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Another Airbnb Victim Tells His Story: “There Were Meth Pipes Everywhere” (techcrunch.com)
394 points by jasonlbaptiste 2247 days ago | hide | past | web | 231 comments | favorite



What's going to be a game changer is when stories start breaking about owners who rent out their space as a way to lure in people for killing or torturing them.

Right now it's about "you were stupid, why did you rent your space out to strangers?". Later on it'll be "why did you try to save $20 and go sleep some place where you're 110% vulnerable?". You don't control the locks, you don't know the neighborhood or even the layout of the house all that well (are there cameras in the room spying on you?).

If Holiday Inn or Marriott had tried to go 'downmarket' by trying to get in the "rent out your space with us - we'll handle the booking logistics", they'd have been eaten alive by the insurance costs of dealing with QA on thousands of rooms/spaces they don't control. They'd have too much name brand recognition and goodwill in their names to lose by leaving customer safety and security to chance. ABNB seems to be coming at this from the other way. What do they have to lose? Investor money? It's a big experiment for them, which they're hoping will pay off, but I think there's a reasons beyond "laziness" or "not getting it" to explain why larger companies well-versed in hospitality/property management have not gone down this road.

Will things still work out for ABNB? They might, but they're taking such a hit on this by not just making some of these situations right, then changing their procedures and policies. Apparently these incidents - as infrequent as they may be - have been occurring for a while. There's probably quite a few more that haven't come forward because they've felt it was their own fault, much like domestic abuse spouses blame themselves. Not really wanting to see ABNB fail, but can't help watching this play out, and I somewhat suspect it'll get worse before it gets better.


There's probably quite a few more that haven't come forward because they've felt it was their own fault, much like domestic abuse spouses blame themselves.

A different way to put this is that most rational people recognize that letting strangers into their home is completely within the realm of their personal responsibility. AirBnB will have to put some processes in place in order for the business to succeed in the mainstream, but that doesn't absolve the hosts of responsibility for their apartments. Comparing this to domestic abuse victims is ludicrous.


This already happens on classified ad sites, people regularly go into strangers homes to purchase a wide range of goods with close to zero pre-checks. And yes people do get killed when they turn up at someone's house with 5k in cash to buy a car.

Doesn't seem to have stopped the classified business from working...


While you're right, it hasn't stopped them, "classifieds" have largely been eroded by things like Craigslist, which do allow you to do a bit of research and contact on your own. They don't prevent it. And I typically am not paying for the privilege of meeting my ransacker/assailant.

What's more, CL (and others) actively try to scare you with warnings about how not to get scammed and such. ABNB doesn't seem to take that approach, trying to wrap the whole thing up as a comfy/pleasing experience.


I know the father of one young person who was murdered after responding to a Craigslist ad looking for a babysitter.

http://www.startribune.com/local/south/41701952.html?elr=KAr...

(I met him after his daughter's murder.) The Craigslist founder Craig himself was involved in responding directly to that incident and appeared in public at a memorial event for the murder victim.

http://www.startribune.com/local/west/44272442.html?page=all...

These days, Craigslist has a lot of warnings about dangerous transactions, and for Airbnb to NOT have had similar warnings until last week suggests its lawyers weren't on the ball about what a reasonable standard of care is for being a third party arranging room rental transactions among strangers.

The young woman who was murdered in this part of the country was a kind, trusting, and perhaps hopelessly naive young woman who was surprised by a pervert with a deadly weapon. Airbnb regularly sets up situations, as in the recently reported incidents, in which the wrongdoer doesn't even have to confront the victim while stealing movable property, stealing identities, and destroying real property. Precisely because Craigslist incidents have been in the news for years now, it's crazy for Airbnb not to measure up to the industry standard of care.


"These days, Craigslist has a lot of warnings about dangerous transactions, and for Airbnb to NOT have had similar warnings until last week suggests its lawyers weren't on the ball about what a reasonable standard of care is for being a third party arranging room rental transactions among strangers."

It's still not similar.

How many people are going to really find that safety page? Compare this with Craigslist which has safety links on the search results and on the post.

And Craigslist doesn't take commission from transactions, so it's not really the same boat at all.


Craigslist is a classified site, and it's had it's share or rapes and killings:

http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=craigslist%20killing


Though interestingly, there wasn't nearly as much blame heaped on craigslist when this happened as is currently being heaped on airbnb.


CL is free and arms-length for rentals, while AirBnB is an active broker and financial participant in their rentals.


Are you kidding me? I read about the craigslist killings from every major media source that exists. ABNB is mostly in tech crunch, so far, and most of the heat they're taking isn't even about the fact that it happened as it is about their hamhanded response.


The difference is that airbnb takes 30% of the transaction fees and sounded it was safe everywhere in its website when it is clearly not.


CL doesn't do everything they possibly can to keep hosts from doing due diligence on their renters.


Then why do we need airbnb at all? Use craigslist for hotels too. The big issue here is that airbnb claims from the start that they are more than just classifieds, giving people a sense of security which is false.


>Then why do we need airbnb at all?

Website more pretty. They also have an intro video with a lady talking. Craiglist does not have a pretty site or video with a lady talking.


Exactly that false sense. I 've never used airbnb, but reading the positive hype i would be very positively biased to use it, while i would think Craigslist is "creepy". It's a matter of overinflated hype here more than anything else I think. With great hype, comes great responsibility, a wise man once said.


Well it doesn't necessarily have to be either or. AirBnB can adopt the same non-responsible legal stance as craigslist and still compete on user experience, strength of community, some level of non-guaranteed vetting, etc. I would agree though that they need be very clear and explicit about what they are and aren't responsible for, and they've apparently done a bad job of this so far.


Don't forget about the inevitable hidden cameras...


It's a lot easier to hold a host accountable for a crime, since their address is on record.


What's going to be a game changer is when stories start breaking about owners who rent out their space as a way to lure in people for killing or torturing them.

I agree 100%. However I ask say how in the world did you think about this?


My wife and I watch a lot of murder mystery movies as well as true crime stuff. AirBNB is a "48 Hours" episode waiting to happen. Ann Curry and Keith Morrison will have a field day with it.


Someone's been watching Hostel.

That said, I wouldn't be surprised if there have already been cases of hosts faking complaints to AirBnB about "that guest stole X Y and Z"-- but because they're only after money in the first place, they're a lot easier to shut up.


I thought it too when I heard about the service and how little vetting is done (i.e. not, it is all left to the users).

A fair number of rape/murder/other cases involve an unwitting victim being lured into situations that they naively (or just incorrectly) think should be safe. It is far from a daily occurrence in any given area but such cases are in the national news often enough (and fictional realms also) to figure in the minds of the more paranoid!

1. think of using AirBnB, 2. perfectly healthy paranoia kicks in and starts listing worst-case scenarios, 3. book into a large well known chain hotel instead...


Not just 'no vetting' is done, but they actively discourage you from making your own outside contact with the other party until you've already paid. Craigslist doesn't go that far - they do hide your email, but they don't stop you from trying to do your own vetting.


What's going to be a game changer is when stories start breaking about owners who rent out their space as a way to lure in people for killing or torturing them.

This has already[1] happened with an actual hotel, so you had better stick with Holiday Inn (and make sure it is really a Holiday Inn).

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H._H._Holmes#Chicago_and_the_.2...


How is this different than craigslist, a dating site, meetup.com or really any site that allows random people on the internet to meet each other in person?

People need to have some smarts about who they meet with. The service can do some things, like integrating the Facebook graph, but ultimately the two parties to the transaction must be responsible for checking each other out before they meet.


There is a deep ethical problem with starting or funding airbnb, in my opinion:

The fraction of people with enough sophistication and resources to be good, safe, hosts and guests is a tiny, tiny fraction of the people in the world. It is absurd to think that airbnb could ever scale to justify its investments if only those sophisticated users were customers.

The model relies, therefore, on large numbers of hosts and guests taking foolish risks. Airbnb's light and airy "how it works" video is a fine illustration of just how glib they are in encouraging people to make bad mistakes. The advice on their "safety" page is risible.

Because most people are decent, most foolish risks from using airbnb go "unpunished" but certainly not all - as we've seen. A significant percentage of those risks lead to great loss.

I fear that Airbnb is going to help kill, kidnap, rape or otherwise grievously harm someone's person, directly, at this pace. That's because to make its numbers the company must, needs be, incite dangerously foolish behavior from many customers.

