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By Lee Hall, Esq. | Legally reviewed by Bridget Molitor, J.D. | Last reviewed September 22, 2022
This article has been written and reviewed for legal accuracy, clarity, and style by FindLaw’s team of legal writers and attorneys and in accordance with our editorial standards.
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Table of Contents
AirbnbTM (as in “air mattress bed and breakfast") puts a high-tech spin on the business of hosting overnight guests. Today, most any homeowner with an internet connection can create a home-sharing business — where allowed by law, that is.
Before deciding to start an Airbnb, make sure you learn more about becoming a host and the legal issues you'll need to address.
Homeowners rent out guest homes and rooms on the Airbnb platform to earn extra money. Is owning an Airbnb profitable? If the surrounding area has plenty of attractions, and the homeowner can keep reservations coming, the investment can pay off.
Homeowners' level of activity on the site, and positive guest reviews, earn visibility. Higher visibility brings more earnings.
Some Airbnb offerings are basic and inexpensive. Others — the designated Airbnb Plus accommodations — are luxurious. Guests pay higher nightly rates for more amenities, elegant touches, and a record of positive reviews.
Real estate investors who would otherwise have sought long-term renters can potentially earn more with Airbnb. In environments with an array of tourist attractions — such as major festivals or federal nature preserves — owners might rent a property out for several hundreds of dollars a night. Luxury cabins can go for as much as $1,500 a day. These figures are indicated in 2022 reporting by Bloomberg. According to AlltheRooms.com, a Malibu mansion can earn $10,000 a month in host fees.
The average daily rate is $164 in 2022, according to AirDNA. U.S. national average daily rates have risen 1.7% year-over-year. Note: Airbnb takes a service fee of 20%.
To get a location-specific idea, you can do a search for Airbnb city-by-city pricing information. You can also plug in your details on Airbnb's price page for hosts. Keep in mind that economic changes related to the pandemic can cause prices to fluctuate.
How much does it cost to set up Airbnb? The answer varies widely. It may depend on the season, size, style, and location of the unit(s). Factoring in the maintenance, furnishing, and cleaning needs, the costs can be significantly higher than those of a regular, long-term rental property.
Local governments impose construction, design, and maintenance standards for structures. For some buildings, compliance can be costly. Some local jurisdictions require the hiring of a licensed inspector to attest to a rental property's habitability.
First, while creating an Airbnb for little upfront money is possible, there are some startup costs. Accommodations must be state-licensed. The county must give you permission to operate one, which means homeowners should expect registration fees. Owners of short-term rental properties may also need to pay occupancy and sales tax to the state.
Owners might consider purchasing short-term rental coverage through their insurance policies. This is separate from standard homeowners insurance. Some cities require evidence of this kind of business insurance coverage whenever a property owner establishes a rental business.
Additionally, there's time and sweat equity. Homeowners must invest in their spaces. A camera that takes high-quality photos is important. The owner might also want to invest in a pro cleaning service. Listed accommodations must be safe, tidy, and attractive to potential guests. Units should be well furnished. They should offer utilities, wi-fi, entertainment, a stocked fridge, coffee-making equipment, and clean linens.
Once the home-sharing business gets started, the owner must earn great guest reviews. A stellar reputation on the platform will optimize the investment. All this attention takes time away from other potential opportunities and investments.
Check Airbnb's Community Center for more information on costs. You'll also find advice there from experienced Airbnb hosts in your preferred location.
There are numerous hazards involved with owning an Airbnb business, such as accidents, economic downturns, and changes in local laws and regulations. Hosts must understand and prepare for these risks.
Property owners can sustain losses when guests break or take items. Other issues include hazards accidental fires, burst pipes, or floods. These can lead to days, weeks, or months of lost income. Such risks can be offset by short-term rental insurance coverage, but keep in mind that Airbnb does cover every stay with $1 million USD in property damage protection. It also provides another million in accident insurance.
Can the host make the house rules? Yes. In fact, Airbnb offers hosts the option to have their own lawyers create the contracts for guests. Note: Listings must be inclusive.
Prepare for the ups and downs of the market. This is important to full-time hosts and those who are just looking for extra income. After all, losing money is no small business owner's goal.
During economic downturns, people may decide to travel less. When they do travel, they might spend less. For a host, this means the cash flow stops.
It's important to plan for possible downtime in any vacation rental business, particularly in the off-season. Additionally, an owner must cover the costs of maintenance between stays.
Another key risk involves local law and policymakers' decisions to establish or tighten rules that limit what a property owner may do. The possibility of new limitations poses a risk to those who need a constant cash flow from home-sharing to pay off debt. Unit owners in condo associations need to be aware of any possibility of changes voted into the governing documents by the board.
