Local residents who rent rooms say they offer unique way to stay

| Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, 9:00 p.m.

Whose car is that with the out-of-state plates, parked in the cul-de-sac?

Don't recognize the men in the backyard next door?

They might not be the neighbor's relatives visiting for the holidays.

They could be people who booked a spare bedroom, sofa or futon in your neighbor's house for the night.

Suburban residents are listing their unused spaces on such websites as Airbnb.com and HomeAway.com, welcoming travelers who otherwise might go to hotels or traditional bed and breakfasts.

While renters and hosts say the websites help fill vacant space and cure hotel phobia, public officials and owners of traditional lodging counter that there are laws to follow.

Or there should be.

“We can be a leader,” said Ed Menzer who owns Parador Inn in the North Side. “I would like to see Allegheny County come up with a comprehensive regulation banning this practice.”

Menzer also wants to make sure that collection of the county's 7 percent occupancy tax is uniformly enforced.

Overnight accommodations in homes can be found in municipalities that include Upper St. Clair, Crafton, McCandless, Oakmont, Homestead and Wilkinsburg.

On Airbnb, established in 2008, prices range from $35 per night for Bruce Conley's spare room in Mars to $125 for a master suite in Moon.

Samantha Gaiser first used Airbnb to stay when she traveled to New York City.

“I don't like hotel rooms. They freak me out,” said Gaiser, 25, of Bellevue. “And this is a way to meet new people from different places and to make new friends that you otherwise would have never encountered.”

Gaiser, a hairstylist, said she enjoyed the experience and now has her own ad, renting out a spare room in her Bellevue apartment for $55 per night.

She said that before staying in a home she finds on Airnb, she checks reviews of the hosts that have been posted by other guests.

Airbnb, which collects 6 percent to 12 percent of bookings as a commission, supplies safety tips that include recommending renters check out hosts to determine if they are providing “their real name, clear photographs and a full description” of their properties.

The websites disclaim overall responsibility. However, some cover property liability. Airnb covers hosts with up to $1 million in insurance for property damage.

Conley, 69, said he found out about Airbnb while researching a trip to the Philippines about a year ago

“I really did not think anybody would want to stay with me in Mars, but I got a booking about three days later and he stayed for 10 days,” Conley said. “And I have a guy with me now who has been here for about month-and-a-half, job-hunting. I have had to turn people away because I am booked.”

Conley, who owns a computer business, said he offers his guests amenities hotels don't.

“They have use of a big TV, laundry facilities and my fridge. They can talk to me if they want to, and they are not going home to an empty motel.”

Bob Pader, 40, of Emsworth recently began to post rooms on HomeAway.com, which was established in 2006. The site charges a fee for each listing.

Last month, Pader offered one of his recently remodeled Crafton apartments for $150 per night and quickly received more than 150 inquiries.

For now, he has a seven-night minimum but said he might lower it because people want to rent for one or two nights.

“I've stayed at a lot of hotels in a lot of cities traveling for work. Hotel rooms get old. And most corporate apartments have Formica counters. I wanted this to feel more like a home,” Pader said, noting that his apartment has leather couches, Sleep Number beds, tin ceilings and other features.

“It is a good opportunity. There is a need for corporate housing and short-term rentals. And look at what I am offering,” Pader said. “It is a much better deal than the Sheraton.”

Dan Sleva is a freelance writer.

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