That the investors controlling so many dollars signed off on this investment speaks poorly of the VC system that produced airbnb. It speaks poorly of their common sense and/or dedication to basic social responsibility.


What about all of the good that AirBnB does for the large majority of people who use the site? Is there a deep ethical problem with letting people supplement their income, while also letting travellers have a cheaper option for a night/weeks stay?

The vast majority of people who use AirBnb benefit from it.


"The vast majority of the people who use [it] benefit from it" is true of many products that are correctly removed from the market because of the size of the minority that suffer and the scale of their injury -- weighed against the benefit to other users and society as a whole.

More importantly, though, the scope of the risk of airbnb is enormous and past performance is not a reliable indicator of future success. As these two examples of bad experiences have shown, the system can be gamed. As a larger and larger number of bad guys learn that this system can be gamed (and how) -- exploits as a percentage of use and percentage of value received (insofar as you can quantify that) will, it seems to me, almost certainly grow.


AirBnB facilitates a set of behaviors that's almost never covered by normal homeowner/renters policies, along with being illegal in some places and against most rental contracts.

The only people who benefit are the guests, as any host who isn't using AirBnB to fill a rental property they already owned is taking on an incredible amount of personal liability for a relatively trivial sum of money (compared to the uninsured costs if something goes wrong).


In this regard, it is similar to driving. Vast majority benefits, but there are few who suffer greatly. The solution there is to regulate; introducing specific rules and making it illegal for people to drive unless they have a license. There is already a regulated hosting system: hotels; airbnb wants to change the system without keeping the regulations. I'd say they carry some responsibility here.


Being a liberitarian, I don't ever think the solution is to regulate; especially in this AirBnB case, where it is a mutual agreement between two people. Its different then driving, because only one of these two people can be hurt by the agreement. The onus to protect oneself should ultimetely rest with the owners/travelers.


I'm sure someone out there benefited from driving around in their Corvair with Firestone tires and a trunkful of lawn darts, too.

They were also fatally flawed products.


"""Airbnb, while pointing out that the incident was the first of its kind out of some 2 million stays booked since the company's founding in 2008 ..."""

source: http://travel.usatoday.com/destinations/dispatches/post/2011...

Either USAToday misinterpreted/misreported a quote, Airbnb lied to a reporter on the record, or Troy is making up his story. I can't see any other way to reconcile the evidence put forth.


The actual quote from AirBnB:

With a single booking, one person’s malicious actions victimized our host and undermined what had been – for 2 million nights – a case study demonstrating that people are fundamentally good.

Note it implies this is the only incident that has occurred, but they could have had three million incidents and this statement would still technically be true as long as they had two million nights without incidents.

Somehow, I doubt USA Today will be thrilled about being manipulated that way...


Somehow, I doubt USA Today will be thrilled about being manipulated that way...

Somehow, I doubt USA Today will even notice. They get served up far more egregious statements on a daily basis.

And, by the way, the statement is literally true, regardless of the number of prior incidents (within reasonable bounds). They aren't claiming a perfect 2million night streak in the quote-- rather, "a case study demonstrating that people are fundamentally good." If they had had 2000 prior bad incidents, they could easily argue that a 99% problem-free rate demonstrates that "people are fundamentally good."


This just highlights major flaws with the AirBnB business model. I think a more accurate quote would have been that it's "a case study demonstrating that a niche group of people with shared goals can act in a fundamentally good way", translating that to the general population is where AirBnB will have it's growing pains.


You know, I just now realized something. When I was hosting with AirBNB, I had some guests who had their car broken into. When I emailed support, they told me this was the first time something like this had happened. It makes me wonder how many other "firsts" they've had.


Might have even been the same meth c[r]ooks.

Kudos to Dayton for keeping a balanced perspective on the situation, and not equating customer service clumsiness with indifference.

I like AirBnb. I will continue to use AirBnb as a guest. (Hypothetically if I were to be a host, I would only rent a hardened/rental-only property with careful assessment of the potential guests.) I am also still bullish on the general theme that the transparency and efficiency of the net makes peer-to-peer transactions between strangers more safe and easy than ever before.

But they're going to have to innovate on 'trust and safety' to avoid any impression they're AirBnBnMethDen.


AirBnBnMethDen could vet the meth ahead of time as a service to both host and guests -- making sure it's of sufficiently high quality such that side effects of extreme paranoia and violent criminal outbursts are reduced. Guests would have purer, better highs; hosts would have the comfort of knowing that the meth addicts renting their apartments are 10% less likely to take an axe to their bedroom closets. Win-win. Classic pivot.


> Might have even been the same meth c[r]ooks.

That's what I thought as well (both are SF Bay Area), though it's only a guess. The combination of meth-heads and identity theft seems weird to be repeated. I would even tentatively guess at the meth-heads trashing apts being a cover for someone else who got the idea of using AirBnB to acquire documents for an identity-theft ring, but who knows, it's possible there are actually meth-heads who are also into identity theft, or who at least know someone to sell the documents to.


Meth addicts seem to like identity-theft, so that correlation is not especially unique. See for example:

http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/11/us/11meth.html

(Identity theft is also the perfect precursor to evading what payment- and identity- checks do exist in an AirBnb-like system.)


Interesting; thanks for the link. That's kind of a fascinating connection between drug chemistry, socioeconomic settings, and crime. Given that background, two meth-use-with-ID-theft incidents don't seem as weird to find in an AirBnB-like setting, which seems almost perfect for the kinds of people described in that article.


If you were gathering documents for an identity theft ring, would you go on a juvenile and pointless rampage in the houses you pilfered? Probably not, since that would only tip off the person being targeted to lock their credit. This is absolutely small time amateur shenanigans.

Imagine how the whole deal sounds from the angle of a drug addicted person who is comfortable committing petty/medium property crimes to fund their lifestyle. Unsuspecting urban/suburban dwellers will let you in their houses, unmonitored, for days or weeks, leaving them full of valuables and personal information, in exchange for a small fee that will never even be paid? Sounds like a criminal paradise to me.


> would you go on a juvenile and pointless rampage in the houses you pilfered?

Maybe EJ didn't have much in the way of credit to her name so they just trashed the place. It's what jerks do anyways when they either empowered or unsupervised.

Although I don't think that an identity theft ring would be able to generate enough cash using Airbnb's hosts, a small scale noobish operation could certainly gain some traction and maybe the people who've actually had their identity stolen don't know about it because nobody bothered to trash their apartment. So maybe the jerk who kicked EJ's toilet to death actually did everyone a favor and brought this out into the open.


> it's possible there are actually meth-heads who are also into identity theft

Not just possible, it's actually quite common, and has been for awhile. For example, see this article from 2004:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4460349/


Just in case anyone's curious, CouchSurfing has been around a bit longer than AirBnb and they have their own safety tips and tools: http://www.couchsurfing.org/safety.html

Here's the AirBnb page about safety: http://www.airbnb.com/home/safety

CouchSurfing is similar in that it's about strangers staying at people's places. The biggest difference is that people let others stay at their houses for free. Usually both parties do it for the experience. Many people think it's fun to meet travelers. I knew someone who traveled to Asia and couch-surfed.


That AirBnb page was added like a week or two ago in response to the EJ affair.


Wow, good to know. I confirmed it with archive.org. I don't need to know if Michael Arrington or EJ are telling the truth or not. This is enough for me to not trust AirBnb. With that kind of popularity they should educate potential guests/hosts about safety issues. I'm glad they're doing it now but it's too late for me. (I used AirBnb three times last year but each time I tried to get to know the hosts through a phone call beforehand and was ready to cancel if it didn't feel right.)


Not only that, they mention renters/home-owners insurance... but typical renters/home-owners insurance wouldn't cover you in the case of subletting, would it?


I'm given to understand that couchsurfing usually occurs when the host is present, which IMO is a risk-mitigating behavior.


I have not really been following any of this all that closely (though it's been impossible to miss entirely on HN), but my general understanding is that AirBnB originally was going to do a paid version of that and then, for some reason, decided it would be okay for people to not be present.


The host was physically present at both of my Airbnb stays.


They can be but are not required to be. That is the distinction I am trying to make: My understanding is that the initial policy was the host was required to be present and then they changed it. And it seems to me the stories we are seeing here are cases where the host was not present.


I think this is more complex:

a.) It reduces the risk that something happens (e.g. burglary) b.) It increases the impact if something happens (e.g. armed robbery, murder, rape)


The difference is that CouchSurfing has a giant button on the homepage that says, "is this safe?" that links to the safety page. It's also linked from the main nav.

