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July 29, 2011 8:42 AM   Subscribe

When EJ was called out of town for work, she decided to use couchsurfing site AirBnB to rent her home out for the week. She took care to lock up her valuables (money, passport, iPod, grandmother's jewelry) in a closet. She came home to find her tenants had systematically looted & trashed the place. They got to the closet through a hole they made in the wall & even cut the tags off her pillows. AirBnB has made sympathetic statements but EJ remains devastated.
posted by scalefree (132 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
*Yawn* Seems like, if anything, this makes AirBnB look good. It's not like AirBnB gave the victim the cold shoulder, and at least this is rare enough that when it happens, it noteworthy. In other news, people get burglarized and robbed every day without using AirBnB.
posted by mullingitover at 8:48 AM on July 29, 2011


Yeah, my heart goes out to her, but I'm not sure how this is particularly newsworthy. Things like this are bound to happen when enough people allow strangers into their home. It's not particularly creepy or weird (even the pillow-tag cutting). It's just random shittiness, and it is really shitty.
posted by OmieWise at 8:50 AM on July 29, 2011


Did you miss the part where they went from being supportive to being totally uncommunicative, while their company founders attempt to persuade her to take her blog down and post a "happy twist" instead?

AirBnB fails at this for not having it at the top of their corporate page.
posted by odinsdream at 8:51 AM on July 29, 2011 [17 favorites]


I've been following this unfold over at hacker news and initially I just didn't see how AirBnB could be blamed. However if EJ's latest allegations about Airbnb founder Brian Chesky lies are true, then I've lost a lot of respect for them. Here's some of the more serious allegations:
And since June 30? On this same day, I received a personal call from one of the co-founders of Airbnb. We had a lengthy conversation, in which he indicated having knowledge of the (previously mentioned) person who had been apprehended by the police, but that he could not discuss the details or these previous cases with me, as the investigation was ongoing. He then addressed his concerns about my blog post, and the potentially negative impact it could have on his company’s growth and current round of funding. During this call and in messages thereafter, he requested that I shut down the blog altogether or limit its access, and a few weeks later, suggested that I update the blog with a “twist" of good news so as to “complete[s] the story”.
If this is true, it's pretty fucked up and as shitty as customer service can be. Fuck fuckity fuck, AirBnB is supposed to be this cool startup but already they are resorting to EvilBigCo tactics.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 8:51 AM on July 29, 2011 [11 favorites]


Is AirBnB encouraging people to rent out their places without being present, and implying that going through them gives some kind of trustworthiness?
posted by smackfu at 8:51 AM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


mullingitover: "Seems like, if anything, this makes AirBnB look good."

I don't think it does. The company seems to be encouraging people to rent out their homes while providing no warning that they do not have a system in place to vet applicants. Plus (assuming it's true) the whole fuckery with trying to make her change her story so they no longer look bad is just... slimy.
posted by zarq at 8:54 AM on July 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


Is AirBnB encouraging people to rent out their places without being present, and implying that going through them gives some kind of trustworthiness?

Yes, that is their business.
posted by fremen at 8:55 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wait...something went wrong with the "invite complete strangers to stay in your home" plan?
posted by Legomancer at 8:55 AM on July 29, 2011 [51 favorites]


but that he could not discuss the details or these previous cases with me, as the investigation was ongoing.

He's not the police. That's nonsense.
posted by 1adam12 at 8:55 AM on July 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is probably just my own insecurities talking, but I can't remotely imagine how to harbor up the trust required to rent out my still-living-here apartment to total strangers. Am I paranoid or is this just a Bad Idea?

Also, how does any company in the age of the Internet think they even have a chance with "hey, maybe you should take down that thing that makes us look terrible, or make us look good, because, you know, we're friends! Buddies, right? Yeah!"
posted by griphus at 8:56 AM on July 29, 2011 [9 favorites]


I've been following this unfold over at hacker news and initially I just didn't see how AirBnB could be blamed. However if EJ's latest allegations about Airbnb founder Brian Chesky lies are true, then I've lost a lot of respect for them.

I read 'hacker news' the same way I read the NYTimes Styles sections, for the pleasure i feel in experiencing contempt for the people involved.

Being a fanboy for a videogame is one thing, a fanboy for a gadget another, but fanboys for start-ups/investment swindles is quite another thing altogether.
posted by ennui.bz at 8:57 AM on July 29, 2011 [10 favorites]


How does she not know the gender of the person who rented her place? How did she get him/her the keys?

We rented a condo via AirBnB and the owner met us personally when we arrived. He made copies of our drivers licenses. All his personal items were in drawers "locked" with cable ties. Certainly we could have broken in just by using a scissors, but his method kept the honest people honest and avoided the destruction of his furniture if someone really wanted to get in.

It's just inconceivable to me that she left this stuff laying around. Take some basic precautions.

Again, WHY would you give your keys to someone you'd never met? Someone you'd never even spoken with on the phone?
posted by desjardins at 8:57 AM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


(On the other hand, she would do well to ask for a nice, fat chunk of that round of funding and tell them she'll see what happens.)
posted by griphus at 8:57 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's just inconceivable to me that she left this stuff laying around. Take some basic precautions.

From the post: "She took care to lock up her valuables (money, passport, iPod, grandmother's jewelry) in a closet. She came home to find her tenants had systematically looted & trashed the place. They got to the closet through a hole they made in the wall & even cut the tags off her pillows."
posted by smackfu at 9:00 AM on July 29, 2011 [10 favorites]


odinsdream: "Did you miss the part where they went from being supportive to being totally uncommunicative, while their company founders attempt to persuade her to take her blog down and post a "happy twist" instead?"

Oh snap, I did miss that part.

On the one hand, that does make them look kinda douchey. On the other hand, as an officer of the company it's literally his duty to his investors to minimize the damage that this does to the company, especially when they're going for further funding.
posted by mullingitover at 9:01 AM on July 29, 2011


griphus: "This is probably just my own insecurities talking, but I can't remotely imagine how to harbor up the trust required to rent out my still-living-here apartment to total strangers. Am I paranoid or is this just a Bad Idea?"

It's a bad idea. But the company has a proven track record and launched a very effective marketing campaign last year. So people are trusting.
posted by zarq at 9:01 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can't believe that AirBnB makes money off of this service. As well I am amazed that people would let a stranger into their home when they are away. I guess I'm just a paranoid misanthrope but I worry about my house when nobody is home and it's locked up. Inviting a stranger to live there while I was gone? That's fucking insane.
posted by Splunge at 9:02 AM on July 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


It's just inconceivable to me that she left this stuff laying around. Take some basic precautions.

Did you miss the part where they smashed open the locked closet door where she had secured her valuables?
posted by octothorpe at 9:02 AM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I read 'hacker news' the same way I read the NYTimes Styles sections, for the pleasure i feel in experiencing contempt for the people involved.

Being a fanboy for a videogame is one thing, a fanboy for a gadget another, but fanboys for start-ups/investment swindles is quite another thing altogether.


HN has a broad mix of developers, entrepreneurs, small business owners and students and the forum covers an even wider selection of topics ranging from programming languages to self-improvement and running your own businesses. Calling these people fanboys interested in swindles is just plain narrow-mindedness. That's like saying that Mefi is a bunch of elitist hipsters discussing cats and tumblr blogs.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 9:03 AM on July 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


Fair enough, smackfu. I still don't understand why she wouldn't bother to confirm the person's identity.

I don't understand why this is AirnBnB's fault, either, any more than it would be Craigslist's.

I am not saying it is her fault. I just find her actions incomprehensible.
posted by desjardins at 9:03 AM on July 29, 2011


Metafilter: a bunch of elitist hipsters discussing cats and tumblr blogs
posted by desjardins at 9:04 AM on July 29, 2011 [17 favorites]


mullingitover: " On the one hand, that does make them look kinda douchey. On the other hand, as an officer of the company it's literally his duty to his investors to minimize the damage that this does to the company, especially when they're going for further funding."

His duty to his investors is to provide exemplary customer service, admit there's a flaw, fix it and move on. It is not to cover up his company's mistakes, because it's possible that others will exploit whatever flaws exist in his system to copy what happened.

His responsibility to his investors is to improve his product so he's not responsible (indirectly or directly) for connecting thieves with victims. Do no evil, etc.
posted by zarq at 9:04 AM on July 29, 2011 [12 favorites]


On the other hand, as an officer of the company it's literally his duty to his investors to minimize the damage that this does to the company, especially when they're going for further funding.

