Setting: a major city in France. On Monday a prospective guest – let’s call him Laurence – requested to book a room in my apartment where I also living for one week starting on Tuesday. He had a blank profile – no photo – but wrote a brief message saying he was a young man coming to the city for a job interview and wanted to look around. I accepted the booking.
On Tuesday, there was no communication from Laurence. I took the initiative and contacted the mobile number given asking for his arrival time. There was an exchange of messages. I repeated several times that I would not leave the key with my neighbour. Because the guest would be arriving while I was at work, he would have to arrive after I’ve finished work, around 9:30. My policy is always to be in when people arrive, I’m not giving a stranger keys to my home when I’m not there.
The young man arrived. His name wasn’t Laurence – let’s call him Gilbert. I showed Gilbert around the flat. He settled into the room, had a shower, and went to bed. On Wednesday I was out early, returned for lunchtime, and saw Gilbert briefly. I left the apartment mid-afternoon, and returned around 8:30. I wasn’t sure if Gilbert was in his room or not.
On Thursday I left early and was out all day, returning home around 7:15. There was no sign of Gilbert having been in or out the apartment. On Friday I left early, returned at lunchtime, and noticed the shutters to the guest room which faces the street are still closed. I knocked on the door to the guest room several times. After getting no response I entered to find a very dead Gilbert curled up under the duvet. His suitcase was opened but not unpacked. There was a bag next to it with quantities of medications, and blister packs opened. I didn’t look too closely because I didn’t want to touch anything. There were several empty beer bottles.
The remainder of Friday afternoon was spent dealing with the police. Eventually the body was removed and I spent that evening deep cleaning the flat. I’ve had to throw out the mattress (looked like blood had been vomited) as well as the bed linen. On Friday night, his parents called me, saying they had not heard anything from Gilbert since Wednesday, asking if he was alright.
“The police will call you Madam.”
“What do you mean the police will call me? I don’t understand…”
“The police will call you Madam.” That’s all I can say. I put the phone down and switched it off.
On Saturday, his parents flew into the city. The mother called me in tears. I agreed to meet and let them in the flat to see the room where their son died. On Sunday, I was back at the police station repeating myself: “When did I last see Gilbert? Did I hear anyone else come in or out the apartment on Wednesday night? Did he allow anyone into the apartment? Did I observe anything about his mood?” Anyway, I’m not suspected of anything, but this is still nerve racking and extremely unpleasant.
Until the autopsy is carried out on Monday, the cause of death can’t be determined. I guess he either chose my place to commit suicide, had some undiagnosed medical condition, or died accidentally. I’m continuing to host on Airbnb and I’ve changed the settings, so everyone has to request to book. I’ve made the house rules even more explicit and will copy and send to prospective guests who must read through and confirm them before I’ll accept the booking.
I’ve reiterated I have zero tolerance for alcohol/drug intoxication as well as stating I must be told about any underlying medical conditions such as diabetes or epilepsy which might cause an emergency. Guests should also give me emergency contact details. I’ve said that I will meet guests in the street outside the apartment and if their photo ID doesn’t match the name of the person who made the booking they won’t be allowed in the building, let alone given the keys to the apartment. You have to protect yourself in this day and age.