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

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.

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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, IT Employment, Start-Ups, Smartphones, Printers, Mobile OS, Laptops, iPhone, Wi-Fi

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24 comments
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  • RE: Reality hits Airbnb after user's home is vandalized, trashed

    I really can't fathom that many stupid people in the world to make this company worth 1.3 billion dollars.

    Think people, your giving people a week to go thru everything you own, not to mention all the personal info like bank statements, investment funds, digital data and everything else they need to steal you blind.

    Your home is not a vacation condo, or a summer cottage where you just take what you need for the short time your their. Rent that out not your home.

    I guess PT Barnum was right when he said "Their is a sucker born every second"
    darkside6966
    • RE: Reality hits Airbnb after user's home is vandalized, trashed

      @darkside6966@... You posted everything I wanted to say. If this is worth $1.3 billion dollars, I've got a half-dozen trillion-dollar ideas lying around. :-)
      jgm2
    • Well said !!!

      @darkside6966@... Letting complete strangers into your home while you are away on travel is completely stupid. <br><br>The ad by itself is an invitation to rob your house. It is like a sign on the window saying: "Hey!! Nobody will be in this house for X amount of time. The keys are under the flower pot. Please do as you please ... I won't be here".
      wackoae
    • RE: I guess PT Barnum was right when he said.....

      @darkside6966@...

      <u>Absolutely!!</u>

      What I would say about <b>anyone</b> who would rent out their <b>residence</b> while on a vacation; is that they are:

      <b>R</b>eally
      <b>F</b>-----g
      <b>D</b>umb!!!

      This is about as bad as some tw@t on tw@tter telling the entire world <b>when and where</b> they are going on vacation; amounting to begging to be robbed. Again, RFD!

      Christ, people, use some common sense!
      fatman65535
  • RE: Reality hits Airbnb after user's home is vandalized, trashed

    What would be different from putting an ad in the paper or renting out a room through a real estate agent? Plenty more tales of mayhem from either of these methods.

    Move along folks nothing to see here ;-)
    tonymcs1
    • Your drunk.

      @tonymcs@...

      First of all, who said that "putting an ad in the paper" is a better way to go? Secondly, one would hope that if you arrange to rent out your place through a real estate agent you have a little more personal contact with the agent who is assisting you and hopefully they have some security checks in place, but I wouldn't even advocate for that.

      I think the message from many here is clear. Its not a good idea to rent your private home full of your personal belongings out to what amounts to a perfect stranger, under any circumstance.

      This seems to me to be such a common sense concern that without some exceptional circumstances it is very difficult to see how some company has made itself worth 1.3 billion dollars doing just that.
      Cayble
      • RE: Reality hits Airbnb after user's home is vandalized, trashed

        @Cayble You forgot to mention that if you rent a room you are still there, not off on vacation. Sure you have to go to work or leave the house at least from time to time but you would have at least been able to meet and spend some time with the person first.
        non-biased
  • Message has been deleted.

    cheapnorthface
  • RE: Reality hits Airbnb after user's home is vandalized, trashed

    I can't understand how someone would be open to renting out their *personal* space to others. Your home is your home. Not a cottage for others to stay in.
    The one and only, Cylon Centurion
    • RE: Reality hits Airbnb after user's home is vandalized, trashed

      @Cylon Centurion I know there is no way I am going to rent my home out to strangers, I am not even sure I would want to stay in some strangers place to save some money on my trip.
      non-biased
  • RE: Reality hits Airbnb after user's home is vandalized, trashed

    A little money makes people do dumb things, just like this.
    80% of the people will steal from you if they know they will not get caught, and the other 20 will rip you off every time no matter what.
    surfnschultz
    • RE: Reality hits Airbnb after user's home is vandalized, trashed

      @surfnschultz@... I challenge those statistics. What a cynical view. Which are you? Will you steal from me only if you think you can get away with it, or will you steal from me regardless?
      omb00900
      • RE: Reality hits Airbnb after user's home is vandalized, trashed

        @omb00900@... I don't think it's 80% but the percentage is probably depressingly high. Ever heard the old saying that locks are meant to keep honest men honest.
        non-biased
  • RE: Reality hits Airbnb after user's home is vandalized, trashed

    DERP!
    How did a service like this become so valuable? Jeez... talk about naievete...
    jmwells21
  • Responsibility is with Airbnb

    Airbnb orchestrates the rental, renter trashes place, Airbnb is held contractually responsible for any and all damage/theft that results. Failure to comply results in criminal lawsuit with Airbnb. Short and sweet. If said location owner didn't care about researching this prior to loss, then it's her problem. ....And the Beat Goes On....
    OaklawnRick
  • RE: Reality hits Airbnb after user's home is vandalized, trashed

    Duh...
    aussiedawg
  • This is reporting?

    The reporting on this story is really sloppy, making me wonder if maybe it's all just a scam, or future urban legend. Where is the statement from the SFPD? Why hasn't EJ been heard from since the original posts? Things on the web are seldom what they seem, and it doesn't help when bloggers don't bother asking questions.
    redlami
    • re: This is reporting?

      @redlami I'm not sure what is going on with these blogs. How hard would it be to attempt to contact "Emily J" or get a statement from the SFPD or even do the equivalent of two minutes of research to verify the story. Like um, for example, there aren't many places in SF that are both old and also have skylights. Probably wouldn't be difficult to track down the property if one wasn't so swept up in the feeding frenzy. I agree with Redlami, most of these blogs are filled with sloppy writing and nothing but a forum for people who have even less informed opinions on the matter to let conjecture get the better of them.

      http://redlami.wordpress.com/2011/07/28/airbnb-horror-story-scoop-or-scam/
      snarkysmachine
    • RE: Reality hits Airbnb after user's home is vandalized, trashed

      @redlami

      It is not just on ZDNet that reporting is getting sloppy. It is rife in the whole industry now.
      mejohnsn
  • RE: Reality hits Airbnb after user's home is vandalized, trashed

    It never ceases to amaze me how quickly the response space for stuff like this fills up with "blame the victim".

    In hindsight, it doesn't much surprise me that the "online community" is security paranoid and socially retarded, but really - I see nothing wrong in people leveraging their assets for their own benefit. It is a percentage game. If you were told that 100% of the time, you would make $1000 "found money", and 1% of those times, you would undergo a lot of inconvenience, what would your decision be? I have seen people "spin the wheel" for far worse odds than that.

    The only thing I would advocate is getting a safety deposit box/trusted relative or friend for all your important papers.
    dimonic