As an Airbnb host, part of the job is having strangers constantly rotating through your front door. Although Airbnb does provide some peace of mind via guest verification requirements and host guarantees, the idea of opening up your home is still unnerving to most people. This is especially true if you don’t live on the property, and don’t have a way to directly monitor guest activity. Guests and hosts alike love the convenience of self check-in, but how do you balance that with the need for security?
The most effective way an Airbnb host can make their home safer is by installing security cameras. I am not referring to the creepy hidden bedroom cameras the news has highlighted recently, but simple exterior monitoring devices placed by you entrances.
After a horrible experience our first year of hosting (involving a meth lab in our basement) I was determined to find a way to make our home feel safe again. We have a Ring doorbell at every entrance to our three rental properties. Our personal residence is an Airbnb home share, so we have added an interior camera (also Ring) in the hallway next to the two private rooms. The cloud subscription for the Ring is $9/month, for an unlimited number of cameras with no contract or commitment, that you can easily self install. I got a quote from ADT for pretty much the same service, but with a hefty $450 install and $80/month for the next two years!
Why should an Airbnb host invest in security cameras? Here are 7 ways I have personally benefitted from having cameras.
The 7 Reasons Why Every Airbnb Host Should Have Exterior Security Cameras
1. Monitors adherence to house rules and provides evidence if they are broken
2. Is a deterrent for ill-intentioned guests
3. Prevents “no-shows” from requesting a refund
4. Peace of mind that guests have checked in successfully
5. Alerts you when guests check out so you can efficiently use your time between turnovers
6. Extra security for guests personal items
7. Catch criminals if they commit a robbery (why most normal people purchase the ring!)
Catch guests who break the rules
At some point during your tenure as an Airbnb host, you will have guests who break your house rules. Everything from smoking cigarettes on the property to sneaking in extra people or pets – some guests will knowingly break your house rules. When the time comes to file a claim in Airbnb’s resolution center, the burden of proof lies with you, the host. If a guest refuses to pay an extra cleaning fee for the labradoodle they snuck into your no-pets listing, it comes down to your word vs theirs. And your word means a LOT more when you have evidence to back it up. In fact, one of the first things the Airbnb service rep will ask for is proof. Speaking from experience, it’s really nice to be able to send a video showing your guest chain smoking in the doorway of your smoke-fee property.
When a guest breaks your house rules, this can cost you both time and money. With video proof, you can easily win any damage claims you make in the Airbnb resolution center. This means less time spent on the phone trying to make your case to an Airbnb service rep. We have won claims concerning extra guest fees, unauthorized pets, parties, late check outs, smoking, and illegal drug/alcohol use. Our security camera paid for itself with the first claim!
Acts as a Deterrent
Guests looking to make trouble usually don’t want to be caught. Airbnb requires you to list if you have surveillance equipment on your property, so people looking to book your house for a huge party will see that and look elsewhere.
As an example, a potential guest messaged me asking why we had exterior security cameras. I replied that the cameras helped ensure the safety of our property and our guests, as well as to ensure that our house rules were being followed (no parties, smoking, etc). She then wanted to know where exactly the security cameras were located, and what the consequences were if they happened to break any of the house rules.
That was a real quick denial! I don’t know what they were up to, but I am glad my security cameras discouraged them from booking. Hopefully the host they ended up booking with had good insurance.
Guests Trying to Scam a Refund
Some guests are sneaky, and some guests are cheap. One of the worst types of guest is when they are sneaky-cheap…like they think they can pull a fast one on a host.
Here is an example that happened to us just last week: one hour before check in on a Saturday night, a guest asks if they can cancel and get a refund. Our standard response to this is request is, “According to Airbnb’s cancellation policy, if you cancel within 24 hours of the check-in time, we are not required to refund you any of your payment. However, we do understand that things come up and plans change, so we are willing to compromise. If you decide to cancel and another guest books the space, we will refund you a portion of your original payment (depending on how much we have to discount the price to reflect a last minute booking). Please let me know what you decide – the sooner you cancel the greater likelihood that someone else will book the space!”
Without the promise of a full refund, suddenly their plans changed again and they would be arriving in a few hours. Not a peep out of them until Tuesday morning, when we received a request from the resolution center: “We arrived but the place was unclean and uncomfortable so we did not stay there.”
We refuse to pay, and tell Airbnb that the guest needs to show proof, as we are superhosts and have very few complaints on cleanliness. Airbnb agrees, and the guest sends pictures of stains on white towels. Although we usually use gray towels, how do we prove something isn’t ours? That’s where the security camera comes in. We asked Airbnb to have the guest verify what time they checked in, and sent Airbnb the security footage from that half hour window. There were no dirty towels, as they didn’t even set foot into the place. They just had a change of plans and didn’t want to pay a penalty.