I suppose we differ on the correct method to "minimize damages" then. If it were my company, I'd post it prominently on the front page and try to handle it as professionally and transparently as possible. I would tell investors that this proves to be less damaging than dealing with not only the original problem, but also potential blowback if the company is seen to be less than 100% transparent.
posted by odinsdream at 9:05 AM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


They need to offer to replace her stuff, give her travel credit, and write a lengthy blog post linked to their homepage about what happened and announce a vetting system that they are developing in order to prevent it so it never happens again. "AirBnB strives to be the safest and most credible couch-surfing site on the net - here is how we plan to do it."

When the fuck are companies going to understand that transparency is good for their brand? Can't they give their audience - which let's be real, are mostly internet-savvy young people - a modicum of credit?
posted by windbox at 9:05 AM on July 29, 2011 [24 favorites]


As well I am amazed that people would let a stranger into their home when they are away. I guess I'm just a paranoid misanthrope but I worry about my house when nobody is home and it's locked up. Inviting a stranger to live there while I was gone? That's fucking insane.

It's not really that unusual though, if you think about it. For instance, renting a house down by the shore for a week, or VRBO (vacation rentals by owner), or trading a timeshare. All susceptible to a renter who trashes the place.
posted by smackfu at 9:06 AM on July 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


I've used AirBnB with great success in the past. I've recommended them on MeFi and I even applied for a job there.

However, if EJ's account is accurate, they're certainly not the most savvy business people.

I may use them when travelling again, but I'm a traveller and not a host--after this story I doubt I'll ever be.
posted by dobbs at 9:06 AM on July 29, 2011


It's a bad idea. But the company has a proven track record and launched a very effective marketing campaign last year. So people are trusting.

effective marketing, you say? They admitted that it was the fault of a few bad apples, but the first thing that comes to my mind when you say airbnb and marketing is the craigslist spam debacle.
posted by kaytwo at 9:06 AM on July 29, 2011


It's just inconceivable to me that she left this stuff laying around. Take some basic precautions.

You have obviously not even bothered to skim her description of the break-in.
posted by odinsdream at 9:07 AM on July 29, 2011 [14 favorites]


I'm disappointed that AirBnB hasn't responded better, but I'm more shocked that they didn't have a response team already in place to respond to something like this.

It was going to happen eventually — if you're looking to build a billion-dollar company, how do you not at least put contingency plans in place for this kind of thing?
posted by o2b at 9:07 AM on July 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


I are renting an apartment in San Francisco next week for a few days via AirBnB. The person I'm renting from seems great, but I'm really hoping that they don't freak out and cancel my stay as a result of this story.
posted by oulipian at 9:07 AM on July 29, 2011


Yeah, it's not that unusual at all. CouchSurfing has been doing this for years and they don't even charge the parties involved. Maybe what AirBnB needs is a better reputation system and some kind of insurance system.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 9:08 AM on July 29, 2011


smackfu: "As well I am amazed that people would let a stranger into their home when they are away. I guess I'm just a paranoid misanthrope but I worry about my house when nobody is home and it's locked up. Inviting a stranger to live there while I was gone? That's fucking insane.

It's not really that unusual though, if you think about it. For instance, renting a house down by the shore for a week, or VRBO (vacation rentals by owner), or trading a timeshare. All susceptible to a renter who trashes the place.
"

I don't know much about this kind of stuff, but don't rentals like that get all of the renter's info as well as deposits toward cleaning?
posted by Splunge at 9:09 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wouldn't a hidden cam in her place have solved the problem? (Not being snarky...they're pretty cheap now, right?)
posted by Melismata at 9:09 AM on July 29, 2011


Wouldn't a hidden cam in her place have solved the problem? (Not being snarky...they're pretty cheap now, right?)

Thanks, now I have a good reason not to use AirBnB as a renter either.
posted by smackfu at 9:12 AM on July 29, 2011 [14 favorites]


I can't believe that AirBnB makes money off of this service. As well I am amazed that people would let a stranger into their home when they are away.

Does AirBNB make money or just raise capital? She's not just letting strangers into her home, she's doing it for money... on all sides it's about money and what people will/won't do for it. Rip off a house, rip off investors...

HN has a broad mix of developers, entrepreneurs, small business owners and students and the forum covers an even wider selection of topics ranging from programming languages to self-improvement and running your own businesses.

Some of the technical discussions are informative. But when the topic turns to anything non-business the callowness of the users shines through. But that's to be expected since the dominant ambition is the ol' start-up-to-buy-out burning-man millionaire.

People who want to be instant millionaires and their fans.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:12 AM on July 29, 2011


I guess I'm just a paranoid misanthrope but I worry about my house when nobody is home and it's locked up.

Nah. I'm definitely not a paranoid misanthrope and I feel the exact same way.

or VRBO (vacation rentals by owner), or trading a timeshare. All susceptible to a renter who trashes the place.

Sure, but owners of vacation rentals aren't going to have their passports, Social Security cards, grandmother's jewelry, etc. onsite, even in a locked closet.
posted by scody at 9:13 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Doing the background check is the service AirBnB supposedly provides.

Where does it ever say that on their site? As a renter, we were never asked for info beyond our name, address, and credit card number. If someone was doing a check on me I would have liked to have been told (and I'm sure it's a legal requirement that they DO tell me). They make no claims about vetting people other than their credit card has the requisite funds.
posted by desjardins at 9:14 AM on July 29, 2011


So what service do they actually provide other than provide listings?
posted by kmz at 9:16 AM on July 29, 2011


Does AirBNB make money or just raise capital?

What? Of course they make money. What other possible reason would they have for doing what they're doing and why would anyone give them capital if they didn't expect them to make money?!
posted by dobbs at 9:17 AM on July 29, 2011


[Bunch of comments removed, please let's skip the rape-argument-by-analogical-proxy thing.]
posted by cortex at 9:17 AM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


So what service do they actually provide other than provide listings?

They are only taking 6-12% of the rental charge, so it's really just working as a broker here.
posted by smackfu at 9:18 AM on July 29, 2011


So what service do they actually provide other than provide listings?

video.
posted by dobbs at 9:19 AM on July 29, 2011


wow, renting your home to strangers might not be a good idea. But what a trusting person, i hope she gets her stuff back.
posted by clavdivs at 9:19 AM on July 29, 2011


I'm really surprised at AirBnB's extremely poor response to this. If I were looking for funding I would not be making false statements about this case and asking someone to take down their blog in order to cover my ass.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:19 AM on July 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


My wife and I did an apartment-rental-agency thing when we went to England last year, with kind of the reverse problem: the place was messy, the toilet broken, the shower semi-busted, full of somebody else's clothing (billed as a "clean, empty apartment for business travellers", but in reality a place with a permanent tenant who would couch-surf for a week and do this when she needed some cash), and the tenant -- who did meet us when we got there -- left us with two wrong phone numbers to contact her if something went wrong. The next day, the shower literally blew open, and we spent 12 hours baling the rapidly flooding bathroom while trying to find an emergency plumber in London.

The company in question -- New York Habitat -- jumped on the situation with both feet, and we were reimbursed for the plumber and the rent paid to date by the apartment owner.

But -- and this is the central point -- we were vetted to the gills before the rental agreement went through. We paid 25% of the deposit fee in advance, and the company needed -- I don't remember what exactly, but I felt very confident that there was a fairly ironclad system for making sure they knew exactly who was renting, and how to track us down if something went horribly wrong. Faxing some photo ID, a casher's check for the deposit, etc.

So the weirdest thing to me is that the agency in question doesn't seem to know who was renting.
posted by Shepherd at 9:20 AM on July 29, 2011 [15 favorites]


Being a fanboy for a videogame is one thing, a fanboy for a gadget another, but fanboys for start-ups/investment swindles is quite another thing altogether.

It used to be quite a lot better, way more focused on technology and with a lot more technically savvy contributors. Unfortunately a lot of it is now links to 300 word blog posts with linkbait titles.
posted by atrazine at 9:20 AM on July 29, 2011


Wow, how horrible that must be. :(

My wife and I are considering taking six months to a year off and spend some of that time in another country. We were planning on renting our house out to help cover the costs or even better trying for a house swap with another family. Are there services that set this kind of thing up out there?

