Long-Term Airbnb Rentals - Guest Scams??

21 Replies

Hello BP community,

I recently listed my home on Airbnb looking for a 30 day minimum rental. Seeing as this is an online platform I want to make sure that I don't approve any stays that are from a scam guest.

Has anyone renting on Airbnb (particularly 30+ days) encountered a situation similar to the following, and has the guest turned out to be illegitimate?

I received an inquiry from someone whose account was a few years old but didn't have a profile picture or any reviews and the only item verified was a phone number. They claimed to be from the United States but outside the mainland continent. When I asked some general questions such as how long they planned on staying and how many people would stay I didn't receive a reply.

 A few hours later I received an inquiry from someone else and the message had a completely different tone from the first but the questions I had asked the previous person were answered. Their account was also a few years old, didn't have a profile picture, didn't have any reviews, and only had phone number and email address verified. They also claim to be from off the mainland United States and from the same locale as the previous person.

I just find this an odd coincidence and am still willing to go through with a comprehensive tenant screen but I'm wondering if this is a known scam that exists on Airbnb?

For the record I'm also doing full tenant screening (income, credit, and background verification) prior to approving anyone.

Thanks in advance for any insight or information.

Hey @Tracy Meyers , yes I get about 10 of these a year spread between AirBNB and VRBO. We have a minimum stay of 3 days.

I get messages like this - "Hi, me and 3 other insert job here, engineer, fisherman etc have been working for weeks straight and our company is giving us a vacation. Is you place available for the dates listed?"

I usually reply, yes it is. Then they get back to me in about 10 days or so asking if I can take a company check as that is the only way they can pay for it. I tell them I work through the booking system and that is it. Then they go away.

They are getting more sophisticated. The last one came in a few days ago. Family looking to book, but they want the exact address so they can "take a look at it". Like the photos on the sites aren't enough. I tell them nope.

Wait for the guy who will do a custom painting of your house for a 2 weeks stay. He is a self described famous artist....he has been doing it for years now. The paintings suck...

@Michael Baum Thank you so much for your quick reply. Your stories gave me a chuckle. I must agree that online scams are definitely becoming sophisticated.

In the mean time my experience continues. The second individual didn't respond when I asked them to ID verify with AirBnB before I'd go through with tenant screening. An hour later I receive a message from a third individual with a similar story, similar looking profile, only now they claim to be local to my listing.

I wonder what would be a good way to filter these out other than asking them to verify through AirBnB or go through tenant screening.

Originally posted by @Michael Baum :

Hey @Tracy Meyers , yes I get about 10 of these a year spread between AirBNB and VRBO. We have a minimum stay of 3 days.

I get messages like this - "Hi, me and 3 other insert job here, engineer, fisherman etc have been working for weeks straight and our company is giving us a vacation. Is you place available for the dates listed?"

I usually reply, yes it is. Then they get back to me in about 10 days or so asking if I can take a company check as that is the only way they can pay for it. I tell them I work through the booking system and that is it. Then they go away.

They are getting more sophisticated. The last one came in a few days ago. Family looking to book, but they want the exact address so they can "take a look at it". Like the photos on the sites aren't enough. I tell them nope.

Wait for the guy who will do a custom painting of your house for a 2 weeks stay. He is a self described famous artist....he has been doing it for years now. The paintings suck...

I have had this famous artist wanting to trade a painting for a stay multiple times. 

If something seems fishy, require them to book through the platform.

 

@Tracy Meyers I find the easiest ways to avoid the scam artists is to turn on Instant Booking even for over 30 day reservations. Scam artists rarely are willing to pay upfront for their reservation. The only requirement I have is that the instant booking guest must read my pre-booking message and respond but you can also require host recommendation(s) and / or government issued ID. 

Instant Booking allows me to view all inquiries as either unserious or suspicious. Occasionally, I'll get a serious inquiry that will lead to a booking but generally, inquiries are either attempting to negotiate a lower rate or are scams.

Unless your listing is dirt cheap, 30+ day bookings via a platform that requires full payment prior to check-in, are just not likely to be scams.  

@Tracy Meyers based on the information you provided, it sounds suspicious but nothing directly says scam. It is hard to use age of account to determine if someone is legit or not. There are lots of new people using Airbnb since the pandemic. Some may have setup an account years ago and only used it once so they have no reviews or profile picture. We do require verified ID on any booking, so that is one thing you should require. The risk probably comes more into play when it comes to payment method. Scammers will try to send checks. They may pay up for three month, then they will try to cancel some or all of the stay, requesting a refund. The way the scam works, you send them a refund check. They stop pay the original check, cash the refund check, move the money offshore and close the account. Once the money leaves the US, the bank can't do anything and often the account holder is out the money. They could also be using stolen checks to pay, so everything seems fine until a few weeks later when the account holder cancels the check. 

