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Airbnb Victim Speaks Again: Homeless, Scared And Angry (techcrunch.com)
397 points by jamesgagan 2250 days ago | hide | past | web | 132 comments | favorite



I'm using airbnb in Berlin right now. Two days ago I received a knock on my door. Turns out it was the real owner of the apartment and he had the Paperwork to prove it. Fortunately he was nice enough to let us stay without compensation. When I went to the airbnb website to try and call them all I got was a web message box. I filled out a message and sent it on its way but that's a pretty lousy system. Luckily for me my situation is nowhere as bad as ej but airbnb really needs a 24 hour hotline. I've had many good experiences but all it takes is that one time.


Exactly.

Based on EJ's description of AirBnB customer service, and the 2,000,000 bookings the founders cited earlier today, we'd be fools to think this was the first time someone broke the law using AirBnB -- I'm guessing the others just gave up on support after being ignored, and focused on talking to the police.

The real black eye here is the kind of support EJ received before she wrote her blog post -- most people can't write that well and don't have readers who will submit the story to HN.


I am giving a statement to the police later today along with a lawyer and the real owner of the apartment. I'm not sure how far this will escalate here in Germany but I'd imagine as airbnb has facilitated a transaction with a criminal the German authorities will want to pursue further. I'm not the victim here, but the owner is.


Right -- I'm pointing out that experiences like yours are probably fairly common.

In the comments to the other story, people kept talking about how it is safe to rent using AirBnB. If the owner here had been less understanding, I'm guessing you would have at least spent the night in jail (assuming you speak German and everything else went well).


yes I am extremely grateful that the owner is a nice and understanding guy. We are doing whatever we can to help him in this situation because it just sucks for him. Funny thing is I had just visited checkpoint Charlie so I was in a cold war state of mind. Then a few hours later this guy in a thick Russian accent knocks on my door demanding what I'm doing in his house. For a moment I thought I was in a bad 80s movie.


If this kind of thing happened before, the lack of preparedness is even more damning. You have to know that eventually this would happen to someone influential enough to cause a storm of publicity.


Just to clarify, since it took your second comment to get me to this understanding -

Someone who was not the real owner of the apartment (presumably thief/criminal) put the place up on AirBnB. You unknowingly rented the place from this person, and during your stay, the real owner showed up and asked what you were doing in his house?


that is correct. The person who put up the listing claims to be friends with the tenant. The tenant has not paid rent in 4 months and his contract explicitly forbids subletting. So I am staying in this apartment illegally. Luckily, the owner is nice enough to let us stay for the remainder of our time without compensation. I have no idea how common this situation is but this is only our 6th time using airbnb and if this is a common occurrence then airbnb has a HUGE problem on their hands. Don't get me wrong I'm a big fan of the business so I'm hoping for better countermeasures in the future against this kind of thing. It's a very very tough problem to solve.


Berlin resident here. I agree that it's a tough problem to solve and would make verification of hosts (maybe prohibitively) expensive. You'd have to check that the person listing the place is a) actually the tenant, b) is in good standing with the landlord, c) has permission to sublet (without pre-approval of individual subletters by the landlord).

In practice, most Berlin landlords won't ever notice their flat being occasionally sublet to tourists by the tenant, but they will probably not be too happy when they notice.


Actually, verification of hosts is not THAT tough and Airbnb already has a solution - "Airbnb verified" photos of the listing. Airbnb offers (in big cities at least) to send a photographer to your address and have him take pictures and upload to your listing page. This verifies to a reasonably decent degree that the person listing the property is the owner too.


well in this case the tenant did not pay rent for 4 months, and instead rented it out on airbnb for those months and pocketed the change. If the tenant funneled the airbnb money into rent I'm sure it wouldn't be as big of a deal as it is now.


Sure, in your case, the tenant's move was particulary bold. Owing two months rent to the landlord is grounds for immediate termination of the contract and eviction in Germany btw.


I don't know about in Germany, but in the UK it's common for contracts to have a clause ban subletting, but in practice it's considered unenforceable. Also unless the landlord has been through the formal eviction process the tenant probably still has a legal right to the property.

From when I lived in Berlin it seemed subletting rental apartments wasn't uncommon. Subletting where you live has been common practice in Germany for a long time predating the rise of AirBnB, etc. Typically on classified ad sites or through specialist agencies. I've seen stores like yours before from a few years back discussed on toytown (an expat forum for people living in germany), so it's not just an AirBnB thing.


Not so true about the UK. In my building in London, one unit was being quietly sublet for holiday-type use, in violation of the contract, and when complaints from the residents' association were not heeded a court order put an end to the illegal sublettings.


This storm just keeps getting bigger, like turning over a rock that had an ant on it, now has gobs of ants underneath that weren't seen before. If AirBnB cares about its future, they'll patch this up publicly and then get some serious crisis management consultation people in the mix. Yikes!


Yes that seems to be the correct understanding. The thief probably stayed at the place and made a copy of the key. Afterwards they rented it out on abnb.


Not sure if he is actually a thief. He claims to be a friend of the deadbeat tenant who actually rents here. That does sound like a likely story. I don't want to get involved more than I need to, I'm on vacation anyway. Makes for one heck of a story back home though.


I had another problem - turned up to an ABnB place that was nothing at all like what was advertised and not at all acceptable for my needs (private room, non smoking etc). The photos didn't even match. I had to move out and find a motel for myself otherwise I would have been homeless.

