Reality hits Airbnb after user's home is vandalized, trashed

Summary:Airbnb has been on a wild ride of success in the last year. However, reality is settling in about the potential horrors one can face when renting out beds to strangers on one's own home.

Airbnb has been on a wild ride of success in the last year. However, reality is settling in about the potential horrors one can face when renting out beds to strangers on one's own home.

San Francisco resident "EJ" wrote on her personal travel blog about her recent experience of renting out her apartment while she was out and about on her own travels. And when you read her reasoning for putting an ad up on Airbnb for her apartment, it's not hard to see the motives for doing so:

It seemed silly to let a perfectly good apartment sit empty while I traveled, when there were so many visitors to San Francisco in need of a place to stay, who wanted to experience a city as I preferred to: in a local’s home, outside the tourist bubble of a hotel. Anyway I liked the idea of someone being there, looking after my thirsty houseplant, and of course the opportunity to earn some extra cash was more than appealing.

However, here's the motive for NOT doing so. The renter, coincidentally named "DJ," routinely sent friendly emails with thanks to EJ (don't get them confused) so she wouldn't get suspicious. But here's what was really going on:

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. They found my coupons for Bed Bath & Beyond and used the discount, along with my Mastercard, to shop online.

Don't even ask about what the kitchen looked like. EJ suspects that this was a well planned job, and that these weren't any "ordinary" criminals, based on the following excerpt:

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... probably while wearing my now-missing Ugg boots and Roots cap.

It should be noted, as EJ does, that Airbnb has responded. Although she wrote that "some basic screening and security measures must be instituted as soon as possible," she doesn't place the blame on Airbnb. Here's a snippet from Airbnb's CEO and co-founder Brian Chesky's response:

We were shocked when we heard about this unsettling event. We have been working closely with the authorities, and we want to reassure our community that, with the help of our security infrastructure, we were able to assist the police in their investigation, and we understand from authorities that a suspect is now in custody.

Since publishing the lengthy report, EJ's story has swirled around the blogosphere.

Just recently, I was singing praises to my friends about my own pleasant experiences with Airbnb when renting studios in Europe last year. I'm obviously not alone either as the startup has extensive coverage worldwide with new offices opening up abroad, including just recently in Germany.

On Tuesday, it was reported that Airbnb is worth roughly $1.3 billion after another round of fundraising that secured $112 million in venture capital. The Wall Street Journal also previously reported about the pre-bubble explosion-like atmosphere at the online rental agency's San Francisco office.

Naturally, as with any business, there are going to be some bad times and incidents where the product just doesn't work. And with a business that lets strangers into one's home, you're going to have to expect that something will go awry at some point.

As EJ points out, not all of the blame can be pinpointed on Airbnb as even she acknowledged that there was something amiss in the emails with DJ. (Nor did she ever meet the renter in person, but rather left "welcoming instructions on where to pick up the keys" to the front door.)

Airbnb has made the right move by acting swiftly to help out - even if it did take a reported "14 hours" for Airbnb employees to respond.

[via TechCrunch]

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Topics: iOS, Apps, iPhone, IT Employment, Laptops, Mobile OS, Printers, Smartphones, Start-Ups, Wi-Fi

About

Rachel King is a staff writer for CBS Interactive based in San Francisco, covering business and enterprise technology for ZDNet, CNET and SmartPlanet. She has previously worked for The Business Insider, FastCompany.com, CNN's San Francisco bureau and the U.S. Department of State. Rachel has also written for MainStreet.com, Irish Americ... Full Bio

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