Most people are oblivious to the risk. They have a couple of spare bedrooms or a mother-in-law suite but the mother-in-law rarely visits (thankfully). Maybe they travel a lot and their home is left empty.

The brilliance that is Airbnb is that it enables people to make money from the unused or underutilized space in their homes. Airbnb has created an entirely new category in the hospitality industry, that of home sharing.

In the early days of Airbnb, the hosts were mostly people renting rooms in their homes. This was the original idea behind Airbnb and is still a key component of their mission statement: the feeling of being at home wherever you may be in the world.

New Sharing Economy = New Risks

Disruptive new businesses introduce new, unforeseen risks. Insurance is a neat little world ruled by actuaries and underwriters. They don’t get out much. They’re not exactly known for their innovative approaches to new ways of doing business.

No sir. They like the status quo. They like the known. The predictable makes them happy.

Actuarial science is about using past data to predict future events. With historical data, one can predict what might happen in the future as long as no one introduces new variables, i.e. no one disrupts the status quo.

Actuaries develop models to predict loss ratios for different classes of risk. Underwriters then select which risk category your home should belong and this determines the policy type you purchase and the premium you pay.

Before Airbnb, there were two main risk classes for homes: primary homes and vacation homes. Vacation homes were (and still are) considered slightly higher risk because you frequently have guests, and if something happens to those guests, they might sue. The added risk means higher premiums.

But what happens in this new sharing economy? Now we have homes that are a combination of primary residence and vacation home. How are the actuaries going to predict losses? There is no historical data. How are the underwriters going to choose if your home is a primary residence or a vacation home?

Allstate Insurance and the Sharing Economy

An innovative insurance company might quickly identify home sharing as a third risk class and develop a new product to meet the needs of its customers. Allstate is not an innovative company.

What Allstate has done is take a very conservative view to Airbnb hosting. They view this activity as unexpected, unanticipated risk and rather than figure out a mutually beneficial solution for themselves and their customers, they are trying to find ways to deny coverage to their customers who rent space on Airbnb.

Allstate Homeowners Insurance and Airbnb Risks

What protection does your Allstate homeowner’s insurance policy provide should an incident occur while you are hosting Airbnb guests?

An Allstate homeowners policy has 2 main components:

1. Your Property

This is the part of the policy that outlines your coverage in the event of damage to your home (and/or possessions). The possible added risks you assume as part of your Airbnb hosting include the following:

  • A guest leaves a candle burning, it sets fire to your furniture and burns your house down (or destroys part of it).
  • It’s party time. Without your knowledge or consent, the host throws a party and your home is trashed or if you’re lucky they just cause $14k worth of damage to your beautiful hardwood floors.  
  • You’ve fallen foul to a scam. Your supposedly nice, sweet Airbnb renters rob you blind and clean out all of your valuable possessions.
  • A guest brings a pet which pees all over your house and it’s not just average pee but that really stinky cat pee or maybe even a baby goat (I know it’s a kid). And yes, this did happen!  

2. Family Liability and Guest Medical Protection

The liability section describes your coverage in the event a third-party makes a claim against you for damages caused by an incident that occurred on your premises. The possible added risks you assume as part of your Airbnb hosting include the following:

  • A guest slips and falls on the icy pathway leading to your house.
  • A guest trips and falls down a steep staircase.
  • A child falls and smashes their head off of your coffee table.
  • One of your renters eats something left in your fridge and ends up hospitalized with food poisoning.

These risks are possible even if you never rent on Airbnb. Maybe you allow friends to stay at your place or use house sitters while you’re away. Insurance companies allow for occasional risks when they provide you with a policy and price the premium.

However, when you start hosting on Airbnb, your potential risk increases dramatically. The more guests you have, the greater the chance of potential incidents. This is where the problem with traditional homeowners insurance policies lies. The actuaries and underwriters didn’t predict you would have so many visitors. Your Airbnb hosting has changed the risk class.  

But never mind what the Allstate employees did or didn’t do. You have the policy and you’ve paid your premiums. Maybe the risks have changed a little bit but that’s not your fault, right? You must still have coverage right? Maybe yes and maybe no. The devil is in the policy language and the way it’s interpreted by Allstate.

Allstate Claims Adjusters and Short-term Rental Risk

Insurance companies are in the business of making money. They do so by selling insurance for risks that are in some way predictable. When the risks change, they take a conservative approach to claims handling to protect their profit margins.

Renting rooms through Airbnb presents a different risk category to the one assumed when the policy was written. So while your Allstate policy doesn’t specifically exclude coverage for losses arising from your Airbnb hosting, it does contain language that can be used to deny claims.

Where in the policy could they deny claims?

The point of contention with your Allstate policy revolves around the issue of whether or not your Airbnb hosting is a business. Homeowners insurance policies typically exclude all claims from business activities because the risks of a business are different and should be insured under a separate business insurance policy.

Some homeowners policies provide a minimal amount of coverage for home-based businesses. This is meant for people running a consulting business or working remotely as a salesperson. Whatever the position, it’s meant to low risk with little to no customer or client contact. It’s not meant to cover a hospitality business.