Airbnb has the safety page linked from the footer.

Guess which one is going to get more clicks.


I'm starting to think that much like Quora, AirBnB worked because of the nature of its early members and that the model simply doesn't scale.


I think it depends on the type of rental. Vacation rentals or rentals where the owner is present can work, but it's extremely risky to hand a stranger the keys to your home and disappear, hoping they won't steal anything or trash the place. It's great that AirBnB's early adopters were largely trustworthy enough to let that practice persist for a while, but it won't survive mainstream popularity.


If you're present, there is a chance you get murdered.


There are a few glaring, obvious questions to which I have not seen any answers so far - or maybe I have missed them: Why was it difficult for Airbnb to immediately have the person that trashed the place arrested? Don't they have the person's identity - address, credit card information, phone number, IP address? Don't they run a basic credit check when a person signs up to rent a unit listed on the site? Or at least do some basic identity verification? Or was this person using a stolen identity? Or does Airbnb require that the entire responsibility for this rests on the person renting the place?


I've been wondering this as well, and I didn't see it mentioned in any post thus far. It seems like the most obvious step to do; if police can get the CC number from AirBnB, that should be enough to resolve the SSN. Assuming the info isn't stolen, the criminal is going to have a problem.

I'm not an AirBnB user, so maybe I'm missing something.


EJ said she has suspicion they were identity thefts. So they booked with a stolen identity probably.


Slightly off-topic, but what's with Americans and thinking it is acceptable to run credit checks for everything? Credit history is not an indicator of whether you are deserving of sleeping somewhere for a night. Maybe a criminal record check.


Credit checks are great for verifying that someone pays their bills, which is an important part of commercial transactions. It also indicates responsibility and the ability to fulfill obligations.


No, actually it doesn't at all. And frankly, it is none of your business. It's important for giving certain types of loans, not for doing pre-paid transactions like renting a room for a night.

Credit information should be need-to-know, and you should be respectful of others' privacy (and perhaps more cautious of your own). You're nuts if you think I am giving you 7 years of address history, all my credit accounts, my spouse's accounts, and how much is on my mortgages, just so I can rent your guest house for a weekend vacation.

You can verify that you're able to put a reasonable deposit on my credit card, and that I'm not a criminal, and that's all you need.

I've actually been a landlord for about 3 years, and I don't even do credit checks on a 12 month lease. I've never had to keep a dollar of anyone's damage deposit.


That's all well and good, and it's a fair question where to balance privacy with enabling someone to make a decision, but you can't seriously claim that a credit check doesn't impart useful information about someone.


I'm realizing I'm confused about what value airbnb is offering.

If they don't vet people on either end, are they really just a craigslist with payment processing?


The claim is they're a craigslist where you don't get to find out who the other person is until after the payment processing, which would seem to most people to be negative value.

Edit: Except for to Airbnb.


The claim is they're a craigslist where you don't get to find out who the other person is until after the payment processing, which would seem to most people to be negative value.

Exactly this. The first blogger to go public with a report of a place being trashed by an Airbnb guest pointed out that with Craigslist, it is EASIER to contact the guest individually beforehand. Airbnb subtracts value from the typical transaction that would be arranged on Craigslist. That's because Craigslist makes its money from help-wanted ads and a few other ad categories, and doesn't need to monetize transactions for short-term stays in people's homes to keep right on making money.

Airbnb claims to be a force for disintermediating the short-term rental industry, but it desires to be market-leading intermediary. It isn't offering a market-leading level of customer service after a problem happens. Nor is Airbnb doing as much to prevent problems as other startup companies in the same space--several of those companies take much greater care to verify guest identities before setting up the transaction. What Airbnb appears to want, compared to other market participants, is to be paid as an intermediary without providing any particular value as an intermediary. That's nice work if you can get it, but that's a business model that is ripe for disruption and not a business model that I would invest in.

After edit: I hope everyone is reading the newly submitted article here for the details of what the Airbnb autoresponder message replying to the "urgent" help email address at Airbnb looked like not long ago. As the host thought after his place was trashed, "This freaked me out when I was frazzled. Hundreds of millions in venture financing, millions of dollars in fees, and no 24-hour help desk for emergencies? What am I paying them the exorbitant fees for?"


Paradoxically, these incidents could solidify AirBnb's lead. If they've been clumsy in the past; they can't afford to anymore. They have the money to implement a leading solution, and they have to become synonymous with the best protections to get the most listings/searches.

And, the components of a potential solution – costly one-time background checks, longer reputation histories, insurance pooling, deep experience with all abuse variants – all benefit from scale. Participant fear enhances the winner-take-all nature of the market... if the leader can best assuage that fear.


"costly one-time background checks" and "all benefit from scale" sound like an oxymoron to me. Implementing all the suggestions you listed would significantly cut into their revenues and make their business model obsolete.


High-fixed setup costs, low marginal costs make a defensible moat. That's the classic case of a returns-to-scale monopoly.

Background checks are a one-time cost per new participant.

It may be costly (in money or time) to set up your initial account, and acquire a positive reputation via a long history of mutual reviews... but then you're part of a large pre-vetted community.

Do you then want to go through that procedure many times with every new upstart? Or just once with the largest market?


They also have a spiffy web-site and app that does a nice job showing off properties and assisting you in finding the properties you want.

But yeah, they are essentially just middlemen. They benefit from keeping the buyer and seller apart until the deal is done and they get their cut.


And that exact benefit is the source of trouble.


Indeed. The one way for them to lock in market leadership forever is to drop the fees and make their money on payment processing, insurance offers, user screening and safety deposits that renters may or may not decide to opt in for.

This would allow users to contact and vet each other before agreeing on a sale while still having some profit streams.

Basically AirBnb would become a specialized Craigslist on steroids, but it can only be done if the founders want to build a long term business netting them a few million each year rather than a VC darling to be flipped for a couple of billion dollars.


As Upton Sinclair once said: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!"


And benefit from downplaying the risks of renting / putting a property up for rent


If they don't vet people on either end, are they really just a craigslist with payment processing?

That's mostly what it is, which isn't a bad idea. It also has a strong couch surfer element that CL doesn't.


I never thought that they did anything other than hold money in escrow. I would think this is by far the biggest problem with classifieds (by frequency, at least). The social/reputation system adds some trust, but they never even remotely gave the me impression that they were vetting anything.

And what is the problem with that? Some comments seem to be suggestion that - because that evil money thing is involved - they should be required to be in other businesses simultaneously. Perhaps there are things they can do better, but existing system was already quite clear to me (renter; would have to think seriously before hosting).


By building a market for buyers and sellers of otherwise unused low marginal cost assets they are clearly creating value. You can argue that by not vetting they invite random disaster which may be more expensive than the cost of the vetting itself. But you can't say they are not creating value overall.


This is most certainly what they're not doing. Airbnb has promoted the idea that you can rent out your primary residence to make money.

A quote from http://www.airbnb.com/rooms/new - "Airbnb lets you make money renting out your place. Your apartment will pay for itself!"

That is the antithesis of a 'unused low marginal cost asset'.


It's very interesting that he had the exact same experience and was given the run around by AirBnB. His story also shows that they are not being completely truthful when they said EJ's case was the first time anything like this had happened in 2 million rentals. I wonder what the real statistics are.


it's interesting how the couch surfing and airbnb cultures have diverged.

i love the community aspect of couch surfing---the fact that it's about spending time with cool people in new places, rather than finding "a cheap hotel", is huge to me.

i get that there is a market for people who want cheap hotels rather than a community. however, there was a sense that you were getting more from paying more...like more security or something.

yet everyone in couch surfing knows the importance of community references, and to meet folks at a cafe before deciding whether to bring them over.

letting someone you've never met use your home while you're not there.....interesting culture screw up. i think adding a little money to the mix drastically changed what became emphasized.


Let's not forget even four-star hotels are not immune to room-invasion burglary, as Alex Trebek learned in SF last week:

http://www.baycitizen.org/crime/story/alex-trebek-crime-figh...


And here I thought you were going to mention O.J.


This does answer one thing that puzzled me about the EJ story. If this was meth addicts, she surely couldn't have been the first victim of this sort of thing.

