SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Vacation rentals found on Airbnb can provide a great alternative to your summer getaway. But how do you know what you saw online is what you're going to get? And even worse, could it be unsafe? Consumer Reports takes a look at the safety features you should be getting and what you can do before you book to make sure your stay is safe.
When Karen Zalusky travels, she loves to use home-sharing websites. "We love it because it's a really cheap way to travel," she said.
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But when Zalusky arrived at a home she recently booked through Airbnb, she was shocked to see the condition it was in. "As soon as we walked in, you could tell that something wasn't right," Zalusky said. She says an offensive smell overtook her and her husband, and that they found the homeowner kept pets without cleaning up after them.
Airbnb gave her a full refund and removed the listing from its website.
Zalusky also said, she noticed a carbon monoxide detector unplugged from the wall, a situation that can put a rental property's safety in question.
Consumer Reports recommends that all rentals have working fire safety products, but a 2018 study found only 56 percent of Airbnb listings had carbon monoxide detectors, 42 percent carried fire extinguishers, and 80 percent had smoke detectors.
Airbnb maintains a web page dedicated to home safety, which states, "We encourage every Airbnb host to install working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in their listing and to check them frequently."
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But Consumer Reports says that these are only suggested requirements, which is why you have to take a more proactive approach. "Vacation rentals are not regulated in the same way as hotels, which means you really want to reach out to your host before you book," said Dan Wroclawski, Consumer Reports Home Editor.
Consumer Reports recommends asking these five questions:
Does the property have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors?
Is there a working fire extinguisher on the property?
Does the property have an emergency safety card?
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Is there a first-aid kit in the home?
Does the property meet local safety regulations?
"Asking these questions will just give you a better understanding of how safe the property is and they might also bring up some other issues you might not been aware of," said Wroclawski.
Consumer Reports says it is essential to read the reviews with a critical eye. Look for Airbnb "superhosts," those who have hosted at least 10 times in a year and received a five-star review for at least 80 percent of stays. Consumer Reports says these listings are a good bet for a happy vacation.
We reached out to Airbnb, and down below is a statement from Nick Shapiro, Airbnb Global Head of Trust and Risk Management.
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"At Airbnb, safety is our priority. All hosts must certify that they follow all local laws and regulations. We run home safety workshops with local fire and EMS services all over the world, making sure our hosts have access to the best information in order to keep their guests, their homes and themselves safe. Every listing on Airbnb clearly states the specific safety amenities it has, including smoke and CO detectors, fire extinguishers, and first aid kits, so guests can look first and then decide whether that home, tree-house, yurt, or igloo is the one they want to book or not. In addition, every home in Airbnb's Plus Collection must have a smoke and CO detector in order to even be included. The study itself says it has not undergone any ethical review, it used data from three years before Airbnb Plus even debuted, and it looks to be designed to help an incumbent industry who has its own fire safety issues that need to be addressed.
"We believe more work needs to be done across the board throughout the travel and tourism industry. According to the US Fire Administration , there are an estimated 3,900 hotel and motel fires each year that cause 15 deaths, 150 injuries and $76 million in property loss. Even though there have been a number of tragic high profile hotel CO poisoning incidents, only 14 states require CO alarms in hotels by statute. Sadly, only 41% of all homes in the US even reported having working CO detectors. Whether a home is listed on Airbnb or not, all homes and hotel rooms should have smoke and CO detectors, fire extinguishers and first aid kits. At Airbnb, we give out free smoke and CO detectors to each and every host who wants one. We have been doing this for the last three years.
"We are working to increase awareness of safety measures for all homeowners, again, whether they are Airbnb hosts or not -- and transparency is key, so we will continue to ensure our guests know exactly what safety features their Airbnb has before they book it."
Airbnb provided these Safety Resources:
Trust and Safety at Airbnb
Guest Safety Tips
Free Smoke and CO Detector Program for Hosts
Airbnb Plus Requirements (includes smoke and CO detectors)
Host Safety Tips
Visit this page for more stories on Airbnb.
Click here for a look at more stories by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.
All Consumer Reports material Copyright 2018 Consumer Reports, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Consumer Reports is a not-for-profit organization which accepts no advertising. It has no commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor on this site. For more information visit ConsumerReports.org.
Safety questions to ask the next time you stay at an Airbnb
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