Residents warned over renting rooms to tourists

Officials are clamping down on Cayman Islands residents who rent spare rooms to tourists using home-sharing websites such as Airbnb. 

Several people who used the website to advertise rooms for rent to tourists have taken down their listings after being told they need a license from the Hotel Licensing Board. 

The Department of Tourism confirmed that anyone who rents short-term accommodation of any kind must be licensed, inspected and pay relevant taxes and fees. 

One Cayman Islands resident said he had hosted several guests in his spare room by posting on the website, which he also used to find accommodation in other countries whenever he traveled. 

He said he stopped accepting tourists and took down his profile on the site after being told he had to meet licensing requirements, including property inspections from the Department of Environmental Health, fire department and the Hotel Licensing Board. 

“We were just doing it for a little bit of extra cash from a spare room. We made a lot of friends doing it and introduced them to Cayman. We didn’t realize we were doing anything wrong,” he said. 

Another user who had listed her home on Airbnb said she was warned by Immigration staff after her guests put her address on an Immigration arrival form. 

She said she had no idea a license was required for using Airbnb. The site promotes itself as a hub connecting travelers with hosts willing to offer them short-term accommodation, often in their own homes. 

A spokesperson for the Hotel Licensing Board said it has a responsibility to ensure all accommodations rented to visitors meet standards of cleanliness and safety. 

She said this applies to all properties, from single rooms and studio guest houses to multi-unit condos and hotels. 

“Accommodations that are promoted and being rented without an officially issued Tourism Accommodations License, which represents that all criteria have been met, will be contacted by the HLB Secretariat for inspection and compliance with the Tourism Law,” she added. 

Peter Huntingford, spokesman for Airbnb, said the website brings in additional tourists and could help boost the Cayman Islands economy. He suggested it is unrealistic to expect people hosting visitors in their homes to meet the same criteria as hotels and offered to work with tourism officials in Cayman to find a solution. 

“Airbnb is complementary to the existing tourism industry in the Cayman Islands,” he said. “Local hosts help to grow and diversify tourism beyond the regular hot spots, and spread economic benefits to new communities, families and small businesses. 

“But the rules currently being applied to home sharing in the Cayman Islands are complex and confusing. They were designed for a different industry in a different era and don’t fit this new activity.” 

He said policymakers around the world are implementing simple, modern rules for people who share their homes. 

New regulations in the U.K., France and parts of the U.S. have helped simplify the registration process and make it easier for people using Airbnb to pay taxes, he said. 

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  1. I agree with this. We need to have a total re-haul of the rules. Any time Cayman gets displayed on the international stage for any progressive issue, it’s an embarrassment. This time it’s for something as simple as Airbnb. Since we do not pay taxes, there should be a small fee based on length of time.

    Short term stay business will most likely complain this will take from their business and a chunk of their profits, but so what? This is what a free market (aka capitalism) is about. If you can’t compete with a small number of people renting their property for several days at a time, perhaps you shouldn’t be in the accommodation business.

    Besides, the people looking for accommodation on Airbnb probably won’t come to the island if they can’t find decently priced lodging anyway. So you’ll only serve to bring in more tourism.

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  2. I’m not sure why the government has to get involved with residents personal business. I was thinking of using Airbnb for a visit to the Caymans, now I’m not so sure. The whole point of an Airbnb is to get to know people on a more personal level and save a little money. The government feels threatened by losing a fraction of tourism revenue and they stick their nose in it. Not cool.

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  3. Sadly, this is a rather predictable CIG kneejerk reaction to the growing picture of high air arrivals and low hotel occupancy rates. When I last checked at least four major hotels on GC were having to heavily discount their room rates so it is probably fair to suggest that they have been doing a bit of pushing here.

    What the politicians and the hotel operators need to wake up to is the fact that home sharing (and it isn’t just spare rooms but whole condos that are being offered for holiday lets) brings a lot of money into these islands and properly managed it could bring in a lot more. Look at the state sanctioned Casa Particular system in Cuba, that has been operating very successfully for many years.

    If CIG and the hotel operators try kill off home sharing the visitors currently choosing this option will not, as I am sure is hoped, fill up the empty hotel rooms but will simply go somewhere else.

    The problem with DoT is that nobody there understands the world tourism market or the potential benefits of promoting home sharing and private holiday lets. You can build all the fancy hotels you want but at the end of the day it still will not bring in the budget conscious tourists who used to fill these islands 20 years ago or the money they used to spend amongst the local population.

