Parts of this article previously appeared on VICE Italy
The sharing economy is a thing of beauty, but also of horror. Whether you rent or host, using Airbnb can lead to new discoveries and lifelong friendships. It can also lead to being trapped in a small space with people you have nothing in common with and having to deal with the smell of their feet.
With several cities in Europe recently attempting to regulate Airbnb rental or outright banning it, we've collected some of the worst experiences our friends have had staying at strangers' houses.*
Wanting to save some money, I booked a cheap flight that had a long stopover in Reykjavik—I'd arrive there at around 11 PM and would leave for my connecting flight at 7 AM. I needed a place to stay in Reykjavik and, being stingy but not wanting to wake up with the print of an airport bench on my cheeks, I decided to book something through Airbnb. I moved the cursor so far to the left on the price bar that the only available room within my budget turned out to be a sleeping bag in some guy's living room. He only had one 'House Rule': "I'm a smoker. If that's a problem for you, you ought to look for some other accommodation. 420," he wrote on the site.
The worst that could happen, I thought, was that I'd end up smoking a couple of joints with some guy who rents out a sleeping bag in his living room. But when I got there, it turned out that my host was so passionate about weed that he had made a profession out of it—I spent the whole night in the living room of a dealer while his clients tested the different types of weed he sold. When I left the sleeping bag I had rolled out behind the sofa to catch my flight at 5 AM, I was stoned beyond comprehension. It lasted for hours: I've never before followed airport security control procedures so thoroughly.
– Mattia, 23
I was traveling around New Zealand and needed a place to stay for my last couple of nights in Auckland before flying back to Denmark. I didn't have a lot of money left, so I booked the cheapest place I could possibly find—a room in this huge house owned by a couple. That turned out to be a bad decision. When I got there, there was no couple. There were, however, about ten to 15 people sharing a few rooms—and sharing one bathroom. The whole place smelled like dirty, wet towels.
When I woke up the next day it was raining, so I stayed in bed for a while debating whether I should pass my time in that hellhole or spend the day walking around in the rain. The head of my bed was pushed all the way up against the end of another bed, in which lay some guy I hadn't met yet. Clearly, he must have thought I was sleeping, because at some point I started hearing the unmistakeable sounds of masturbation. Muffled thumping, squishing noises, grunting—all the classics. I've never wanted to be back at home as badly as in that moment.
- Sandra, 28
A couple of years ago, my ex and I decided to take a trip around Sicily. It was great, except for one stop we made in Agrigento. The owner was out of town for the three days we were staying there, so he arranged that a friend of his would meets us to hand us the keys. That friend was kind enough to pick us up from the bus stop, a couple of miles from the apartment—which was a very cute studio apartment with a small terrace overlooking the sea. We were looking forward to spending the day just the two of us. During the ride, the friend proved to be very chatty but also pleasant, and he had made sure there was a cold bottle of Prosecco in the fridge for our arrival, so we couldn't complain.
After he spent half an hour in the apartment talking to us—or rather at us—he offered to come along and help pick up our rental car. How could we say no? As soon as we got the car keys, we started thanking him and saying goodbye, but then he offered to take us to his sailboat for a drink. We thought that was weird, but it also felt stupid to turn down a drink on a sailboat.
After a quick stop at a supermarket, where he didn't let us pay a single euro, we arrived at the boat—it was tiny and very cute. A girl joined us and we all drank and had some snacks together. Somewhat tipsy, I marveled at the hospitality of the Sicilians, even though they were being a bit pushy about it. When he finally accepted the fact that we wanted to leave, we asked him what we owed him for the shopping. "In all, for the day and the aperitif, it's €35 a head. But we can make it €60 in total," he said. And he wasn't joking.
– Gabrielle, 28
For the past two years I've hosted about 15 people in my apartment, but this man named Jacob was by far the best guest I've ever had. He was a bit shy, yet very nice and quiet. During the time he stayed with me, he never came home drunk or anything—he rose early to visit the museums in Athens, walked around the city, had a bite to eat, and went to bed.
On his last morning, he packed his stuff, checked under the bed to make sure he hadn't forgotten anything, thanked me, said goodbye, and quietly closed the door behind him. When I went into his room to clean and make the bed, I noticed a large object between the fitted sheet and the mattress. When I lifted the sheet, the largest dildo I've ever seen rolled towards me. I left the room, found some gloves, put the dildo in a plastic bag, and threw it in the trash. I still remember him fondly.
