Airbnb has a larger presence in Columbia, but poses some risk

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COLUMBIA - Doug and Abby Brooks needed some extra money for a bigger mortgage when they upgraded to a bigger home in Columbia. They found the answer when more people started coming to town for football games when the Mizzou Tigers entered the SEC.

"We have, what, 80 thousand people in town," Brooks said. "This hotel [up the street] sells out $180 a night. We listed our space and, boom, just like that we started getting requests and reservations."

They listed their house as a rental property on Airbnb, which is a service online where people can list one room to an entire house others can stay in for a chunk of change. Prices currently range from $29 to $550 in Columbia. Part of the money goes to the Airbnb host, like Brooks, and part of it goes back to Airbnb.

As of Thursday, July 23, people listed 56 rental properties in Columbia. On a similar website, VRBO, 34 rental properties existed.

"We're basically taking the people that can not get into hotels and taking advantage of the overflow," Brooks said. 

The owner of Yates Bed and Breakfast House, Conrad Yates, has owned his business for 22 years. He said he's not concerned Airbnb will take his customers, but he does worry about guests' and hosts' safety and satisfaction. 

"I am more concerned about the problems that could and will happen to hosts and guests staying in these places that are unlicensed and uninsepcted and uninsured," Yates said. 

Yates Bed and Breakfast House is inspected regularly, so are all of the other hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts in town. These places also have commercial insurance, which tends to cover more than homeowner's insurance. An "Airbnb Host Guarantee" exists.

On its website it states, "Airbnb agrees to pay you, as a Host, to repair or replace your Covered Property damaged or destroyed as a result of a Covered Loss, subject to the limitations, exclusions and conditions in the Airbnb Host Guarantee."

But the there are limitations and exclusions to this guarantee. And Shelter Insurance's Director of Public Relations Jay MacLellan said, often, homeowner's insurance may also not cover the same things.

"That would tell you, 'hey, I need to go talk to my agent and if I'm going to do this kind of arrangement, what is out there? What kind of policy can I get to secure that I'm going to have those things covered?" MacLellan said. 

Airbnb is also unregulated. When a person chooses to stay at an Airbnb, there is not a lodging tax that goes back to the city.

Hotels, motels and bed and breakfasts are inspected regularly. Airbnb properties are not, but the company does encourage its hosts to have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. In fact, Airbnb gave away smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, first aid kits and safety cards to 10,000 of its hosts. Brooks was one of those hosts.

Brooks said he feels his home is protected under Airbnb's guarantee. 

"We originally started out with game weekends," Brooks said, "and now we're doing some extended stays."

Yates said Airbnb hosts are amateurs, and that's sometimes the appeal. But what some call amateurs, others call entrepreneurs. 

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