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  4. ..meet standards of cleanliness and safety…Hah?

    This is from the trip advisor about one of the SMB hotels(2015): The public bathroom facilities were poorly maintained, dark and smelled terrible…the rooms had a musty stank(mold!!!!!) that would just not go away… the design team needs to address HVAC to better circulate air and get rid of that musty stank. Further, the cleaning staff needs to stay away from that nasty ammonia based cleaner that leaves a terrible odor behind that just never went away, almost as if it is trying to cover something up.

    Where is DOEH with its standards of cleanliness and safety?? Last time I checked mold causes cancer and its neurotoxins kill your brain cells.

    By the way I personally can’t walk into this hotel lobby without starting having severe reaction to its musty smell.

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  5. Move with the times Cayman and stop being left behind. Least we not forget the wedding dress fiasco on top of every other stone age restrictions in place here.

    embarrassment as usual with how the law makers of this island never seem to display any forethought.

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  6. Funny they hide behind the excuse of saying all accommodations rented to visitors must meet cleanliness and safety standards, but they don’t have any of these same standards for renting to residents.

    The great thing about the sharing economy is it takes care of things like cleanliness and safety in a democratic manner through reviews and recommendations. This is obviously about taxes, and once again Cayman is going to be behind the curve on the new economy.

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  7. New regulations in the U.K., France and parts of the U.S. have helped simplify the registration process and make it easier for people using Airbnb to pay taxes,

    Every single policy of the David Cameron government in the UK is being implemented in local form by the current CI government.

    This is only a local version of the ”benefit system” UK government tax on ”extra-room” space for home-owner benefits which UK homeowners are forced to accept, whether they need that benefit or not.

    The UK version cuts the home-owners benefits by the amount of that extra space that is not being used by the homeowner…effectively ”taxing” that space.

    And denying the home-owner any benefit of using their extra space in their homes for their own use…or profit…extra space being defined as any room that is not being continually occupied by a permanent resident of the home.

    How soon will we see David Cameron’s payroll tax regime implemented in the Cayman Islands ?

    At the rate things are going…it can’t be very long from now.

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  8. It sounds easy to get rid of "old fashioned" regulations in favor of this modern "sharing" economy. Except it’s not sharing at all. Merely a computer based vacation rental service.
    Lacking an income tax this country relies on a tourism tax. I’m sure every hotel and rental condo would love to ignore it. But they can’t.
    Should advertisers on airbnb be allowed to? Many airbnb offerings are for whole apartments and not spare rooms.
    In fact airbnb has caused a shortage of rental homes in Paris as people turn their apartments over to unregulated, untaxed tourist rentals.
    There could maybe be reduced regulations on rentals of a single spare room in an owner occupied house.

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  9. What about local short term residents at the bottom of the pay scale, earning $6 or $7 an hour. Many are forced to live in appalling "accommodation", what amounts to little more than wooden sheds, often with minimal facilities, and charged exorbitant rent by local landlords.How many of these ”properties" are inspected and licenced?.

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  10. @ Roger you have very valid point in your comment, since government is taking sides with the hotels to stop one from making a few bucks to help them with high mortgage that they are paying for their property, but other people are able to rent their property that don’t meet no standards and nothing said or done about this.

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  11. @ Roger Davies

    That is a very good comment. Immigration are supposed to be vetting accommodation used by work permit holders to ensure it is suitable and not overcrowded but are they actually doing it? Having visited a couple of places in the past where there were no proper facilities and the tenants were so packed in they were literally hot bunking I would say this is one rule for some and a completely different one for others.

    @ Norman Linton

    The tourism tax is pricing local hotels out of the regional holiday market. You cannot criticise home sharers when more than a few of the hotels are regularly dodging it either by recording arrivals as locals or simply not paying it. The whole system of quoting room rates then adding maybe 25 percent onto them in taxes and charges needs to be reviewed.

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  12. I think most commentators have missed the point.

    The Department of Tourism does a great job with rental units. Every year your unit is inspected to make sure it is up to standard. The Fire department comes and check all fire alarms and extinguishers and the Department of Environment makes sure the pool and garden is safe for visitors.

    Yes, The Government takes a 13% tourist tax but they do a lot of advertisement to get guests to visit the island and deserve the fee. Also, any unhappy Guest can complain to the Tourism Dept.