There are several clauses within an Allstate home insurance policy where coverage for Airbnb rentals could be denied. Our review has been conducted on the standard Allstate homeowners insurance policy (form APC220). Your policy may be different depending on your state and any additional coverages that have been added by your agent.

 

Allstate Property Damage Insurance for Airbnb Rentals

In the property section of your policy, there is a clause called “Other Structures Protection” that states:

Property We Do Not Cover Under Coverage B:
1. Structures used in whole or in part for business purposes.

Should you own an additional dwelling unit, a separate unit meant for guest accommodation that is still on your premises, this clause could deny you coverage should your Airbnb guests damage that unit.

How the Allstate policy would respond if your main home was damaged, is less clear. There are no specific exclusions for damages caused to your main home while renting rooms on Airbnb. However, as we discuss below, this might be irrelevant due to the overall policy conditions governing the use of your property for business-related activities.  

 

Allstate Liability Coverage for Airbnb Rentals

The liability section of the policy contains several clauses relating to the denial of coverage for “business” activities and pursuits. This clause clearly states that coverage for personal liability and guest medical expenses will be denied if a loss results from business activities of the insured.

“We do not cover bodily injury or property damage arising out of the past or present business activities of an insured person.”

Just in case you didn’t catch the first exclusion for business-related activities, Allstate repeats the exclusion a little further down the policy. Referring solely to guest medical expenses (Coverage Y), the policy states:

“Losses We Do Not Cover Under Coverage Y: We do not cover bodily injury to any person on the insured premises because of a business activity or professional service conducted there.”

Damage to Property of Others
The “business” exclusion pops up once again in a clause referring to damage to property of others. This clause would determine whether your insurance would cover claims made by your guests if their personal property was damaged or destroyed.

“We will not pay for property damage arising out of: 1) past or present business activities;”

 

Is Hosting on Airbnb Really a “Business”?

This is an essential question that needs a clear answer. You may claim that you are not operating a business. Allstate will probably claim that you are. Allstate’s definition of “business” in the first section of their policy doesn’t help clarify the situation. It says:  


Business means:
a) any full- or part-time activity of any kind engaged in for economic gain including the use of any part of any premises for such purposes.

  1. b) the rental or holding for rental of property by an insured person. Rental of your residence premises is not considered a business when:

1) it is rented occasionally for residential purposes;
2) a portion is rented to roomers or boarders, provided not more than two roomers or boarders reside on the residence premises at any one time;”

It would appear that Allstate considers your Airbnb hosting a business if your rent on more than an occasional basis. Unfortunately, Allstate does not define “occasionally” and so what this means is open to interpretation.   

 

Allstate General Policy Conditions

There are 2 more clauses of your Allstate policy that you should give you cause for concern.

Prior to purchasing your Allstate Homeowners Policy, were you asked if you were conducting any business from your home? If you answered no, and Allstate finds out that you are renting space on Airbnb, your policy could be canceled and any outstanding claims denied.

Misrepresentation, Fraud or Concealment

“We may void this policy if it was obtained by misrepresentation, fraud or concealment of material facts. If we determine that this policy is void, all premiums paid will be returned to you since there has been no coverage under this policy. We do not cover any loss or occurrence in which any insured person has concealed or misrepresented any material fact or circumstance.”

Cancellation
“When the policy has been in effect for 60 days or more, or if it is a renewal with us, we may cancel this policy for one or more of the following reasons:
1) non-payment of premium;
2) the policy was obtained by misrepresentation, fraud or concealment of material facts;
3) material misrepresentation, fraud or concealment of material facts in presenting a claim, or violation of any of the policy terms; or
4) there has been a substantial change or increase in hazard in the risk we originally accepted.”

What this means is that if Allstate decides that your Airbnb hosting represents a substantial change in risk, which was not assumed when the policy was issued, they will cancel your policy. Furthermore, if you submit a claim, Allstate may decline it saying you concealed your Airbnb hosting activities.

 

How do you properly protect yourself?

The best course of action would appear to be calling your Allstate agent to tell them about your Airbnb hosting. Most likely you will be told that Allstate won’t cover your Airbnb hosting.

Your agent may try to offer you a coverage extension designed specifically for home sharing. It’s called Allstate Host Advantage. You can read our review of this coverage and why we think it’s a complete waste of time.

It seems clear that your Allstate homeowners policy will not provide coverage while you are hosting Airbnb guests. This might change in the future, but for now, you have 4 choices:

  1. Stop renting your spare space on Airbnb;
  2. Continue renting space on Airbnb but find a new insurance company, one that provides coverage for both homeowners and short-term renting;
  3. Keep your Allstate policy and find an additional policy to cover your short-term renting;
  4. Keep your Allstate policy and rely on Airbnb’s Host Guarantee and Host Protection Insurance for your hosting protection; 

Read our article on insurance for Airbnb hosts and decide which option best fits your situation.