If the culprits in this case aren't related to the ones in the EJ case, I'd be curious if there's an identifiable profile here. The stereotype of the meth addict I operate by is a down-market tweaker who'd have no idea Airbnb existed much less the patience or resources to take advantage of it. But I suppose there's a more upscale demographic that might make up a hellish niche market for Airbnb.


She won't be the last either, unless Airbnb makes some sort of fundamental changes.

Not only is all of this press bad in terms of basic PR, but now the word is out (to those so inclined who weren't tech savvy enough to previously realize it even existed) that Airbnb is a good place to rent a temporary meth lab as long as you're capable of some basic identity theft.


As much as some people might view this as "sometimes things go wrong", which is basically true, that's not the whole story.

The story here is that people are doing things that in most jurisdictions are illegal. AirBnB is profiting off this. Do something illegal and you can't insure against any negative consequences.

The whole EJ situation is a potential inflection point. Without knowing the full facts (which no one seems to), it seems like AirBnB was trying to rectify things with EJ and I suspect they were trying to keep her quiet in the process. I have no proof of this. I also suspect that they probably misrepresented their actions to PG. Again I have no proof of this. It is merely my suspicion.

But there's something "off" about EJ's position here.

Why exactly is a vandalized apartment leaving her homeless? Is it too damaged to occupy? Does she simply not feel safe there?

If she has received offers for help, why hasn't she taken it? It's possible she's traumatized by what happens. It's possible she feels so wronged by AirBnB that she's not acting rationally. Or maybe she just wants to get her story out to warn people. I really don't know.

Yet something seems... off. The comments of EJ, PG and AirBnB just don't add up. I'd bet money on there being more to come on this story. And while some want to give EJ a free pass here, I don't want to vilify her but she has to take some responsibility for giving strangers the keys to her apartment.

I think AirBnB can count their lucky stars this was just a robbery and not a rape or murder. Or someone could have set up a drug lab, causing the Feds to confiscate the property as the proceeds of crime possibly taking months to sort out and prove the person renting out the property didn't know about the drug lab.

The hotel industry has fundamental protections for this kind of issue. Not only security but there's the fact that the hotel owner isn't storing their prized valuables where guests can steal them. Nor are hotels putting their staff in a position to be attacked or robbed by a guest sleeping under the same roof (incidents can occur in a hotel but at least there are locked doors separating you from the guests). LIkewise hotels take ID (usually).

The legal precedent they set by paying off EJ is a cause for concern though some argue it isn't. This isn't like Apple choosing to replace broken hardware they aren't responsible for (this happens). While doing something illegal (and profiting from it) that can't be insured against, liability is something that could easily destroy the company.

Ultimately, AirBnB is making a bet they can effect change on the laws relating to subletting. If the person renting out a room is leasing the property they're in, there's a good chance they can't sublet it (even though many do). This may help them on the liability front as well.

Part of the problem here is anonymity on the Internet. This I believe is changing and it will help (IMHO). But it only takes keylogger malware or someone sniffing packets at the Internet cafe to steal someone's online identity and then do what they want.

EDIT: clarifications.


"But there's something "off" about EJ's position here. Why is a vandalized apartment leaving her homeless?"

Put yourself in the position of a person who has just had their apartment burglarized (remember: they stole her personal documents and valuables) and their keys stolen by probable drug addicts. Also, remember that the police have arrested one of the vandals, but probably not all of them.

Ignoring, for the moment, that the place would be unlivable for a while, wouldn't you also be wary of middle-of-the-night retribution (or just a repeat performance) from a bunch of psychotic drug users? I would, and I'm not exactly a fearful guy.

There are many sketchy details about this story, but EJ's fear of retribution isn't one of them.


Most everyone on HN is going to agree with what you are saying: that there is a reasonable narrative in which "EJ" is unable to return to her home due to fear. As a recent victim of a comparatively pathetic "violent" crime: that is absolutely something you are concerned about. And that's before we even get to the topic of "can EJ repair the damage done to her home without diminishing the expected return from a settlement with Airbnb", which might also keep her out of her house.

So yes. Let's all agree: it's not crazy to acknowledge that "EJ" is trapped in a set of circumstances keeping her out of her house.

However. That does not mean the only interpretation of events here is that "EJ" is fundamentally unable to return to her home. Another possible interpretation is, she lawyered up (good for her), and has been advised that the longer this remains an issue for her, the better her negotiating position is.


I've seen half a dozen replies from you saying she probably has a lawyer and is trying to milk this, without a shred of evidence, other than "that's what you would do."

I think presenting that theory once is more than enough - you don't have to reply to everybody with your theory.


Again with the attempts to factionalize the discussion. "If you're not with her, you're against us!" It's weird. Why do you feel the need to take sides?


I don't see an attempt from the GP to factionalize the discussion, at least in the comment you replied to. But I do see an attempt from you to factualize it.


> I think presenting that theory once is more than enough

It's the first time I read it.

> you don't have to reply to everybody with your theory.

And you didn't have to post this reply. But you did. It's almost like we can comment on things, and reply to them.

If you think he's spamming, flag it. Otherwise, enjoy that his comments are at least contributing to the overall discussion, and not worthless comments bitching about constructive comments.

Oh, the irony.


No.

Even if she didn't "lawyer up", she wouldn't return to her home for feeling unsafe until everything is cleaned up and restored. Especially since she got friends and family to stay with. Especially since she's probably waiting to see how much AirBnB will reimburse her. And especially cause she's probably going to find a new place to live after all this and I wouldn't blame her. They defiled and shat on her home.

Now if she did "lawyer up", and her lawyer advised her to do pretty much the same thing, then it's all the same, right?

So what's your point? That she's exaggerating the condition she found her home in? Really?


We can go on forever about possible interpretations, but all those quotations are making you look bad. What proof do you have that EJ is "EJ", and that Troy is "Troy" and that this is a "conspiracy" and were an "angry mob of white knights"?


Angry mob of white knights? Are you sure you're replying to the right comment?


It's just another assumption. But again, what makes you think there's a lawyer involved too?


A lawyer wouldn't be your first call after the police if this happened to you? It sure would be mine.


No, and neither did this guy, Troy, who also called airbnb. I don't think its a good idea to counter with more speculation.


I'm going to go ahead and assume that EJ has at least as much legal representation as I'd have any time I ended a lease with a significant security deposit, and if you don't think that's reasonable, I don't care; I simply think you're wrong. The world will nonetheless continue turning on its axis.


It may be surprising to you but a lot of people are not so lawyerly. I myself have never used a lawyer for a personal matter despite many situations where it sounds like you would. It's just not my thing I suppose and I don't believe I'm alone. Not saying it's better or worse.


I would immediately have a lawyer involved as well, but then I can't imagine finding myself in EJ's position to begin with, i.e. renting my home out to a complete stranger without even a background check. I think we're dealing with a rather different mind set here, and not the "lawyer up" type.


Possibly, yes. But since there are so many other potentially fishy aspects of the story, let's spend our time focusing on those instead of this one.


Huh? "Fishy"? Please stop talking like that. Neither Airbnb nor "EJ" owes us the complete objective retelling of exactly what has transpired between them. When "EJ" doesn't recount absolutely every fact that isn't completely favorable to her cause of action, that doesn't make her a crook. She isn't on trial, and you aren't a jury.


But the result is that Airbnb is taking a PR beating. So if EJ is intentionally misconstruing the facts (or Airbnb for that matter) it is important and relevant.

Look, I'm not saying they [Airbnb] are doing everything right. But at the same time, the renters have got to take on some responsibility for handing out their keys to strangers; yes that's what you're doing, is that a surprise?

This isn't all on EJ or all on Airbnb. Clearly the responsibility goes both ways, but while neither side is absolved of responsibility, EJ must back off on laying the blame on Airbnb so intensely and without remorse. Previously she stated they offered "emotionally and financially" support and were extremely helpful, only now there's veritable lynch mob has she backtracked on those statements.

Still I think Airbnb has a lot to answer for: their statements have been inconsistent.


The notion that "EJ" is in any way responsible for Airbnb's PR is one of the toxic premises leading to the "team Airbnb" vs. "team EJ" nonsense populating these threads. It leads directly to the notion that anything said about "EJ"'s case that isn't 100% favorable to "EJ" implies that she's dishonest.


She "backtracked" once the co-founder started talking to her about taking down her blog or changing it to put a positive spin on things. Before that she was only talking to the CS reps/CS manager, who were offering support (emotional mostly it seems) & asking how she was doing, etc.


