Are Airbnb hosts and rental property owners liable for injuries that happen at their properties?

A young woman injured at a rental property. Picture: Supplied

A young woman injured at a rental property. Picture: Supplied

Published May 30, 2023


The latest data shows that Airbnb’s community of hosts in South Africa have grown to over 35,000, and the most recent Genesis Analytics report revealed that over 2 million guests have arrived at listings on Airbnb in South Africa annually.

As more property owners list their rentals on Airbnb and with more people socialising in their homes, it is important to understand who is at fault in the event someone is injured in your rental home or Airbnb property.

According to Kirstie Haslam, a partner at DSC Attorneys, guests who get injured while being entertained at your rental or Airbnb properties could claim from you if you are found to be personally liable, as you have a legal duty to protect visitors from risks of harm while on your property so as a general proposition, a homeowner has to take reasonable precautions to ensure that his or her guests do not come to harm – through no fault of their own - whilst on their property.

This, she said, includes safeguarding against potential hazards, for example, fencing off an uncovered pool or ensuring there is adequate lighting for outside stairs or similar.

“A homeowner may be liable for injuries a guest suffers whilst on their property if the injury was caused by negligent and wrongful action (or an omission) on the part of the homeowner,” she said.

Haslam said homeowners need to safeguard and or warn against potential hazards and pointed out that if building work is being undertaken at the time of the visit, the potential danger should be promptly drawn to the attention of the visitor, and any hazardous condition on the property should be cordoned off.

As to whether the law differs if you are not present at the time of the accident, i.e. if you have rented out your property, for example, to someone on Airbnb, in principle, there would be no difference whether the homeowner was present or not, although Haslam said that this would be dependent on the facts.

“In the case of an unauthorised intruder or trespasser, however, the situation could be different, depending on the circumstances in which the person came to be injured,” said the partner.

There are various accidents that can happen, i.e. slip and fall injuries, falling objects, recreational equipment, dog bites, swimming pools etc. As to liability regarding these scenarios, Haslam said that not all injuries could reasonably be foreseen or prevented.

“The point of departure is that a wrongdoer (in this case, the homeowner) can only be held liable for damage which was reasonably foreseeable and preventable, and he or she failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the harm from ensuing,” she said.

Should you be injured whilst visiting a private property, Haslam said that you should firstly note and record all details surrounding the circumstances of the injury and seek legal advice as soon as possible in order to establish if there are prospects of success with a claim.

“If possible, photographs should be taken immediately to reflect the condition of the property and identify the cause of the incident. The injured party should also record the details of any witnesses and, of course, seek prompt medical attention.

“All of this information can be handed to an attorney with expertise in this field of law, who will then draft a letter of demand to be sent to the homeowner, who, in most instances, will refer that letter of demand to his or her insurer for further attention,” she said.

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