A San Franciscan has posted a harrowing tale of a fraudulent Airbnb renter completely violating her apartment, identity, garments, momentos and other valuables. She no longer feels comfortable in her own home or clothes. And she says Airbnb should have done more to protect her.
When blogger and frequent traveler Emily J returned from three weeks of business travel, she found that the stranger to whom she had rented her apartment did quite a number on it. A "pungent odor" hit her first, then a seemingly endless series of stomach turning sights: rifled drawers, photos, documents and storage containers; a locked closet door with a hole smashed through it; shoes and clothes strewn about and worn; filthy soot covering all surfaces, thanks to sheets being burned in the fireplace with the flue closed; ruined, burnt out pots and pans and filthy piles of dishes in the kitchen; Comet powdered bleach dumped on the bed, kitchen counters, wood furniture and everywhere else; a "death smell" and mysterious crusty yellow substance in the bathroom. Her birth certificate and social security card had been found and apparently photocopied, using Emily's own printer/copier.
What was missing was nearly as disturbing as what was scattered; a Passport, credit card, cash and Emily's grandmother's jewelry were missing from the locked, smashed up closet; also missing were an external backup drive containing "my entire life," and an iPod, camera and old laptop; Ugg boots and a Roots cap. Also creepy was how the vandal emailed her repeatedly during his or her week long stay, "thanking me for being such a great host, for respecting his/her privacy, telling me how much he/she was enjoying my beautiful apartment bathed in sunlight."
Emily has been working with the San Francisco police — they reportedly have a suspect — and with her banks and the credit bureaus. She says she hasn't slept or eaten in days. Despite having the apartment cleaned and sterilized, she says she'll have to move out.
I can't use a water glass without thinking it was used by them. I can't put on a pair of underwear without picturing their filthy hands rifling around in my dresser drawers. I can't ever be comfortable here again... Perhaps similar to the feelings of a victim of rape, the hardest, and maybe saddest, part of this is the recognition that whoever disappeared with my grandmother's bracelets, my hard-earned dollars and pieces of my identity stole something else, something that cannot be replaced: they stole my spirit.
So why would someone rent their apartment out to a complete stranger over the internet without meeting the person, sight unseen? Especially when said renter apparently misspells his own supposed last name, calling himself "Dj Pattrson?" Well, Emily had no problem with other people she rented to via Craigslist, and a good experience using Airbnb as a renter. She good-naturedly wanted someone to be able to enjoy her place while she was gone. She was a "freelancer" who could use the money. And, though she doesn't blame Airbnb for what happened, she said the company makes it way too hard to screen guests:
On Craigslist, I am warned loudly and repeatedly that use of the site is at my own risk. I am encouraged to take certain precautions, and I have the ability to do so by gaining quick access to the email addresses, phone numbers, and other identifying information of the person(s) I am communicating with, all of which can be researched and at least somewhat verified by means of basic internet searches. Alternatively, airbnb.com tightly controls the communication between host and traveler, disallowing the exchange of personal contact information until the point in which a reservation is already confirmed and paid for. By hindering my ability to research the person who will rent my home, there is an implication that airbnb.com has already done the research for me, and has eliminated the investigative work that Craigslist requires. [Bold and italics from the original.]
Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said he was "shocked" by the incident and claimed Airbnb's "security infrastructure" was "able to assist the police in their investigation." But he didn't explain why Emily's call to Airbnb's "urgent" line was ignored for 14 hours, or why she was only able to get a call back after contacting a friend who happens to freelance for Airbnb. Nor did he explain why Airbnb doesn't allow customers to know anything about who they are renting to until money has been transferred (it's probably greed; Airbnb doesn't want you to be able to cut a deal away from the site, where it doesn't get a cut, so it screens out anything that would let you identify or otherwise contact the renter independently). But then Airbnb isn't much for openness or transparency; the company has yet to officially comment on its sleazy, disguised and quite possibly illegal Craigslist spam two months after it came to light and attracted widespread publicity.
Chesky can prattle on all he wants about holding "the safety of our community members as our highest priority," but the bottom line is he'd rather make a little more money by blocking his customers from being able to screen renters, and he'd rather save a little money on customer service than be able to answer calls to the "urgent" line inside of 14 hours. You'd think a guy trying to sell people on the idea of turning over their homes to strangers they meet on the internet would have invested more to prevent and respond to thievery and vandalism, but that sort of prudence won't put you on the fast track to a $1.3 billion valuation.
[Stock photo via Shutterstock]