I tried to contact ABnB, to find alternative place for me and nothing. No reply or anything that day, even though it was office hours. Really abysmal customer service. I'd hate to think if it was a more serious case...


Something similar happened to us when we were staying in Mountain View for YCS09. We had found a cheap furnished apartment sublet via Craigslist. A couple weeks in, I had a friend visiting from Germany and we were having lunch at our place with a lady that he had met the night before through plentyoffish (good times).

It was a hot summer day, we had the door open to get a cool breeze going and hadn't noticed the apartment manager fixing some lamps in the hallway. Suddenly he pops his head in, surprised to see a bunch of folks he'd never seen before instead of the tenant and asks "Are you the tenants? If you are staying here, I need your name on the lease!".

Turns out our landlady wasn't supposed to sublet in the first place and hadn't told the manager about it (she had always paid the rent though). Fortunately, the situation could be rectified and we could stay for the rest of the summer as subtenants.

We figured the manager was cool with us when he realized we were behaving well (in contrast to some of the deadbeats in the complex like the dude next door who scammed one of our guys out of a hundred bucks, or the lady across the hallway who had just gotten out of jail and whose nutjob sister would yell around for hours threatening to call the police when she wouldn't open the door for her).


>Luckily for me my situation is nowhere as bad as ej but airbnb really needs a 24 hour hotline.

They don't have a 24 hour hotline? Crazy. Hotels do. Seems like this would be something worth spending the money on.


Wow. I love AirBnB, and I hate to say it, but that was a completely boneheaded move. There is absolutely no doubt that EJ is very public on this issue. If it's true that AirBnB tried to cover up the problem, then why? Did the founders think that EJ wouldn't turn around and say that they're asking her to remove the post?

Handling this situation should be a top priority for AirBnB. There's the potential that the mainstream media could have a field day with this. The incident will undoubtedly be part of the hotel lobbyists' list of reasons AirBnB should be made illegal. And if the investigation reveals that they were cooking drugs in the place, that's even more damning.

It's disappointing to see this happen to one of the most interesting startups as of late, and I hope they turn around their attitude for the better. This is already really damaging, but it could be way worse if things don't change.


It isn't disappointing, it is predictable. AirBnB has skirted the rules from day one, when they launched by spamming Craiglist. AirBnB brokers a service that is illegal in many jurisdictions, and they go out of their way to mask the serious risks their users (both renters and owners) are taking. And when the obvious happens, their response is self-serving.


Actually that was apparently not sanctioned, rather the work of some contractors acting off their own back.[1]

[1]:http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2815183


Ah, the News of The World defense.


Ok I'll bite; actually quite different - there are (very) strong indications that the NotW's problems were part of the culture there which makes the idea that the bosses did not know seem very unlikely. In this case there are no such indications afaik.

In any case I wasn't taking a position (I simply do not know enough to do so), rather I wanted to provide some balance to the assertion that they spam which was stated as if it was absolute fact.


The scale is obviously different, so in that sense I wasn't fair. But the defense is exactly the same, disclaiming responsibility for the acts of your contractors. I don't think any victim (Craigslist, NoTW phone hackees) cares about the fine point of the employment relationship.

EDIT: took EJ off the parenthesized list of victims, as she was not the victim of a contractor.


I think things differ in 3 main respects -

1. Whether there was an ongoing culture of doing the wrong thing - NotW yes, AirBnb not so much (afaik).

2. Whether there is an indication that the defence is actually completely false (i.e. whether the guys in charge actually did know and sanction these things) - again there are some strong indications that this was the case at the NotW, especially if you take the culture into account (i.e. - how did that culture come about if there wasn't some degree of either asking for hacking to be performed or not wanting to know whether it was - both equally worthy of blame). Again AirBnB - not so much.

3. And of course, scale, though I didn't mean to criticise that particular difference.

The victims might not care about the finer points, but in terms of determining who is to blame it does matter. Obviously there is the point that employees are the responsibility of the company, however if they do something the employer was not aware of then that seems to me to be a sort of technicality.

Anyway, getting into [1] territory now so should probably just leave it at that :)

[1]: http://xkcd.com/386/


"1. Whether there was an ongoing culture of doing the wrong thing - NotW yes, AirBnb not so much (afaik)."

When you're first starting off a company, anything you do is your company culture.


[deleted]


The founders hired the contractors. I don't think it's fair to call AirBnB spammers, and it's unreasonable to assume malice, but questions around oversight and transparency are reasonable ones to ask.


Indeed, entirely the point I was trying to make; namely that it's not fair to call them spammers. In response to the fact that they hired them + that it raises questions - sure, but there are two sides to the argument and that needs to be highlighted.

UPDATE: Deleted. Sheesh. I know it was a meta-point, but legitimate - downvoting for trying to actually provide balance? I think it's worth calling that out.


The fact that this occurred 5 weeks ago yet nothing has been done to rectify this and that the co-founder wanted the victim to put a spin on the situation is astounding.


That's what I keep thinking too. Ignoring all the ethical and legal issues here: this was just obviously a huge risk to the company from the instant they heard about it. How do you let weeks go by without getting closure on this? Get the senior executives on the phone with her every day, make sure she knows everything you know, make absolutely certain she isn't stewing in silence thinking about writing a blog post. Really, that's just customer service 101.

Instead AirBnB stuck their heads in the sand and ignored it until it went viral. Bad, bad sign. Which new company-breaking disaster is going to be ignored next?


> There's the potential that the mainstream media could have a field day with this.

