Absolute Nightmare Long-Term Guest

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I have been hosting two houses on Airbnb for over three years and until now I had never had any issues. I fear that this one is far from over.

A few months ago I got a request for a long term stay from a lady who claimed to be friends with my gardener, Harris (name changed). The money was good, and it meant that I didn’t have to worry about dealing with new arrivals for a while. I accepted the booking.

This ended up being one of the biggest mistakes of my life, which soon became evident when I received a call at 5:00 AM on the day of check-in. She was claiming that she was unable to access the property because the keys didn’t work. I drove over 15 minutes later to find her removing a fly-screen and attempting to climb through the window (note this lady is about 75 years old). I tested the keys; they were working fine and she was able to enter the property. I explained where the second and third sets of backup keys were hidden just incase she had any more issues, then spent the rest of the morning fixing the fly screen.

I didn’t hear from her for another two weeks, but then I got a call from her claiming that she had lost her keys and couldn’t access the property. I asked her about the two backup keys; she told me that they had been lost. I drove over to the property again with my set up keys to let her in. By the time I got there, she had found her keyring and I was shocked to find that she had connected the one main set and two backup sets of keys to the same keychain. I tried to explain to her that this defeated the purpose of having backup keys, but she just kept trying to assure me that she wouldn’t lose them again.

Now the story gets really interesting. I got a call from the police on a Friday afternoon looking for my guest. I find out that she has a history of mental illness and had been off her meds. Now her family who are 1000 km away have been trying to get her committed to a mental hospital (due to COVID they can’t leave the state). They had found out where she was when her accountant notified them that she was attempting to purchase a $1.4 million property.

The police came over and we headed to the Airbnb where she was nowhere to be seen. The police gave me their details and I told them that I would let them know if I heard anything. I sent her a message, let her know what happened, and advised her to contact the police and her family as they are worried about her. Eventually I got a message back and found out that she was shacked up in a caravan with my gardener Harris and they been avoiding the police for the past few days.

Eventually she got in contact with her family and they convinced her to check herself into the mental hospital where she stayed for the next six weeks. In the meantime, I got a call from her accountant and he asked me to retrieve some papers from the Airbnb. I went in there and found the most disgusting mess I have ever seen: cigarettes, incense, hundreds of sea shells, and rotting fruit. I even found that she had set fire to the fake LED candles.

The strangest thing was all of these pieces of paper everywhere with bizarre diagrams and notes (I have attached one of them). She had also started hoarding objects that she found on the side of the road. I got the papers and mailed them to her accountant, who also offered to extend the booking on the Airbnb and pay for the cleaning costs while she was in hospital. I could go on for a while about all the strange things that happened while she was in hospital but it would take too long. I will skip to when she got out, which was about four months ago.

She was released from the hospital, put on medication, and everything was fine for the first two months. The house was kept tidy; she wasn’t hoarding and appeared to be mentally stable. Then I noticed that my gardener Harris had moved in the house. Pretty soon her behavior started to go downhill again. The house started to get messy again, so much so that my cleaner refused to clean the house on a weekly basis, due to the smell of the incense and cigarettes, and that she was randomly hanging up her underpants all over the house.

I went over to talk to her and Harris about their behavior. The house was a mess and there was a whiteboard with the title “Night at the Opera” with what I believe to be sex acts listed below (I have attached a photo). Although I was concerned, they seemed receptive to keeping the place tidy and I attempted to find a cleaner that would deal with them.

The next week I found a cleaning company that was willing to clean the house and I tried to organize a time for them to clean with the guest. She claimed that she didn’t need a cleaner and was happy to do all the cleaning herself. I insisted that she let the cleaners come in but she said no and I left it at that. About four days later, she called me complaining that the cleaners hadn’t come. I reminded her about the previous conversation and then asked her when an appropriate time would be for them to come. After a back and forth, she said that she and Harris were on their honeymoon and did not wish to be disturbed. Again feeling very confused, I left it at that.

A few days later she changed her mind again and wanted a cleaner. I told her that I would get the cleaner but she had to clear up all of her clutter and get rid of the things she has picked up off the side of the road and is hoarding in the house and garage so that the cleaner can actually do their job. After I said this, she completely lost it and started yelling at me saying how dare I criticize her way of living.

