Warning Clients About The Financial Dangers Of The Sharing Economy

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Home sharing in particular comes with risks; how to ensure clients don’t unknowingly put their finances at risk. Since many accountants also dabble in financial planning, or look for ways to develop referral networks among local insurance professionals, I thought this might be a topic that would be of interest.

According to a 2016 report by Pew, 72% of Americans have used some type of shared or on-demand online service. According to the same Pew report, 11% of adults have used a home-sharing platform.

As a result, you have probably have had clients come in with a 1099 from an on-demand service, such as for short-term vacation rentals like AirBnB and Home Away, ride-hailing apps like Uber or Lyft, shared office spaces like WeWork, short-term clothing rentals and more.

If your clients decide to share their secondary homes, unused apartments or vacation condos with the public, it will be increasingly important that they have sufficient insurance protection in place.

Why? Because many may overlook significant liability and property exposures and therefore unknowingly put their personal finances at risk. Fortunately, there are a number of strategies and risk mitigation best practices to help protect your clients.

Home Sharing 101

While there are pluses to sharing one’s home, it does come with risk.

Take the situation where your clients decide to rent out their mountain home in Aspen. During the stay, guests adjust the home’s temperature, causing a water pipe to rupture and flood the home. Is your client covered? The answer could depend.

The first step to answering that question is whether the home-sharing platform offers insurance to help protect the host. For example, some platform providers offer coverage — even up to $1 million — for damages to covered property. However, the insurance may still leave hosts with gaps in coverage.

Most notably, many losses will be settled at “actual cash value” instead of “replacement cost,” meaning that the amount your client receives from the claim payout may be considerably less than the amount it will cost to repair, restore or replace the item. Also, there are usually other exclusions in host protection insurance, including losses or damages to cash, securities, common areas and fine artwork, to name just a few.

Home-sharing platforms may offer hosts primary liability coverage of up to $1 million per occurrence in the event of third-party claims of bodily injury or property damage, but what happens if a guest causes a water damage loss in a multi-million dollar condominium high-rise? Your client could be exposed to costs in excess of the $1 million of coverage.

While the insurance industry is moving toward offering sharing economy coverage, today’s standard homeowners policies from many insurers generally exclude coverage for business-related risks or if a location is rented out regularly, including losses from theft of contents, accidental fire, an injury to a guest, or water damage, as in the above examples.

Your clients may incur significant out-of-pocket expenses and may not realize that they have this exposure, and even though they may be able to claim a significant portion of the loss as a casualty loss deduction on their annual tax return, I’m sure they would rather minimize their actual cost.

If your clients are considering sharing their properties, you should recommend that they consult with their insurance agents or brokers.

If your clients are considering sharing their properties, you should recommend that they consult with their insurance agents or brokers. Click To Tweet

For high-net-worth clients with multi-million dollar properties, the coverage provided by the home-sharing platform might not be sufficient.

If their agents or brokers deem that additional coverage is required, they can help work with their existing insurance carriers to determine whether their personal homeowners insurance policy covers losses caused by renters, or whether they would need to purchase a commercial business owners policy similar to those for hotels or bed and breakfasts. This type of policy may be necessary to fully protect a client.

Building A Home Sharing Risk Mitigation Plan

Having proper insurance protection is important, but helping your clients think through a holistic risk mitigation plan before they enter the sharing economy is the best way to protect against accidents, injuries or property damage.

Start by encouraging your clients to think like a hotel owner. For instance, most hotels are required to have fire evacuation information clearly posted in a hotel room, most often on the back of the door. While your clients are not bound to the same standard, you should advise them to consider similar processes before sharing their homes. How can people get out safely in the event of an emergency? Are exits clearly marked? Do their apartments have easily accessible fire escapes?

All of these matters relate to your clients financial well being, and while you are discussing these matters, you are developing a lead for your insurance agent friends in your referral network, and doing your clients a favor.

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