Airbnb is a very popular vacationing alternative for many travelers around the world. It’s also a very lucrative way for homeowners to monetize their property whenever it’s vacant. But there are horror stories too.
The majority of Airbnb rentals go very smoothly.
Travelers get access to a place to stay that’s roughly equal to or less than the price of a hotel room but offer a uniquely different experience than staying in a hotel. Many Airbnb rentals let you experience a vacation area from a uniquely “local” perspective. Many Airbnb hosts will even provide their guests with recommendations for the best local restaurants or sights to visit.
Unfortunately, there is always a risk that what should be a friendly exchange of money for lodging could turn into a complete nightmare for either the Airbnb host or their guests. The following are a few real examples of actual Airbnb disasters that happened to hosts and guests.
1. When Guests Refuse to Leave
One woman in California found out the hard way that rental laws also apply to Airbnb rentals as well.
In a surreal situation, Airbnb guests who had rented her home actually refused to leave. And under California law, landlords need to give renters a thirty-day notice before they can be evicted. This meant that the guests were able to stay in the home during that time.
Security cameras showed the guests going through the woman’s refrigerator and cupboards, and rummaging through her belongings. In the end, the woman paid the guests $1700 just to get them to finally leave.
2. Temporary Pop-Up Brothels
Imagine if you owned a home and decided to make a little bit of money to rent a spare room in your home through Airbnb. What if you discovered that the people renting that room were actually using it to run a brothel?
That’s exactly what happened to one man who rented out his New York City apartment on Airbnb. The man who rented it told him that his brother and sister-in-law were visiting. As he later found out, the guest had actually used the apartment for what the host described as a “large orgy”.
NYC authorities told media sources that a number of Airbnb guests actually turn out to be prostitutes who are looking for temporary locations to run their businesses out of. By changing location often, they’re able to evade authorities more easily. The homeowners who are renting out their property have no idea that illegal activity is going on there.
3. Massive Parties and Damage
One man in Ohio listed his home available for rent on Airbnb. In one case, the parents who had rented the home left their kids there alone while they went to a football game. The kids ransacked the house and caused serious damage to the property.
Only two weeks after that, another renter held a massive party at the house, inviting more than thirty guests without permission. The man explained that there were, “bottles and cans everywhere—floors were sticky; there was stuff on the walls…it was horrible.”
The end result was that the man failed to obtain compensation from Airbnb because, as he explained, the company required “ridiculous documentation”.
4. Drugs and Parties
One couple in Calgary found out the hard way what can happen when you don’t properly vet your Airbnb guests. After a single weekend away from their home, they returned to a complete disaster.
The couple had rented their house to a man who claimed he and three guests were there to attend a wedding. But as it turned out, according to neighbors, busloads of over 100 partiers filled the house. The damage was every Airbnb host’s worst nightmare. Police later described the situation as a “drug-induced orgy.”
The furniture was destroyed. Garbage, cigarette butts, and broken glass littered the house. Most disturbing, there were body fluids discovered all throughout the house as well. According to the couple, the repairs to the house were valued at approximately $52,000 to $77,000.
5. Renting a Drug House
The last thing you might expect while on your family vacation is ending up in the middle of a police raid. That’s exactly what happened to one family from Sydney, Australia, during their family vacation to the Gold Coast.
It was only the very first day of their vacation when police suddenly barged in and arrested the family for questioning. As it turns out, the home they had rented was actually a marijuana grow house.
They were able to enjoy the rest of their vacation staying in a hotel room, but spending a day in police questioning isn’t exactly a great way to start a family vacation.
6. You Could Face Racial Profiling
In Canada, Bob Marley’s granddaughter and her friends had rented an Airbnb house in Rialto, California, in a predominantly white neighborhood. Not long after arriving at the property, police showed up knocking at the door.
As it turned out, a neighbor had seen the trio bringing luggage into the house. The neighbor told reporters, “I see these strange people coming and going back and forth, you know, with luggage. And I didn’t recognize them.”
However, the granddaughter and her friends believe the police had only been called because of racial profiling.
If you think this is just a rare example of racism in the Airbnb marketplace, you might be surprised.
In fact, one woman named Dyne Suh had driven through a snowstorm to get to her rental in Big Bear, California.
On her way there, the host canceled the reservation via the text message. According to Dyne, the host had texted her:
“I would’t rent to u if u were the last person on earth. One word says it all. Asian.”
It’s one of those surreal situations that you probably wouldn’t believe actually could happen in modern until it happens to you.
7. You Could Get Kicked Out of an Illegal Rental
Many communities around the country are banning short-term rentals like Airbnb. And even in communities where they are allowed, a number of rental properties have specific policies against subletting apartments.
This is what happened to European tourists who had rented an Airbnb apartment in New York City. Not only was the condition of the rental sub-par, but as it turned out the apartment was government-subsidized and subletting was not allowed.
If you consider that New York City law bans short-term rentals, that means most Airbnb rentals there are illegal.
According to New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman:
“72 percent of units used as private short-term rentals on Airbnb appeared to violate these laws.”
If you are one of the people renting one of these illegal rentals, nothing may happen at all. With tens of thousands of listings in New York City alone, it’s clear that the laws aren’t being aggressively enforced.
But ending up as one of the exceptions wouldn’t make for a very good vacation. At the very least, you could end up confronted by angry neighbors who don’t like the fact that their neighbors are letting strangers come into these apartment buildings.
8. Interruptions Throughout Your Entire Stay
In one of the most surreal situations, YouTube vloggers rented an Airbnb home in Mexico for five months. When they arrived, they discovered a “For Sale” sign on the front lawn.
All during their stay, they had potential buyers or real estate agents constantly interrupting them during their stay. Realtors actually asked them nearly every day to leave the house during certain times of the day (and to clean it up!) so that they could do a house showing. Once the house sold a week into their stay, they were asked to move out within thirty days.
The problem with Airbnb rentals like this is that there aren’t strictly enforced contracts, so the hosts only need to comply with local rental laws when they decide to kick you out of the rental.
Airbnb Is Useful, If You Play it Smart
The reality is that the Airbnb market opened up because people want to be able to travel affordably. Hotel prices continue to rise, making travel something that only the wealthy can enjoy.
When homeowners are willing to open up their homes to travelers, and when travelers are willing to treat those homes respectfully, it can open up a whole new world of adventure for people who normally couldn’t have afforded it. You just need to be aware of some of the security risks involved in Airbnb rentals.
There are a few things you can do to protect yourself as a host of an Airbnb rental.
- Ask enough questions. Determine why the guest is traveling to your area and what their plans are.
- Be selective. Only accept guests who’ve provided Airbnb with their passport or driver’s license for identity purposes.
- Specify house rules clearly. Make sure you lay out the “house rules” in writing upon guest arrival, and ask trusted neighbors to inform you if anything seems out of the ordinary.
- Trust your gut. If something seems “off”, then trust your gut and simply refuse the guest. Better to play it safe then end up with a destroyed property.
In general, the same rules apply if you’re a guest.
- Do your homework about the host who’s renting out their property.
- Verify that Airbnb rentals are legal in the area you’re looking to rent.
- If the rental is in an apartment building, confirm with the building owner that the Airbnb is allowed.
While doing your homework won’t prevent all unexpected surprises, it will at least reduce your odds of ending up living through your own Airbnb nightmare.
If you have the money to spend, Airbnb Plus will get you more luxury accommodations. While there are plenty of Airbnb alternatives if you’d like to try out some other options, we’ve covered places you should add to your Airbnb wishlist too.