In another case, a guest in a private room messaged us that she wanted a FULL refund because the sheets “weren’t clean” – she was so disgusted by them that her and her husband slept on top of the comforter. We told her very politely that if she was unsatisfied with her sheets, she should have let us know and we could have given her a new set. She tried to threaten us with a bad review, and said she would report us to Airbnb. We then told her about the hallway camera footage that clearly shows me walking in with clean folded sheets and walking out with dirty sheets, and we never heard from her again.
Peace of mind that guests have checked in successfully
One of the great things about having self check-in is that you don’t have to arrange to a key hand off. Traveling plans can change, people can run into traffic…the last thing I want to do with my night is be stuck waiting around for a guest to show up. Airbnb recently added a “guest checked in successfully” feature, but only a minimum number of people actually use it. Instead, the Ring sends my phone an alert when it detects the guests, and we can relax knowing that they have found the house without any issues.
Alerts you when guests check out
Turnovers are the most time consuming part of being an Airbnb host, especially if you handle all the action yourself. During the busy season, it’s not uncommon for us to have 8 turnovers to manage between the hours of 10 and 4. The hours between guests are a valuable time to do home maintenance, clean a bit deeper, restock consumables, and check that everything is functioning. When you see guests pack up their car to catch an early morning flight, you celebrate that you can put your morning to good use. Most guests don’t notify you when they have checked out, but your camera will. This allows you to make the most of your time between turnovers.
Extra security for guests personal items
Have you ever been stuck in a different city without your wallet? Or even worse, your passport? It’s not fun. Although having a camera doesn’t stop all crimes, it does deter criminals from breaking into your house and the cars on the property. Exterior security cameras will be a plus for the guests using Airbnb with good intentions!
Catch criminals if they commit a robbery (why most normal people purchase the ring!)
Normal people (AKA not Airbnb hosts), buy the Ring to protect their home from burglaries. I have always joked that our house is next to impossible to burglarize…there are so many people coming and going that a thief can’t rely on a predictable schedule.
Jokes on me, because that didn’t stop this guy….
and his friend from busting a few windows. Luckily the guests weren’t there (this is around 6 am, and they had just checked out), and there isn’t anything valuable in the house. They ran off with some power tools and it was about $700 to replace the basement windows.
After we filed our police report, the Ring company called and asked if they could share our video with the local media and other Ring owners around town in the hopes that he would be caught. Although he never was caught, having the video for some weird reason made me feel safer. Like I knew who was in the house, and now his face is out on a bunch of social media sites…I hope that he recognizes himself somewhere and so will think twice before deciding to B&E again! And I did get to be on TV, so that’s pretty great.
Additional Airbnb Security measures:
In addition to installing some cameras, there are other ways to help make your Airbnb more secure.
- Make your house rules airtight. Although you may think that guests doing illegal drugs in your rental is a given, that is not the case. It needs to be explicitly stated that all illegal activity is prohibited, including illegal drugs and underage drinking. Include anything in your house rules that you think might be an issue:
no smoking on the property, eating only in the kitchen, making sure the doors are locked upon leaving, no gatherings of more than X number of people, leave the house close to the way that you found it, and any prohibited areas of the property. We also spell out the penalties for breaking rules – fees for late check outs, extra cleaning fees for smoking, and unauthorized guests or pet charge. Include these house rules in both your written and electronic house guidebook, so the guests can’t say they never received them!
- Properly vet your guests. When in doubt, decline! We have our instant book set to only instantly accept guests who have been recommended by other hosts and have at least one good review. Check out this blog post if you want to know the nightmare-guest red flags.
- Invest in smoke and carbon monoxide detectors that go straight to your phone. In the event of a fire or emergency, you can be informed about what is going on with your property.
- Make sure your home is properly insured, and that your home owners policy covers short term rentals. If the Airbnb hosting guarantee falls through, having thorough home insurance coverage can save you.
- Use an electronic lock and change your code regularly. To make this as painless as possible, we keep the locks at our properties the same code and change them once a month. It’s helpful to use some combination of an important date and the current month. For example, if your birthday falls on the 15th of the month, the door code for August would be 0815, and in July it would be 0715. Either that, or pick out codes in advance for each month and write them down somewhere. Just change the codes at least once a month (although if someone wants to break in, they will just bust a window like the guy above!)
Crime happens in every neighborhood, and nothing we do can stop it completely. However, having a security camera does deter crime for both local criminals and potential Airbnb guests, and having the footage will help you tremendously when you have to file a claim through the Airbnb resolution center. We use the Ring because it’s cheap and easy, but there are so many options out there to try – you really can’t go wrong!
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