Airbnb, a startup company that links travelers seeking a more homey place to stay with hosts willing to rent their homes, is trying to make amends after one woman’s home was destroyed by a renter.
This week, TechCrunch came across a blog post written in late June by a woman detailing the most horrid destruction of her apartment by a person she rented her home to via the relatively new global accommodation site Airbnb. The company, which launched in 2008 and has grown quickly, acts as the intermediary between guests and hosts and keeps contact information private until a space is booked. In the meantime, two parties trying to do business together can chat using direct messaging on the Airbnb website and read reviews left by those who have completed transactions with the guest or the host. It’s free to list a home, and Airbnb takes a commission of 3% to cover the cost of processing payments.
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All of this seemed acceptable to the woman, who goes by “EJ” on her blog. She describes herself as a San Francisco-based freelancer who travels a lot, so when she learned that she could make money by renting her apartment while she was out of town, EJ thought it was a great deal. Unfortunately, in her case, it was not. Though she admits to having some initial doubts about the person she was planning to rent her apartment to because of “odd” conversations on Airbnb’s website, EJ completed the transaction. When Airbnb sent EJ her guest’s contact info, it revealed an oddly named “Dj Pattrson” with the email address firstname.lastname@example.org.
While she was away and the perpetrator in her home, EJ received pleasant emails from the guest thanking her for the great accommodations. But upon her return home, EJ found her house in complete shambles:
“They smashed a hole through a locked closet door, and found the passport, cash, credit card and grandmother’s jewelry I had hidden inside. They took my camera, my iPod, an old laptop, and my external backup drive filled with photos, journals… my entire life. They found my birth certificate and social security card, which I believe they photocopied — using the printer/copier I kindly left out for my guests’ use. They rifled through all my drawers, wore my shoes and clothes, and left my clothing crumpled up in a pile of wet, mildewing towels on the closet floor.”
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Other parts of the apartment were not left unscathed:
“The kitchen was a disaster — the sink piled high with filthy dishes, pots and pans burnt out and ruined. Comet Cleanser was dumped everywhere; the kitchen counters, wood furniture, my gorgeous new bed frame, my desk, my printer… all were doused in powdered bleach. The death-like smell emanating from the bathroom was frightening (and still is) and the bathroom sink was caked with a crusty yellow substance.”
And as if that weren’t enough, the vandal decided to try to redecorate:
“They did weird stuff too: moving things around in a spooky, psychotic kind of way — creepy little things that I am still discovering as I dig through the wreckage — like cutting the tags off my pillows, and hanging a painting of Paris on the wall that I had never hung before…”
EJ writes in her post that Airbnb has expressed “empathy, support, and genuine concern for my welfare. They have offered to help me recover emotionally and financially.” In a guest article for TechCrunch, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky recounted his horror after learning about the situation and mentions that a suspect is in San Francisco Police custody. He goes on to detail ways that his company is working to ensure that a similar situation does not occur again, including creating a Trust & Safety department, enhancing tools to verify user profiles and — what would probably be of most use to EJ at this point — offering insurance options to hosts.
In the blog post EJ says that she plans to leave the apartment because she can no longer live there peacefully. But she also recommends that Airbnb institute a 24-hour customer service line because she initially had to wait 14 hours to hear back from them.