Asking 3 simple questions will help you avoid the ultimate AirBnB guest problem: being evicted because homestays are not allowed in that apartment.
Our AirBnB Eviction Story
As full time affordable luxury travelers we try to avoid using homestay services like AirBnB.
We save a lot of money and are able to afford much nicer lodging by finding short-term stay apartments or guest houses on our own.
That way we can also see a place before we commit.
So we do end up using homestay services like AirBnB, particularly during fast travel periods.
It’s a far more convenient and far less time-consuming way to get short-term rental apartment.
AirBnB Problem Warning Flag: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
In most places we have lived or visited, homestays like AirBnB are legal, but it’s up to each building to determine whether or not to allow it.
All over southeast Asia and even Australia we have encountered a bit of a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ approach to homestay services.
In Australia, Singapore and Malaysia we’ve rented flats in buildings that have large NO HOMESTAY signs. Or AirBnB logos with a cross through it.
In most cases, as the AirBnB renters we don’t know that the building has a no AirBnB policy or preference until we turn up at the flat.
Other times the homestay host will advise us to ‘be discreet’ or ask us to meet them near the building rather than at the building.
In these cases we assume we’ll see those signs when we arrive.
Staying in a building with those signs makes us uncomfortable but we generally just go with the flow.
And in buildings without staff present it has never been a problem.
AirBnB Problems in Buildings with Staff
We love living in Penang, Malaysia. We love slow traveling there. So much so that we extended our time in Penang. Twice.
Homestays are both very popular and very controversial in Penang.
A massive condo construction took place on Penang and especially in George Town over the past decade. So it was inevitable that some condos would be converted to homestays.
One look at this map tells the story (feel free to click on it to take a closer look):
What makes Penang somewhat unique, however, is their obsession with security guards. Nearly every building, every store, every mall, every everything has a security guard presence. And typically not just one, but several guards at every entry point.
So no one just comes and goes unnoticed. This make ‘being discreet’ a bit more difficult and awkward.
The first AirBnB we used in George Town, Penang was really lovely. And it had a huge and very nice pool where we were able to swim laps nearly every day.
There were no signs at that complex expressly forbidding homestays. But the host told us (when we met him at the hotel next door) that they were strongly discouraged.
So we should – what else – be discreet.
At first we were nervous passing the guards at the entrance to the complex and the guard at the desk in our specific building. But we got used to it. And by the end of our 10 nights there we were friendly and chatty with the guards.
Unfortunately, by the time we decided to extend our slow travel in Penang that AirBnB flat was no longer available. We had to move.
So we had found a flat a mile or so down the road in a building right between the two malls in Penang. It has a huge swimming pool where we could keep up our swimming routine. Perfect. Or so we thought!
AirBnB Problems: Gurney Park Condominiums
Other than the location and the swimming pool, Gurney Park Condominiums is nothing special. In fact, it’s pretty dilapidated. And downright run-down compared to the gleaming new complexes all around it.
We arrived and met the homestay host a block from the property (bad sign).
He drove us in under a sign that read ‘NO HOMESTAY’ (VERY bad sign!).
But the AirBnB host assured us that we were registered visitors.
If anyone asked, we were to just tell them we are his guests. He even gave us happy-looking green ‘Visitor’ cards we could show anyone who asked.
Lisa hated this. Her gut told her it was going to be a problem, but we went ahead with the rental anyway.
Things never go well when we ignore Lisa’s gut instincts.
AirBnB Eviction: It Was the Swimming Pool’s Fault
We moved in and then went to have some lunch at the mall.
After returning to the AirBnB flat and working for a bit we decided to head down to the pool for some laps.
When we got to the entrance to the pool there was a padlock on it and a sign that reads: “Please proceed to guard station for key to pool and kindly return key when finished using.”
So we went to the guard station at the front of the complex clad in bathing suits and towels and asked for the pool key.
The guard firmly said, ‘NO!’
Perplexed, we asked why not.
The guard said we would need to take it up with the building manager, whom he escorted us to see.
The manager was a tall, lean man who had the bearing of Colonel Saito from The Bridge on the River Kwai. He immediately started yelling at us! He said he strongly suspected that we were not guests of the flat owner but actually AirBnB guests.
He said that he had long suspected that the apartment was an AirBnB apartment because “the owner has too many American and Australian friends and relatives…and he is CHINESE LIKE ME!” (Yes, yes, that screws up my description of the guy…but you get my point).
He made it clear that while he could not kick us out, he did not believe us and we were not welcome.
And in any case, there was no way we were going to EVER have access to the swimming pool padlock key.
AirBnB Problems: The ‘Soft Eviction’
We returned to the flat and contacted the AirBnB host. He said he’d pop right over and get it sorted.
When he arrived at the apartment door 45 minutes later it looked as though Colonel Saito had put him through a ringer. He was pale and nervous. His eyes were glistening.
He apologized. He said we could stay. But that the pool would not be available to us.
We told him we no longer felt at all welcome in the building – particularly since we’d have to pass security guards glaring at us several times a day. And that the pool was a requirement for us in any case.
We told him we would have to move on the next day.
He seemed very, VERY relieved to see us go and graciously offered us a full refund for our intended stay including the only night we would spend in the flat.
The Happy Ending
We had been eyeing a different building and flat when we picked Gurney Park Condominiums: Sunrise @ Gurney.
So we contacted the owner of that flat and were able to move in the next day. It’s a bit further from the malls. And the swimming pool is a bit smaller.
But it’s also gorgeous and comes with a stunning view!
It’s also a duplex apartment. So it reminded us of our gorgeous condo we sold when we decided to become digital nomads.
Best of all, Sunrise @ Gurney has a very clear and open policy about allowing AirBnB stays!
3 Questions You Need to Ask to Avoid the Ultimate AirBnB Problem: Eviction
We keep telling each other that we do lead interesting lives. We live and we learn and we have experiences.
The best advice to keep this from happening to you is to ask the AirBnB host these 3 hard questions in advance:
- What are local regulations about AirBnB homestays? Homestays are legal in most jurisdictions but they are banned in a few. Typically the law punishes AirBnB hosts rather than guests but you don’t want to find yourself in that situation.
- Are homestays allowed at this property? Even though AirBnB stays may be legal, some buildings or properties have rules against them. This may not be a problem if the building is unstaffed. But it could lead to awkward situations and even an AirBnB eviction by building management.
- Are residents or managers in your building hostile to AirBnB homestayers? Even if AirBnB is legal and allowed in the building or property there are sometimes properties where residents or management is openly hostile to AirBnB guests.
If any of the AirBnB host’s answers make you nervous then be sure to follow up. Make it clear that you will demand a full refund and blast the host on AirBnB if there are any problems.
Bottom Line – Avoiding AirBnB Problems
In the end all it cost us was an extra moving day…but we got a free night lodging for our trouble.
Oh, and did I mention that this AirBnB eviction all happened on Lisa’s birthday!? Yeeeeah.
Next time we’ll ask the right questions and pay more attention to her gut instincts!
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