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UPDATE: Airbnb: Would you let a stranger into your home for money?

Thousands of people are making money by renting their homes to travlers on a budget. While the increasingly popular website Airbnb does offer measures of accountability, can you ever be sure who you are really letting into your home?

For a blogger named EJ, Airbnb seemed like a great idea for making money while out of town. The website connects travelers with hosts who rent out rooms or their entire apartments. Members must create profiles, which include feedback from other travelers and hosts. Contact information for both parties is revealed once the host accepts the traveler’s request to stay. The fee is paid through the site with a 3% commission to Airbnb.

In a blog post by EJ, she describes the absolute worst case scenario, which is what she returned home to find after renting her apartment for a week to a traveller named “Dj Pattrson.” She wrote:


They smashed a hole through a locked closet door, and found the passport, cash, credit card and grandmother's jewelry I had hidden inside. They took my camera, my iPod, an old laptop, and my external backup drive filled with photos, journals... my entire life. They found my birth certificate and social security card, which I believe they photocopied - using the printer/copier I kindly left out for my guests’ use. They rifled through all my drawers, wore my shoes and clothes, and left my clothing crumpled up in a pile of wet, mildewing towels on the closet floor. They found my coupons for Bed Bath & Beyond and used the discount, along with my Mastercard, to shop online.


EJ says “Dj” even sent her emails during the stay, complimenting the apartment on its “little loft area” upstairs. Little did EJ know that Dj was vandalizing and robbing her home at that very moment:


Various pairs of my gloves were strewn about – leather, dishwashing and otherwise – I imagine in a weak attempt to cover up fingerprints. Whoever these people were, they were living large and having one hell of a time for an entire week inside my home, unwatched, unchecked, free to do whatever destruction they wished. And damn, did they do a lot of it.


However, EJ doesn’t blame Airbnb for the crime. She says she initially tried to get in touch with someone from the company but didn’t hear back for 14 hours. Since finally getting a response, though, EJ writes that the company has been extremely sympathetic, offering to help her emotionally and financially through this traumatic event. She does, though, call for changes to the Airbnb process:

Despite this very fresh trauma, I can still recognize airbnb.com to be a brilliant concept that fills a much-needed hole in the traveler market, and based on their amazingly kind, caring response and support throughout the past few days, they have proven to me that they are an honest company with pure, good intentions. But I do think theirs was a concept that was executed much too quickly, and that some basic screening and security measures must be instituted as soon as possible, that some basic efforts be made to help prevent this from happening to another unsuspecting host.


While this might be a rare incident for Airbnb users, it does raise the question: Would you let a stranger into your home?

UPDATE: In an email sent to Airbnb users Tuesday, CEO Brian Chesky says the company is making some major changes to prevent this from happening again.

We’ve built this company by listening to our community. Guided by your
feedback, we have iterated to become safer and more secure. Our job’s
not done yet; we’re still evolving. In the wake of these recent events,
we’ve heard an uproar from people, both inside and outside our
community. Know that we were closely listening.


Beginning August 15, Airbnb hosts will be covered for loss or damage to their property by guests for up to $50,000. The policy will also cover hosts who have reported damage prior to August 15. Other changes include the addition of a 24/7 customer support line, doubling the customer support staff and an in-house task force dedicated to monitoring suspicious activity. Chesky even offers his own email address to users.

What’s made us proud during this trying time is the response of our
community. Emails of support to EJ poured in; many hosts offered her a
place to stay in their homes. It’s been inspiring to see that Airbnb can
really bring out the best in people. Like Airbnb, the world works on
the idea that people are good, and we’re in this together.


 
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