Doing full tenant screening for stays over 30 days is the best option to prevent scams. Even in the prescreening, you can get on the phone with them and talk to them. Scammers are often from outside the US and speak broken English. They will refuse to talk on the phone because you can easily ask a few questions that will catch them in a lie.

@Michael Baum absolutely Michael, I really appreciate your insight

@John Underwood It seems like that 'famous artist' ploy is really getting around. I must agree that booking through the platform is safest especially in those sorts of scenarios.

@Carolyn Fuller Thank you so much for the thoughtful reply, Carolyn. That actually makes a lot of sense, I hadn't thought about it that way. It certainly seems worthwhile to have Instant Booking on. Have you had any experience renting long stays (such as 3+ months) through the platform? Or something along the lines of a guest who books for 1 month then extends their stay once they're already there?

@Joe Splitrock Thank you kindly for the reply, I really appreciate it. Maybe being a bit green to the platform has made me overly cautious about every aspect of a profile, but I'll definitely require ID verification regardless. That is quite a sophisticated scam, I can see why everyone says taking payment through the platform or another secure method is best. And that's great advice with regard to tenant screening.

Any further suggestions as to how to further protect myself against scammers when using Airbnb for longer-term stays as opposed to more traditional rental search engines such as Zillow?

I'm using RentSpree for tenant screening (so that I can utilize the CAR forms and TransUnion credit/background/eviction checks)

@Tracy Meyers I only use the STR platforms for summer rentals. From Sep - May, I rent to the extended stay market by the semester and I list on the academic sites which are either free or MUCH cheaper than any of the STR platforms. I charge these extended stay tenants a lot less and I require an application and signing of a short term lease. I suspect my leases are not worth much when my tenants are internationals but the leases do what I need them to do - avoid any misunderstandings. If I haven't made something clear in my lease, I fix the mistake before the next tenant signs.

Given I only list on Airbnb or VRBO in the summer, the max stay is approximately 90 nights. My minimum stay is 2 nights. All of my 30+ day STR bookings have been initial bookings. The only time I have had an extension request is on my less than a week bookings and then it is for an extra night. There are times when I've gotten an inquiry on a just less than 32 night reservation request and I've pointed out to the visitor that, here in Cambridge & Boston, there are 17% local & state taxes on any reservation less than 32 nights. They are always totally thrilled to discover that if they increase the number of nights to 32 they save a ton of dollars but I've never had any of my 30+ night guests request an extension after the initial booking and I would be rarely able to grant them that extension. My listings stay pretty fully booked.

But, obviously, all these experiences are heavily dependent upon location and price point. Having a rental between 2 of the most sought after universities provides me with a unique environment. 

@Carolyn Fuller Thank you so much for the kind reply. I can see how the seasonal changes in rental types have their benefits depending on location and its great to get insight into other markets. As for leases I wholeheartedly agree that regardless of the situation they are a good idea. I appreciate you letting me know that you haven't had any experiences with guests booking months back-to-back on the STR platforms and helping me get a feel for how to navigate the STR waters.

Originally posted by @Carolyn Fuller :

@Tracy Meyers  

Unless your listing is dirt cheap, 30+ day bookings via a platform that requires full payment prior to check-in, are just not likely to be scams.  

Yep....great thinking! Instant booking is the way to go.

And I've had a couple inquiries from people with the 'my company will pay for it' scam.

OP: why do you want to go with 30+ day bookings? I think these are just an invitation to trouble. I limit ours to 14 days max, no matter what. Don't want people getting too comfortable, plus I want to get my eyes in the house every so often.....

 

@Bruce Woodruff I'm actually looking for 30+ day tenants because I'm looking to cater to nomadic professionals that commonly come through my area. They tend to stay for one to four months at a time.

Since my area is not known as a vacation destination I'm less comfortable renting to locals who are looking to stay for a handful of days at a time than people who are in town for a few weeks on business.

Given the fact that the rental time frames are so short it doesn't make much sense to me to list on traditional rental search engines such as Zillow but rather in the 30+ day section of vacation rental sites.

@Bruce Woodruff Interesting, I am curious as to why longer term rentals would be significantly more dangerous than shorter term rentals. I must admit, I am new to the STR scene so any insight as to why I should switch up to shorter term rentals as opposed to longer term ones would be most appreciated.

My thought process was, shorter term rentals could possibly lend themselves to young adults looking for a party location and perhaps even older guests that due to the short term rental nature of the stay would care less about taking care of the premises. I suppose it's one thing if you're there for 2 nights as opposed to having to live with your mess for months on end.

One final thing I see as a benefit to longer term rentals is the fact that they require less attention than shorter term rentals. A 'set it and forget it' sort of scenario so to speak with the exception of the obvious duty of repairs if need be. However, as I said I am curious and would very much appreciate your further insight.