    The Government has no problem with AirBnB, all they are saying is that you still have to have your home inspected and pay your tourist tax.

    This is for everyone’s safety.

    Imagine what will happen if you rent out an unsafe room to a tourist and they burn to death because the fire department did not sign off on the accommodation.

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  13. @ Morne Botes

    I hate to be rude but you have no idea how this all works.

    Ask some of the smaller property owners about how badly they were treated by DoT after Ivan and you’ll find a definite agenda here. The harsh reality is that DoT regard the Casa Particular style of accommodation (and probably anything else smaller than a hotel) as down market and not worth encouraging so they will do everything they can to kill it off.

    As for the inspections? They are little more than a token gesture in many cases. I know one resort that continued (and probably continues) to get licenced despite the fact that many of the guest rooms have black mould growing on the walls and ceilings. My logic is if you own the property and possibly even live in it you will take far more care to ensure that nothing happens to it than employees might in a hotel.

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  14. Has the Uber App ride service shown up in Cayman yet ? The excrement is hitting the fan in Toronto with the local cabbies , technology is hear to stay now , and for sure people will find ways around the rules they are attempting to apply in this air bnb debate,

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  15. Again, Government trying to maintain standards? If a person coming to the Cayman Islands, read some of the comments on Trip Advisor, they would neither stay at a hotel property (except for the Ritz)or most condo properties! Maybe the way to go is the smaller vacation rentals, pay the little tax and be about the hospitality business on a smaller scale. People are looking for the personal touch, friendly faces and local people. If I want to meet all of the non-local staff then I will choose which of the moldy smelling properties I want to stay at! (According to some of the reviews, I am surprised the tourists make it out of Cayman!

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  16. I don’t think that commentators have missed the point.

    If DoT, DoEH and the Fire department were doing a great job with hotels, there would be few complains about cleanliness and safety. That particular hotel with the permanent musty odor would have been closed already. Instead it continues to ambush unsuspecting visitors year after year and advertise itself as a 4 stars hotel.

    I seriously doubt that property owners who do business with AirBnB rent out unsafe rooms where one can burn to death. Hotel visitors however do complain that windows and balcony doors can’t be open which is a fire safety violation.

    Unhappy AirBnB clients would complain to the AirBnb and the owner of the property may kiss goodbye to the future business with them. Unlike hotel guests that post reviews on TripAdvisor and only get a generic response from the management.

    I recommend DoEH reads visitors’ comments on the TripAdvisor and acts upon it as some hotels clearly don’t meet standards of cleanliness and safety. Including Fire safety. Visitors report the same issues again and again and nothing is being done.

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  17. If we take a look at our neighbor Cuba, Residents rent rooms to tourists and they are licensed with the government. As soon as you arrive; the next day the Cuban inspector is there to check that receipt book once you are staying at a private residence, how long you staying and the rate being paid. They also visit your living quarters and check on you too sometimes.
    I know there are many tourist who come to the Cayman island and express wanting to stay a while longer but because of the high cost of renting at the hotels, cut their visit short. Some of these people save for years to take a week vacation to the Caribbean.
    My thoughts are that, yes, there should not only be a license granted for these purposes but a monthly inspection done on places that continuously rent to over night or short term tourist. The true purpose is to make both Residents and visitors happy and contented.

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  18. On this I have to say that I kind of agree that if you want to rent out a portion of your home you should be required to go through the same process that anyone wanting to get into the rental business has to go through. As a short term rental owner you need to bear the costs of doing business such as T&B licensing, increase insurance costs as well as a 13 Percent accommodation tax on your rental income.

    If you’re just renting out a room to some friends or maybe family I guess it no biggie, but when you start advertising rooms for rent you’re running a rental business and you should be required to go through the correct process.

    I think the solution would be to come up with a different type of licensing for people who regularly rent out rooms. There’s all kind of concerns from liability to safety that need to be addressed.

    And no I don’t think it’s fair to those who are properly running rental businesses to allow people to run smaller versions such a s renting rooms on AirBNB with bearing the cost of doing business, However I would agree that it should be a lot cheaper.

    I am quite sure if you insurance company sees your property listed for rent on AirBNB they’ll raise your rates and treat you like a business and may even require you to get licensed. They may also deny any claim you make if someone gets hurt or burns your place down, so it’s in your best interest to cover your arsses if this is what you want to do.

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