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.