And do they help convince people to come up to northern Canada?
posted by ODiV at 9:24 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I read 'hacker news' the same way I read the NYTimes Styles sections, for the pleasure i feel in experiencing contempt for the people involved.

I read this comment in the same way I read most Metafilter comments, to gain insight and enjoy thoughtful discussion.

But this time I was let down.
posted by kingbenny at 9:24 AM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I couchsurf, and have hosted couchsurfers via the only way I know how.

It's been 90% great, 10% awkward, 0% dangerous/scary.. because I took precautions and had pre-arranged 'outs'. It sounds like she didn't leave herself any 'outs' here. No people checking in, no vetting, etc etc.

This whole 'renting to strangers via a glorified paypal+facebook interface' startup seems very much like something I would never do or would only do with some SERIOUS vetting of people incoming to rent.

The outcome should have been something she was ready to deal with. It's a life choice. By couchsurfing I'm gaining certain things at the expense of others (like, some would say, security). This situation is no different. It sucks, and AirBnB should follow whatever regulations/promises they make in their terms of use.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:25 AM on July 29, 2011


What really fucking surprised me was that AirBnB didn't seem to have a response plan for this very situation all laid out: it sound it was very rocky at first for her.

If I had started an AirBnB-like business, this would be my single biggest worry - a criminal abusing the system, and the horrible PR fallout. I would have a response plan that I tabletopped with my team on at least a monthly basis from day one.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 9:26 AM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've used AirBnB as a traveler and I have a few friends who use it fairly often to rent out rooms in their place. There are some checks in place, but they're mostly reputation-based stuff [hosts and renters are reviewed, but you don't have to pick the places that are reviewed]. You are welcome to not rent your place to anyone, for whatever reason. A lot of people request at least that you have a profile up, but that profile doesn't include your last name and you can provide as much or as little personal information as you want there. Some people are more clearly real humans than others, of that makes sense.

Things go badly in every business transaction from time to time. However when you're someone who parlays the social stuff as much as AirBnB does, you're likely to get a badly public blow-up if something goes wrong which is what this looks like. The guy who rented her place wasn't just a bad renter, where opinions could vary, he was a criminal. There are laws in place for dealing with criminals and they are being enforced. AirBnB's got good damage control for some things [if you're stranded somewhere because your host flaked out they have a system in place for it] but not for something like this.

My hope is that they use this as a starting point to beef up some of their back end stuff so that they do have more procedures in place both for vetting the people who use the system [other than just having a credit card number which is really basically nothing] and having better response systems in place. She's just a person, it sort of makes sense that she's freak out. They are a business and should be doing better at this because statistically it was likely to happen at some point. And as bad situations with strangers sharing space goes, this was not as bad at other scenarios I could envision.
posted by jessamyn at 9:29 AM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


What? Of course they make money. What other possible reason would they have for doing what they're doing and why would anyone give them capital if they didn't expect them to make money?!

Were you not alive in 1999?

If I had started an AirBnB-like business, this would be my single biggest worry...

Actually, if you read HN you'd know your single biggest worry was getting beaten to the VC cash trough...

I guess it's the last reamining part of the American dream, which everyone still believes in harder than ever: getting something for nothing.
posted by ennui.bz at 9:32 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is there some legal loophole here, or do standard rental laws apply? As in, if they've caught the guy who did this, won't he be held financially responsible?

I mean.. I get that in the meantime this woman will need to get on with her life, but wouldn't she in theory get recouped her losses? (financially, anyway)
posted by kingbenny at 9:32 AM on July 29, 2011


desjardins, if you actually read EJ's two posts on the robbery, you'll see that the victim specifically says that she wishes she had done more to check the renter's identity, but that due to her travel schedule and AirBnB's prohibition on users exchanging personal information before a reservation is made, she actually was not able to get contact information on the person who was to rent her place until after she had already left (and she says she had arranged for the keys to be picked up in her absence).

She also notes that in the past she rented out another apartment of hers multiple times without incident over Craigslist, and says that when she was using Craigslist, she was much more careful about confirming IDs and checking backgrounds ahead of time. She admits her mistake was assuming that AirBnB was vetting renters in some way -- she was under the mistaken impression that this vetting was essentially what they were charging her for.
posted by BlueJae at 9:33 AM on July 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


I mean.. I get that in the meantime this woman will need to get on with her life, but wouldn't she in theory get recouped her losses? (financially, anyway)

You can't get blood from a stone.
posted by smackfu at 9:35 AM on July 29, 2011


AirBnB's prohibition on users exchanging personal information before a reservation is made

That sounds completely insane to me. What is the upside to a policy like this?

(Count me as someone who can't imagine renting out our flat to total strangers. We have friends who do a regular-ish house swap - their place in San Francisco for someone else's place in Tuscany or something - but it's done via VRBO, I think, and they've been swapping with the same people for some years now.)
posted by rtha at 9:36 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


That sounds completely insane to me. What is the upside to a policy like this?

The owner can't cut AirBnB out of the equation by offering a discount if the rent is paid in cash up front. Some tutoring websites work on the same principle.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:38 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


griphus: This is probably just my own insecurities talking, but I can't remotely imagine how to harbor up the trust required to rent out my still-living-here apartment to total strangers. Am I paranoid or is this just a Bad Idea?

My friends were planning on visiting San Francisco, coming together from various places and meeting for a long weekend. We looked at hotels, but one friend checked Craigslist for short-term rentals. She found a great place from a single mom who needed some extra money to cover rent that month. We met the lady on her way out, and she left the apartment pretty much as if she had cleaned it for guests. We were amazed by her trust, but treated it like our home for the weekend. We paid her a bit extra, because it was such a deal for us (compared to hotels in the area), and because we wanted to thank her for being so open with us. She was surprised and happy to get a bit more for the long weekend, and offered her place to us if we wanted to come by again.

She didn't have any extra precautions, beyond emailing us a bunch ahead of time, and talking with us at her place when we got there. Trust like that is fantastic, but rotten individuals ruin it for everyone else. In that fantastic weekend, I was reminded of my mom's stories of her college summers - hitch-hiking around with friends, sleeping in a hearse (it was someone's car, no longer property of a funeral home), meeting interesting people, and having a lot of fun. But trust like that is gone, replaced by fear of worst-case scenarios.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:41 AM on July 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


AirBnB's prohibition on users exchanging personal information before a reservation is made

That sounds completely insane to me. What is the upside to a policy like this?


I was thinking it would decrease the chances for identity theft online.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:42 AM on July 29, 2011


AirBnB's prohibition on users exchanging personal information before a reservation is made

Have people here actually used AirBnB? I have always exchanged phone numbers with people and looked folks up on facebook and otherwise before I've stayed with them. They have some clunky maneuvers in place to keep you from sending someone to your website and/or end-running their system but the problems she is describing (and I sympathize entirely but I think this is turning into a she sad v they said situation) have a lot more to do with the last-minute nature of how this all went down (the request and the subsequent reservation) more than the system AirBnB has in place.

That said, I'm one of the trusting dorks that this sort of thing will probably happen to eventually. I have a couchsurfer coming to my house tomorrow who may get here before I get back. He's got a common enough name but I found him on facebook and I know where he goes to school and that we have a mutual friend. If he turns out to be a sociopath, I'm in some trouble. But you're always at risk when you encounter sociopaths.

I hope the weird transparent nature of the web gives us some follow-up both on how AirBnB deals with this and what the hell was really going on here in the first place. Like was the guy on a drug binge or just nuts or did he havr friends over or what was the story. I mean I get that some people are just evil fucks but I am oddly curious about what they ghell happened here.
posted by jessamyn at 9:42 AM on July 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


I've rented, including one person's empty apartment with no personal goods in it. I was met in all cases, but never had ID checked or anything by the people. My friend rents out a spare room in her apartment over 50% of the time, but never while she is out of town. As a renter, I am less concerned, but I would never, ever rent out a room in my place.
posted by jeather at 9:43 AM on July 29, 2011


That sounds completely insane to me. What is the upside to a policy like this?

It prevents the renter and rentee from finding each other for free on AirBnB, then working out an arrangement on their own.