It's on the front page of the Financial Times today (Friday 29 July) in London. The article is fairly short, is based on the original blog post and the reaction to that, and it also talks about AirBnB's finances (as is appropriate for that newspaper).

It's below the fold - the headline is about US government debt. But still.


Update: the same article can be found online here: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/9aac5f80-b924-11e0-bd87-00144feabd...


This is a seriously damning essay from someone who's clearly working through PTSD issues (or is an amazing liar).

Part of the issue is that young fast-growth CEOs don't major on empathy, typically. It's somewhat contrary to the necessities of the job. These co-founders have absolutely no concept of how this woman feels, or if they do, they have determined that they won't let her know about it. The best thing say Paul Graham could do would be to hire them a crisis management coach, stat.

While the co-founders are reportedly worrying a bit about valuation right now, they could (and should) be turning this into an amazing PR story; massively over-compensating her, setting up a Lloyds-based insurance coverage program, appearing on something like Oprah to talk over how it felt, and what we can all do as we're moving into this awesome social-based home sharing..


>>or is an amazing liar

I know that people were doubting the veracity of the story in the first place, but I think the initial AirBnB PR statement laid that to rest. At this point, what would EJ gain by lying? Anything that's a blatant lie could just be replied with by "Nope" by AirBnB, and she could only hurt her case by lying about anything right now.

Honestly, after what appears to be a month with no help, no reply, no customer service, veiled threats, and an offer to "get a cup of coffee"...I'm honestly surprised this essay isn't more vitriolic.


(Disclaimer: I'm not saying that she's lying, and I see no element that makes me believe that she lies. I don't even see any concrete element pointing to a conspiracy, I'm merely pondering how credible it might be).

> what would EJ gain by lying?

AirBnB has the potential to become very disruptive for the whole hostel industry. This means that there are people, some of them with deep pockets, some of them less than honest, and some of them both, who really want them to fail.

What's AirBnB's main challenge? It needs people to trust each other, in a society which promotes mistrust. The easiest way to destroy them is to prevent this trust from being created and maintained. If you wanted to destroy them in a shady way, your best bet would be to create a smear campaign based on a traumatizing violation, exactly such as what allegedly happened to this woman.

Moreover, if you were to create such a smear campaign, your best bet wouldn't be to have an accomplice playing the victim: it would be to choose a perfect genuine victim (likable, vocal, blogging, emotionally sensitive, and with good writing skills), and send real thugs actually destroy her home in the most traumatizing way, including psychopathic "nice" e-mails sent while wrecking the place havoc.


There's only one problem with your thought process: even if the "thugs" were sent by the big bad hotel industry, they have no influence over the way that AirBnB responds to the incident. If they would have handled it in a responsible, savvy way this would be a non-story, or maybe even a big PR win. The "devious" plan only works if AirBnB bungles the ball, which they have done. They have no one to blame for that but themselves.

At the end of the day, it doesn't really matter who caused what to happen to this woman, does it? AirBnB have obviously given credence to the basic tenants of her story (she is a person, she used AirBnB, she was ransacked), that is enough. The only thing that matters after that is the way they handled the situation.


I never discussed the appropriateness of AirBnB's response, neither to defend nor to accuse them.

I only said that if one wants to destroy them in possibly illegal ways, making such an event occur looks like an excellent move.

Bonus point, from the attacker's point of view, if AirBnB reacts inappropriately of course. But even if they had been faultless, people would still have remembered this story every time they considered renting their home. Notice that the focus is on the emotional harm rather than the financial one, i.e. the one AirBnB cannot fix even if they want to.


Way to go with the empathy. You'd make a great AirBnb spokesman. :)

I don't think EJ gives a flying monkey's back side about how "disruptive" AirBnb is, or has spent any time thinking about how her story would impact their financing and business model. Because, really, who thinks like that?


> This is a seriously damning essay from someone who's clearly working through PTSD issues (or is an amazing liar).

I'm not going to defend AirBNB but I do have to say that I have an incredibly hard time identifying with this woman's writing.

Ultimately, some tweakers trashed her apartment and stole her stuff. Is that a bummer? Of course. If that happened to me, would I be angry, furious? Absolutely. Would I change the locks, clean up, and lawyer up on AirBNB? I guarantee it.

But the sheer levels of emotion she's experiencing over an event where, basically, her stuff got trashed, suggests to me that she probably had so many emotional stability issues to begin with that she shouldn't have been participating in something where "strangers trash your apartment" is obviously at risk of happening.


"But the sheer levels of emotion she's experiencing over an event where, basically, her stuff got trashed, suggests to me that she probably had so many emotional stability issues to begin with that..."

Being traumatized by someone violating your home, privacy, and personal life is not evidence of "emotional stability issues", it's a perfectly natural and common reaction.

I think you're seriously overestimating the extent to which everyone else in the world's mind works just like yours. You may be too cool and rational to get upset at this experience (or think you are, at least), but that doesn't mean everyone else is--or should be.


I'm not arguing that it's not uncommon to be upset after a break-in. I'm saying that the levels of emotional response she's describing are so over-the-top that I find it incredibly difficult to identify with them.

An inability to return to the place due to panic (five weeks after the incident, no less)... lying in a fetal position outside the door.. these are not the actions of a well-balanced person who is in a difficult emotional state due to circumstances. These are the actions of someone who really needs some serious help.


> I'm saying that the levels of emotional response she's describing are so over-the-top that I find it incredibly difficult to identify with them. [...] These are not the actions of a well-balanced person who is in a difficult emotional state due to circumstances. These are the actions of someone who really needs some serious help.