>But at the same time, the renters have got to take on some responsibility for handing out their keys to strangers; yes that's what you're doing, is that a surprise?

It's a good point but if AirBnb can't take measures to mitigate these horror scenarios and all the onus is on renters, then they can kiss their stratospheric valuation goodbye. Who's going to want to participate in this service with even a 0.01% chance that they will sustain $1000s in damages? The risk wouldn't be worth it.

Much like Ebay took measures against cheaters, AirBnb should create measures in case of nightmare renters (valid ID, credit card, etc).


No, it wasn't when the inquisition came, it was in response to the airbnb post. We've gone through this already, llambda. http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2823714.


And as I've said, ulisesroche, that is one side of the story. No more likely to be true or accurate than the other based on the available facts. In your own words: we've been through this. How long is it going to take for you to admit we just don't know the full story? What will persuade you that it's possible EJ has reframed the situation just as it's possible Airbnb has done so as well? Your insistence on standing up for one side is really where you've gone wrong here. I maintain that neither side is at fault. It's tiresome to see this become a debate over "he said, she said" hearsay evidence.


I'm correcting you, that's all. How can you say you're neutral and then present only one side?


Well, Troy provided pictures but probably EJ's nearly-identical story must be false.

Right?


A home is invaded; robbed. Personal property is destroyed or stolen in the process.

This happens everyday. Homes are cased, the victims watched, their habits noted. Ultimately they're broken into. In some instances criminals look for homes where the victims appear to be on vacation and set up labs.

What do rational individuals do? They call the police, they change the locks, and they carry on with their lives.

The difference here of course is that Airbnb is involved and thus may be obligated (legally or ethically) to provide restitution.

That said, what they cannot do, is fix the victim. They can't repair the damage done to EJ. If that's what she's insisting on, then it's an impossible, irrational goal. That just isn't Airbnb's responsibility.


You paint EJ as someone trying to blackmail or strongarm AirBnB for restitution. If you read her first post, you'll find it's a warning to people to be aware of the dangers of renting out your house to strangers and that AirBnB glosses over the dangers - she does say that AirBnB had been very helpful - there was nothing negative about AirBnB's response at this point - EJ was in fact very complimentary. EJ was in the process of getting on with her life.

Where it has all gone wrong - is that AirBnB started stating that they were going above and beyond to help her after that first post. But, in the background, according to EJ, AirBnB cut off support and allegedly asked her to take her blog post down because it would affect their funding.

That is what people have been slamming AirBnB for - that ham fisted way of dealing with a victim. It's nothing about whether AirBnB is responsible for the crime (obviously not), nor is it about EJ trying to leverage a payout (not that either). The'outrage' is purely around either AirBnB's inexperience in dealing with a crisis (at best) or a desire to try and hide a flaw in their business model and protect their funding (at worst).

People commenting that EJ is lawyering up to maximise her benefits, or EJ is just lashing out to hurt people, or that break ins happen all the time ('just get over it') are really misguided arguments IMHO made by people who have not really read and digested EJ's posts.


I think you glossed over quite a few points:

1) EJ specifically points out that there was no way to perform due diligence on the other person. You are inviting someone to use your home, and you normally expect some entity to perform some sort of check on the renter. Craigslist clearly warns people about this, and gives them a good way to contact (via email, even if its obfuscated). AirBNB, for better or worse, hinders people's ability to do this. There's an implication (and I fully agree, having gone through the site myself) that the site is safe, that renters are safe, and that hosts are safe. In that circumstance, EJ is justified in feeling misleaded by ABNB.

2) There's a simple way to fix the situation: provide restitution, recognize fault, and help find (and possibly pay for) a new flat for EJ. They can't repair the emotional damage, but they can at least show that they care about the situation.

3) This robbery is far different from most robberies. In some simple break-in, robbers grab the most expensive items they can find and move on. Rarely do robbers go to the extent of systematically stealing everything in the house.

I think this entire situation would have blown over if Airbnb just apologized at the onset. A simple "we are sorry" or hotline with a person that could talk EJ down immediately would have sufficed. EJ would have felt that there were people in ABNB.

Have you ever had to make an insurance claim or credit card fraud claim? American Express is great about CC fraud, suspending all fraudulent purchases immediately. And with home insurance, one day a tree fell on the house. Called insurance company and I was speaking to an agent within a few seconds, who calmed me down and walked me through the entire process (from getting a hotel to calling police). In both cases, great customer service people make sure that customers are calmed down first. And it was only because they promptly responded that I didnt feel any sort of misanthropic dispair.


My apartment in San Francisco was burglarized in a similar manner,without the assistance of AirBnB. I did not develop PTSD. Based off my own experience, I also find that something seems off about EJ's story. I've found the internet's response at least strange as the incident itself.


Everyone is different. I had my place burglarized some years back and I never felt safe again in the place. I suffered many sleepless nights and would awaken at any sound. This was no way to live "at home" so I moved out and have since lived in "more secure" buildings (condos). It's not a fun experience so I can empathize with anyone that has been through it and isn't the same after. In effect you really do feel violated. Now, some people just say "screw it shit happens," and carry on living in the same place. I tip my hat to you for being able to do so.


Yes it can happen and people deal with it differently. Though I would assume in your case that you didn't hand over the keys of your house to the burglars.


Calling a locksmith would have been the one of first thing I had done in her case. But doors are pretty useless when it comes to burglary.


Would you mind telling your story?


My landlady saw a crackhead in our yard but since SF is filled with zorched looking lurkers she didn't think much of it and just told him to leave. I came home from work, and noticed my apartment was a real mess and my TV was missing. Went to the closet and noticed everything was dumped out and an old laptop was missing. I actually found the laptop in a garbage can next to the house. The thieves did a few weird things like steal my pillows and dump out items from the fridge. I went down to the cop shop and they said there was a string of burglaries where the thieves were using dudes from the park to act as lookouts and then take the blame later. My landlady and I actually went down to the park and found the crackhead guy riding around on a kid's BMX bike. He said he didn't do it but that he did know where my TV was.


Her case was a bit different. During the stay, she developed a relationship with the guest, exchanging e-mail messages while her home was carefully vandalized and her valuables stolen. I can see it could be a very traumatic experience.

I once was robbed at gunpoint and it took me weeks to get back to nomal. I am still very careful when I have my notebook in my backpack.


Yeah it was different, but my home in SF was ransacked and guys on drugs were involved, so it was also "similar."

I have been robbed at gunpoint in Emeryville too, that was a worse experience.


sorry, do you have metal doors there in SF? as we do in Moscow, Russia. the doors that can be opened only with the help of special forces


Metal doors are not really useful if all the houses are made of wood. Seriously.

I don't get it either, there was this fairytale about the big bad wolf, but I guess they must all think "hey at least it's better than straw", or something.

It's a really strange experience. You don't notice until you see the first solid stone house after two weeks of flimsy wooden cottages, it's a feeling, solid. "Stands like a house" is a saying in Dutch, meaning "solid as a rock", except in the USA it wouldn't make much sense :)


CA has building codes that address the probability of large earthquakes.

For a single story house, wood (if I understand) is a safer choice than other heavy materials which would crush you. In SF, there are different building codes as the buildings tend to be more vertical.


I'd guess that half the apartments in SF are in old wooden houses, with wood doors.


i'd say, i'd feel unsafe there even if such a story didn't happen to me... or, while there are houses of thin wood, maybe you are allowed to wear/keep a gun?


Keeping is not just allowed, its our natural right.

Wearing is, as well, but it's waiting on another SCOTUS decision for affirmation.


It's only your right until the next referendum to ban guns in SF, then you're in legal limbo until the state supreme court strikes it down. Rinse, wash, repeat every few years.

As for carrying in SF, only people named Feinstein are permitted to do that.


That sort of thing is not going to work much longer. Now that the 2nd has been incorporated against the states via McDonald, bans like that are outright illegal. I expect the first time a public servant is held personally liable for damages via a 1983 civil rights lawsuit we'll see an end to it pretty quickly.

There are a handful of cases which ought to end the question on carry in the next year, as well. Either Williams or Masciandaro may do so this year providing SCOTUS grants cert.


So then why isn't she going to accept one of the offers of help, which might have included a place to stay for a while? It's perfectly understandable that she doesn't want to be in her apartment, but she seems to want us to believe that she has to choose between being there and being homeless. That's just silly - at the very least, there are hotels, and I suspect that if she put up a donation button on her blog she would get more than enough for that.

