Airbnb is a hugely popular way for people to rent their homes to thrifty travelers, but there are times when things go terribly wrong.
We’ve shared stories of hosts coming home to find their homes trashed, and a story of an inebriated host using his keys to enter the property at night while the guests (a Business Insider employee and his girlfriend) were sleeping.
Here’s a new one: A woman rented her small, 600-square-foot Palm Springs, Calif., condo to someone for a little over a month, and now she says the guy won’t leave and is threatening to sue her.
She’s had to hire a lawyer and go through the entire eviction process, which could take three to six months, the same as if he were a long-term tenant.
It’s “been a nightmare,” the host, Cory Tschogl, told Business Insider.
Tschogl is a rehabilitation therapist, helping people with vision problems, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She got “priced out” of buying a home in the Valley, so she invested in a vacation rental condo in Palm Springs. For the past year or so, she had been renting it on Airbnb and Flipkey, a vacation rental site owned by TripAdvisor, making enough money on it to help her make ends meet with the higher rents in San Francisco.
She was really happy with Airbnb until a man who goes by the name Maksym contacted her through Airbnb, asking to rent her Palm Springs condo for longer than a month. He told her he needed accommodations for an extended business trip, Tschogl said.
He didn’t have any reviews on Airbnb, which in retrospect should have been a warning sign, she said.
But his initial interactions with her seemed OK, and she agreed to let him rent the condo from May 25 through July 8, a total of 44 days.
For long-term reservations, Airbnb bills on a monthly basis. Tschogl said she received advance payment for 30 days.
On day one, after the guest checked in, he called her and complained about two odd things, Tschogl said. He didn’t like the tap water (he complained it was cloudy), and he didn’t like the gated entry to the condo complex. He asked for a full refund, according to Tschogl. She had a bad gut feeling about him, she said, so she agreed to a refund.
She said she had difficulty getting ahold of Airbnb right away to make the refund happen. After sending multiple emails and making phone calls, Airbnb responded two days later. In that email, on May 27, Airbnb told her it asked the guest to leave. The company also told her since Maksym had stayed in the condo for two days, she was entitled to keep an appropriate portion of the money he paid.
However, Maksym stayed in the condo, said Tschogl. “It became a confusing situation. Both I and Airbnb told the guest to leave, but he would not,” Tschogl told us.
After a number of antagonistic texts with the guest, Tschogl said she decided that perhaps the best course of action would be just to let him stay for the duration of his reservation.
Then came the second hiccup. On June 25, when payment for the last part of his reservation was due, Airbnb couldn’t collect the money. Airbnb warned Tschogl in an email, she said.
Both Airbnb and Tschogl contacted him and warned him to pay or leave, Tschogl said.
Two days later, on June 27, he was still in the condo, she said.
On the last day of his reservation, still unpaid, Tschogl said she sent him a text message telling him if he didn’t vacate the property, she would have the utilities shut off.
He apparently responded with a threat of his own (see right). “It almost sounded like blackmail. He threatened to sue me, saying his brother was there and got an ulcer due to the tap water. He said he was legally occupying my domicile and he has rights,” Tschogl said.
It turns out Maksym wasn’t totally wrong. Tschogl researched the situation on a real estate investing social network called Bigger Pockets and was advised by other landlords to “lawyer up.”
She hired a lawyer and discovered that in California, once someone rents a property for 30 days, that person is considered a tenant on a month-to-month lease.
Getting the tenant out would require the whole eviction shebang, which could take three to six months and up to $5,000 in legal fees. She couldn’t just ask the police to haul the guy out.
Tschogl contacted Business Insider and the San Francisco Chronicle to tell her story. Shortly after, Airbnb said it would make sure she was paid for the full 44-day reservation. An Airbnb spokesperson told Business Insider:
Our initial response to this inquiry didn’t meet the standards we set for ourselves, and we’ve apologized to this host. In the last week, officials from our team have been in incredibly close contact with this host, and she has been paid the full cost of the reservation, and we’re working with her to provide additional support as we move forward.
But she was still on her own to get the guy out.
When Business Insider pressed Airbnb to address her complaints that Airbnb took too long to respond to her (a complaint we’ve heard from a few other Airbnb users), this is what the company told us:
15 million guests have traveled on AIRBNB and while the overwhelming majority of guests and hosts have a safe and positive experience we are constantly working to make our platform even stronger.
As for helping hosts get rid of squatters, Airbnb said it warns hosts that it is their responsibility to know the laws of their state.
Tschogl agreed. She doesn’t blame Airbnb for the whole situation, but she does say the company could do more to warn hosts, respond faster when problems arise, and, perhaps, insure them.
She said hosts should know: “Collecting guest fees for 30-plus-day stays for only 30 days at a time equals no guarantee to the host of payment in full.”
Ideally, she’d like to see Airbnb expand its $1 million “host guarantee” to cover rental and legal expenses when a guest doesn’t pay and refuses to leave.
“Thousands of vacation rental owners are vulnerable, and they don’t know it. The public needs to know, lawmakers need to know, and sites like Airbnb need to know and improve upon their policies, procedures and protections,” she said.
We emailed “Maksym” for comment, but he didn’t answer. We called and texted his phone number, but got a “phone not available” message.
This story originally appeared on Business Insider. Copyright 2014