What's not the action of a well-balanced person is telling her or anyone else how they should feel in response to traumatic events. There are many, many people--men as well as women, so you can't write this off as some kind of weak-minded feminine hysteria--who are mugged, for example, and consequently develop serious neuroses that take them years to overcome. A former school mate of mine, an ex-special-forces martial arts bad-ass who you'd think would be fearless, had that happen to him and could barely get himself to leave his apartment for an entire year. That kind of response isn't based on a calm and rational risk assessment, but that doesn't make it any less genuine and deeply felt. Sufferers are often aware on a conscious rational level that they're overreacting, but that doesn't make the problem magically vanish.


AirBnB gives the illusion that you can just rent out your apartment without any precautions. I've stayed in a few dedicated holiday apartments and almost without fail:

1) They are furnished with the basics and that's it. No valuables and nothing that can not be easily replaced.

2) The owner or an employed managing agent interacted with us (either at the apartment or when we fetched the keys) when we arrived and left.

3) They had insurance in place and 80% of the time when I signed for the apartment I was also signing my own liability.

If you are prepared to rent out a fully furnished (and in this case full of valuables) apartment to strangers you need to be prepared for the potential massive downside. 99% of your guests may be hassle free but it just takes that 1% to wipe out any financial upside and even then they may not even do it on purpose - accidents can and do happen.


I'd say your last sentence applies to renting out any kind of apartment. Once you catch the occasional deadbeat tenant (not paying rent for months, damaging the floors etc.), your business case is FUBR.


This article on TC adds nothing at all.

Original blog post: http://ejroundtheworld.blogspot.com/2011/07/airbnb-nightmare...

HN submission of that blog post for discussion: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2820615

========

ADDED IN EDIT: Clearly this is contentious - it went up to two points, now as I write this it's down to zero, and who knows where it will go next.

Yes, I agree, sometimes TechCrunch adds information, but I claim that in this case it doesn't. Further, I claim that by reading only the excerpts they include, you are not being given the whole picture as written by the blog author. The post is well-written and well-crafted - providing summary excerpts does not give the full impact or the full situation.

And, given that the crunchy bits don't actually add anything, let me quote from http://ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html where it says:

    Please submit the original source. If a blog post
    reports on something they found on another site,
    submit the latter.


I disagree - people are always interested in TechCrunch's take on things. Indeed, AirBNB used it as their PR channel the other day ( http://techcrunch.com/2011/07/27/on-safety-a-word-from-airbn...) so linking to the TC article certainly has value.


Agree to disagree - I'm content with that. In my opinion sometimes TC actually adds something, but this time it really doesn't.


The real news here is "TechCrunch isn't sleeping on the AirBnB/EJ story", especially given that EJ's followup post is still on the front page.

The important details are in the news cycle itself:

1) EJ post tops the HN front page

2) HuffPo-owned TechCrunch reblogs it

3) TC posts a defense from an AirBnB cofounder

4) EJ posts a "still no help from AirBnB" followup

5) TC reblogs that as well in an attempt to cover both sides of the story


If that AirBnb co-founder really asked her to tone down her post because it would mess with future financing, that's just sad. Talk about inappropriate timing and priorities


It's all about money and greed. Sad indeedy.


Airbnb is a business. And honestly their behavior is exactly what I would expect from them: dont admit any liability, offer words of consolement.


This isn't an isolated incident though.

Their whole business model pretty much is built on the fact that things like this will happen. A lot.


Given that they control the communication, the implied business model is that trustworthy people will be using the service.

If they truly expected these types of incidents to happen a lot, they would require more information from people (to be able to trace and hold visitors accountable) and have some sort of legalese to ensure that they would never be held liable.


I find this bit particularly damning: "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”.

Seems like we are all still waiting for the "good news" ending to this tale.


I don't know what they're smoking over there, honestly. Cut off all contact through their CS to the victim, and then have a cofounder want to "meet them for coffee"? After asking her to take down the blog or give it a positive-twist ending?

I don't know what they're expecting but I'm hard-pressed to think of what they could do worse, short of joking about it on twitter.

Edit: Holy god, I didn't realize the actual timeframe of this was five weeks. AirBnB is going to have to crucify someone for a "bad judgement call" in terms of the sudden Customer Service cutoff if they want to have any positive spin coming off of this, I think.

Also, props to this brave lady for the point-by-point shutdown of their PR statement. I don't know many people who would have the guts to stand up to a company, especially after what she's been through, both from the original incident and AirBnB's response after her initial blog post.


What you're calling a 'sudden Customer Service cutoff' is actually when (from victim's account) communication switched to being with a cofounder. That's escalation and unification, and it's not fair to portray a direct open line to the boss as a 'cutoff'.

(That the victim portrays it that way suggests they may have had better rapport with the original CS liason. Perhaps that person included more social/emotional niceties in more frequent communications. Not everyone is as good at the sort of 'inquiry into my current emotional state' that this victim might find comforting.)


Yeah, I think that's structurally the correct response (escalate her directly to the founders), but unless the cofounder is actually good at that kind of thing (apparently not), they probably should've additionally assigned someone who is good at it as a contact person to check up on her situation / provide assistance / etc.

Heck, if the original CS rep had good rapport, maybe the right response would be to keep him/her as the main contact person, but escalate the CS rep into more of a personal representative of the founders, with more authority to provide assistance, and a direct line to keep them updated. Of course, that's a guess with hindsight.


The CS liason sounds like they were actually trying to serve their customer. The interactions with the founder sound like her account got switched from "customer service" to "damage control."

