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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.


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.

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