I'm not saying that it's sketchy, just that it makes her seem like a very irrational actor. Which could be completely believable - maybe she's gotten a bit paranoid, or is having issues trusting people, both of which would be perfectly understandable - but when combined with the conflicting stories and lack of definite information (and all the conflicting information out there), it seems odd.


Possibly because to the extent that she isn't running afoul of any duty to mitigate damages, the longer she goes without accepting help, the greater her basis to claim damages.

That doesn't make her sketchy or dishonest. That makes her rational, following the advice of her lawyer or whoever else is advising her.


Having had that exact situation happen to me (a burglary), neither my wife nor I acted anything like this. And yes, I understand that everyone reacts differently to these situations, but she seems like she seriously needs some professional help (which I would argue also is ok; different folks, different needs), that she is willfully NOT GETTING, but rather airing emotionally-laden tidbits for the masses to consume as a substitute. I agree with the OP here; something is tingling my skeptic-sense on this one. Of course, maybe I'm wrong.


I think this obviously different from your garden variety burglary. For one, I think the owner is questioning both her ability to make good judgments as well as trust other people and services. This is in addition to the helpless feeling of being burgled.


EJ actually said as much in both of her posts — that although she's having the place repaired and the locks changed, she feels helpless there.


One thing strikes me as really odd: how naive do you have to be to leave documents and valuables in an unsecured place and then let complete strangers use your apartment?


You mean like most people do on communities like AirBnB and CouchSurfing?


I made this point again.. as carr did in a recent article. All of you need to stop vilifying these people coming forward. She did nothing wrong except to believe all the hype of how great it is to rent out your living space to a complete strangers. Her only mistake was believing all this hype of disruption without understanding that there are reasons why hotels, and investment properties have certain laws and insurances to protect their businesses. Yes its time that people know and understand the possibilities of what can happen by renting out your personal living space to strangers. Ultimately what happens to Airbnb is up to them, but we need to stop placing and shifting blame on these people for using their service.


You're the one drawing the lines here, not 'cletus. The comment you're responding to goes out of its way to attribute possible fault to Airbnb and is comparatively ginger about what "EJ" (or, far more likely, the legal representation "EJ" has almost certainly acquired by now) may be doing tactically.

I don't have a strong opinion about this story, except that the "red team / blue team" mentality commenters have about this issue is driving me fucking nuts. You don't have to think anything negative about "EJ" to think that we're not getting the whole story from her. All you have to think is, she (very sanely) got a tenacious lawyer.


i don't understand what else to her story really needs to be said, unless it was orchestrated (if thats what you're implying). All that matters is she used the service and her house got trashed. Airbnb never had a safety page until her story and never made people aware of the dangers. People need to be educated of what can happen when you let strangers into your house, when using a service like this.


"Orchestrated"? What? No. The idea that this is all some diabolical plot to bring down Airbnb is silly. It's just as toxic as the worst assumptions being made about Airbnb, just in the opposite direction.

I don't know what "all that matters" means. There are whole huge threads on HN about this that clearly aren't premised on the idea that "all that matters" is that her house got trashed.

Please don't assume that I'm on "team blue" just because I say something that doesn't fit "team red"'s interpretation of events.


"People need to be educated..."

This is the kind of thing you learn from your parents. It's not some corporation's job to do that. If I'm renting a room in my house, I'm not leaving this stranger alone in my home. If it's an apartment over the garage with only outside access, I'm less concerned, but I'll still keep my valuables in a safe.

There is a certain amount of common sense one must have to function in this world. Putting "stranger danger" education under the responsibility of AirBnB is unacceptable.


thats like saying its not up to the cigarette companies to put a warning on their package of lung cancer, or for every ladder manufacturer to put a warning not to step on the top step, cause you can fall. Yeah its probably common sense, but for liability purposes there's plenty of precedence that its up to the company to educate/warn.


Ultimately, AirBnB is making a bet they can effect change on the laws relating to subletting.

That's an important point. But Airbnb hasn't won me over to writing my elected representatives to ask for legal reform related to subletting by its recent behavior. Indeed, as I reflected on what Airbnb's business model means to me as a renter, I recalled that basically every police call into my neighborhood in the past several years has been the result of the behavior of visitors who were NOT on the lease agreements for homes in this townhouse neighborhood. I like that my landlord checks the background of tenants before renting space to people who live in my neighborhood. I'd hate to see the safety and security of my neighborhood undermined by a business encouraging my neighbors to breach their contract with our landlord.

Wimdu thinks it can beat Airbnb by providing better customer service.

http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2829859

Based on Airbnb's performance with its pile of capital so far, I have think that that might be possible for Wimdu.


> Why is a vandalized apartment leaving her homeless?

I would guess the vandalization of her flat leads her to not feeling "safe" there anymore, and thus not being able to live there.


You should guess that; since it's what she said. I don't know why cletus didn't pick up on that.


Also, depending on the damage done the house might be fit for occupation until some work it done.


It's also possible that she's been advised that having the place fixed up herself might establish an unnecessarily low basis for damages; fixing things up herself requires her to fit repairs into her own current budget. Think this is far fetched? It's exactly how every security deposit negotiation works, and why you should repair, clean, and document everything needed to return your apartment to reasonable condition when your lease is up.

Maximizing the amount of compensation she is getting for her damages doesn't make her a crook. It's entirely reasonable for her to want the most graceful restoration of her home possible.


In both cases the tweakers were local, which is scary all in itself. I think it's safe to say that having those people in your community and them knowing who you are and where you live and possibly having a key to your home has to be very intimidating.

Which brings up one of my favorite subjects: tweaker behavior. Now that we have a second story we can start to abstract patterns out of what is going on, which to me appears to be either random tweakers needing a place to party discover that Airbnb is easier, cheaper and more anonymous than a hotel room or that a tweaker gang that enjoys identity theft is going about their business in the Bay Area piggybacking off of Airbnb's business model.

If they're just kids looking for the thrilling byproduct of smoking cleaning supplies, Chesky will eventually get off his ass and implement features and controls that curb this activity and squeeze some bucks out of the business model, unfortunately, but Airbnb will continue as a going concern. The second scenario is really a stretch but I'm always surprised with what meth addicts come up with and quite frankly, I'm looking forward to the rest of the story. We are now four days into this shitstorm and nobody over at the Airbnb webmaster office has even attempted to adress any of these concerns by posting, oh you know, like a psa on the homepage.


If she hasn't had the locks changed by now, everyone in her locale that has spoken to her about the incident has done her a disservice. Changing the locks after a breakin is pro forma. She might even be required to do so by her homeowner's insurance.


> If she hasn't had the locks changed by now,

She did. I don't see why you need to speculate on that point; in her first blog post that brought this whole mess to our attention, she said "Although I had the locks changed" ...


I think you meant to say this to the parent comment, which suggested "EJ" might be scared because the thieves still had her keys.


Well who knows what keys they might still have? Everyone i know has lots of keys and doesn't get all of them changed immediately.


Then they have the keys to a set of locks that have since been changed.


I was saying that they might have keys to locks that have _not_ been changed (ie office, car, mail, etc).


> I then traded the cat for the return of my keys.

Does that settle your obsession with the keys? The tweakers kept them.


Sorry for the misunderstanding.


The way this is turning is really ugly. EJ is a victim, plain and simple. And it's not a simple robbery where someone just tossed some drawers and ran through the place, they took their time and found everything you'd not want them to find. There is no rectifying that, she was invaded, there is nothing that will undo that, not money, not new stuff, not anything. That's just how it is. There are police reports, it happened.

Now AirBnB should have known better, should have had a plan in place and should have offered her a very lucrative deal to keep her mouth shut before she thought to open it. They can't put it back in the bottle now. That they didn't, they just look like shmucks. Not just that, now how do you think the negotiation is supposed to go? Shit, I feel sorry for EJ, she's laid this out there and now they're going to try and quantify how she feels and what it's worth, how's that conversation go? Does she open? Maybe a VC partner will talk to her, what if she asks for too much? This is just ugly ugly ugly.

That this happened with another person.. Seems to me like AirBnB needs to get their shit in order in a very serious way. I know they're the darling but turning people's homes in to meth houses? How many others have their been? Did the VCs know this and re-up? Or was this secret?


> The story here is that people are doing things that in most jurisdictions are illegal.