After this I had enough and decided that she had to go. The next day, however, their neighbor (who is a full-time tenant of mine) called me up and wanted to have a talk about Harris’ strange behavior. She told me he had been cutting their trees and creeping around their lawn when he thought that they were not home. They said that he had also been parking his trailer in the other neighbor’s garage when he wasn’t at home (it’s a holiday house).

I sent Harris a text and asked him if he had been cutting the neighbors’ trees or going on to their property, and he denied everything. Now I had really had enough. I got in contact with Airbnb support, explained the situation, and asked if I could cancel her future booking that started on Feb. 28. After I listed a few of the things she had done they agreed to cancel the booking after I talked to her. I arranged to have a chat with her in a few days time.

When I got to the house, Harris was sitting on a couch that they found on the side of the road and put in the front yard. I said hello then knocked on the front door. The guest called out and she said that she was too sick to talk to me and asked me to go away. As I was angrily walking towards my car I notice Harris’ trailer parked in the neighbor’s garage. I asked him if the the neighbor was okay with him parking there. He told me that it was none of my concern, which kicked off a huge yelling match between the two us which eventually ended in me telling him that he had to leave.

The next day I logged into Airbnb to cancel the booking, but when I went to cancel it I got a message telling me that I would lose my Superhost status, no one will be able to rebook the dates that they were meant to stay there (it was a five-month booking), and other penalties. So I contacted Airbnb and asked them to wave the penalties, citing the previous support case that I opened. I got a different case manager who asked me to provide evidence, so I provided some texts and some photos. He sat on this for a couple of days and asked me to go over and takes some more photos.

By this time I was very frustrated, especially after I was previously told that it would be okay to cancel the booking. I told him that I was not willing to creep around the house taking photos while there were guests inside, as it is a really bad look for a landlord to be doing this. So I say to hell with the penalties and cancel the booking. I decided to get the penalties removed retroactively.

I then informed the guest she would need to be out of the property by Feb. 28. The next day the guest sent me a text telling me that I do not have the right to make her move and she intended to take me to court. I responded telling her that it has already happened, then sat there hoping that this whole ordeal was finally over. Two days later it was Australia Day, and I noticed that Harris has installed a flag pole in the front yard… seriously, a f—ing flagpole.

I’m sure that this ordeal is nowhere near over but I found writing all this out quite therapeutic and I needed to vent.

Completely Cut off from Emailing Long-Term Guest

Imagine my delight when I had a request for a full-month’s stay at my guest cottage in November. November isn’t exactly tourist season in inland New Jersey, so a month’s stay delivers Christmas presents. I replied to the inquiry; the woman wanted to come by to see the place before booking. She sent another inquiry, saying she was surprised that I hadn’t replied because my profile says I reply within an hour.

I replied. She sent another inquiry, puzzled that I hadn’t replied. I’m doing all of this on my cell phone while at the shore. Finally, I called customer service (thank you so much for posting the number – I couldn’t find it anywhere on the site). The woman I spoke with was very nice, could see that none of my responses had gone through, and had no explanation. She said that it appeared that she could send a message for me, so I asked her to let the prospective guest know that I couldn’t communicate with her through the system, so she could call me on my cell.

I provided my cell number and waited. Nothing. Bupkis. There were three more messages from the potential guest yesterday, and one this morning saying that they were really interested. I still can’t communicate with her. Now I’m going another round with customer service to see if they can make this happen. It’s over $3,000 to me that may be making its way south.

Airbnb is Craigslist with Nicer Window Dressing

I am a landlord. Before you jump down my throat, because I know Airbnb likes to foment class resentment in their advertising (i.e. we just help the little people pay their housing costs), let me tell you what kind of landlord I was.

I never raised the rent more than 2%. I would ask my tenant (my only tenant of 5.5 years) if his financial situation could withstand a rent increase before raising the rent. Any time there was an issue with an appliance or utility, I responded immediately. There was an antique stove with a burner that wasn’t lighting, so I bought a new $2000 stove. The LG dishwasher, which was brand new, didn’t handle hard water well, so I bought a new KitchenAid one. There was a pipe to the washer/dryer that would freeze on the coldest days, so I paid for a plumber to come put pipe tape on it.