@Tracy Meyers when renters stay 30 or more days, they acquire tenant's rights in most states.  That means if they didn't pay or refused to leave your rental, you would need to go to court to evict them.  Right now, the federal moratorium on evictions is set to expire June 30th.  But it's been extended several times, and may be again.  So you'll need to thoroughly screen any candidates for 30+ day rentals, and as Carolyn's said, have them sign a lease similar to what a long term renter signs.  Here's an Airbnb article about it: https://www.airbnb.com/help/ar...

@Lauren Kormylo Thank you so much for your reply. Agreed, tenants' rights do vest after 30 days and it has been something weighing on my mind as the eviction moratorium could possibly be extended although Association of Realtors' lobbyists are pushing for that not to happen, there are still no guarantees that it won't. I suppose that one way I am attempting to mitigate these risks is by thoroughly screening these tenants. I figure if they present good references from previous landlords, have fairly good credit, and steady paying jobs then perhaps I am a bit more protected.

I am very interested however in the perspective of someone who does short term rentals. Is it a lot of work? Are the guests potentially more prone to be noisy or rowdy since they are in 'vacation mode' as opposed to say a longer term tenant who uses the property as their main dwelling. I've been attempting to factor all of these things into my decision, however since I am fairly new to this arena it has been a process for me.

Originally posted by @Tracy Meyers :

@Bruce Woodruff 

My thought process was, shorter term rentals could possibly lend themselves to young adults looking for a party location and perhaps even older guests that due to the short term rental nature of the stay would care less about taking care of the premises. I suppose it's one thing if you're there for 2 nights as opposed to having to live with your mess for months on end.


There is always some risk of attracting 'partiers'. Having a 2 or 3 night minimum will help discourage this, plus only renting to verified guests (they have to have an ID, plus positive reviews from other hosts). Plus we meet the people when we can.

We have had only positive experiences with our guests at both houses to this point. We are coming up on 1 year in this game, so far so good. But I know there will be a less-than-perfect guest at some point, it's just a numbers game.....

 

Originally posted by @Tracy Meyers :

@Bruce Woodruff One final thing I see as a benefit to longer term rentals is the fact that they require less attention than shorter term rentals. A 'set it and forget it' sort of scenario so to speak with the exception of the obvious duty of repairs if need be. However, as I said I am curious and would very much appreciate your further insight.

Tracy - IMHO, you're thinking about this kinda upside-down. With a STR, you have the ability to get into the property every week (or 2 at the most) and clean it. Really clean it - under beds, behind toilets....and really quickly because you just did it a few days ago. This makes cleaning a breeze. Plus you can put your eyes on the property and see what potential issues might be coming up....drippy faucets, loose handrails, noisy fridge, cracked windows, Etc. Fix them on your schedule before they become a middle-of-the-night emergency.

My experiences with long-term renters is that, even though they may be nice people with the best intentions, they will not keep the place nearly as clean, nor will they report little issues, even if they do notice them.

We have a strict 14 day max policy. No exceptions.

Then there is the money part of it. You make LOTS more. Our little cottage would rent for $1700 mo as a LTR. We make 2-3 times that as a STR. And in a much safer manner.

 I would reconsider if I were you. But you gotta be comfortable with the setup.

@Bruce Woodruff Thank you for the insight. Being able to keep tabs on cleanliness and repairs regularly is absolutely something that should be considered. I hadn't necessarily thought of long-term renters that way, that them being so comfortable in the space might lead to bigger issues down the line. I definitely understand now why you have the policy you do, and the larger income is a strong draw towards STR too.

There is no question in my mind that the longer someone stays in an apartment, the more likely there will be maintenance issues at the end of their stay. On the other hand, there is a LOT more work involved with short term rentals. My extended stay rentals are passive income. When I am renting by the night to vacationers, my income is not passive! In fact, I forego my vacations. And even when I find someone to manage my STR while I'm on vacation, I can count on something going south that I have to handle. I've never had to handle a problem while on vacation during an extended stay rental. I've never escaped having to handle a problem while on vacation during a short term rental. Maybe it is just a fluke that I've had these experiences but I now go to great lengths to ensure I avoid vacations during short term rental periods.

Oh and one other thing - in my market, I get a LOT more money for extended stay during the winter months than I would get on the STR market! In fact, the only reason I ever rent on the STR market is the enjoyment of being a host. The extra money I make during the summer months charging top dollar on the STR market is way too little to warrant the extra headaches if I did not enjoy hosting.

@Carolyn Fuller Thank you so much for that breakdown. From the outside looking in it's very difficult to get a feel for what the day-to-day requirements of these different options will be. It's great to get candid insight from someone who has done both. This is a very helpful look into the pros and cons of each. Thank you so much Carolyn!