loft
Nightly rate: $165
Bedrooms: 2
Occupancy rate: 77 percent
Reviews: 30
Mississippi
AirBNB
This lakeside property has three boat slips, a shallow boat launch and a fire pit.
City: Brandon
Title:Lake House Retreat - Ski/Fish/Relax
Nightly rate: $175
Bedrooms: 3
Occupancy rate: 71 percent
Reviews: 10
Missouri
This centrally located apartment used to be a horse stable.
City: St. Louis
Title:Modern, Loft-like In Historic Area
Nightly rate: $175
Bedrooms: 3
Occupancy rate: 75 percent
Reviews: 16
Montana
"If you are seeking a unique, artsy, cute and very cozy neighborhood cottage, this could be the place for you," according to the Airbnb listing.
City: Bozeman
Title:Unique neighborhood cottage
Nightly rate: $160
Bedrooms: 2
Occupancy rate: 66 percent
Reviews: 10
Nebraska
AirBNB
This townhouse is conveniently located near to some of Omaha's finer restaurant offerings.
City: Omaha
Title:Vintage Townhouse in Dundee
Nightly rate: $135
Bedrooms: 2
Occupancy rate: 97 percent
Reviews: 11
New Hampshire
AirBNB
The owners of this log cabin urge guests to "escape to the mountains for a getaway."
City: Danbury
Title:Mother Moose Luxury Log Cabin
Nightly rate: $550
Bedrooms: 3
Occupancy rate: 48 percent
Reviews: 88
New Jersey
AirBNB
This large New Jersey house's proximity to Midtown Manhattan allows those visiting the city to "enjoy the best of both worlds," according to its owner.
City: Union City
Title:CITY MANSION CLOSE TO TIMES SQUARE
Nightly rate: $400
Bedrooms: 4
Occupancy rate: 63 percent
Reviews: 78
New Mexico
AirBNB
The owners describe this property as "architecturally designed and decorated with a blend of Santa Fe Traditional and Mid Century Modern influences."
City: Santa Fe
Title:5 Level Artist Retreat on 5 Acres
Nightly rate: $249
Bedrooms: 3
Occupancy rate: 62 percent
Reviews: 25
New York
AirBNB
This Upper East Side Manhattan townhouse sleeps up to 16 and has a private garage available on request.
City: New York
Title:Super Luxury Townhouse-Sleeps 16!!
Nightly rate: $1,500
Bedrooms: 4
Occupancy rate: 67 percent
Reviews: 30
Nevada
AirBNB
This property offers a pool and spa a few miles away from the Las Vegas strip.
City: Las Vegas
Title:6000 Sq Ft Luxury Home W/Pool & Spa
Nightly rate: $599
Bedrooms: 7
Occupancy rate: 65 percent
Reviews: 15
North Carolina
Airbnb
The owner describes this property, located in Asheville's historic Montford Hills neighborhood, as a "beautiful home with lots of local artwork" inside.
City: Asheville
Title:Montford Home 1 mile to Downtown
Nightly rate: $235
Bedrooms: 3
Occupancy rate: 79 percent
Reviews: 33
North Dakota
AirBNB
This home "offers three bedrooms for privacy, a full kitchen equipped to cook a pizza or a gourmet meal, and a double-car garage."
City: Grand Forks
Title:Newer 3BR Townhome Near Shopping
Nightly rate: $125
Bedrooms: 3
Occupancy rate: 33 percent
Reviews: 8
Ohio
AirBNB
This property near Ohio State University offers a pool table, hot tub and sauna.
City: Westerville
Title:Columbus Ohio Retreat / OSU games
Nightly rate: $500
Bedrooms: 5
Occupancy rate: 43 percent
Reviews: 10
Oklahoma
AirBNB
This property, owned by a couple of artists, features a koi pond and a rock garden.
City: Oklahoma City
Title:Gatewood: Unique & BEST of OKC!!
Nightly rate: $125
Bedrooms: 2
Occupancy rate: 90 percent
Reviews: 63
Oregon
AirBNB
Listed as a "historically significant building," this family residence is centrally located in downtown Portland.
City: Portland
Title:Historic Hafner Haus, Downtown PDX
Nightly rate: $199
Bedrooms: 5
Occupancy rate: 89 percent
Reviews: 29
Pennsylvania
AirBNB
"Centrally located close to everything Poconos has to offer," this Airbnb listing says.
