Renter Nation: Tips for Owners and Renters

PHOTO: Airbnb.com connects homeowners to "guests" who pay a fee for a short-term stay in a home.
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There's a new American Dream, and although it may include a white picket fence, it's not homeownership.

In the wake of the housing bubble and the recession, more and more Americans are abandoning this traditional goal in favor of renting. The digital age has ushered in a new mentality of collaborative consumption that hinges on the idea that you don't have to own to have access to a lovely home or a great car.

Two popular websites, airbnb.com and RelayRides.com, are capitalizing on the new "sharing economy." Airbnb.com connects homeowners to "guests" who pay a fee for a short-term stay in a spare room or an entire home, while relayrides.com connects car owners with people who want to rent a set of wheels at a potentially lower rate than a traditional car rental company might offer.

But before you join the movement, be sure you've done your homework. Mellody Hobson, president of Ariel Investments and ABC News contributor, offers these tips for "Nightline" viewers:

Tips for Owners:

1. Make sure it's legal: Don't list your apartment if you don't own it or clear it (in writing) with your landlord first. It more than likely violates your lease agreement.

2. The tax man cometh: Be sure you understand the tax implications of your earnings. Airbnb helps report owners' federal income to the IRS but leaves the onus on owners to report any income to local/city tax officials. If the amount of money you earn from sharing your car is greater than $600 in a calendar year, you will receive a Form 1099 from RelayRides for that year.

3.Stranger danger: In addition to having a stranger in your home or car, be sure to consider hidden costs -- additional users mean added wear and tear on your home or your car.

4. Understand your liability: Talk to your insurance company and understand the details of your coverage before you list your home or your car. Airbnb offers their hosts a $1 million "guarantee" for property damage, but it doesn't cover personal liability, jewelry, collectibles or rare artwork. Be sure you know your risk if someone is injured in your home. Likewise, you should carefully weigh your risk before lending your car. Renting your car could violate the terms of your car insurance and cost you your policy. Relayrides offers a $1 million policy for owners, but claims from one fatal case still in court may exceed that limit.

5. Keep one eye open: Renting your home could violate zoning laws, and many cities have laws forbidding short-term rentals. Furthermore, the hotel industry is not taking the new "sharing economy" lying down and is working to ensure these laws are enforced. As a consequence, some airbnb "superhosts" may find themselves using their newfound income toward litigation fees.

Tips for Renters:

1. Do the math: If you rent a car frequently enough, you might actually save more money owning—and have unlimited access to your car. Be sure to do a thorough cost/benefit analysis if you're a frequent renter.

2. Be informed: Again, understand your insurance coverage. Relayrides insures for physical damage (up to the value of the car) and liability protection (up to $300,000) during your rental.

3. Accept the unknown: Both airbnb and relayrides depend on user reviews to weed out bad eggs, but this doesn't protect the borrower from a bad experience. In the case of relayrides, owners can only list cars that are model year 2000 or newer with fewer than 120,000 miles, and owners are required to make sure their cars meet all legal requirements for vehicle safety, condition and operations. That said, the soccer mom may service her car more thoroughly and more often than the cash-strapped graduate student.

Tune into "Nightline" tonight at 11:35 p.m. ET/PT to watch Mellody Hobson's full report

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