Yeah, I get it, the business is his baby. But it's just a business, and it's just ruined someone's life for who-knows how long. Get your priorities straight. The business is just effort and money, it's not worth doing this kind of damage to other people, not even 1.


From EJ's account, it does sound like "her account got switched from 'customer service' to 'damage control'", and that it happened the day of her first blog post. I have no doubt that's how she feels.

But EJ is a person who is still, by her own descriptions, hurt and angry. She's paraphrasing many communications down to just the excerpts that explain her feelings.

It's easy for misunderstandings to multiply. A recent less-emotional example was the Steve Yegge speech. He thought he said he was resigning from a project, based on context and word choice many thought he was resigning from Google.

If communicating over email and the phone with a person you've never met, who's still emotionally suffering, the potentials for hurtful misunderstandings are much higher.

You might say things that you think are reassuring/hopeful, that instead sound indifferent. When you ask, "are you OK and do you have a place to stay?", and get an answer like, "I'm set for the next few days and then have other friends to talk to", you might think things are settled, where the answerer is really just putting on a strong facade. If you close with, "contact us if you need anything else", you might think you've left an open door for all other needs, and will hear if there are any, when in fact she needs and expects more check-ins about her well-being. And so forth.

It's wrong to condemn someone's tone based on the accounts of one aggrieved side of the communication.


I'm more disappointed with airbnb screwing this up than that there are bad people using the site. They should have dropped everything to fix this.

I wonder what pg thinks about this.


I doubt Airbnb cares what pg thinks.

I'm just guessing, but it seems likely Airbnb see themselves as "underdogs, displacing the hotel industry". The fact that they care so much how EJ phrased her post after her home was completely destroyed (look around you right now --- imagine all of that being gone and never coming back) indicates they have an ego to match. So no, pg can't help them, and no one else can either. It's up to them to fix or break their billion-dollar company.


It's obvious that AirBnB only cares about attempting to spin it. I'm more curious if pg is going to work "how (not) to handle a PR crisis" into the YCombinator syllabus.


I'm curious to hear if PG even knew about this before it blew up.


That's pretty unfair to PG since he's not involved in AirBnB's support.


This is the paraphrased account from a hurt and angry person. It may accurately portray how the victim felt, but not the intended emphasis of the speaker. Beware making any 'damning' conclusions.


Acquaintances have said they'd probably not use Airbnb for fear of problems like this. After this incident and Airbnb's response, they will never even consider it. And they will tell all their acquaintances, etc, etc.. Airbnb's Achilles' heel is the deep-rooted fear of someone fucking up home. That they did not patch this with a good backup-plan should be a warning to investors.


"That they did not patch this with a good backup-plan should be a warning to investors."

Yeah this is their biggest problem here they seem to have no crisis plan at all. Nothing.


What backup plan can you have for someone destroying your house, copying all your documents, and stealing your grandmother's jewelery?


Airbnb should have had a backup plan, not the victim.

Note: i feel terrible for the Airbnb folks. I hope they get out of this mess.


They should be covered by some type of insurance so that they can compensate the owner or vice-versa. Things like this will happen and continue to happen.


Worth noting that, despite recent large valuations and funding rounds, the founders of Airbnb are still driving their baby and have a massive emotional attachment to it. (As do all business owners.)

This is their first significant black eye (the Craigslist stuff was far more limited in its audience reach), and has the potential to derail a company that's only 2 years old. Of course they're going to be responding emotionally, and unfortunately that means perhaps doing too much or doing the wrong thing (like suggesting to meet for coffee without asking how EJ is coping).

Now, that emotional involvement with the business is considerably less than the emotion of coming home to discover your house has been ransacked, so I'm not trying to compare. I'm just observing that Airbnb's response (for better or worse) is not devoid of emotional triggers either. I do hope EJ is receiving the support she needs and am sure she will get through this. I similarly hope the ongoing support the Airbnb founders are receiving recognises the feelings element of running a large business through the prism of their emotional attachment.


I donwvoted you. I don't see how what you write is relevant. Everybody is emotionally attached to their startups, including me, so?


emotional attachment is especially relevant to this situation since empathy is the most important thing that airbnb can provide right now. The fact that empathy is FREE and they are not giving it to EJ just baffles me!


You seem to be confusing what the term "relevent" means re: down-voting. (or perhaps just want down-voting is for)

down-voting is a community moderation tool, to be used on comments that are off-topic, trolling, spam, etc.

The article in question is about AirBnB's repsonse to the situation (or rather, about EJ's comments about their response to the situation). The comment you down voted is making a point about a possible reason they may be acting that way.

It's a direct and thoughtful response to the topic at hand, it's ipso facto "relevent" in the sense that matters re: down-voting.

The fact that you disagree with it, or think it is flawed is not a valid reason for down-voting; instead you would reply refuting their point. You seem to think that their comment is not "relevent" re: how one considers their actions...and that may be true...but that is not a valid reason to downvote and not the sort of relevance that matters re that.

I only bring this up because many people seem to be confused about down-voting, or abuse the system and I think it's helpful to have a dialog on it occasionally.


So ... I don't believe that level of emotional attachment is well understood by people who don't have their own business. There's criticism - in this thread and elsewhere - of how Airbnb have handled this whole situation, especially some of the information in the OP. I think there would be less criticism if more people understood the emotions of being a business owner - emotions lead us to do non-rational things.

Edit: To add how good it was to see someone explain a downvote, so we could continue a discussion.