- Philip, 38
On paper, everything seemed perfectly normal. My hosts would be Jason and Ann, a 30-something couple who rented out a bedroom in a house they described as being "so big, it's a shame not to make the most of it!" The apartment was also a stone's throw away from the London office, where I was supposed to turn up for an interview the next morning. Upon my arrival, I found out that "It's a shame to not make the most of it!" actually meant "We make the most of every single square inch of this house." The rooms of the house had all been transformed into hotel rooms, with a number on the door and house rules framed on the walls. Jason didn't sleep in the house and there was no trace of Ann's existence.
The other rooms stayed pretty quiet, until at around 11 PM someone started to swear in what I would later learn was Polish. One of the lodgers had tried to use the bathroom but realized that the toilet wasn't flushing. With some help from his roommate, he had prepared some concoction that was supposed to unblock the drains. He had tried to contact Jason but Jason wasn't answering his phone. I came out to help, as did most of the other lodgers.
I can't explain what happened exactly but I'm guessing that the shoddy plumbing, the fact that there were too many people using it, plus the concoction made the toilet explode. Shit rained down on all of us, amateur plumbers. The toilet kept making gurgling noises throughout the night. After I spent ages trying to wash myself in the sink, I bombarded Jason with messages and forced myself to try and sleep. The interview went terribly and I didn't get the internship. I don't want to blame that failure entirely on the fact that my clothes and hair smelt like shit, but it must have had something to do with it.
– Francesca, 24
THE COUSIN FROM BERGAMO
My parents have a house in the center of Milan, a classic apartment that is "bright and spacious" in a "stately building" that my mother gave her all to decorate and which I'm sure she loves more than she loves me. A couple of years ago, my parents moved out of the city, so my brother and I convinced her to rent out the townhouse on Airbnb. We would take care of everything and share a small part of the profits in return. It was the perfect arrangement.
It went without a hitch until about a year ago, when two women of about 30 turned up. They had rented the house for ten days at the end of April, and seemed perfectly sweet when we handed over the keys. A couple of days into their stay, the doorman ringed my mother. He seemed very embarrassed to tell her this, saying he didn't want to make any "hasty assumption" but there had been a steady stream of men turning up at the building confused by where exactly they were supposed to go, mentioning our apartment number, going up to our apartment, staying for a little while, then leaving.
My bewildered mother rang one of the girls, who calmed her down claiming that there had only been one guy visiting her—just her cousin from Bergamo. My dear mother either believed her or decided not to press any further out of sheer embarrassment. But she knew what had been going on as soon as she went by to clean the house and found that every bin in the house was filled with used condoms. She disinfected everything in the house and didn't let me help her.
– Silvia, 27
My mom sometimes sublets a floor of her house in Amsterdam via Airbnb. A few months ago, a group of 18-year old girls from Ireland stayed over for a few days. The apartment is old, there's a lot of wood, and it's situated in the center of Amsterdam, so it's a fire hazard—my mom always warns guests to be careful with fire. A couple of days into the girls' stay, my mom—who lives two floors above—was watching the eight o'clock news when she heard screams coming from downstairs. She ran down and saw smoke everywhere—the place was on fire. Luckily, the fire brigade arrived within minutes.
Afterwards, the girls claimed they had dozed off and woken up when "the house was suddenly on fire," but the firemen concluded that a burning candle had been moved to a spot right below the curtains. The girls must have fallen asleep without putting it out. It never occurred to them that they were responsible for the fire—they even claimed that we, as owners of the house, shouldn't have put candles in the apartment in the first place. They never apologized, which I thought was pretty heartless. The renovation was very expensive but Airbnb were kind enough to partially pay for it.
- Charlotte, 26
THE HEAT IS ON
A couple of years ago, I rented my place out for a week to some American tourists during the Milan Furniture Fair—the Salone del Mobile. It was in April, but it was a bit chilly for that time of the year.
On one of those days, I went into my apartment because I had to water the plants. When I opened the door, I realized that my house had been turned into a sauna—my guests had put the thermostat on 39 degrees Celsius. The boiler was having such a hard time with it that it was roaring. My guests assured me that they'd only raised the temperature the day before, but the bill and the state of my plants suggested otherwise.
– Sara, 33
*Some names in this story have been changed.