Agreed; I believe the problems posed to AirBnB's model are more severe that most commenters seem to recognize. Further, the countermeasures many are suggesting are problematic in their own right. e.g. Troy in Techcrunch post said:

"Also, go with your gut. My gut said something wasn’t right about the people that rented my place, but I didn’t know how to handle that gut feeling..."

IANAL, but I'm pretty sure that depending on specifics, both the Fair Housing Act and the ADA can apply to hotel rentals. If you create a situation where people are empowered to decline a rental because they "got a bad gut feeling" about the renter, you open up yet another legal can of worms.

I have nothing against the AirBnB guys - I'm actually rooting for them. However I think it's time for them to step up their game and start tackling these issues head on instead of hiding from them, which seems to have been their strategy to date.


> If she has received offers for help, why hasn't she taken it?

That might depend on the strings attached to said offers.


I would assume so as well. Asking her to stop talking about the incident would really only make sense if AirB&B had some leverage behind that request. But, of course, we're probably getting a very incomplete view of events and just because I can reconstruct the dribbles of information that make it to me into a compelling narrative doesn't mean that narrative is in any way likely.


Or it might depend on Airbnb offering to pay for physical damages and "EJ" holding out for tort-level compensation.


Or perhaps, as in the case of the person in this story, the only help they offered was free nights in airbnb locations.

It's easy to imagine she wouldn't accept more of a product she no longer trusts when what she's looking for is security.

In the end, the only guideline we have for what they may have offered her is what they offered this person in a similar case.


Maybe. I don't think free Airbnb nights is a good idea to compensate this person. Regardless of their technical liability, Airbnb should make "EJ" whole with respect to her property and the costs she's endured as a result of being estranged from that property. It's hard to believe the total dollar amount for that could be worse than the PR.

But nobody knows exactly what's transpired here except for "EJ" and Airbnb.


Isn't that what rental/home insurance is for? You can certainly make the case the AirBNB misrepresented their safety procedures and checks but it's going to be hard to prove that they participated in the damage of her property.

There is a reason why subletting is forbidden in leases and a reason why insurance companies won't pay damage claims if they think you are operating a hotel out of your house.


Have you read this new story at all? It's about other man and TC published photos of his ransacked apartment along with emails and talked to him over the phone. No need to speculate. And this new story just confirms what EJ has written in her blog posts. It adds up perfectly.


> Why exactly is a vandalized apartment leaving her homeless? Is it too damaged to occupy? Does she simply not feel safe there?

Yes and yes. I'm assuming you've never had your appartment broken into and ransacked.

And reading EJ's story, it's somewhat worse than your average break-in-plus-digging-for-valuables. Same for the guy in this article, seems about just as bad. My initial thought was "sounds like the same people", but more likely the common denominator is "meth-crazed junkie binge".

If there's one thing you can blame EJ is that her stories are a bit of the rambling-longwinded-trying-to-be-a-writer-please-get-to-the-point sort. But that's neither here nor there.

What I don't quite understand is, I read that in order to prevent under-the-table deals (where AirBnB wont get commission), AirBnB won't let you communicate with the guest until just before they go there? Anyone got some details on that? Cause if that's so, they DO have some responsibility to make sure these people are trustworthy, preventing the subletter from finding out themselves. Maybe not legally, but definitely practically, ethically and not-being-a-bunch-of-dicks-ically.


> But there's something "off" about EJ's position here. Why is a vandalized apartment leaving her homeless?

If the landlord found out why her place was vandalized, he may have grounds to boot her out of the apartment.


It's simple for EJ to come clean by positing a copy of the communication between airbnb and her.


The identity theft aspect brings up a whole new concern.

If a renter steals a host's identity without trashing their place, there's no way to know that something went wrong until it's too late.

And if the host subsequently rents her place to other guests, there's no way to know who the identify thief is.


Good point. A smart thief would wait a few months before trying to make use of the stolen information.


This new account (of a home trashing occurring 1 month ago, of which Airbnb had knowledge) doesn't seem to reconcile with what Airbnb told EJ:

"I do believe the folks at airbnb.com when they tell me this has never happened before in their short history, that this is a one-off case."


Even if you don't want to believe EJ's account of the story, Chesky himself made the claim on camera in May (a month after Troy's incident occurred) that there have been "no major problems" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etaUBLkRteA&feature=chann...

I don't see how either of these cases can be viewed as "minor", personally.


This is what a bad media cycle looks like. You get a nosebleed in the ocean and the sharks start circling. They'll get through it, though, I am completely confident. At the end of the day, the bad guys are the assholes that abuse the system.


It's interesting to note the pattern between EJ and Troy: in both of these cases, the renters were not home, which means they were treating Airbnb more like a "vacation rental" service. They both had a gut feeling that told them the rentee was "off" in their communication. They both didn't meet the people in advance. And the rentees were both meth addicts.


Maybe AirBnB should drug test :)


Trashing is one thing ... but how long until a "guest" leaves behind some hidden cameras?


I'm starting to think that these unfortunate incidents may actually provide airbnb with the future of it's business model.

Right now they are just hooking people up and handling payments. They could go from that to learning how to put in place the best verification/insurance/customer service/emergency handling mechanisms in order to beat competitors in service quality.

It's analagous to how paypal won payments by learning to be the best at handling fraud.


Hopefully, AirBnB is learning what most rookie politicians already know, ie Take care of your PR problems before close of business on Friday , otherwise the entire weekend will feel like one looong horror movie. The good news though is that by Monday morning, people are usually ready to move on to some other news item.


Creepy for guests: One could book AirBNB space and then reoffer it on AirBNB (is this possible?) or craigslist. So when you arrive, there is a "host" which is not the real one.


Besides liability for damages incurred by the guest, hosts are also probably on the hook for liability should the guest be injured (or worse) while staying in your place.


> Besides liability for damages incurred by the guest, hosts are also probably on the hook for liability should the guest be injured (or worse) while staying in your place.

Good point. I'd imagine hotels are required by law in most jurisdictions to take out public liability insurance.

Then there is the issue of who is responsible for ensuring that properties are actually safe for rental on Airbnb (i.e., no exposed electrical wires, slippery steps, etc.)


Here is Brian Chesky claiming there have been "no reports of major problems" with AirBnB at TC Disrupt in May. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etaUBLkRteA&feature=chann...

Whoops?


I think it's time for a name change... to AirB&E.


I'm struggling to believe how much of a cock-up this is becoming. What should be a simple reality: "sometimes things will go wrong" is turning into something that even seems to be infectious. I give it two days before Y Combinator is explicitly associated with airbnb in a newspaper.


Sometimes things do go wrong however the impact of them going wrong differs between businesses. When things go wrong for a mobile phone company lots of people might have poor reception but when things go wrong for AirBNB, a person could actually get killed. This has always been my fear and I sincerely hope they shutdown or pivot before this happens.

AirBNB hasn't been upfront about the level of risk their customers undertake when they use their service. And the downside, however rare a occurrence (even if it's one in a million or one in a thousand) is just too bad to even consider consider using them.


"even if it's one in a million or one in a thousand" The probability of being killed ( or at least hurt ) while driving to work is probably larger than 1 in a milion.


I might be too old for AirBNB but I wouldn't feel okay accommodating strangers in my own apartment.

I will do that for friends and if I'm around myself, for friends of friends too, but even then the scheme needs to originate from some plausible circumstances where I can evaluate my potential guest in other context before we discuss accommodation. So, receiving an email from someone I don't know ("hey, I know your friend, can I stay at your place?") doesn't fly.

It's my home and I don't want to think about whether tonight's guest is that one from a thousand or ten thousand who will wreck my place.


Arrington, "in his arrington way", is really out to screw AirBnB now.


TechCrunch has always smelled slightly of yellow journalism, but I would say that, on average, they've given Airbnb fair treatment. Arrington and the TC crew have written very enthusiastically about Airbnb in the past, perhaps excessively so, and now they are fulminating about the users who have been mistreated by Airbnb renters, again perhaps excessively so. Still, I would rather that these cases reach a public forum than that Airbnb have carte blanche to whitewash them for the sake of investor happiness.


This one is even more bizarre story than the first one. The part about left cat and stolen computer is hilarious. I'm sure there should be more to this kind of horror stories from Airbnb, EJ was just the first brave person to come forward on her blog. Kudos to her and Mr. Dayton, otherwise such things could happen to many more Airbnb customers including HN crowd. And everybody who is defending Airbnb now should think how would they feel if something like this happened to them or their home.