Yes, the emotional attachment that founders have with their startups is pretty crazy. I think that rational founders learn to normalize it over the years though, at least that's what happened to me.

Criticism sucks, but with a company like Airbnb that's the deal, and the founders knew it from the get go. This is the price (one of many) they pay for their eventual big payday. Overall, it's a pretty good deal though =)


> This is the price (one of many) they pay for their eventual big payday.

"Screw clients, acquire currency!"


This is a ridiculous article. Instead of just quoting an anonymous blog post, TechCrunch could be calling AirBNB, calling the victim, digging up the police report, locating the relevant profiles on AirBNB, and so on, and so forth. They have the resources, they could contributing to the understanding of this event, rather than just spreading FUD. There is no journalism present whatsoever, it is pure spin.


TechCrunch and FT are reporting on this but EJ's latest post says "2. Other than occasionally sharing the link to my blog, I have made no statements to nor have I been interviewed by the press - yet." I'm sure the FT must have a code of conduct around victims of crime (see the BBC one @ http://www.bbc.co.uk/guidelines/editorialguidelines/page/gui...) to ensure they don't complicate matters but surely they could have tried to contact EJ to confirm what they were going to print was correct.


Exactly. And if she's not the homeowner where is the actual homeowner in all of this?


Airbnb is one of the good ideas that came out of the SF/SV area that wasn't really means tested and a cock-up like this was bound to occur. It places an incredible amount of trust in the hosts and guests. This is alright I guess for some places but definitely not others.

I assume that if Airbnb got its start in Detroit, for example, and not San Francisco then safety and security would have a different context. For me, when I was in university I left the door to my apartment unlocked, a lot. I knew everyone in our building and had so many people coming and going from my place that it was easier that way. Plus, being a broke college student the most expensive thing in the apartment was the bottles of liquor :-). But this is definitely not something I would do in any other city.

EJ assumed that keeping valuables in a locked closet would be enough. Severely overestimating the role a locked closet plays in a house. Being a traveller myself I am constantly worried about the security of my house. Renting it out to a stranger with my valuables still inside would drive me nuts.

I like the idea of airbnb but I haven't used them because they don't have listings for the places I go. And the thought of having to move all the expensive stuff out of my place, pay for storage, and move it back when I arrive is a bigger hassle than I can deal with.


I'm starting to get the feeling that the Airbnb founders will do "whatever" it takes, to see their business succeed.


Yeah, first the craigslist thing, now this. They seem unconcerned with "evil". I guess that's how businesses succeed in our system.

I get the feeling that it's pretty chaotic over there. My first AirBNB experience was filled with crazy bugs (the messaging system, logins). It seems they're trying to get huge fast rather than taking the time to polish the experience.


The story is on the front page of this morning's Financial Times (UK edition): http://www.politicshome.com/timthumb.php?w=450&src=%2Fim...

Story here: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/2/9aac5f80-b924-11e0-bd87-00144feabd...


That's the old story. They haven't seen yet the newest post. When they will have, all hell will break loose for AirBNB.


airbnb need to realise this will not go away. The way I see it, their two main options are:

1) hire a PR firm, lawyer up and let the spin doctors handle things. With the amount of money they have, this is a real option. They could probably convince or coerce (bully?) the victim into accepting a settlement in exchange for keeping quiet. The PR machine would then be free to write (or rewrite) the story as they see fit.

2) Come clean. Realise that it's never the victim's fault. Compensate her financially for her loss. Offer to provide counselling. Help her with the logistics of finding and moving to a new place. Work with the victim (and other airbnb users) to figure out how to reduce the chances of this happening again. And all the while, document everything. Brian C speaks of openness and transparency - show us, don't tell us.


Not a reflection on Brian, ( I know nothing about him) but it is my observation that 'talking' about openness and transparency is easy. Implementing it in a competitive environment is difficult.


Airbnb really needs to pull their head out of their ass on this one. This seems like it could literally destroy their company.


This is one of those sad instances where you see a really great company forget their roots and give their soul wholeheartedly to the idea of becoming huge. This was going to happen eventually. In fact, this issue is the biggest chink in the chain of the whole collaborative consumption ideal. The idea of social sharing is amazing, but the companies working in this space should know that eventually someone would come along and exploit the system for nefarious purposes. It's great that some of these companies are getting funding to grow, but did no one think that this was a possibility? Did no one think this could happen? I love the idea of AirBnB, but they need to understand that they have a responsibility to their community that far surpasses their responsibility to any funding they receive.


This should not be [dead] (and please don't downvote me because you disagree with him; on the other hand, perhaps someone should tell him):

"brianchesky 3 minutes ago [dead]

Brian Chesky (Airbnb CEO) here. My heart goes out to our host. My co-founder has contacted her multiple times, as recently as last night, and we have again offered to help her in any way that she needs. We will continue to make ourselves available to her to do whatever she asks of us in this time of need. We have encouraged her to reach us so that we can help her through this, and we are standing by."


It's dead because he copy&pasted the exact same text on the other thread. http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2821305


Try googling for "craigslist murder" or "gumtree stabbing", crimes happen. The classified industry is still alive. Foursquare and Twitter stalking didn't kill either of those products.

The London Metropolitan police typically deal with 50-100 crimes related to online classified ads a year.

People are incredibly poor at judging risks so things like this get blown out of proportion. You need to look at the context and compare against other risks. For example what's the risk of your house get burgled if you go on holiday and leave it empty for a few weeks ?


