When a Sonoma Airbnb rental burned to the ground, the company’s slow-footed response left the homeowners without their home for more than sixteen months.

What happens when your Airbnb rental burns down while guests are staying there? Airbnb has a Host Guarantee that they claim provides “property damage protection of up to $1 million USD for every host and every listing — at no additional cost” because “we stand by our community.” But an NBC Bay Area investigation of a Sonoma house fire incident found that Airbnb is more likely to simply ignore your damage claims for more than a year, if not longer.  

The fire in question was in May 2017, when eight Airbnb guests were staying at a three-story house overlooking the Sonoma Valley. A fire broke out during their stay, burning to the house to ground, but fortunately everyone involved made it out okay. NBC Bay Area obtained audio of their 911 call, which is not particularly graphic or disturbing.

What is disturbing is Airbnb’s response — or lack thereof.

The Sonoma Valley Fire and Rescue fire marshal's report noted non-code electrical work had been done on some wiring near a deck on the house, and two of the guests admitted they’d been smoking on that deck roughly an hour before the fire. The report noted “It was possible that one of them threw cigarette butts over the deck railing or dropped some on [the] deck.” The cause was ultimately "undetermined," but nonetheless, the place was completely burned down.

A contractor’s estimate to rebuild the house pegged costs at $1.8 million. The homeowners, who are remaining anonymous and have certain non-disclosure agreement issues, say that their regular property insurance paid out $600,000. But the million-dollar Airbnb insurance was a different story.

Consumer attorney Robert Tauler told NBC Bay Area, "They don't just write checks for a million bucks without kicking the tires, for sure."

Except that Airbnb did not even kick the tires. When the couple filed their insurance claim with the company, Airbnb failed to respond for an entire sixteen months, despite repeated and obviously increasingly desperate requests from the couple. It was not until NBC Bay Area contacted Airbnb and informed them they were doing television news segment on this saga, at which point they did quickly did settle the case with the couple.

How they settled it, we do not know. The couple was forced to sign a non-disclosure agreement, which indicates a check was cut. They simply told NBC Bay Area, "the story is as we informed you before, and we are tremendously grateful for your help."

We can infer a happy (or at least not completely demoralizing) ending to this story. But it brings up obvious insurance issues for homeowners, and also for renters who Airbnb out their domiciles. You might want to get explicit advice from your property or rental insurance provider on the terms of your coverage when your place is rented out, because if something terrible happens, Airbnb might not honor your insurance claims unless you get a television news crew to investigate them.

Related: Airbnb CEO Rented Out His Own Unregistered Airbnb [SFist]