This last week we’ve all watched in horror as the story unfolded about an Airbnb user who had her home ransacked a month ago.
Other than the sideshow of us getting dragged into the story, it seemed to be winding down yesterday. The company appears to be bending over backwards to compensate the victim and avoid another of her blog posts where she writes about how scared she is, still homeless and shaken after the ordeal.
Now another victim has come forward.
Troy Dayton first wrote about how his Oakland home was rented by a meth addict with a stolen identity in a comment to one of our posts about the company. I contacted Troy and we spoke by phone today about what happened. His situation is very similar to EJ’s.
Here’s Troy’s original comment:
Something very similar happened to me about 2 months ago.
In addition to valuables stolen, the thieves/addicts did thousands of dollars of bizarre damage to my rented home and left it littered with meth pipes. They were identity thieves, too and all my personal information was strewn about. Further investigation of my own led me to evidence that the people were not just thieves but were also dangerous. I too, feared for my own safety and would not stay at my house for some time.
I had a similar problem with haphazard communication from people at AirBnB. I gave them multiple opportunities to make me a happy customer to which they did but then retracted their offer after their was miscommunication among the team. Sometimes days went by without hearing from anyone, while I was fear-stricken, totally disoriented, and angry. It was almost the most absurd customer service crisis one could ever imagine. But I am one squeaky wheel, and we eventually found an agreeable solution that I was generally pleased with.
I have since both rented my place out and stayed in others’ homes from airbnb.
Here’s what I learned: if you rent out your home, there is a limit to how much AIrbnb can do to protect you. It’s not their fault, but it is their fault that they up-play how much they protect you and downplay what people should do to protect themselves. At the end of the day you are renting to a stranger. You should check there ID’s and phone numbers to make sure they match. I would ask for a link to a social networking site like linkedin, FB, or couchsurfing if there are not credible testimonials on AirBnb. I would chat with them on the phone prior to agreeing to rent to them. Had I done these things, the people that ruined my house would have never made it in.
Also, go with your gut. My gut said something wasn’t right about the people that rented my place, but I didn’t know how to handle that gut feeling and wasn’t sure how airbnb would have treated me or them had I told them I didn’t want them to stay even after they booked it.
Here’s a way Airb’nb can turn this into another revenue stream: Most rental insurance won’t cover this because you are essentially subletting. If major theft and damage is as rare as Air bnb says it is, which I believe is true, then they should be able to get a great insurance policy tailored just for their customers that they can sell for an additional fee to the renters.
Also, as short-term renting like a hotel becomes more common and other websites move in on Airbnb they are going to need more value to justify their very high fees, perhaps insurance and background checks would be a great addition. Of course, if I was the insurance company, I’d require the owners of the property being rented to double check the ID’s of the people checking in to be sure that the background checks are actually for the people checking in.
At the end of the day, I think AirBnb is well-intentioned but I think they are struggling with such fast growth and the management and communication systems have not scaled as fast as their business. Some PR and customer service nightmares are to be expected. My understanding is that they are hiring as fast as they can…but having been a part of teams of 20 somethings that multiply by orders of magnitude in a few months I can attest to the mayhem that surrounds this process. I hope they make dealing with catastrophic problems like the ones EJ and I experienced a top priority.
By phone today Troy told me about how the woman brought in friends to his home. They went through everything he owned, he said. “There were meth pipes everywhere,” he says, and damage to the bathroom and closet doors caused by, he guesses, a human foot or head, and probably an axe. They stole a computer from him as well as small amounts of cash that he left in the apartment. Any electronic device with a light they took apart (he guesses they were paranoid about being monitored). They unscrewed everything in his refrigerator and mixed things together. They stole his clothes, or shredded them. He found a sweater in the freezer.
They also stole his birth certificate, and left evidence behind that they were running a identity theft operation.
When they finally left the apartment, they left more than meth pipes behind. “They also left a cat” says Troy. He eventually got the cat back to the original owner
I then traded the cat for the return of my keys. The owner of the cat was a friend of the girl who rented the place’s boyfriend and had no idea about anything or how his cat wound up in a trashed apartment in Oakland.
A knife was left behind with a man’s name written on it in whiteout. The police said he was a known person, and dangerous.
Troy didn’t feel safe returning to his home. He contacted Airbnb as soon as he discovered what happened. There was one surreal moment, he said. He finally tracked down an emergency email address – email@example.com, but when he emailed it autoresponded with a message to email the email address he just emailed.
From: Airbnb Community Support
Date: Fri, Apr 22, 2011 at 11:43 PM
Subject: Request received: Emergency Situation: tenants ruined my apartment and stole things
To: Troy Dayton
– Please respond above this line. –
Thanks for contacting Airbnb community support!
Your request (#124683) has been received, and is being reviewed by our support staff. Please note that, due to an overwhelming number of inquiries, our responses may be delayed. Thank you for your patience.
If this is an absolute emergency, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get back to you as quickly as possible.
The Airbnb Team
———- Forwarded message ———-
From: Troy Dayton
Subject: people ruined my apartment and stole stuff
please call me asap [phone number redacted]
He says “This freaked me out when I was frazzled. Hundreds of millions in venture financing, millions of dollars in fees, and no 24-hour help desk for emergencies? What am I paying them the exorbitant fees for?”
He did finally talk to someone at Airbnb. At first he asked for $1,000 and new birth certificates, which were stolen. They never responded to that:
“In the end, $1000 dollars and the return of my birth certificate would make me whole in this situation. Anything you can do to help that be the outcome would be greatly appreciated.” Interestingly no one from AIrBnb ever addressed that request.
He then asked for a month of free nights at Airbnb. They eventually said yes, as long as he kept it to studios and one bedroom places. But they gave him no instructions. He started booking places, but they then told him he could only book places at the same cost as his apartment. They eventually reimbursed him for the places he already stayed at but cancelled future bookings. In the end they allowed him 21 days, and up to $125/night.
They also said they’d cancel future bookings at Troy’s home, but failed to actually do that, he said, causing more confusion.
Remarkably, Troy was happy with that. He doesn’t think the company owed him money for damages because he thinks it’s his own fault for letting the woman in.
Troy also still uses Airbnb. He insists on seeing identification, though, and doesn’t rent to people with new profiles without pictures. He thinks Airbnb should post more suggestions on its site about how to avoid bad renters, and they shouldn’t promise so much. “The reason they’re able to charge these high fees is becuase they lull people into a sense of false security. If they disclosed that, people would just use Craigslist.”
In the last few days Airbnb has suggested that nothing like EJ’s situation has happened before. A typical quote:
With a single booking, one person’s malicious actions victimized our host and undermined what had been – for 2 million nights – a case study demonstrating that people are fundamentally good.
Most of us read that as saying that this is the first time something like this has happened. As I read it again, though I see how it doesn’t say that. It’s carefully worded to suggest these things never happen, but it doesn’t outright say it.
What’s really hurting Airbnb is all this massaging of statements to victims and the press. With both EJ and Troy the company seemed to express lots of empathy, but negotiated hard and delayed on any actual compensation.
I haven’t contacted Airbnb about this new story since they dispute what they told me on record for the last story. If they have anything to say, I’m happy to post it. Just send it to me in writing, please.
Here are pictures Troy sent me of some of the damage. I don’t know why, but what I really want to see is the sweater in the freezer, and the cat.
The first pic is the holes made to the closet doors.
Second pic is the axe slash that split a major portion of the bathroom door
third pic is the kitchen they trashed which show that they had started
packing up all my food, presumably to take with them. It also shows my
personal files strewn about.
4th pic is of a meth pipe