Column: Airbnb is awesome service – until the guest from hell shows up

Homeowners around the world have found Airbnb and other short-term rental services to be a great way to earn extra cash.

Until the guest from hell arrives.

Emily Mastren, 30, and her husband use Airbnb to rent their back bungalow in Long Beach since December. It goes from $ 65 to $ 99 a night, and the couple have hosted dozens of people over the past semester.

“It pays off our entire mortgage,” Mastren told me. “It’s pretty cool. But now I worry about the safety of my family.

The reservation was made recently by a woman I’ll call Sylvia. It’s not her real name, but she sent threatening messages to Mastren and I don’t want to make a bad situation worse. Mastren has a 3 week old daughter at home.

Sylvia booked the bungalow on a Thursday morning and arrived that afternoon around 1pm.

“I had a bad feeling as soon as I saw her,” Mastren recalls. “I could see she was wearing an inexpensive wig. She was really thin. She was dressed like she was going to a club, around lunchtime on a Thursday.

Despite this, Mastren greeted his guest and handed her the keys.

Sylvia left the next morning but didn’t leave the keys in a safe, as is customary with Airbnb rentals. Mastren said she spotted Sylvia’s car parked on the street, where it looked like Sylvia was sleeping.

Mastren approached the car, woke Sylvia and informed her that the keys had not been returned. She said Sylvia rummaged in a bag, found the keys and handed them over.

Suspicious, Mastren said, she read a video taken overnight by the security camera outside her house. She said four different people could be seen touring the bungalow at approximately 90-minute intervals.

I asked Mastren what she thought Sylvia was doing.

“I think she was prostituting herself on my Airbnb,” Mastren replied.

The cleaning lady arrived on Friday afternoon. “She texted me,” Mastren recalls. “She said I’d better come see this.”

Mastren said he found cigarette butts all over the bungalow – his listing states that a cleaning fee of $ 250 will be applied to smokers.

In the bathroom bin was a syringe. There was also a bag. And a can of AriZona tea that had been cut in half and used to reheat something. Mastren took photos, which she submitted to Airbnb and shared with me.

“I was furious,” she said. “I felt violated.”

Mastren contacted Sylvia through Airbnb and requested a $ 250 fee for smoking. She noted the syringe and any drugs in the basket.

Sylvia responded with a message accusing Mastren of being a “ghetto” for going through the trash. She said she hadn’t complained to anyone even though her car’s tires were punctured while she was staying at Mastren’s bungalow. She said she would come back “to pick up my things”.

Mastren replied that the cleaning lady discovered the contents of the trash as part of the routine maintenance. She also pointed out that she saw Sylvia’s car the next morning and that the tires were in good condition. She said Sylvia didn’t leave anything at home and that if she returned, Mastren would call the police.

Sylvia continued to message Mastren through Airbnb for several days. She said that she had not been alone in the bungalow and that no drugs were hers. “I’m going to take a drug test,” she said. “I can prove to you and I will sue you for slander. My lawyer will contact you soon.

The following messages read: “Your problem lady” and “Thank you 4 lady for free money.” You will pay !! $$$$. ”

Mastren posted a review of Sylvia on Airbnb.

“Don’t let this woman stay in your Airbnb,” he said. “Heroin and syringe found in my trash can by my cleaners !!! Cigarettes smoked inside, according to my surveillance, people were coming in and out of my house all night long – it looks like prostitution was happening … run away and don’t let her get near you.

Mastren also called Airbnb to report the matter. She said a service representative had informed her that it would be something for the company’s security department, but the call could not be transferred. The representative said Mastren will receive a reminder within 24 hours.

It took almost 100 hours for the company to get in touch, Mastren said.

Insulted for injury, she received an email from Airbnb saying that her review on Sylvia was “in violation of our content policy… We cannot allow reviews when they contain profane or obscene content.”

“As such, it is our responsibility to remove your review. … From this correspondence it was withdrawn. “

Airbnb didn’t have much to say about any of this.

“Reported behavior has no place in our community,” a spokesperson told me by email, who asked not to be identified. “We have suspended this guest’s account while we investigate and give our full support to our host. “

He noted that “there have been over half a billion guest arrivals in Airbnb listings to date and negative incidents are incredibly rare.”

The company also sent me a link to their “community standards,” which state that Airbnb users should not “target others with unwanted behavior” and should “refrain from endangering or threatening anyone”.

I did not find any warning in the standards about not breaking the law by, for example, using someone’s house as a brothel.

This appears to be a glaring omission given that there are online references to Airbnb rentals used as “Ephemeral brothels” by prostitutes. You can also find reports of heroin use in Airbnb rentals.

The standards say, however, that “you must not commit physical or sexual assault, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, domestic violence, robbery, human trafficking, other acts of violence, nor detain anyone against their will ”.

They also specify that “members of dangerous organizations, including terrorist groups, organized criminals and violent racists, are not welcome in this community.”

Airbnb states that “in the rare event that an issue does arise, Airbnb’s global customer service and trust and security teams are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week in 11 different languages ​​to help get it right.

Mastren’s experience suggests that these teams might need to focus a bit more on responsiveness.

She observed that it took nearly a week for Airbnb to put Sylvia’s account on hold, and this seems to have only happened after I started asking questions.

Suggestion: Airbnb should encourage all hosts to have keyless entry systems that can be re-coded for each guest. At least that would solve the problem of keys not being returned.

Late last week, Mastren received an email from Airbnb saying, “We have looked into this issue and decided it is best for the community that we remove this guest from the platform. Thank you for helping us keep the community safe.

Mastren said Airbnb paid him the $ 250 cleaning fee. But she is not sure that she will continue to use the service.

“I think as the host my safety was compromised for five or six days until they took action,” she said.

“I’m not sure it’s worth it.”

David Lazarus’ column airs Tuesdays and Fridays. It can also be seen daily on KTLA-TV Channel 5 and followed on Twitter. @Davidlaz. Send your advice or comments to [email protected]

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