I'm surprised the mainstream media hasn't picked this up. It has all the right plot points to drive a story -- over-the-top crime, police can't find the persons involved, the victim is striking back at the company who started the mess.


Did the company start the mess?


This is bad enough but what happens when the inevitable assault, rape or murder finally occurs? Screening people is a chicken & egg problem because if you only rent to people with a ton of positive history nobody new gets in.

The only solution I can see is digging way deeper into the personal background of a prospective tenant than any hotel would dare.


A little OT from the actual story but I find it annoying when TechCrunch and similar sites find a random picture to put near the headline. I suppose the point of this is to attract more eyes to the article, but when the story is about someone getting their home trashed and you show some completely different house that looks like a bulldozer drove through it, I can't help but think you're creating an association that is a best worthless and at worst misleading. Pictures in articles serve a purpose and that purpose certainly isn't to remind me what a trashed house is.


How does this work legally? Is it still burglary when the people were allowed in the house? Of course taking things that do not below to you is theft. But going through someones documents, is that illegal?


I'm pretty sure AirBnB is already pretty sketchy when it comes to legality, just from the fact that a lot of apartments explicitly disallow subletting. I wouldn't be surprised if there's a later follow-up saying that this lady is on the hook for any damage done to the apartment.


Not a lawyer and I don't know anything about San Francisco laws, but I'm a former police dispatcher and I've worked in the insurance industry.

Burglary is usually just breaking and entering plus some other crime. Breaking (the legal term) doesn't actually require anything be literally broken to gain entry (i.e. theft or duplication of keys and lockpicking still qualify), and you can still "break" into rooms of a home you've been invited into in some jurisdictions; so if you were not explicitly permitted into an area and a reasonable attempt to prevent you from entering was made (closed door, locks, gates, etc), it's breaking. Not all jurisdictions require a theft to occur for burglary to have been committed, there's a multitude of crimes that might qualify: kidnapping, assault, battery, rape, arson, theft, vandalism, and others might all be valid secondary crimes that would create a burglary and some places don't even require that, the mere act of breaking and entering is sufficient.

Going through someone's document may not be criminal, but copying the documents is probably criminal identity theft and that in tandem with them being in a locked away closet would probably add burglary to the charges even though the host had invited the guests into the house. From the original post's description of events, there'd still be felony vandalism and felony theft too, although if she actually reported to the police that she had essentially sublet her apartment through AirBnB, she's most certainly exempt from making insurance claims that would make her whole again.


If you care for the reaction from someone who doesn't really know/understand what Airbnb is:

"Who lets strangers into their home, unsupervised?"

Does make some sense, right? Who would?


I have never used the service, but I always assumed that they pre-screened the customers and the hosts. I'm really surprised to hear that they don't have a screening process, like background checks, and that they don't carry some for on insurance to cover damages.

They certainly don't seem to make the effort to inform hosts of those two points. Hosts should be completely aware that AirBnB, 1) does NO background checks or verifications on possible tenants, and 2) does NOT insure any damages.


If people are unable to read the TOS, which states Airbnb does no background checks not sure how it's Airbnb's fault when something goes amiss. They do not vet either the hosts or the renters. Either party could be throwing major shade and basically if you're a person devoid of common sense and good judgment the services provided by Airbnb probably aren't for you. Personally, I could not use either because my HOA expressly forbids short term leases for the reasons driven home by this incident.


TSA and cops are both screened before they are hired, doesn't prevent the horror stories.

How do you know the people who do the screening actually do anything? What's their "skin in the game"?


I'm sorry, but very little of this story rings true for me. "EJ" reminds me of a roommate I had in college who was a serious drama queen. If she felt wronged by you there was no remedy short of spending every moment lavishing her attention and apologizes (and who has time for that?) that would appease here and it was never enough. I don't doubt AirBnB offered assistance and "EJ" herself said so. However, with a drama queen it is never about finite forms of attention (money, vindication, etc) but renewable sources where she is able to maintain victimhood without taking a shred of responsibility for her part (no matter how small) in the events that are alleged to have unfolded. I mean what kind of drama queen psycho ex carries on about a CEO wanting to meet her for coffee, but not asking about her feelings? What are they dating or something? Nobody cares about her "feelings" feelings are transient and not fact. What they want is to solve the problem and since they are men, they're having some real problems understanding what a losing game they're playing when the opposing side is a drama queen.


I wonder how CouchSurfing managed such issues. I am sure it must have happened with CouchSurfing too. I know that they have ratings for members and past history. I guess you can get an impression of the trustworthiness. But then this sort of thing can happen too.


The thing with CouchSurfing is that the guest is not generally alone in the apartment--it's a more social interaction, where the host is entertaining you, showing you around, etc. In Airbnb's case, the guest is left alone in the apartment, and there isn't as much interaction between the host and guest.


The headline is a bit too much, even for TechCrunch.

EJ is not "homeless". She almost certainly has never been homeless and will never be homeless; this is an insult to people who have been homeless, broke, and literally have nowhere to go. Choosing to not stay in a $3.8K / month loft in SF does not a homeless person make.

And she's at least a bit responsible for feeding the sensationalism of this; it is coming off a bit Drama Queen.


Her nickname is EJ, and she is indeed homeless. Her home was destroyed and ever since she has been bouncing around staying with friends. She is now without a home - that doesn't mean she is sleeping in the subway station, but it does mean she doesn't have a permanent residence anymore. Hence, homeless.


Some strange things to note about this case:

- she rants about airbnb, but not so much about the thieves.. in those Ebay scam cases the victim usually directs his/her anger and takes action toward the scammer, not towards ebay. She reports very little about the thieves and the progress of the police investigation.