And if AirBnB has this policy in place, it damn well better be their job to run background checks. From what I've seen so far they're protecting their revenue just fine, but they've done a fan-fucking-tastic job of protecting anything else.
posted by Spatch at 9:45 AM on July 29, 2011


um...am I the only one hearing Tress MacNeille saying "Idiot!"
posted by sexyrobot at 9:54 AM on July 29, 2011


Metafilter: a bunch of elitist hipsters discussing cats and tumblr blogs
posted by mr_crash_davis at 9:57 AM on July 29, 2011


Idiot!
posted by sexyrobot at 10:01 AM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Serious question - what kind of background checks would you want run? There's the obvious - most people don't want violent criminals or burglars in their homes - but what if they excluded people who'd been arrested for marijuana possession? People with bad credit? People who did something stupid 20 years ago? Would they have to release the person's background check to you for you to decide? Would that run afoul of any privacy laws? Would that run afoul of any housing discrimination laws?
posted by desjardins at 10:02 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I actually did have one rather obnoxious problem at a place I stayed at via AirBnb. The owner had a kitten. A sweet kitten who would come in and sleep with me overnight. And who opened my purse and filched out the croissant I had bought for breakfast the next day (no bakeries open Sunday am) and ate it overnight, too.
posted by jeather at 10:04 AM on July 29, 2011 [10 favorites]


as an officer of the company it's literally his duty to his investors to minimize the damage that this does to the company, especially when they're going for further funding.

This is where US law fails us, that the head of a publicly-held corporation is beholden to the shareholders ahead of all other consideration. I suppose this is why I don't understand people's willingness to accept "do no evil" and other such mottos from large companies, considering that (if they're publicly held) they legally must do "evil" if to do otherwise would hurt the shareholders.
posted by davejay at 10:11 AM on July 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Huh. I too assumed that AirBNB would not only do some kind of actual legit vetting but also require some kind of security deposit for renters.

Then again, I can barely stand to have people I've known all my life stay over at my house, with their snoring and their suboptimal bathroom habits, so I am not the target audience for this kind of service. oh god strangers touching my stuff i can't even
posted by elizardbits at 10:16 AM on July 29, 2011 [12 favorites]


filthy light thief: " ... but one friend checked Craigslist for short-term rentals. She found a great place from a single mom who needed some extra money to cover rent that month. We met the lady on her way out, and she left the apartment pretty much as if she had cleaned it for guests. We were amazed by her trust, but treated it like our home for the weekend. We paid her a bit extra, because it was such a deal for us (compared to hotels in the area), and because we wanted to thank her for being so open with us. She was surprised and happy to get a bit more for the long weekend, and offered her place to us if we wanted to come by again. ... "

I live right in the heart of Austin, exactly where you want to be when you come into town for any of the three big yearly festivals here, not to mention any of the smaller, minor-league festivals. My next door neighbor makes a lot of money by renting her place out, she started by using Craigslist but has since moved to another outfit, not sure if it's AirBnB or not but someone similar.

It has worked out spectacularly well for her. She pays her rent and often way more than that. Before she got married, she'd just couch-surf (or even sleep in her old, super-cool if ratty Volvo wagon -- Emily is a trip) on friends couches, now they've got another place and she just keeps the condo as a studio and as a money maker, or even if it just breaks even, hey, she's got a really sweet studio, free.

She started out renting on CL and started out renting inexpensively but she found fast that she got a lot less problems if she charged considerably more. She absolutely vetted them as best she could when she was on CL, got all kinds of contact information etc and etc, plus she got a large down payment also, and found that the larger the downstroke, the better the tenant, and the less problems she has. I think the outfit she is now using -- whoever they are -- vets these people, not sure; I can tell you that I am absolutely going to forward this thread to her.

She meets the people at the door; I've met them a few times if she's tied up but mostly she meets/greets. And she comes in and cleans, too, changes out sheets, and the people know that's happening, and I'm sure that helps also. And she tells the people that if they have any trouble at all, hey, you can go over to the neighbor on this side and he'll help you out, or go to the neighbor on that side, and they'll help you out, it's presented as a plus and in fact it is, but also the people know that we're awake, and that Emily is awake, and that if anyone plays any games we'll throw their ass into the river.

She used to take any absolute keeper stuff with her, or leave it with me; now of course it's at her other house. She has internet access but it's a way old mac laptop, they'd probably be doing her a favor to swipe it; most people bring their own puters of course. She has no TV because she's Emily, her DVD player tied into an LCD so they can watch movies but people are mostly on the run anyways, and not watching movies. Her place is really, really cool, it's beautiful, but fact is that she's an artist, and she's put it together mostly on her own out of bits and pieces from here or there -- she moved here from north CA five years ago in that Volvo wagon, her and her pooch and a bicycle, and in six months time she's created this place of restful beauty, at a cost of about $213.82. Give or take a buck or two. She is, as noted above, a trip.

Side note, tangentially related: The city of Austin has got their undies in a bundle, that people are daring to make money that the city isn't taxing. So they are jumping up and down and wanting to pass laws and I think even encourage people to rat out their neighbors. It's really tacky. That said, if someone was doing it non-stop IE if it became a hotel, well, another story. But well managed, I think the long nose of the law needs to buzz off...
posted by dancestoblue at 10:19 AM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have friends in New York who rent with AirBnB regularly. They love it and have made a good amount of cash. I've never taken the plunge because I can't imagine what kind of background check I would want to feel safe leaving all my possessions with total strangers.

The worst part is that while this ladies guests where really overt all they would have had to do was find documents that had been left around (or break into the closet and replace the lock) and she might have never known she had her identity compromised.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 10:20 AM on July 29, 2011


also require some kind of security deposit for renters.

This is, again, the thing. You can opt to have this sort of thing, a security deposit, a cleaning deposit, with your decision to rent. AirBnB mostly acts as an escrow agent for the money. They make money not only on the percentage they take but also on the "float" between when you pay for your reservation--which happens when you make it, even if it's months in the future--and when you actually check in which is when the host gets paid. So while you're welcome to require a huge security deposit, it's likely to disincentivize people to stay at your place compared to other places, which leads to a drop in reputation and all the other stuff. And this is also why it's a system that sort of thrives on last-minute reservations. People hedge bets and/or don't want to commit the cash way the heck out in to the future.

It's sort of insidious in a way, but no more than capitalism generally is.

One of the places I rented was a place in Austin. It was a small studio apartment with a kitchen. Walking distance from the convention center. Cheaper than any local hotel. The owner met me at the door to give me keys and was visibly around the whole time I was there, though not really in the space I was in. The model works in a lot of different ways and it can work in the "Hey I'm going away come stay in my home even though I've never met you and basically only know your first name" way, but there is more risk there than other ways of using the same service.

Sorry to sort of overcomment, I'm not clear on whether there are a lot of people here who have been on both sides of the website and it seems like clearing up misconceptions as we go might be a good idea.
posted by jessamyn at 10:24 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


These Premises Are Alarmed: " If I had started an AirBnB-like business, this would be my single biggest worry - a criminal abusing the system, and the horrible PR fallout. I would have a response plan that I tabletopped with my team on at least a monthly basis from day one."

Two myths about PR permeate American culture, and how a company responds in a crisis often shows us how far they have swallowed 'em:

The first is that no publicity is bad publicity. Despite clear evidence that bad PR can be ruinous to any brand.

The second is that PR is all about manipulating people, and people are easily manipulated. There is some aspect of manipulation to PR, yes. But successful PR crisis management should be about trying to do the right thing for one's customers, by raising their awareness. Also, crisis managers should learn from other people's successes and mistakes.

A company that responds to a crisis poorly can destroy themselves. Covering up problems nearly always backfires and makes bad situations worse. One that does its best to be honest and transparent in their dealings, and admit upfront and then try to fix things when something goes wrong is much more likely to weather short and long term problems.
posted by zarq at 10:24 AM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


jessamyn: "One of the places I rented was a place in Austin. It was a small studio apartment with a kitchen. Walking distance from the convention center. Cheaper than any local hotel. The owner met me at the door to give me keys and was visibly around the whole time I was there, though not really in the space I was in."

Hah! Maybe you were at Emily's place -- was the next-door neighbor a big galoot?
posted by dancestoblue at 10:30 AM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I was shocked when I read this -- not that something bad could happen on AirBnB (that was inevitable, if hopefully rare), but from her description it seemed way worse than having the place trashed or even her things stolen. It seemed vindictive, and possibly somehow personal. Definitely the damage seemed aimed at maximum psychological harm. Creepy!

I've used AirBnB once, as a renter. Whole family, and we stayed in a house in Seattle without ever meeting the host, though a lot of messages were exchanged. The limits on communication were (to me) clearly aimed at reducing folks using AirBnB as a lead generation system w/out paying them their cut, not against doing sensible precautiony things.