This raises the matter of whether a given location permits Airbnb-style rental accommodations in the first place.
A potential Airbnb owner must check the rules and laws.
There are different sets of property-specific rules. Some apply to properties that are simply part of a neighborhood. Other rules apply when a property is part of a neighborhood association, co-op, or homeowners' association (HOA).
Every potential host needs to check the rules established by the Department of State. These are available from the particular state in which the property is located. The potential host should also look up local codes. Do they allow vacation rental businesses?
Some governments limit home-sharing options for business owners. Many regulate them through permits and licensing. Local regulations might:
Some local governments charge fees for short-term rental permits. People who rent out parts of their primary residences can expect less restrictive rules than absentee owners can.
What regulations apply to your city? Begin your research on the city-by-city Airbnb regulations webpage.
Within associations, the Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs) may or may not limit short-term rentals. Most property managers can speak to the community's experiences and attitudes about home-sharing, in addition to the manager's understanding of the rules.
Deed restrictions can impact houses and condos that belong to associations. Restrictive covenants might bar home-sharing businesses outright. Alternatively, some restrictions set forth:
Violators can expect fines. The HOA board might also record liens on the unit. A lien is a cloud on the title, and it keeps an owner from being able to take out new loans against the property.
Local rules and HOA rules overlap. For instance, cities as well as associations might cap the number of short-term rentals permitted in multi-unit properties.
Note: Zoning laws are not deed restrictions. Zoning is created (and can be modified) by local governments. Deed restrictions are permanently embedded in the house title.
Some brokers offer mortgage loans designed for Airbnb-style investment properties in strong real estate markets. This means the lender expects the property to be near local attractions.
Applicants need to show strong credit profiles and large cash reserves. Borrowers might need to prove a certain length of short-term rental hosting history or standard leasing experience. The required down payment can range from 15% to 30%.
Borrowers for these investment properties can be expected to pay more than the standard mortgage rates available for a primary residence.
“As you do the math to calculate the cost of your mortgage and compare it against the revenue potential of your property," First State Community Bank observes, “you might determine the financing isn't favorable enough to create a solid return on investment."
You might ask: How do I find a place to set up an Airbnb?
In other words, is your property in a desirable location? Are there important scenic, recreational, and entertainment draws nearby? Are there major corporate headquarters, convention sites, or other draws for business travelers?
Do the applicable regulations support your goal? Are you prepared to secure any necessary permits?
Finally, did you “do the math" to calculate the costs of financing versus your Airbnb income potential? If so, you might decide to create your Airbnb and enjoy running it as a small business.
If you are committed to running a successful Airbnb business, follow these steps.
A business plan starts with a name for the new business. You might run the business under your personal name, or you might prefer having a business name.
If you decide to use a business name, run a search to ensure it is not already used by a similar business where yours will operate. Search the listings on the Secretary of State's website and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office database. Look for the name on key social media platforms. Run a search on the web.
A corporation or limited liability company (LLC) name must be registered with the state. A sole proprietor may register a doing business as (DBA) name with state and local governments. There is a registration fee for either form.
Note: There is no need for an Airbnb owner to set up an Airbnb business website. An owner who registers and operates as a business simply needs to set up a business account on the platform.
The way a small business entity is formed matters. It sets up personal liability protection. It dictates the way a small business owner files taxes.
The owner should obtain an Employment Identification Number (EIN) from the Internal Revenue Service using the SS-4 application.
We make business formation EASY. Learn about our DIY business formation services here.
To properly operate an Airbnb business and guard against personal liability, avoid comingling personal and home-sharing funds. This is the reason for opening a dedicated business bank account using an EIN.
After setting up your account, you can apply for a business credit card. This way, you can shop for your Airbnb business needs on the business account.
What are the requirements to start your own Airbnb business? Here's what you need to list a business account online:
To form an Airbnb account, a homeowner uploads identification and sets up a profile page as instructed by the platform. This enables rooms to be registered, described with check-in times, and priced.
When they're ready to list a cottage, an apartment, a luxury cabin, a spare room, an actual air mattress space in a home, or even an RV, the owner should go to the host section of their profile and create a new Airbnb listing. There is no charge to create a listing. A published listing can take up to three days to show up in search results.
To set up a well-organized Airbnb business, consider using our business formation tool. If you have case-specific questions as you form your legal entity, consult a local business attorney for peace of mind.
It's essential that small business owners adhere to legal rules. Aspiring Airbnb owners can consult local real estate attorneys before investing in new property. Expert advice strengthens any business owner's power to succeed and optimize returns.
Contact a qualified business attorney to help you navigate the process of starting a business.
We have a DIY option you can use to save time and stress.We help you:
Prefer to work with a lawyer?Find one right now.