Guests who book stays through Airbnb and other short-term rental sites generally cannot sue the site for bedbug bites.
Most states, including California, have premises liability laws that require property owners and landlords to keep their property free of vermin.
But these laws apply only to people who own or control the property.
Why isn't Airbnb liable for bedbugs?
A property owner or landlord who knows his/her property has a bedbug infection must take reasonable steps to eradicate it.
But rental websites such as Airbnb do not own or control the properties listed on the site.
So in order to impose liability for bedbug bites on Airbnb, there must be some basis other than premises liability.
Contract liability is out. Airbnb's contract with property owners specifically excludes damages for bedbugs.
Nor does Airbnb have a policy requiring property owners to refund money to guests bitten by bedbugs.
What if Airbnb knew the property was infested with bedbugs?
So far there appear to be no court cases in which Airbnb was held liable for knowingly listing properties infested with bedbugs.
But if the site were to do so on a regular basis, it might be possible to sue under a state's public nuisance laws.
For instance, California's public nuisance laws allow people to sue for damages when:
- A defendant, by acting or failing to act, creates a condition that:
- Is harmful to health or
- Interferes with the comfortable enjoyment of property;
- The condition affects a substantial number of people at the same time;
- An ordinary person would be reasonably annoyed or disturbed by the condition;
- The seriousness of the harm outweighs the social utility of the defendant's conduct;
- The conduct is a substantial factor in causing harm to the plaintiff; and
- The harm suffered by the plaintiff is different from the harm suffered by the general public.
In general, however, public nuisance laws apply to the owners or operators of real property. So it is not clear whether courts would extend this obligation to someone who does directly own or control the property.