Try to Top My Airbnb Horror Story

Illustration: Chelsea Beck (Gizmodo)

I should start by saying I do not hate Airbnb. Actually, despite its shortcomings, I love it, and I use the app almost exclusively when I’m traveling for leisure. I’ve had plenty of great experiences: a villa on the beach of a surf island in the Philippines, a cabin in Scotland with a fireplace complete with a perfect-for-Instagram wood chopping station, a glass house optimal for Aurora viewing in Iceland… but this is not those stories.

Gather ‘round for a tale so ghoulish, so ghastly, that an Airbnb representative actually claimed it was the “last straw” for their Anaheim market and removed Airbnb from the region. (Note: It was the city of Anaheim that pulled the plug on short-term rentals, but that was Airbnb’s story at the time.)

Day 1 (night)

It all started by agreeing to attend Vidcon, the nightmare conference for social media influencers and their screaming adolescent fans. I went with two former colleagues, all of us in our mid-20s and female.

Attending Vidcon (for the third year in a row) was my first mistake, followed by a 24-hour saga of Southwest Airlines overselling the flight but managing to send thousands of dollars-worth of our camera gear to LAX without us. One of our then-colleagues (we’ll call her Inmate #1) was first to arrive at the private residence we’d rented on Airbnb, expecting a quick exchange with the host and then silence and freedom.

Like a Tinder date gone wrong, the host—who was 20 years older than he claimed—immediately started bawling when she arrived.

He’d gotten divorced at some point and had really “let himself go,” he said. But tears were just the beginning: He simply wouldn’t leave. And Inmate #1 was too sweet and innocent to demand he leave, so she let him drive her to the Vidcon venue. (I know, I know, but if you’re already in a stranger’s house, might as well get in his car, too… ?) You know you’re desperate to escape if you choose a convention center full of screaming teens over your Airbnb. There, she met up with the rest of our team and somehow made it back to the house. By 3am, Inmate #2 and I had arrived, and Inmate #1 shared her eerie tale of consoling our Crying House Dad. He was gone by then, mercifully, so we thought that was the worst of it. Until we realized he’d removed the lock from the front door.

Day 2

The next morning, as we got ready to head to the convention, guess who showed up? House Dad. Why? Your guess is as good as mine. We confronted him about the missing lock. He claimed that this was a “safe neighborhood” so we wouldn’t be needing a lock. We disagreed. Eventually, we won the please-replace-the-lock tug of war in hopes of keeping our belongings (and ourselves) safe. Then he cried again. He also proposed (several times, including in our correspondence prior to arriving) that we employ his out-of-work brother as our personal driver. We declined. We left the house (in a car not driven by his brother) for eight hours to attend Vidon, a nightmare in itself. When we returned, we found ourselves in a fresh hell.

There was House Dad, sitting in the house, music and TV blaring, all the doors open—specifically, the front door, which he was straddling, trying to fix the lock. He claimed to have been there all day trying to fix it. Inmate #2 and I asked to take over, and we fixed it within the hour. Then we asked him to leave again. By this time, it was about 7pm, and we decided to take a dip in the nice pool outside. About 15 minutes later, just as we allowed ourselves to relax, the pool cleaners arrived. They didn’t say anything to us, they just started… cleaning. So we dipped and dove to avoid getting caught in the net and headed inside. We cleaned ourselves up and GTFOtta there to have dinner and, I dunno, I guess party with teens at Vidcon.

Day 3

Here’s where things get a bit blurry. It’s also hard to keep straight how many times we left and returned to the house, only to find House Dad there, music and TV blaring. Part of me thinks he never left but instead hid in the garage only to return to the house once he saw us leave. Let me tell you: I’ve never checked a bathroom so thoroughly for toilet cams in my life.

Anyway, one time we came back to find our bedroom doors open and bags messier than we left them. In Inmate #2’s room, her red JBL speakers were perched nicely atop her bag, despite being buried in her clothes when we left. This prompted a routine gear check (as video producers neurotically do), and everything was accounted for, so we did the logical thing and chalked it up to ghosts. Another time, we came back to find full water bottles empty. Again… ghosts, right? We spent as much time as possible outside of the house, sharing odd tales about the Airbnb with our colleagues. The nightmare, however, was not yet over.

Day 4 (morning)

Finally, we were done with Vidcon, done with Anaheim, done with that damn Airbnb and Crying House Dad. He told us to just leave the keys (to his newly fixed door—you’re welcome, House Dad) and go. Check out was at noon, so we woke up early, put all of our gear and luggage in the closed garage, and went out to get some breakfast and head to Inmate #2’s favorite skate and surf shop. (Her sick purple board was the only good thing to come out of this trip.) When we returned around 11am, the garage was wide open, exposing all of our belongings to the world. Around six older men were parading through the house, garage, backyard—everywhere. They claimed to be landscapers with keys to the garage and the house. We got our stuff together as quickly as possible (after another full gear check) and left, just happy to be out of there.

The Aftermath

Following another excruciatingly fucked up, 24-hour return flight to D.C. with Southwest, we were home. After much discussion, we decided to complain to Airbnb. We almost didn’t because we felt bad for House Dad. But it’s a good thing we reached out. After Airbnb confronted him, he went on a full-blown rant about how we’d stolen up to $15,000 in stuff from his house and had the nerve to include a picture OF INMATE #2’s JBL SPEAKERS. Yes, he had indeed rifled through our things, taken a picture of Inmate #2’s personal speakers on top of her open suitcase, and sent that picture to Airbnb as proof that we stole his shit.

So, what’s your Airbnb horror story?