Recently I had a guest who booked a room in my private home for a month. He said he’d been with a circus working in Saco, Maine, but all the circus gigs had been cancelled due to COVID-19, and he was going to move to Portland, Maine to try to find work in construction, as he was a set designer for the circus.
As I’ve discovered, the circus he works for, The Big Apple Circus, from NYC, had cancelled all their shows back in late January and the man had fled NYC to flee COVID-19, booked a room via Airbnb in Saco, and then Saco banned further Airbnb bookings due to the virus. So, he booked with me.
However, for all I knew as he was my guest (before he left and I had researched him), he was looking to move permanently to Portland, and I even offered him a longer term tenancy, as a true housemate. Needless to say, since the man was renting for a month in my private home, it would be normal and expected there would be more personal interactions.
His room was in my finished attic, to which there is a door. If I knocked on the door there was a good chance he couldn’t hear the knocking, and at one point I knocked, then waited, knocked again, and then thinking I’d heard him reply, opened the door to ask him if he wanted some work. I had a small job I could pay him for.
He yelled at me that I’d opened his door, that I had his money (it should be noted that he’d rented the room at a very significant discount for 28 days), and that I’d even put his bathroom toiletries inside his door, which had been in the shared guest bathroom. I had done that, since I’d rented another room on the second floor to a permanent tenant and wanted to make sure everyone had enough room for their stuff in that small bathroom.
Because he yelled so loudly at me, and was so nasty, I called Airbnb. They commiserated with me, and then I got angry back. I said, “You’re renting in my private home, I was offering you work, and I don’t expect to be treated so badly.”
I was trying to be nice, helpful, and actually act like a friend. In fact, Airbnb spent a number of years advertising itself as a home away from home experience, where guests would share in someone’s home life. I was so upset at being yelled at, I ended up asking the man to leave and I’d pay him the rest of what he owed me to leave. He was happy with that, even if he claimed he didn’t trust me and wanted to see me count the money out. He really was vicious.
Airbnb called me two days later for my account of things. What they said was that I should never open a guest’s door and never do financial things except through them. I said I’d thought I’d heard him reply and yet lesson learned. The next thing I knew my account was entirely deactivated.
Though shocked, particularly as I had two other upcoming bookings, and I’d never received any warning, underneath it all, I’m relieved to no longer be a host. That particular room had never, to my knowledge, had Superhost ratings, but the last two guests in that room believed I did, so what Airbnb was showing guests was not what they were showing me.
In fact, my account had consistently indicated that I had “things to work on,” though it was never ever clear what the issues were. Not ever. Furthermore, I did have Superhost ratings for the other two rooms in my apartment, and have been a host for over six years.
My relief relates particularly to the confusing narrative Airbnb has promoted: guests can enjoy a home-like stay. However, many guests actually expect the full total insular experience of a hotel room. That would be frankly near impossible in a private home where people bump into each other. It would be even less plausible when a guest is staying for a long time and presents as someone looking to rent as a permanent tenant.
In this particular instance, what was so disconcerting was that the guest had lied to me about what he was actually up to: escaping NYC to flee the virus, the one thing folks shouldn’t be doing. For all I know, he might already have contracted the virus and transported it to Maine and to my home.
My takeaway from this entire experience is the opinion that the model of a “home away from home” experience that Airbnb has promoted is deeply flawed. Private homes aren’t hotels nor even B&Bs, both of which have staff and do not have the homeowner living on site.
As Airbnb moves toward offering an IPO, I think they’re going to have to radically change their model and stick to working with entire apartments or homes and therefore fundamentally compete with the likes of VRBO. My own experience of being a guest in someone’s private home was actually strange: I didn’t quite know how to act, as a guest. There simply weren’t good guidelines for either the host or the guest.
Given the huge class-action suit against them by those who have had bookings cancelled with no compensation for financial losses, Airbnb is going to be in trouble. I have an inkling the company will deeply falter and will be a poor investment.