Can I rent out my place on Airbnb? Probably not

Airbnb have built a formidable online business by renting out rooms/apartments/homes to short-term visitors. The premise is that it offers travelers and short-term visitors a comfortable alternative to hotels, and offers people a way to generate extra income from their residence. The problem is that a large number of rentals offered on this site are simply not allowed by zoning laws, lease documents and HOA restrictions. Think carefully before renting your place on Airbnb. It is probably not allowed.

airbnbA friend of mine recently visited New York City and stayed in an apartment that she rented on Airbnb. The person offering the rental instructions offered careful instructions to not tell anyone in the building, particularly the onsite property manager, that they were renting out the place for a few days. Why? Because this use of the apartment is clearly not allowed in their lease. Let’s take a look at why you may not be able to rent your place.

Renting out your apartment

Maybe you want to rent out your whole apartment for a few weeks, or maybe you want to rent an extra room periodically to help pay for rent. Read your lease. Any intelligent landlord with even a moderately well-written lease document will expressly prohibit this sort of occupation of your apartment. Look for language like this:

Resident shall not assign, sublet, give accommodations to any roomers or lodgers, or permit the premises to be used for any purpose other than as the primary residence of the following named persons. Changes in occupancy are not permitted without prior written approval of owner at the owner’s sole discretion.

Your landlord is not going to agree to allow short-term occupants to generate income, and the prudent landlord would put an immediate stop to such activities. Yes, most visitors will probably treat the property with respect, but any reasonable landlord does not want occupancy from unknown people. It adds liability, wear-and-tear and breaks one of the basic tenets of being an effective landlord, which is knowing who you are renting to.

Renting out your condo

Are you looking to rent out your condo? Or maybe you are renting someone else’s condo and want to re-rent it. Condos with an HOA are generally going to be even more restrictive than apartment leases. Read the HOA documents. In the vast majority of cases, transient rentals are strictly prohibited.

Condos are governed by a Homeowners Association (HOA) and its associated rules & regulations. Every condo document I’ve ever read has provisions regarding tenants. Most commonly, they will not permit owners to rent out the unit for short times. There are usually requirements to notify the HOA of tenancies and use formal lease documents, but a well-run HOA is never going to allow transient, “hotel-style” rentals.

Renting out your home

Even renting out a house may run into problems with zoning and other local regulations. I can’t speak to the thousands of local zoning laws across the country, but lets take a look at some of our local laws in Seattle.

If you are consistently offering accommodations in your home, you are operating a bed and breakfast and need to have it permitted. More importantly, if your home is in a single-family zone, you can’t just create and rent a separate apartment in your home. Rental laws are very specific and only allow a second residential unit when a property is a legal duplex or has gone through the process of getting and approved Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU). Renting that little apartment in your basement, whether on Airbnb or elsewhere, isn’t allowed unless it is permitted. A neighbor’s complaint to the city will result in swift enforcement of these laws.

Use caution before renting

If you are looking to rent out your place on Airbnb, you had better understand the rules and consequences of doing so. Any landlord or HOA is going to put a swift halt to these sorts of occupancies, and you may run into trouble with your local city laws if you rent out your home on a recurring basis.

If you are a landlord or HOA, make sure that your lease documents and HOA rules clearly address and prohibit transient rentals.