Our stay was wonderful, it was a bit odd staying in someone's house while they weren't there (as opposed to a rental house), but it was a really cool and nice house and we treated it very well.

Were AirBnB (and similar services) to work, it could add a lot of joy to travelling. I hope this sort of thing doesn't happen very often.
posted by feckless at 10:36 AM on July 29, 2011


I have used AirBnB and it worked out great for me. On my San Francisco trip there was no one there to greet us and we were sharing the space with other folks. Even gave shared breakfast with a fellow from Melbourne. Not much vetting and I only spoke to the person on the phone.

For those who want to be in professor digs, try sabbaticalhomes.com In that situation you will end up with furnished homes with lots of amenities. Basically, profs are looking for people to look after their place and maybe break even on the mortgage, if any. You also will probably get use of their car for extra money and proof of insurance.
posted by jadepearl at 10:54 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


In related news: Airbnb Is Latest Start-Up to Secure $1 Billion Valuation‎.
posted by ericb at 11:01 AM on July 29, 2011


Interesting, as regards to NYC:
“In New York, … a new law prohibits short-term rentals in many city buildings unless the owner is on the premises* …”

“Of course, hotel owners might not be too happy to face competition from start-ups like Airbnb, whose hosts are not required to charge lodging taxes or meet safety requirements.

The laws around these kinds of rentals are complicated and murky, housing officials and specialists in real estate law say. Leases vary from place to place. In New York, opportunistic brokers have been seeding Airbnb with multiple properties that they own or lease and filling them with a revolving door of travelers.

The city passed a law in May meant to curb such behavior. ‘What the city is attempting to discourage is someone buying or leasing residential rooms and turning them into a hotel room,’ said Kathleen McGee, who works with special enforcement in the mayor’s office. Airbnb says people who use the service are responsible for making sure they are not violating local laws. ‘We’re not classified as the brokers, we’re just the service,’ Mr. Chesky said.”*
posted by ericb at 11:14 AM on July 29, 2011


Good advice:
"I’ll say this. EJ knows how to write. And it’s hard not to feel for her. As for Airbnb, they need to hire a crisis management expert and hope to God that somehow this all goes away before the mainstream press turns this into a fear parade. Remember paedophiles on Myspace? They love this stuff."
posted by ericb at 11:20 AM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]




I stayed with AirBnB in San Francisco six months ago and it was great; I e-mailed, then had a phone call with the guy renting the room. I got the keys from a nearby business, and the owner swung by to chat shortly after I arrived.

It worked great for me, but I can't see them reasonably adding more security.

One of the problems with background checks is the cost. The place I stayed at was 65 bucks, and it was a little out-of-the-way, so it was a lot cheaper than downtown rooms. If a 20, 30 or 40 dollar background check was added in, all of a sudden I'm staying in a stranger's house for damn near a hundred bucks, which is the same price as in town for a budget hotel room. (And I have no proof the guy I'm staying with isn't an axe murderer; maybe there should be two-way background checks, so it's $125 for a shared room in a weird location.) The kind of service that rents a whole apartment for $1000 a week may be able to afford background checks, but AirBnB's core market seems to be a younger, broker, $50 a night for a room crowd.

And good luck with that background check, by the way; I'm Canadian. Dealing with the laws in dozens of countries to do appropriate background checks would be a huge logistical issue. But it's pretty limiting to restrict your business to only one country if you're a travel company.

If they added in some sort of damage deposit clause where owners had recourse to renters, all of a sudden to rent an apartment you need to have a big credit limit -- which limits the core broke-hipster market they have. And how much of a deposit would you need? It's not like $500 or $1000 would compensate EJ for the damages she sustained. It certainly wouldn't have dissuaded the creep who rented her place, since he was an identity thief. And if there was some sort of damage deposit thing, I can imagine the blog post where a careful renter is dinged after the fact by a sleazy owner by claiming there was damage, which devolves into a transcontinental he-said, she-said with AirBnB in the middle.

There may not be a technological solution to this at the bottom end of the market, beyond actually checking on the people you're renting to, and realizing that unfortunately there are a few criminals out there.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 11:33 AM on July 29, 2011


Wait, everyone's first concern about AirBnB and Couchsurfing is "ohh noes, strangers in my home!"

And not, you know, "free bedbugs!!"
posted by danny the boy at 11:39 AM on July 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


We should expect more of these kinds of shocks as more companies adopt the "humanized brand" strategy. In Airbnb's case, the brand is very deeply embedded in their business model, because they really do connect individual travelers with individual owners, and that makes their cosy and cheerful global-village-of-sharing aesthetic very compelling. Their tag line is "Rent nightly from real people," an implicitly "anti-corporate" message that asks us to reject the aesthetics of the faceless, impersonal budget hotel chain.

How does this anti-corporate corporation work? It's essentially a very large, global budget hotel which has outsourced the costs of running the hotel -- reception, housekeeping, facilities management, risk management, security -- to a network of individual owners. Airbnb takes their cut because they run the booking website. It's difficult to see how they are legally liable for this crime, any more than Expedia would be liable if someone trashed a hotel room that was booked through them.

The reason it feels like they should be liable is their humanized marketing, which convinces individual owners to think of the risks and costs of renting out their house as prosocial behaviors that you wouldn't think of being compensated for - trusting your tenants, sharing your home with them, welcoming them to your city, making sure they have clean sheets, little human touches like a bottle of wine or flowers, etc. All of those things add to the value of booking through Airbnb, but they're free so Airbnb ends up with a unique value proposition that's also price-competitive with hotels.

Airbnb's "anti-corporate" marketing encourages individual owners to think of their relationship with renters as pro-social and interpersonal, not market-based, profit-seeking and transactional. The result is that individual owners work harder for less and take on more risk to drive up corporate profits.
posted by AlsoMike at 11:42 AM on July 29, 2011 [21 favorites]


And not, you know, "free bedbugs!!"

Is it really any better or worse than a hotel?
posted by smackfu at 11:50 AM on July 29, 2011


desjardins: "Serious question - what kind of background checks would you want run? There's the obvious - most people don't want violent criminals or burglars in their homes - but what if they excluded people who'd been arrested for marijuana possession? People with bad credit? "

As far as background checks go, you can go about that in a roundabout way; requiring a deposit that is paid by check/credit card gives you some assurance their credit is good as long as you have it in hand enough in advance, and you have a name and billing address to protect against vandalism as well as the cleaning fee to cover damages. I've signed rental agreements that said a property was no smoking, with a penalty added on if smokers rented, so you can take care of that part, too.

The woman renting out her property made a lot of mistakes here, and sadly she's paying for them because she also put her trust in a company that didn't provide adequate protection for her, either, though it is their business to broker rental agreements.

She was not in the area at all. She didn't have neighbors looking out for her stuff. No direct contact with the renter or payment in hand before the actual rental. This was like the perfect storm for attracting criminals to her rental. She was right to lock up her things--though a safety deposit box or a room safe would have been much better. By locking that closet she pretty much told the thieves "here's where my good stuff is!" and a locked closet door, as she found out, isn't much of a deterrent to a determined thief.

Ways to protect yourself: If you don't have the time to really know what you are getting into, that's usually a good indication not to do it. If you can't communicate or check up on people until a reservation is confirmed, don't take reservations closer in than, say, 30 days before the rental starts. Security deposit/cleaning fee included in rental price. Safety deposit box for any of your important possessions.

I am not blaming this woman for what happened to her. No one deserves this. I don't know that any of the normal precautions would have deterred these guys, anyway--they seem really perverse in the way they not only stole from her but vandalized and rearranged her space, tore tags from pillows, hung up paintings--they wanted to mess with her mind as much as her stuff.

The latest from AirBnB.
posted by misha at 12:31 PM on July 29, 2011


Yeah that's the article EJ refers to in her follow-up blog post:

“While we are not at liberty to discuss the details during the investigation, we understand that with our help, a suspect is now in custody, and our information will now become important evidence.”