I loved this house like my own, because it had been my own. I lived there for five years after a gut renovation. Everything was new and beautiful, and yet I charged rent that was 25% below market at least. I just wanted a stable and happy tenant to love my home too.

My tenant, let’s call him Jack, was a real estate broker. When he moved to my house, he had just gotten a divorce, and had three kids in high school. I figured he would live there while his last kid finished up school, and maybe a few years thereafter, but that he would surely move somewhere cheaper or more fun for a bachelor after a few years.

Two years ago, I decided I probably wanted to sell the house, because I had gotten pregnant with my own child, and my husband and I were buying a different house; we didn’t want or need two houses. When you’re young, maybe you don’t mind losing money every year on an emotional investment, but as soon as you have your own babies, you think about making more money for a college fund one day.

I told Jack that I wanted to sell the house, and I asked him whether he may want to buy it himself or move out first, as I did not want to disturb him with constant showing appointments. Jack told me that he was working on getting his broker certification in New York State (previously he was licensed in Connecticut only), and he could list the house for me. I thought that would be a great idea.

Most tenants have nothing to gain when you sell your house, so they are notorious for trying to scuttle a sale; but in this case, a tenant with a commission to gain might be incentivized to keep the house clean and tidy, and sing its praises. I thought Jack was at a phase in his life where I would lose him as a tenant soon anyway. His youngest child was in her last year of college… I felt now would be a good time to get a sale done, rather than search for a new tenant.

I told Jack I would wait for him to pass his NYS broker examination, which took him several tries ultimately, and I waited for about nine months. Finally, we went to list the house for sale. I asked him around that time whether there was anything pressing that he thought I should alter or repair to improve the chances of a sale. The house is from 1780, and the upstairs has original door frames that are only 6′ tall; he said that these door-frames are charming, but they could limit the pool of buyers.

He also told me he though the roof might be leaking in a studio, which is attached to the garage. I paid for a carpenter to take a look, and he actually said the leak had been going on for years perhaps and it was bad. I paid him to tear out the sheetrock and insulation, and reroof. This delayed the listing by about six weeks, and I thought it was odd that Jack never mentioned this in the  nine months that I waited for him.

When the carpenter came to do the work, Jack had not moved any of his items stored in that studio, which I found to be a little non-cooperative, but maybe he was busy. After the roof repairs, we listed the house. Jack sent me pictures that he staged. The pictures looked great. He hosted a brokers open house, and he said the open house went well. However, he didn’t send me any questions, comments or negative feedback from the brokers.

Months went by. Jack forwarded me an email from a buyer who was going to make an offer. The buyer’s agent said the buyer loved the house, but was concerned about water in the basement. Jack told me he lost the sale. In hindsight, that email was maybe an inducement for a credit or for a proposed solution, but Jack didn’t suggest either.

More months passed. A buyer made a cash offer, which I accepted. After an inspection, the buyer wanted a credit for water in the basement. I thought this was very odd, because in the five years that I lived there, water only entered the basement during torrential hurricane rains or heavy snow melting. I told Jack to tell the buyer that I am going to fix the water issue myself and sell to someone else. I didn’t hear from this buyer again.

While storm drainage in a basement isn’t ideal, I experienced it as a minor nuisance that occurred a few times a year, and the sump pump would eventually take care of. I decided to take a look and get some quotes from masons to fix the drainage. When I got to the house, the basement looked like a horror movie. There were cobwebs absolutely everywhere. Jack had removed the smoke detector down there and thrown it on the floor. The battery was next to it.

I found that the water pressure tank valve was leaking. It’s a steady leak. There’s a blanket on the floor and a bunch of junk scattered about. Jack never mentioned that the basement was consistently wet. He claimed that he “never goes down there,” which the smoke detector on the floor seems to belie.

