L.A. interior designer Amanda Wong is on the hook for over $US10,000 damages after an Airbnb guest stuffed feminine products into her condo’s toilet and repeatedly flushed it, causing the toilet to overflow, the pipes to back up, and water to leak everywhere, she tells us.
The water poured into the hallway and lobby of her condo’s building in the dead of night, and then seeped into her neighbour’s apartment, wrecking the wood floor there (see schematic, below).
Airbnb which has a Host Guarantee that promises to pay for up to $US1 million in damages, will only cover the $US78 plumber’s fee, Airbnb told her in an email (see email, below).
An Airbnb spokesperson told us, “More than 20 million guests have stayed in an Airbnb, and problems are incredibly rare. We were incredibly sorry to hear about this matter and we’d encouraged the host to use our resolution tools to work with her guests on this matter.”
The situation caused the condo association to ban its owners from renting units with Airbnb, Wong tells us. This is actually the second L.A. condo association that banned Airbnb after she had trouble with guests.
“I will stop doing business with Airbnb altogether once our current reservations are done,” she says.
Wong and her husband, a successful executive, invest in real estate. In the past few years they have bought and sold six condos, she says. They prefer long-term tenants but in-between leases they have rented these condos on Airbnb.
“$10,000 won’t kill me,” Wong says. “We can afford it. I don’t like it. I hate it. It’s ridiculous how exposed I feel. This could happen to anyone, that people decide to trash someone else’s house. And to someone else $US10,000 in damages, those people can get really screwed. And if they happen to not own the unit, they are just a tenant, they can get evicted. I want to warn people.”
Why Airbnb Won’t Pay
What’s particularly scary about this story is that Wong didn’t actually find out about the extent of the water damage until 10 days after it all occurred, she tells us. The guests had left, and two more Airbnb guests came and went without incident.
The reason she didn’t know was because it all happened at night. The guests called Wong that night telling her the toilet was clogged and that it was no big deal, she says. First thing in the morning, she scheduled the plumber and she came to the condo when the plumber arrived.
The plumber told her the clog was caused by multiple feminine pads stuffed in the toilet. (Most women know not to try and flush pads for exactly these plumbing reasons.)
What Wong didn’t know was that hours before, at 2 a.m., water was all over the floor in the condo building. Other tenants saw it and called the property managers. The property managers went door-to-door to find the source of the water. When the Airbnb guests answered the door, they found the source and turned off the water valve.
Then the property managers hired an emergency water cleaning crew and all was well when Wong came in the daytime with the plumber.
10 days later, she got an email from the owner of the other apartment, telling her about the damage to his unit. It took him a few days to learn of the incident and to track her down, she says. She also got the bill from emergency clean-up from the association: $US10,000 in all.
Alerted that this wasn’t a minor clogged toilet after all, she had an inspection done of her own bathroom and discovered mould in the bathroom. The sheet rock needed to be ripped and replaced.
As soon as she knew there was damage involved, she contacted Airbnb to put a claim in, she says. But it was too late.
Airbnb denied her claim for two reasons: the Host Guarantee only covers the actual unit. Airbnb says it won’t cover damage outside of the unit. The Guarantee is void if more guests stay after the damage is incurred.
“I want nothing for my own unit. I want Airbnb to help pay for the common area and neighbours. The Host Guarantee only covers my unit. But that’s not right,” she says.
She’s also embarrassed by the situation with her neighbours. “These are good people and you’ve caused them all these problems. They had to find a place for their tenant to live while someone came in to repair the flooring.”
How this changes her plans
Wong really didn’t want to quit Airbnb.
In fact, she was hoping to put her design career on hold, which requires a lot of travelling, and start a family. Airbnb had grown so profitable for her in the past two years, that it was central to her plan.
Because the site has become so popular, the income it was generating for Wong had grown six fold, she told us. The first two years, it brought in about $US10,000, just enough to cover expenses when the condo wasn’t rented.
Last year, the condos were rented more than they sat vacant. It brought in $US67,000 she said. But as the number of guests increased, so have the damages.
“We’ve been using it since 2011. We were an early adopter. Airbnb sent us great people for two years. They appreciated the concept of sharing and staying in an at-home-like environment. Then things start to get bad from last year and especially this year,” she describes.
The water leak was the second big incident this year. The first was when she suspected her guests had crashed their car into the garage.
“They crashed into my neighbour’s garage wall. The guest said they got in a car crash but not in this spot. I sent a photo,” she said. “But Airbnb bought the guest’s story and denied my claim.”
She tried to report the incident to the police but the police asked her for the person’s driver’s licence. Airbnb collects and verifies identity information but it doesn’t share it with hosts if it denies a damage claim.
She reached out to them through the Airbnb system, and they maintained their innocence. The police wouldn’t take on the case without I.D.
She paid for the repair herself and then the condo association banned owners from using Airbnb.
“Even after that I didn’t give up on Airbnb. I really want this to work, so I could stop travelling so much,” she said.
But the water damage in the middle of the night has changed her mind.
“I have major trust issue with the potential guests on Airbnb now. I can’t help but assume they will trash my home and ruin everything. The loss of faith is worst than my monetary damage,” she says.
That said, sites like Airbnb that let strangers meet and share things over the Internet (homes, cars, errands) are not going away. In fact many Business Insider employees regularly use Airbnb and really like it. Even San Francisco billionaire Marc Benioff uses Airbnb when he travels.
But Wong’s story illustrates that it’s still early days for such sites and before you jump in, you need to understand the fine print.
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