City: East Stroudsburg
Title:Spacious All Season Retreat 7Br/5Ba
Nightly rate: $350
Bedrooms: 7
Occupancy rate: 45 percent
Reviews: 12
Puerto Rico
Airbnb
This property features a pool and is only two blocks to the beach and three miles to the airport.
City: San Juan
Title:Walk to the beach Lux 5BR/5.5BATH
Nightly rate: $800
Bedrooms: 5
Occupancy rate: 81 percent
Reviews: 16
Rhode Island
AirBNB
The owner describes this property as "a very special, casual, yet beautiful home with inspirational views" in a central location.
City: Saunderstown
Title:Wister House South, Saunderstown RI
Nightly rate: $265
Bedrooms: 4
Occupancy rate: 70 percent
Reviews: 10
South Carolina
AirBNB
This property offers quick access to Charleston's renowned culinary scene.
City: Charleston
Title:Large Dwnt Home-WEEKDAY SPECIAL
Nightly rate: $389
Bedrooms: 3
Occupancy rate: 74 percent
Reviews: 28
South Dakota
AirBNB
This property offers a "peaceful, quiet setting with the convenience of being located in the city."
City: Sioux Falls
Title:Home away from home! Welcome!
Nightly rate: $90
Bedrooms: 4
Occupancy rate: 34 percent
Reviews: 41
Tennessee
This Nashville home is located a few minutes from the downtown area's famous Music Row.
City: Nashville
Title:Lovely, great location! Vanderbilt
Nightly rate: $850
Bedrooms: 5
Occupancy rate: 91 percent
Reviews: 10
Texas
AirBNB
This property is close to downtown Austin and features a swimming pool and pool table.
City: Austin
Title:Cool down at the SoCo pool retreat!
Nightly rate: $999
Bedrooms: 4
Occupancy rate: 89 percent
Reviews: 12
Utah
This property is near to two popular Utah ski resorts.
City: Park City
Title:4BR Solamere Deer Valley Ski Home
Nightly rate: $649
Bedrooms: 4
Occupancy rate: 48 percent
Reviews: 11
Vermont
AirBNB
Designed as "a ski dorm cabin," the property sleeps 16 and is available for work retreats.
City: Waterbury Center
Title:Meadow-House Backcountry Residency
Nightly rate: $900
Bedrooms: 5
Occupancy rate: 43 percent
Reviews: 16
Virginia
AirBNB
Three blocks from the beach, this property has a saltwater pool, hot tub and game room.
City: Virginia Beach
Title:Piper's Paradise at Croatan Beach
Nightly rate: $525
Bedrooms: 5
Occupancy rate: 47 percent
Reviews: 12
Washington
AirBNB
This house sleeps 16 and is a Seattle coffee lover's dream, according to its description.
City: Seattle
Title:Best Coffee in Seattle 1 Block Away
Nightly rate: $672
Bedrooms: 6
Occupancy rate: 58 percent
Reviews: 16
Washington, D.C.
Airbnb
The owner describes this property as "the coolest house in D.C." It has a heated pool, pool table, poker table and other swanky amenities.
City: Washington, D.C.
Title:Celebrity House Hunter Mansion
Nightly rate: $1,200
Bedrooms: 6
Occupancy rate: 74 percent
Reviews: 34
West Virginia
Airbnb
This secluded vacation home offers close proximity to both outdoor activities like hiking and golf, as well as shopping and culture.
City: Berkeley Springs
Title:Wild, Wonderful Five-Bedroom Loghome
Nightly rate: $240
Bedrooms: 5
Occupancy rate: 70 percent
Reviews: 72
Wisconsin
AirBNB
This property was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for Life Magazine and sleeps eight people.
City: Two Rivers
Title:Frank Lloyd Wright's Schwartz House
Nightly rate: $395
Bedrooms: 4
Occupancy rate: 50 percent
Reviews: 14
Wyoming
AirBNB
"Come and enjoy Jackson Hole and retreat, regroup, and reboot here," this property's listing offers.
City: Wilson
Title:Beautiful Western Home
Nightly rate: $325
Bedrooms: 4
Occupancy rate: 42 percent
Reviews: 13