I vaguely remember that years ago he told me that every time one smoke detector went off, they all went off. I tell him this was intentional, as the system is a modern system and all the detectors are wired together. I told him that when the battery dies, the detector has a specific alarm. I told him how to replace the battery and to hold down the test button. I realize that he must have ripped the detector off in frustration at some point because it was chirping to notify him the back-up battery was low. I would have bought him an endless supply of batteries, but he never asked.

In any case, I paid for a plumber to replace the water pressure tank. I inspected the house soon thereafter. The basement was dry, but still looked like crap because of the cobwebs. At least the issue was contained. I continued to get quotes from masons to fix the storm drainage. I asked Jack whether I shouldn’t just take the listing down until the storm drainage is fixed. Jack started talking about a spring in the driveway, where he thought the water was coming from.

I was like, “What?”

“Yes,” Jack said, “Didn’t you say there was a spring in the driveway?”

I said, “No, what I said was the bedrock formation around the house creates a dry stream in the basement, which just means that rain water flows into the basement during a storm.”

Jack continued to adhere to the idea that there was a spring. I told him that the driveway, which is paved with stone, is dry except after heavy rain. If there were a spring, there would be a little lake there. I asked him to desist from telling people about his spring theory, because it’s crazy, though I tried to be more amicable.

Then I spoke to the real estate attorney, who was helping my husband and me with the purchase of another home (as I mentioned). My attorney told me that storm drainage is like oil tanks. It’s a basic problem that any agent worth his credentials would advise a seller to resolve prior to listing the property. I started to get a sick feeling about Jack.

I got various quotes back for the storm drainage, and decided that the original cash buyer was actually not a bad offer. It was a bit low, but it would save me the headache of managing a $20,000 waterproofing and excavation job. I know the buyer’s name because he had reached out to my father on LinkedIn around the time he made his offer. My father is on the title but is a minority stakeholder, so he didn’t really respond in detail to the buyer except to congratulate him for the accepted offer.

I found the guy on LinkedIn and told him that we were fine with paying him the credit. At this time, the buyer told me he was super disappointed because he was in contract for a house that he didn’t like as much as my house. He told me that Jack was very reluctant to admit that he lived at the house. He told me Jack had a weird theory about a spring in the driveway, that Jack stonewalled him for information about the house, and that when the inspection was conducted, the bathrooms and kitchen were beyond disgusting, and that he found my house as a listing on Airbnb.

I was appalled. I immediately contacted Airbnb. I told them that I could furnish a copy of my deed, and I would like the rental records for Jack’s rentals. There were two reviews on Jack’s profile for rentals of several months-long guests, during prime selling months, during our listing agreement. Jack’s tenancy also prevented long term guests (over two weeks) without expressed written consent.

I told Airbnb I could furnish a copy of Jack’s lease as well. Airbnb simply told me that I should work things out with Jack. At this point, I was considering suing Jack; I was definitely evicting him, so I wanted proof of how long he rented out the place. It’s my freaking house, so I felt I was entitled to a rent roll for my house. Airbnb told me they will release this information with a court order. Meaning, it’s incumbent upon me to sue Jack.

I ask Airbnb whether they require hosts to upload their deed or lease agreement, and they said “We care to the utmost and we require hosts to represent that they are legally entitled to list the property.” I asked the child attorney writing me this email from Airbnb whether HR called their law school to verify their law degree, or whether they were allowed to simply “represent” that they had a law degree.

Then I realized that Airbnb isn’t a real service. From a legal standpoint, they don’t care whether they are facilitating fraud and theft. They don’t care, and their response will always be “just sue me.” Eventually they will be sued by enough people, because what they do is wrong. My tenant would never have been able to violate his lease/listing agreement like this without the ready infrastructure that Airbnb provides. Section 230 means that Airbnb doesn’t have to care about fraudulent listings.

They are, after all, merely selling individuals the ability to publish, and they have no interest in the content, right? Except that they collect a fee. Except that they have “customer service” to make people feel good and comfortable about listing, when in fact their customer service, from a legal standpoint, is just a goodwill gesture, and not a regulated activity that can be held to any standards. People need to stop thinking about Airbnb as a housing service. It is not. It is Craigslist with window dressing.