AirBnB never should have set up such an unsafe system, but surely the decisions of the renters are at fault as well. I personally would never even consider allowing people who were not carefully screened by myself to have free reign with my property.

I'm pretty sure this is getting large enough to garner the attention of politicians. That may be a positive thing, since AirBnB and their clients are apparently not taking care of safety and procedures adequately on their own.


Given that most apartments already have no subletting clauses, I don't think additional regulation would help anything. I'm hoping this dies down before some politician tries to make some knee-jerk law, much like that state AG did with craigslist awhile back.


I have to agree, actually. The government being involved should be a last resort, and there's no indication this is a truly widespread or dangerous issue currently. Ideally, the private parties involved will figure it out.


My take is the #1 fault is the alledged scumbags who did alleged bad things to the host's property. The #2 fault is the hosts for showing such utter naivete and ignorance about (a) what to leave in the apartment, and (b) understanding what could possibly happen when the strangers stay there and accepting those risks as the flip side of the coin. To the extent AirBnB has done anything wrong or imperfect, it's farther down the list than these actors in the drama. And all of this assumes that the alleged incidents happened exactly as they were portrayed, and were not in fact fraudulent "hit jobs" -- an issue that has not been settled yet, or rather should not be settled in any reasonably skeptical person's mind, given the sum total and nature of the "evidence" and the market context.


In my opinion, AirBnB should be providing more of an upfront opportunity for a host to screen a prospective client in advance, with no pressure. If they can't do this, they need to do a very good job of it themselves. That's the crucial aspect of their involvement. From my reading of the EJ story, she had no opportunity to learn anything about her client prior to accepting the reservation. AirBnB has changed this since then, I believe?

Regardless of these incidents, ad-hoc home rental is a potentially dangerous situation for both sides of the deal. It's positive that this controversy has prompted AirBnB to go beyond making jokes about piano thievery, and realize that safety of everyone involved is a critical issue.


What we aren't hearing about is the people who declined to use Airbnb and had their homes ransacked because a burglar spotted they were empty. The risk of having the place trashed by a guest has to be offset against the improved security from having somebody in the place. Do we have any data or even credible estimates of the sign and magnitude of the _difference_ in security from using Airbnb?


I wonder if it occurs to anyone how renting your place out impacts your neighbors. I'm not sure everyone is happy about transients coming and going in a particular building that someone might rent out and the safety of that to others in the building. Some condo buildings for example don't even allow a lease of less than 1 year because it changes the nature of the building.


What if the hotel industry is setting up these unsuspecting customers of AirBnB? They, the hotel chains really don't like this business model. Create enough negative press, a carefully crafted situation that will cause a busienss to fail and they you can cash in on how "safe" a Hotel chain is...


After reading EJ's story and now this, I think it's safe to say that although what's taken place is unfortunate, it's really up to the person renting out their place to protect themselves. If Airbnb absolves themselves in their policy docs, then there's not much they have to do if something bad happens. On the contrary, however, they obviously need to have a serious overhaul of how they portray security to customers, as well as the vetting process for renters. Also, developing some sort of insurance program will help to skirt some major issues. I'm glad this is happening now, though, before someone gets hurt. Hopefully Airbnb will look at these events as warnings and take the necessary steps to refine how they protect themselves and their customers.



It's a damn shame that people can't trust people.


For God's sake we get it. Why does this drivel have to be on HN everyday? Sometimes when you deal with strangers, they are crazy. Not TECH, Not HACKER, Not INTERESTING!


My favourite part of the story is they stole the computer...and left a cat!!


> At the end of the day you are renting to a stranger.

No better words can express my sentiments. Airbnb customers are participating in a business experiment, they're not hoteliers.

What I do find worrisome is that Airbnb being in the customer service business, doesn't appear to be focusing on the user experience at all. What did they do with the money?


Probably invested much of it in color.com. :)


Sheesh - it was meant as a bit of a joke - hence the :)


So, it was meant to be a joke. Sadly, it wasn't a funny joke. And it adds nothing to the conversation. Hence, downvotes.

HN observers often assume we don't have a sense of humor around here. Actually, I've seen a number of funny comments upvoted, and have done so many times myself. It's closer to the truth to say that most people aren't nearly as funny as they think they are.


The other problem is that it is interchangeable with many other jokes of the same flavor, ie, they were buying Facebook private shares, getting into the LinkedIn IPO, et cetera. This is a tip off that even if it's funny it might not be relevant.

See also the South Park critique of Family Guy.

Saying they were doubling down buying shares in Hilton and Motel 6 would at least have been marginally on topic. But still a bit obvious, right?


"supporting their meth addiction" might have worked


Touche! Only 14 hours too late for me, I fear. :(


People will dv you for any reason. I stopped trying to rationalize it many moons ago.

Edit: c'mon, you guys can do better than four downvotes.


Seriously, fuck this guy. AirBNB simply facilitates finding people. AirBNB doesn't owe these people a single cent. In fact these AirBNB "victims" should apologize for their self-centered whining. Don't want any risk? Then don't let anyone into your house, dumbass. Don't blame random companies just because you're a fucking idiot.


I don't think AirBnB's involvement is that peripheral. Unlike Craigslist, they don't just operate a site that facilitates finding people; they're active participants in every transaction, and are the ones on record charging credit cards for the rentals.


I agree. The only reason this story is getting any play at all is because it involves a shiny trendy company.

If these people rented through posting flyers at bus stations or via craigslist the story would be lucky to be printed in the police blotter.

EJ especially sounds like a woman-child who wanted all the benefits but is unwilling to accept responsibility for the risks she stupidly undertook.


Renting to strangers is like having sex without protection. Period.


There's lots of ways to protect yourself when renting to strangers. The fact that EJ and others do not avail themselves of the necessary insurance, etc. is what's reckless.


As has been pointed out multiple times, there is probably no insurance policy that would cover your apartment if you rent it out with AirBNB. Renter's insurance won't cover it, and individuals can't get the kind of insurance hotels get because they don't own the property. And if you meet the classification of a hotel, then there's a good chance you're breaking the law in some places. You can't get insurance while breaking the law.


Why wouldn’t insurances want to insure, though? This is a rare event, insurances love rare events. One problem might be AirBnB’s lack of transparency: Insurances have to know exactly how rare something is. They currently only know it’s rare, not how rare it is.

(That said, it seems they could start with a relatively high estimate and adjust it up- or downwards when they start insuring, depending on how often and how much they have to pay. It seems like this would be something insurances excel it, seeing as it’s how they make their money. I’m sure at least AirBnB could work something out with insurances.)


You should see what happens when you rent to friends, or worse: family.


What would happen in such a case? You sound like you have experience with it. They stay forever?


They pee'd on the radiators before they left.


Stay or rent, you have a choice to do either.

(Can't think of anything else to add, sorry.)


If I were Arrington, I would have posted this story first thing Monday morning.


Oh, don't worry, I'm sure there's going to be a glut of these stories queued up for about 2am Tuesday morning.


[deleted]


That business already exists: it's called the insurance industry.

I'm shocked that AirBnb apparently hasn't availed themselves of it.


[deleted]


It doesn't matter that Airbnb renters are not businesses.

There are a number of ways in which this reduces to an insurance problem.

First, Airbnb could purchase liability insurance to indemnify themselves against claims made by people like EJ. This would enable them, under certain circumstances, to make generous payouts on occasion while maintaining fixed expenses.

Second, Airbnb could easily offer optional insurance to their customers (in this case, the hosts) whereby a small fee is paid for each night's stay, and damages are paid up to a set amount, with proper documentation. (Naturally, Airbnb would then, in this case, attempt to recover the money from the renter who committed the damages.)

I see no legal obstacles to such solutions, nor any reason to think it would be too expensive. Believe me, you can get insurance for pretty much anything, and the rate setting follows predictable patterns.

Insurance may very well be the whole answer here, and I imagine we are discussing it because a) Airbnb isn't adequately insured, and b) they screwed up the customer relations/PR side of this one enormously.


I'm also shocked that EJ did not avail herself of it.


I'm not sure that a standard homeowner's insurance policy would pay out in a case such as this. Airbnb is putting hosts in the position of a business; one of the services they could (and should) be providing is some form of insurance (for an added fee, of course.)


Just because homeowner's insurance doesn't provide this type of coverage doesn't mean it doesn't exist. It may be a good idea for Airbnb to attempt to provide this type of coverage. However, whether they offer insurance or not does not change the fact that the risk is the host's to mitigate.




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