3 Ways To Avoid Legal Problems When Using Your Home As A Short-Term Rental

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So you're thinking about renting your house or apartment to guests using one of the many direct-rental websites that connects you to travelers who prefer to stay at someone's home rather than a hotel. Offering your home for rent can come with surprising legal consequences that can devastate your financial affairs if you don't plan ahead. Keep these three potential legal issues in mind before you lease your home to limit your liability in worse-case scenarios.

#1: Keep Fire Alarms Up To Code

When you lease space to a traveler, you're engaging in a commercial enterprise. Even though you don't have a business license as a hotel or boarding room operator, your renters can still sue you if they are injured because of a fire that breaks out in your home while your fire alarms aren't up to local codes.

Before you rent your space, make sure your fire alarm system complies with the most stringent regulations of your state and can also detect carbon monoxide. Most states require residential homes to have AC-powered fire alarms that are hard wired, interconnected and designed with battery-based back-up power. These alarms must typically be situated:

  • Inside each bedroom
  • Outside each bedroom area
  • On each level of the home
  • At the bottom of basement steps

If your home lacks an adequate fire alarm system, have it upgraded before you start renting your home regularly. Check the batteries installed in each unit on a schedule, and keep a record of your maintenance efforts. This way, if a fire does break out and renters are injured, they won't be able to claim in a lawsuit that your failure to maintain the fire alarm system was negligent and contributed to their injuries.

#2: Disclose The Existence of Home Surveillance Systems

Do you have a nanny-cam system set up in your house that operates automatically and records to a computer hard drive? Do you have a home surveillance system set up to monitor the dog, prevent hired help from robbing you blind or ensure the UPS guy really leaves your packages at your front door? Before you rent out your home to strangers, disconnect this surveillance or notify them that it regularly takes place.

All states have privacy laws that prevent people from surveilling others when they have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Even though the home belongs to you, renting it out gives your renters a legal right to privacy that you can violate by recording their activities without notice. Any recording your system makes that ends up viewed by others can lead to a lawsuit and potential liability for invasion of privacy.

#3: Install A Burglar Alarm System

You may be comfortable with your surroundings and don't feel the need to go overboard with home security. However, when you rent your home, any loss of property or injury to renters can lead to allegations of negligence on your part if security measures aren't up to the standards expected by reasonable people.

Before you rent your home, think in terms of worse-case scenarios. Are the windows accessible from the outside? If so, make sure the lock on each one works, and if a window leads to a fire escape in an urban area, consider adding a window gate. Make sure the front door has the type of lock that locks automatically when the door closes. 

Having a company like Alliance Appliance Of Rockland & Authentic Alarm a burglar alarm system that can alert renters to intruders and call for help in an emergency can prevent crimes and protect you from claims that you should have done something more to make the space safe for renters.