- Are these psychotic rockstar thieves so expert at hiding their identity? its a very 'proffesional' job then.. which can raise more points to the hotel lobby conspiracy theory.

- I thought that you use airbnb to rent extra properties; not your home with your documents, jewels, money, personal diary and what not in there.


Regarding - I thought that you use airbnb to rent extra properties; not your home with your documents, jewels, money, personal diary and what not in there.

Nope. You use vrbo or an external agency for your extra property. You use airbnb for renting the extra room in the house or a week you're away from your place. That's how airbnb spins it and that's how most places are listed on the site


I don't know why but on top of feeling bad for this woman, I feel bad for the AirBnB guys because the whole concept is so idealistic and believes in the good in people--if only everyone represented humanity the way they envisioned this from the birth of their idea; that would truly be a good world.


I'm a little less worried about what the MSM will do here (editorialize and paint the hotel industry, as some other HNers have said as golden boys), I'm actually curious to see how someone up on Capitol Hill is going to react to this.


This reminds me of Paypal, where the founders said they won the online payments game because they figured out how to deal with fraud.

Maybe that's one of the keys to success here, figuring out how to deal with these cases at the business plan level.


Can we all admit that techcrunch gets page views by spreading FUD? Read original sources for this case


I barely invite my friends over, why would I let a random into my house, even for $(amount)?


Everyone generalizes from one example; at least, I know I do.


If this was bound to happen, I wonder why AirBnB didn't have a better contingency plan.


This is really crappy and airbnb fucked up big time, twice now.

But... there's something odd about the way the victim writes, and I don't understand why it's jumping out at me:

"bouncing between friends’ homes".. "clutching my pillow".. "breathing through panic attacks".. "scouring the city’s pawn shops".. "this too shall pass and I will be made whole again."


She is just trying to convey her emotions. I think her style is appropriate for the situation.


as one smart commenter http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2820778 has finally got it (and as usually - once somebody was able to get it and explained to the rest of us, it seems obvious ) - PTSD


I'm sorry, but I disagree with you (and upvoted that post). While post traumatic stress disorder is highly individualistic, one of the classic symptoms is a desire not to be reminded of the trauma (especially only five weeks after). Usually, at this point, a victim would be doing everything possible not to think of it.

Granted, PTSD is highly individualistic, but if you read the relevant medical literature, this is not a classic case.


another classical symptom is flashbacks, and they aren't necessarily separated by any specific time period from the original event.


Excellent point!

The thing though is that flashbacks are involuntary (though most often brought about by a sensory trigger). The way this victim is seeking to bring this forward is voluntary.

I'm not trying to attack the victim, merely I'm agreeing with this thread's parent comment - this case is nowhere near average.


Pictures would be nice. Or a copy of the police report works as great proof.


It seems both of those could be interfering with the investigation. She made the point that she had not posted pictures as an example of cooperating with the process between AirBnB and the police.


As much as this sucks for EJ, she is being quite the crybaby. This has nothing to do with AirBnB and everything to do with the fact she handed over the keys to her personal flat (containing many expensive items and personal documents) to a complete stranger. The medium through which this stranger found you, be it a pinboard at a supermarket, craiglist, airbnb or through a foaf, is irrelevant.

Initially AirBnB may have been populated with California Apple fan boys (you can trust), but it's just a matter of time before Joe six-pack (who you maybe can't trust so much) gets on there.

If you rent out your place through AirBnB it should be YOUR responsibility to vet the person and / or make sure there is little to steal / destroy. This isn't the responsibility of the founders of AirBnB.


This has nothing to do with AirBnB

Yes, so far as we know, the persons who robbed and trashed EJ's home were not employees of AirBnB.

In just about every other respect, however, this has everything to do with AirBnB. Four big points that have struck me:

* From a business perpective, such incidents were inevitable and yet the company seems to have had no crisis management plan in place. That is simply astounding.

* From a consumer perspective, it's worth warning potential users of the service that the company's prior attitude was "Don't worry, no one will steal your grand piano". As EJ points out, if AirBnB's "service" offers no more protection and fewer warnings than a free Craigslist alternative, you may want to reconsider using them.

* Given that some small percentage of renters are intent on breaking through your locked doors and storage cabinets looking for valuables, you might just want to reconsider renting your home out to people you don't personally know and trust. At the very least, a viewing of "Pacific Heights" is in order. (A landlord acquaintence suggested the film be required viewing for anyone who is considering becoming a landlord.) This might not seem AirBnB-relevant at first, but when you consider AirBnB's facile "grand piano" Web page, it seems quite relevant.

* Imagine if EJ had gotten suspicious and decided to check up on the renters herself or asked a friend to do it for her. Scenarios escalating to rape and/or murder are not farfetched. Even if you can ignore the pain and suffering of the victims, imagine what a PR disaster that would have been for AirBnB. (Which brings us back to the first point.)


I was the main anti-AirBnB poster last time around...but..

I gotta say, something about all this now seems like it's a set up for a big fat lawsuit. I've never been violated this way (or anything close to it), so maybe I'm being insensitive, but this is crossing into whining territory to me.

If you want to complain about a _really_ bad experience, a lack of customer support, and insensitive and money-focused founders, that's fine. But I don't really need to hear about your pillow-clutching and fading normalcy.


Well, if it's fraudulent that's one thing. But if the story is entirely true, then who really gives a fuck what you need to hear?


You could use some empathy, my friend.




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