Lawyers are warning about the dangers of people listing their places on accommodation websites after Airbnb was named in a report on a meth haul worth $235 million last Friday.

Tim Jones, a barrister, New Zealand Law Society board member and on the Body Corporate Chairs Group committee, and Auckland District Law Society immediate past president Joanna Pidgeon both warned about possible Airbnb drawbacks.

"It's an underlying risk for the whole Airbnb concept," Jones said of the potential for criminals to rent places and Pidgeon encouraged people to make their own investigations of potential guests before renting.

Both lawyers issued particularly pointed warnings at those who own apartments.

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Pidgeon said apartment owners should be careful and warned those thinking of renting their homes on Airbnb to "personally" check out prospective guests before agreeing to a booking.

Barrister Tim Jones, worried about Airbnb. Photo / Dean Purcell.
Barrister Tim Jones, worried about Airbnb. Photo / Dean Purcell.

Police and customs investigators said on Friday that international criminals were using Airbnb and local storage units to establish huge New Zealand drug trafficking rackets.

One of those arrested gave his address as being on Auckland's waterfront on Quay St in a group of apartments above retail outlets.

Detective Superintendent Greg Williams said on Friday that the 469kg of meth seized in a shipment from Thailand was roughly half New Zealand's total yearly consumption of the drug.

Customs makes half ton Meth bust

Posted by nzherald.co.nz on Thursday, 5 September 2019

That was the biggest New Zealand Customs methamphetamine seizure and Williams said on Friday that some crime syndicates wanted to use short-term accommodation providers for their drug businesses

Bruce Berry, Customs investigations manager, said nine properties which were all residential except for one or two commercial had been the targets in an operation on Thursday night.

People renting out Airbnb or similar properties should "be aware of the risks" of accommodating drug traffickers, Williams said on Friday. He said warning signs might include people who insisted on paying cash and staying for unusually long times.

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An Airbnb spokeswoman said the company had '' absolutely zero tolerance'' for illegal drugs and it took recent reports extremely seriously.

''Our strict policies ban anyone found to be affiliated with a dangerous organisation from being on our platform. We have a global team who work hard to support local law enforcement and their investigations.''

She said to help protect its community from fraud and other security issues, it prohibits offline or cash payments.

''We urge our hosts to be alert and we encourage them to notify us if they see something suspicious, like a guest asking to pay a host offline or in cash,'' the spokeswoman said.

Joanna Pidgeon: check out social media profiles of Airbnb guests. Photo / supplied
Joanna Pidgeon: check out social media profiles of Airbnb guests. Photo / supplied

Jones warned New Zealand property owners to exercise caution before listing their places.

"Be a bit sceptical, suspicious, have the courage to say no if you think something's not right. There are a number of apartment buildings that will not have Airbnbs and while you can't ban it in a building because of provisions in the Unit Titles Act 2010, you can put in place rules that deter people," Jones said.

Pidgeon said Airbnb continued to be an issue of concern for body corporates, with some seeking an outright ban, and others trying to control the impacts on a building.

"For owners who are seeking to rent their apartments out on Airbnb, the first step would be to check body corporate operational rules and to see whether they are permitted or not. In some complexes, they may be able to be banned outright because of planning controls and resource consents but for other bodies corporate it may not be as straight forward. In those cases many bodies corporate usually seek to implement rules which try to reduce the possible bad effects of Airbnb," she said.

Owners needed to think about protections from renting to a criminal.

"While Airbnb has a system for screening guests, ultimately you are renting your home or investment property to a total stranger. If you were renting out your apartment for a long term tenant you would get references and carry out some vetting, so why would this not be the case for a short term occupant?" she asked.

Customs' biggest methamphetamine seizure inside a shipment of electric motors. Photo / Customs
Customs' biggest methamphetamine seizure inside a shipment of electric motors. Photo / Customs

"Personally check them out before you decide to accept the booking as ultimately it is up to you whether you let them stay. Read their profile and check their reviews if any. You could also try to find them on social media as that is sometimes interesting. If they have no profile that may or may not be suspicious. Ultimately, trust your gut instinct, and if their booking does not sound right, decline it," she advised.

Getting the right insurance and considering whether to personally greet a guest rather than using a lockbox or similar were other tips.

"If as an owner you are suspicious, contact the police. Ultimately as there is usually less direct personal management oversight with Airbnb than commercial accommodation, so it is easy to see how it can be more attractive to the criminal element. By taking some of these steps, bodies corporate and owners can try to prevent unwittingly being caught up in criminal activity," Pidgeon said.

In June, a study from Stats NZ found home-sharing now accounts for nearly one in five guest nights in New Zealand.

The Accommodation and the sharing economy in New Zealand report found home-sharing accounted for more than 8.8 million guest nights or 18 per cent of total guest nights in 2018, up from 8 per cent in 2013.

The report also estimated home sharing's contribution to gross output tripled from $100 million in 2013 to more than $300 million last year.