As of today, July 28, I have received no confirmation from either the San Francisco Police Department or the District Attorney that any culprit is in custody for my case. One month ago an individual was apprehended, however as far as I know, this person was transferred to a neighboring jurisdiction for prosecution of previous crimes, and no charges or arrest warrant has been issued for my case within San Francisco County. If this has changed and Chesky’s statement is in fact true, I have not been made aware by city officials.

posted by oneirodynia at 12:41 PM on July 29, 2011


That "latest from AirBnB" stuff is full of lies. One of the places I stayed at had inaccurate photos of the apartment -- photos of room A when room B was being rented, photos of a living room with a tv and lots of comments saying "actually, there is no tv" (I did not want one and did not care either way) -- and although I marked that the photos were inaccurate on my review, they have not been changed and the listing has not been removed. So maybe some places have verified photos, but in general, the photos are neither verified nor professional.

Given that they said at least one thing I know to be false, I assume everything else is marketing crap as well.
posted by jeather at 12:43 PM on July 29, 2011


So maybe some places have verified photos, but in general, the photos are neither verified nor professional.

You can request to have a professional photographer come to your place and take photos. Two of my friends have done this. They just requested a photographer and a lady showed up and took pictures. Those photos are identified in some way as being "official" (and you can use official and unofficial photos in your listing) and yes, everything else is not necessarily accurate. I'm very curious now that they are giving lip service to making changes like having more support people [did they say 24/7? I don't think they did] and a better flagging tool [you can have flagging, sure, but what happens to the stuff that gets flagged? Is it confidence-inspiring?] if it's going to make a difference.
posted by jessamyn at 12:55 PM on July 29, 2011


I'd of thought it would probably be in their interest to negotiate some short term landlord insurance deals (that they can then sell on at a profit), there's plenty of people out there renting villas and the like to complete strangers, but being a business they get protected (, capisce?).

She made mistakes, but if the system is going to work it needs to (if not outright prevent) make such mistakes the significantly harder route to go, and make sure there's a safety net - because there's always going to be those who prefer cash to decency). If you are selling trust, the idea that renting out your home is normal; sensible; safe; and easy; then it's part of your duty of care to do the utmost to make sure that is the case.

Then, it's possible that there is no such thing as bad publicity: as a result of this (negative) post I ended up placing a booking for http://www.airbnb.com/rooms/69864 -- and why yes! That is a muthafscking luxury cave, on the muthafscking beach, in the middle of nowhere, in Morocco; with the glorious absence of the demanding tentacles of telephony and internets.

So, it's kinda way more than I was planning on spending: but beach, cave... it will be like living in a moomin story (with 0.5 of a bathroom)!
posted by titus-g at 1:07 PM on July 29, 2011


I really overall am happy with my experience renting on AirBnB and remain convinced I will never rent out a spare bedroom. But they don't respond to flags (when they ask you "were the photos accurate" and you say no, they ask why, then presumably delete your response, as there is no followup), and they imply things which are false.

I should ask them this in public somwehere.
posted by jeather at 1:10 PM on July 29, 2011


Actually, if you read HN you'd know your single biggest worry was getting beaten to the VC cash trough... I guess it's the last reamining part of the American dream, which everyone still believes in harder than ever: getting something for nothing.

This is so much bullshit. Most people on HN believe in working their arses off to get something. Are they callow about a lot of things? Certainly. So are people on MeFi. Suggesting that they're all into freebies and swindling is about as acurate as saying MeFi is full of wannabe welfare kings and queens. The startsups people are so excited about on HN are businesses, and one of the most respected posters on there is a guy with a small program that lets people design custom bingo cards and get them printed up professionally.

I am not running or invested in any internet startups; I read HN because I'm interested in crypto technology, certain legal issues, and technology in general - not least because it's hub is only a short distance from where I live. A lot of what I see on HN does not match up with my views, nor do I expect it to.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:52 PM on July 29, 2011


I was shocked when I read this -- not that something bad could happen on AirBnB (that was inevitable, if hopefully rare), but from her description it seemed way worse than having the place trashed or even her things stolen. It seemed vindictive, and possibly somehow personal. Definitely the damage seemed aimed at maximum psychological harm. Creepy!

Airbnb Is Latest Start-Up to Secure $1 Billion Valuation‎

Could this break-in be about discrediting the company?
posted by alphanerd at 1:59 PM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


Could this break-in be about discrediting the company?

Well, the valuation is based on the Series B round of $112 million [PDF] that the company just closed this past Monday. As above, the investors of the both VC rounds don't seem to be that concerned about this one event.

So, the cash is "in the bank" and the current valuation is current.
posted by ericb at 2:10 PM on July 29, 2011


dancestoblue: Side note, tangentially related: The city of Austin has got their undies in a bundle, that people are daring to make money that the city isn't taxing. So they are jumping up and down and wanting to pass laws and I think even encourage people to rat out their neighbors. It's really tacky. That said, if someone was doing it non-stop IE if it became a hotel, well, another story. But well managed, I think the long nose of the law needs to buzz off...

In California, we call that Transient Occupancy Tax for stays of less than 30 days. It's a tax on travelers and tourists, but hotels pay it, why shouldn't an individual? In some areas of California, "vacation rentals" like these are vaguely regulated in an attempt to keep a residential area from becoming a motel area. But if there are too many limitations, the people do it anyway, and don't worry about paying taxes on it, so everyone loses.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:31 PM on July 29, 2011


I thought that said, "You can request to have a professional pornographer come to your place and take photos." Which would partially explain why the service is so popular.
posted by sneebler at 2:48 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Airbnb Is Latest Start-Up to Secure $1 Billion Valuation‎
Wow. I met they founders once in NYC on a start-up meeting when they were just starting. They came from a Obama for president meeting and had some Obama-O's Cereal give aways.

1 Billion valuation? Not bad. I actually had a voucher from the guys but never used Airbnb.

Some things make me a little suspicious.
1. That the victim is such a good writer
2. Some comments on her blog.
3. The coincidence and timing with the next VC round

Not saying someone is throwing dirt here but you never know. Everything is possible.

Is Airbnb so convenient? I found the prices for rooms compared to hostels never very competitive. And you don't know what you are getting yourself into.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 3:22 PM on July 29, 2011


Via HN "Airbnb Competitor Checks IDs: 'We Don't Want to Trade Security for Volume' (betabeat.com) "

Well, the Lady would be the best spokesperson for them.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 3:36 PM on July 29, 2011


Some things make me a little suspicious.
1. That the victim is such a good writer


That seems like a weird thing to be suspicious of.
posted by rtha at 3:37 PM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


@RTHA,
Well, who would you hire for a "viral marketing" gig? A good runner?
posted by yoyo_nyc at 3:40 PM on July 29, 2011


For a viral marketing campaign I'd probably hire someone to write about how they met the love of their life through Airbnb, or how the guests accidentally broke something, but when the host got home they had fixed it and repainted their apartment, or they bought the host a new stove. You know, something good.

I've skimmed through a bunch of her older blog entries, and they don't have a whiff of undercover marketer, and they're decently written.

There are tons of blogs on the internets written by people who can write their way out of a paper sack. That she is one of them doesn't make her very unusual.
posted by rtha at 3:46 PM on July 29, 2011


Well, who would you hire for a "viral marketing" gig?

By this bizarre metric you yourself are just as likely to be shilling for AirBNB.
posted by elizardbits at 4:12 PM on July 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


& even cut the tags off her pillows

You mean the ones that say: "Do not remove UNDER PENALTY OF LAW?"
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:09 PM on July 29, 2011


Wait...something went wrong with the "invite complete strangers to stay in your home" plan?

What a sad world you must live in. I've had different couch surfers staying in my flat almost every night in July. Sometimes they've had the flat for themselves while I've been away, and (anecdata!) never has anything been broken or stolen, even though cash has been just laying around. If anything, stuff has been added to my apartment as gifts upon arrival or departure.

If they charge you money, it's not really couch surfing, is it?. Maybe a pay-site would attract the wrong crowd.
posted by klue at 6:10 PM on July 29, 2011


My sister comes to New York from California, for years now, on Christmas and Thanksgiving. She rents a place from Craigslist, and has a Holiday dinner there, for her two kids and the rest of the family.

Last Christmas, the renter had a whole string quartet, cello, viola, and two violins, in cases in the bedroom.

What's nuts about the airbnb story is that they don't let you even know the renter's email address until they've already paid. That's nuts.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:33 PM on July 29, 2011


All the couchsurfers we've had here have been absolute blessings (atheistically speaking) as well, it's amazing how much more of the things you really must get round to seeing one day you get round to seeing TOday when you have some fresh eyes to take round with you.

But, while I imagine most couchsurfing experiences are positive for all participants, bad shit does happen.

