House Fire Prompts $1 Million Dispute With Airbnb

Eight Airbnb guests were staying in the three-story house that overlooked the Sonoma Valley. Fortunately, all eight escaped the flames unharmed. Minutes after they made it out, the burning house came crashing down.

The Sonoma Valley Fire and Rescue fire marshal’s report on the incident notes non-code electric work near a wooden outdoor deck. Investigators also noted two of the Airbnb renters admitted they were smoking on that deck, about an hour before the fire started:

– It was possible that one of them threw cigarette butts over the deck railing or dropped some on [the] deck.

Ultimately, the fire’s cause was declared “undetermined” by the fire marshal. But no matter what ignited the flames, the house was a total loss.

The $1 million question

After the fire, the homeowners obtained a contractor’s estimate to rebuild. The estimate: $1.8 million.

The homeowners — who are remaining anonymous — told NBC Bay Area they received a $600,000 payment from their property insurance provider, but not the $1 million they were counting on from Airbnb. Its “Host Guarantee” offers homeowners “Property damage protection of up to $1 million for every host and every listing—at no additional cost.”

Consumer attorney Robert Tauler says promises like the Airbnb Host Guarantee aren’t always easy to redeem.

“They don’t just write checks for a million bucks without kicking the tires, for sure,” Tauler said.

Tauler specializes in holding tech companies accountable for their advertising. He says simple assurances spelled out on an app look easy, but putting those promises into practice — like after a fire — might meet resistance.

“Frequently, their acts are inconsistent with their words,” Tauler said. “That’s a real serious problem.”

Click here to read the full article and view the segment aired on NBC Bay Area.