Airbnb customer service fail: the story of EJ

Ronny Kerr · July 29, 2011 · Short URL:

Host comes back to ransacked, vandalized apartment, Airbnb drops the ball in offering support

Airbnb wishes so much it could be reveling in its recently closed $112 million Series B round, which was rumored to value the company at over $1 billion. Instead, it has a public relations nightmare on its hands.

A month ago, a woman dubbed “EJ” posted a long, intensely emotional post on her blog, describing probably the worst possible Airbnb hosting experience imaginable. She reveals how she returned to her apartment in San Francisco, which she had rented out to a guest named “Dj Pattrson” for a week, to find, not just her most valuable possessions missing (which would have been awful enough), but also her entire place vandalized.

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.  Despite the heat wave, they used my fireplace and multiple Duraflame logs to reduce mounds of stuff (my stuff??) to ash – including, I believe, the missing set of guest sheets I left carefully folded for their comfort. Yet they were stupid and careless enough to leave the flue closed; dirty gray ash now covered every surface inside.

It’s a heartbreaking story, and yet, many of us have long expected something of this sort would crash the Airbnb party. Many people are trustworthy, but few are not. When you open up your space to strangers, this is what you potentially open yourself up to.

For Airbnb, as a company, the world would be watching how they responded. And, according to EJ herself, they responded well. Here’s an earlier selection from the same blog post quoted above:

I would be remiss if I didn’t pause here to emphasize that the customer service team at has been wonderful, giving this crime their full attention. They have called often, expressing empathy, support, and genuine concern for my welfare. They have offered to help me recover emotionally and financially, and are working with SFPD to track down these criminals.

A month later, however, the relationship between EJ and Airbnb is not so rosy.

Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb, posted his company’s side of the story on TechCrunch, in an effort to detail exactly the changes and efforts that would be coming to Airbnb to make it safer for hosts and guests alike. And he revealed that officials had a suspect in custody.

Happy ending, no?

Unfortunately, any updates coming to the Airbnb platform are too little and too late to mend what EJ lived through. And she’s doubtful a suspect related to her case has been apprehended.

As of today, July 28, I have received no confirmation from either the San Francisco Police Department or the District Attorney that any culprit is in custody for my case.

She then goes on to describe that, while Airbnb was thoughtful and caring in the early days, its relationship with her has since shifted to one of criticism. They wanted her to edit or remove her blog posts and Twitter updates, hoping that the story could be altered to put Airbnb back in a positive light. That’s definitely backfiring.

Truthfully enough, Airbnb is usually a safe way to rent and host places to live for temporary stays. The company has the numbers to prove it. However, they must also understand the high risk of user agony when something really goes wrong--too easy when you’re opening up your space to a stranger. To that end, their customer service needs a serious overhaul. There’s little reason something like this should get this out of control, when they’re well aware of the risks they’re dealing in.

The last message posted by EJ, and the one Airbnb will most have to suffer through most, is this:

And for those who have so generously suggested a donation fund be set up to help me recover, I thank you from the bottom of my heart, and suggest that instead, you keep the money and use it to book yourself into a nice, safe hotel room the next time you travel. You’ll be glad you did.

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Joined Vator on is the “Ebay of space.” The online marketplace allows anyone from private residents to commercial properties to rent out their extra space. The reputation-based site allows for user reviews, verification, and online transactions, for which Airbnb takes a commission. As of June, 2009, the San Francisco-based company has listings in over 1062 cities in 76 countries.

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