As it does in all the tradition (pre-interluvvedup) junctures where people meet.

But, with great income comes great responsibility.
posted by titus-g at 6:36 PM on July 29, 2011


Paul Graham (of the startup incubator YCombinator, which is where AirBnB got their start) has commented on the situation on HackerNews:
I've just learned more about this situation, and it turns out Airbnb has been offering to fix it, from the very beginning. From the beginning they offered to pay to get her a new place and new stuff, and do whatever else she wanted.

The story Arrington wrote yesterday about Airbnb not offering to help was bullshit. He asked a company spokesman what Airbnb was doing to help her. The spokesman, who'd been told by their lawyers that he couldn't go into detail about that because of the precedent said "I can't comment on that." So Arrington, in typical Arrington fashion said "Well, unless you tell me I'm going to write that you're not willing to do anything for her." And he did. Really not cool.
I've talked to the Airbnb guys and they are already doing everything they could be doing to help this woman.

Even if you don't believe they are nice guys (which they are, among the nicest of all the people we've funded), do you really think they are so dumb that they don't realize it's not worth the bad PR to save money and effort in this situation?
posted by !Jim at 6:40 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Arrington's a scumbag, sure; but as an airbnb investor, Graham's not in a good place to speak objectively to this.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 6:52 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


From a blog post and short interview with Ej:

In a statement today, the SFPD said that they made an arrest in the case:

On 06/28/11 the SFPD through investigative leads conducted a search of a premise in Belmont, CA. Two people were detained, but released pending further investigation. The search yielded some of the items that were taken in the theft.

Later on that night through investigative leads, SFPD officers made an arrest of Faith Clifton, female, white, 19 years of age of San Francisco. Faith was booked into San Francisco County Jail that night on possession of stolen property, methamphetamine, fraud charges and outstanding warrant out of Milpitas, CA.

SFPD has been in contact with the victim and have been in contact with the website company, who has provided as much information as possible in this matter.

posted by oneirodynia at 7:02 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


"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... Despite the heat wave, they used my fireplace and multiple Duraflame logs to reduce mounds of stuff (my stuff??) to ash..."

"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... bathroom sink was caked with a crusty yellow substance."
The actions of the inhabitants are waaay beyond the risks you would expect for a week-long sublet. You'd expect a week's worth of dirty dishes and a dirty bathroom. You'd prepare yourself for the possibility that your valuables might get stolen or something broken. But the systematic befouling of every single item in the apartment? Uh, not so much. I mean, this took real time and effort.

I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank the Mefites who have stayed in my home (none of whom I had met in real life beforehand) for resisting the urge to cake my bathroom sink with a crusty yellow substance while I was at work.
posted by desuetude at 7:15 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


What a sad world you must live in.

I'm not sure you have to live in a sad world to think that there's a pretty significant level of risk involved in handing off your apartment and all your stuff and relying completely on the goodwill of someone about which you know nothing. That doesn't mean it's likely to happen -- if it were likely to happen, I assume they'd have no business model. But the consequences if it does happen are devastating, and speaking for myself, I wouldn't experiment with it. Everyone has a different level of risk tolerance, and I'm not sure you have to live in a world any sadder than anyone else's to decide this is (significantly) beyond the level of risk you want to take.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 9:05 PM on July 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


But the systematic befouling of every single item in the apartment?

Sounds to me like the offender was merely making sure to cover his tracks. Pouring bleach on stuff, as any CSI viewer knows, is how to destroy DNA evidence, and the stuff he burned was probably whatever he couldn't bleach.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 9:55 PM on July 29, 2011


I would just like to thank all the MeFites that have not stayed in my house, come near it, or gotten too close on Google Earth.
posted by Splunge at 10:38 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Faith was booked into San Francisco County Jail that night on possession of stolen property, methamphetamine, fraud charges and outstanding warrant out of Milpitas, CA.

Guess we know what the renter was doing in EJ's house all week, and why there was Comet everywhere, and what was in the sink.
posted by tzikeh at 12:42 AM on July 30, 2011


TechCrunch: How the hell is this my fault?
A few thoughts:

1. What the hell?

2. Airbnb’s Christopher Lukezic told me on Wednesday that the company was not responsible for EJ’s losses, that they are just a service to match people and that they were helping the police find the people who did this. This was on the record, and it was a call we emailed about first. I didn’t take him by surprise. And I read this back to him before I posted.

3. Paul Graham says instead “The spokesman, who’d been told by their lawyers that he couldn’t go into detail about that because of the precedent said “I can’t comment on that.” So Arrington, in typical Arrington fashion said “Well, unless you tell me I’m going to write that you’re not willing to do anything for her.” And he did. Really not cool.

That’s a lie. What he said is what I wrote in no. 2 above, and what was in the original post.

4. Following publication of that Post, Airbnb Brian Chesky called me and I updated that post with his comments, mentioning that there was some miscommunication. I retweeted that there was an important update, and added a bold header at the top of the post mentioning the update.

5. I then added another update, an email from Lukezic. And another update pointing to a guest post by Chesky on the issue. It is absurd to think that I made up the statements that Lukezic made to me in our first interview. It wasn’t even really relevant to the story.

6. Chesky repeatedly thanked me for the updates by email and on the phone. If Lukezic wants to publicly call me a liar, he should do so directly.

7. I’ve seen this exact behavior before with the Scamville stuff a couple of years ago.

The real problem here isn’t some mixup in communication with me. The real problem is that the victim wrote that follow up post yesterday calling Airbnb out and making new allegations of an attempted cover up.

It kind of feels to me that what Airbnb really wants to do is call the victim, EJ, a liar. But they’re certainly not going to do that (although if they have evidence that she’s lying, they should be talking about that). Instead, they focus on us, call me dishonest and suggesting that the whole story is “bullshit.”
[...]
posted by scalefree at 2:42 AM on July 30, 2011


So what does cutting the tags off pillows mean? Does this have some significance I'm missing by not being American?
posted by bystander at 5:02 AM on July 30, 2011


So what does cutting the tags off pillows mean? Does this have some significance I'm missing by not being American?

It's a reference to the tags on pillows and mattresses warning that it is illegal to remove them. This warning is actually for the seller/manufacturer, not the consumer, which I think most people know/assume, but "do not remove this pillow/mattress tag under penalty of law!" is a generally-known thing of bafflement and/or jokes.

So, cutting the tags off of her pillows isn't just a totally random creepily meticulous way to indicate that the pillows have all been manhandled, it comes with a bonus dose of either ignorant or weirdly smarmy fuck-you.
posted by desuetude at 2:54 PM on July 30, 2011


It's just inconceivable to me that she left this stuff laying around. Take some basic precautions.

You have obviously not even bothered to skim her description of the break-in. posted by odinsdream


I read everything she wrote and it should be pointed out the thieves did not cut a hole in the wall to access the closet (which would suggest pros) which is how the author of this fpp described it but rather bashed a hole in the closet door. If it was a hollow core door, as many closet doors in the US are, then, sorry, but it would keep most children under 10 out and that's it.
posted by mlis at 7:52 PM on July 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


SFPD has arrested a suspect.
posted by knile at 2:44 AM on July 31, 2011


So mlis, you're blaming the victim because she didn't have stronger closet doors?
posted by octothorpe at 7:33 AM on July 31, 2011


No, octothorpe, correcting the record in this thread was all. I really do not want to get into a discussion about what she could have done differently. It is awful to have your residence burglarized and the destruction of her living spaces and personal possessions was sadistic.

It is very sad to read about the theft of her grandmothers jewlery. I am fortunate to have inherited a few nice things but the relative in question always told me such things should be used or displayed for enjoyment not locked away and never seen. So I could see how valuables might wind up in a locked closest.

And I know of burglaries where sophisticated alarm systems, custom made doors and safes were all defeated and items stolen so the bottom line is no matter your precautions nothing you store in a residence is safe.
posted by mlis at 10:53 AM on July 31, 2011


[Can we please not do that "here's a facebook page for someone who might be the criminal in this case" thing here, please? thank you.]
posted by jessamyn at 12:00 PM on July 31, 2011


“Complicating the chilling tale: Despite Airbnb's statement that ‘we have confirmed with the (San Francisco police department) that they have a female suspect in custody that they are investigating for vandalism and theft,’ spokesmen for the police department and sheriff's office said Friday that while 19-year-old San Francisco resident Faith Clifton had been arrested on charges of fraud, possession of methamphetamine and stolen property on June 28 and that Airbnb had assisted in their investigation, she was no longer in San Francisco custody and they could not confirm whether she had been released or transferred to a nearby county where she faced a warrant for related charges. A spokeswoman for the San Francisco district attorney said the office will determine Monday whether to proceed with Clifton's case.

