Global Airbnb website has more than 1,000 NZ listings, from spare rooms or a shed to luxurious guest suites

Kiwis are increasingly subletting their spare rooms, refurbished sheds and even the odd couch to strangers hoping to discover a new place.

Hundreds and thousands of people have signed up to Airbnb, a company and website that let people rent out lodgings of all sorts around the world.

Established in 2008, it has listings from thousands of cities in more than 190 countries, including New Zealand.

On the site yesterday, there were more than a thousand listings from Northland to Invercargill.

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Auckland couple Yann Lellouche and Renee Miller have rented out their spare room to about 30 guests since they signed up last September.

Mr Lellouche said they offered the room for $54 a night and for them it was not about the money but the experience.

"I've been travelling for many years and so I was looking around for ideas to give back.

"I heard about Airbnb and just thought I'd give it a chance - it's helping backpackers but also giving us a unique experience."

For many others, however, it is about the money.

Prices for rooms and spaces - from luxurious guest suites in Rotorua to a refurbished shed in the Coromandel - varied from around $60 to almost $400 a night for a house in the Manawatu.

Hospitality NZ acknowledged that although it was nice to see more people, particularly tourists, checking out local destinations, the site had led to issues with those in the accommodation industry.

Chief executive Bruce Robertson said it had become unfair competition.

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"Our concern about it is that they don't have to comply with the same regulations that the commercial sector do - in terms of payment of rates, food regulations, fire safety and so on.

"We're concerned that the commercial sector's being eroded by a sector which is effectively competing unfairly because they're not subject to those restraints."

Mr Robertson had not personally received any feedback from business owners but said other issues had been raised with authorities.

"While accommodation businesses are paying commercial rates, somebody renting out their couch is not," he said.

"But they're deriving income from it - and so questions have to be raised. Are they paying tax on that?"

Under the Residential Tenancies Act 1986, a tenant may sublet or assign the tenancy but only with their landlord's knowledge.

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The act states tenants must gain their landlord's written permission and a landlord cannot withhold permission unreasonably - unless subletting is totally prohibited in a previous agreement.

Mr Robertson also raised issues around safety and making sure that people on both sides were looked after properly.

Calls to a number of backpackers facilities in central Auckland and Christchurch found the majority had heard about the website only a few times, and were not worried about losing business.


How to stay safe

If you're a host, check out a user's profile at Airbnb.com, which includes reviews and rating scores. You can also private-message other users who have hosted a user in the past and who can give you an insight.

Tenant: Go through a host's profile and read their reviews from other tenants.

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Hosts: Never accept someone you may not feel comfortable with. The site now allows you to ask for verified ID before booking a tenant.

Room at their little inn for travellers

Renee Miller and Yann Lellouche say they love entertaining their guests.
Renee Miller and Yann Lellouche say they love entertaining their guests.

Being young backpackers in a new country and knowing the struggles they face inspired one Auckland couple to open up their home to others.

Yann Lellouche, originally from France, and his American girlfriend, Renee Miller, have lived in their two-bedroom flat in Freemans Bay since last September.

When they moved in, so too did their first guest - who turned out to be one of about 30 people they have hosted through the Airbnb website.

The couple rent out their second room for $54 a night but Mr Lellouche insists it's not about the money. He and his partner have travelled extensively and simply wanted to give back to travellers - as others had done for them.

"We get people who look to be backpacking around but are probably past the age and don't really feel like being in a big dorm with a lot of people," Mr Lellouche said. "They're looking for a little more comfort - but still cheap."

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Most people stay for three to five nights; one person stayed for five weeks.

Mr Lellouche said they had never had fears for their safety because the Airbnb website was an organised company and they always made sure to read reviews.

Although many of their guests already had plans when they arrived, they often took them out to dinner and introduced them to their own friends.

"We really enjoy having a moment with them; maybe it's having a wine and dinner together or we take them to Ponsonby for dinners. Sometimes we invite our friends over and we just talk.

"For me, it's really to host people - that's what I love about it."