The red flags to look out for when booking a vacation rental

The red flags to look out for when booking a vacation rental

Last week a deadly fire broke out in an Old Montreal historic building that contained multiple illegal Airbnb rentals. One person has been found dead and six others remain missing.

The father of one of the victims still missing says his 18-year-old daughter and her friends made two calls to 911, describing how they were trapped in a windowless apartment and could not escape.

A couple who were staying in an Airbnb unit in the basement described waking up to the sound of a loud explosion and smashing a window to crawl outside. They said the fire alarm in the unit did not work. The building is located outside of zones where Airbnbs are permitted in Montreal. Yet hundreds of listings are currently available in the area.

In the wake of the fire, Quebec plans to introduce legislation cracking down on illegal short-term rentals and Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante urged Airbnb to stop posting illegal listings and repeated calls for more provincial inspectors of such rentals.

The fire has raised concerns over the safety measures at Airbnb and other short-term rental providers. Here are some tips to keep in mind when booking a vacation rental and the red flags to look out for.

What safety measures do Airbnb hosts need to provide?

Airbnb urges hosts to install smoke alarms on every level of their property and install carbon monoxide detectors near every sleeping area. Active hosts can apply to get free smoke and carbon monoxide alarms through Airbnb. The company also suggests that hosts install fire extinguishers in the kitchen, garage and on every floor “if possible.”

Airbnb also suggests hosts create and share an evacuation plan, which includes two ways to exit each room, and an emergency guide that outlines safety information like the location of first-aid kits, gas shut-off valves and phone and address information for the local police station. These recommendations, however, are not required of hosts.

How can I check if a short-term rental is legal?

In many Canadian cities, including Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, Airbnb hosts must register their listings with the city. If the city requires registrations, the number should be available in the online listing for guests to check.

If a listing asks that guests avoid communication with building staff, including concierge or security, that might be a red flag that the host does not have approval to rent out their unit.

Look for positive, consistent reviews to make sure the rental is accurately portrayed in the listing.

Also check if the operator is an experienced “superhost,” a special designation by Airbnb for hosts with 4.8 or higher overall ratings (out of 5) and have completed at least 10 stays in the past year.

If you find a listing you believe is operating illegally in a jurisdiction where properties need to be licensed, you can report it to the local government. For example, in Toronto, residents and tourists can call 311 or submit a complaint online, and in Montreal, they can make a report to Revenu Québec.

What should you look for when you get to the rental unit?

When arriving at a vacation rental, check to make sure the space meets your health and safety requirements. Look for basic fire safety equipment like fire extinguishers, smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. Locate emergency exits and check that all windows and doors that lead to outside are able to be opened.

If at check-in the Airbnb unit seems unsafe or contains hazards, guests can request a full refund.

With reports from Eric Andrew-Gee, Frédérik-Xavier Duhamel