Meanwhile, I communicated by email and by phone late Friday with a woman who said she was ‘EJ,’ a corporate events planner who later asked me not to be identified by name because of her continuing fears that other suspects may still be at large and because of the online furor surrounding her experience. (She also said she was speaking to the San Francisco Chronicle, and I confirmed portions of her information with the San Francisco police department.)

She said she was ‘growing a very thick skin’ because of accusations that she was part of a plot by the hotel industry to discredit Airbnb, and because of criticism that she courted disaster by opening her rented apartment to strangers. She also told me she had been contacted by Airbnb on Friday, after her second blog post, but that the company had not provided compensation for her ordeal.

“”Obviously, the financial damages have been significant, but it has come down to a matter of principle and how I feel they disregarded me and my situation,’ she said. ‘I still hurt, and I don't know how you make that right.’”*

posted by ericb at 12:31 PM on July 31, 2011


I've long been a fan of Paul Graham, going back to the days of "On LISP". But his actions in this incident kind of sadden me. I've considered him an independent voice in the tech industry, but it's now clear that his status as co-founder of Y-Combinator and his investments takes precedence over a fair assessment of the situation.

AirBnB also irks me. It's been clear from the beginning that they're positioning themselves as a "safe" Craigslist, and that's a big part of my issue with them. Craigslist has always represented that techno-utopian civil-libertarian ideal, combined with a bit of San Francisco sexual liberation. They've treated their users as adults and pushed free-speech issues. Second, regardless of all the bad stories you hear about Craigslist, there are millions of untold good stories, and it actually does it's part to encourage social interaction in a world that is increasingly isolated.

For all the safety advantages AirBnB says they offer, there's really not much new or strong under the hood: User ratings and feedback, which eBay has been doing for over a decade. And the fact that they discourage renters from meeting travelers in-person ahead of time makes it actually worse than craigslist.

They're trying to solve some fundamental social issues with technological solutions. I'm a fan of reputation systems, trust networks and the like, they can help when done right. But it's going to take more than just traveler feedback, rounded buttons and an iPhone app.
posted by formless at 2:02 PM on July 31, 2011


This wasn't the first time that something like this has happened and AirBnB did a crappy job of handling it.
posted by octothorpe at 3:06 PM on July 31, 2011


Might want to try that link again?
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 3:10 PM on July 31, 2011


Ooops. Here's the TechCrunch article.
posted by octothorpe at 3:30 PM on July 31, 2011


Hmmm. Looks like scammers in the Bay Area meth scene may be specifically targeting AirBnB. That's not a story you want associated with your new startup.
posted by formless at 8:38 PM on July 31, 2011






Foci for Analysis: "self-improvement and running your own businesses. Calling these people fanboys interested in swindles is just plain narrow-mindedness."


Actually, the combination of self-improvement and running your own business immediately reminds me of multiple people I've known in my past who have had scheme after scheme to Get Rich Quick, usually with some weird bodybuilding/self-help angle. None of them understood the concept of "too good to be true" and seemed to live by inspirational phrases more suited to the football field.
posted by dunkadunc at 6:56 PM on August 1, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here's the email they sent out to customers this morning apologizing and laying out the new measures - including making profiles public immediately:

Last month, the home of a San Francisco host named EJ was tragically vandalized by a guest. The damage was so bad that her life was turned upside down. When we learned of this our hearts sank. We felt paralyzed, and over the last four weeks, we have really screwed things up. Earlier this week, I wrote a blog post trying to explain the situation, but it didn’t reflect my true feelings. So here we go.

There have been a lot of questions swirling around, and I would like to apologize and set the record straight in my own words. In the last few days we have had a crash course in crisis management. I hope this can be a valuable lesson to other businesses about what not to do in a time of crisis, and why you should always uphold your values and trust your instincts.

With regards to EJ, we let her down, and for that we are very sorry. We should have responded faster, communicated more sensitively, and taken more decisive action to make sure she felt safe and secure. But we weren’t prepared for the crisis and we dropped the ball. Now we’re dealing with the consequences. In working with the San Francisco Police Department, we are happy to say a suspect is now in custody. Even so, we realize that we have disappointed the community. To EJ, and all the other hosts who have had bad experiences, we know you deserve better from us.

We want to make it right. On August 15th, we will be implementing a $50,000 Airbnb Guarantee, protecting the property of hosts from damage by Airbnb guests who book reservations through our website. We will extend this program to EJ and any other hosts who may have reported such property damage while renting on Airbnb in the past.

We’ve built this company by listening to our community. Guided by your feedback, we have iterated to become safer and more secure. Our job’s not done yet; we’re still evolving. In the wake of these recent events, we’ve heard an uproar from people, both inside and outside our community. Know that we were closely listening.

Today we are launching a new safety section of the website (www.airbnb.com/safety) with the following offerings:

Airbnb Guarantee
Starting August 15th, when hosts book reservations through Airbnb their personal property will be covered for loss or damage due to vandalism or theft caused by an Airbnb guest up to $50,000 with our Airbnb Guarantee. Terms will apply to the program and may vary (e.g. by country). This program will also apply retroactively to any hosts who may have reported such property damage prior to August 1, 2011.
24-Hour Customer Hotline
Beginning next week, we will have operators and customer support staff ready to provide around the clock phone and email support for anything big or small.
2x Customer Support Team
Since last month we have more than doubled our Customer Support team from forty-two to eighty-eight people, and will be bringing on a 10-year veteran from eBay as our Director of Customer Support next week.
Dedicated Trust & Safety Department
Airbnb now has an in-house task force devoted to the manual review of suspicious activity. This team will also build new security features based on community feedback.
Contact the CEO
If you can’t get a hold of anyone or if you just want to contact me, email brian.chesky@airbnb.com.
We’ve also added several other safety-related features to strengthen the trust and confidence of our community:

Safety Tips
Suggestions for both guests and hosts on how to utilize our tools to better inform your decisions.
Verified Profiles
Our updated user profiles chronicle their public history on Airbnb, giving you more insight than ever about a potential host or guest. Along with standard social information, you’ll also see if a user has verified their phone number, connected to their Facebook account, and whether the majority of their reviews are positive or negative. And as always, you can read their reviews and references.
Customized trust settings
We now give hosts the ability to set custom trust parameters for bookings; those who don’t meet the specified requirements will be unable to make a reservation. Selections for Trust Settings include: verified phone numbers, profile descriptions, location information, with more coming soon.
Product suggestions poll
Have more ideas on improving safety? Now, you can submit and vote on the best ideas through our new product suggestions poll.
Many more product updates will be released in the coming days. In addition to these new features, there are safeguards already in place to protect the community. These include over 60 million Social Connections, private messaging to screen before booking, a secure reservation and payment system and transaction-based reviews. We also provide verified photographs, fraud detection algorithms, and flagging capabilities.

These steps are just the beginning. Improving the safety and security of our system is ongoing. Although we do have these measures in place, no system is without some risk, so we remind you to be vigilant and discerning. As a member of the community, you have invaluable experience that we hope to draw upon to improve our system. If you have any constructive ideas or feedback, please share them with us at www.airbnb.com/safety.

What’s made us proud during this trying time is the response of our community. Emails of support to EJ poured in; many hosts offered her a place to stay in their homes. It’s been inspiring to see that Airbnb can really bring out the best in people. Like Airbnb, the world works on the idea that people are good, and we’re in this together.

When we first started Airbnb, I told my mom about our plans for the business and she said, “Are you crazy? I’d never do that.” But when I told my late grandfather he said, “Of course! Everyone used to stay in each others’ homes.” We’re bringing back this age-old idea with new technology. Now each day, you and the rest of the community are creating meaningful connections around the world.

Thank you for being part of Airbnb.

Sincerely,
Brian Chesky
CEO, Co-founder
Airbnb
brian.chesky@airbnb.com
posted by stoneweaver at 5:42 AM on August 3, 2011


Of course, despite multiple requests that they explain what AirBnb does about listings that are inaccurate, I have had no response, so presumably they do nothing.
posted by jeather at 6:58 PM on August 5, 2011


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