Two years ago, I decided to go to New York alone on a whim. There were only a few Airbnb options left, so I ended up getting a room in Bushwick for very cheap. Turns out, there was a reason it was so cheap. My “bedroom” had curtains instead of walls, and the woman who lived there stayed up all night, walking back and forth in the tiny house and burping loudly until it was light outside.
Other things happened while I was there, too. The woman’s son asked to do a mini photo shoot of me on the roof (I politely obliged, for reasons I'm unsure of) and he then sent the photos to me via email. One night I walked into the kitchen, and there was a man sprawled face-first across the floor (he was breathing, I checked). When I left, the hosts gifted me with a pair of slightly dirty, white, size 7 trainers (I wear a size 3.)
My experience in that Airbnb was bad, but not that bad. The hosts were nice enough; it was just generally uncomfortable. But if you’re staying in some randomer’s personal house for a holiday, shit is bound to get weird. Sometimes it gets really weird – especially considering that the short-term rental platform can only do so much to regulate their hosts (and their ability to scam us! As VICE US recently uncovered!). With that in mind, I asked around to hear people’s most fucked up Airbnb stories.
“I woke at 7AM to the word ‘FIRE!’ being screamed by our host”
I went to New York in August for work and had an Airbnb booked in the Upper West Side. Didn’t really know what to expect. I was working all day and didn’t get to the house until about 10.30PM. It was this big brownstone building, the host came to the door and told me to be very quiet. I thought, fair enough, it’s late. She led me up these pitch black steps to the door, and said: “We have one rule: no speaking”. Like, not at all. “We feel it provides a better atmosphere of peace in the apartment. If you need to take a call or speak, please go to the bathroom.” I was fucking knackered so just went “Oh, OK”.
She led me to the room and pointed to my bed. I looked down and there were seven mattress with seven sleeping Australian backpackers around the floor. I thought I was hallucinating: the images on the site said it was an “open plan apartment” and had no indication that I’d be flanked on all sides by lads in vests. “You have a privacy curtain,” she said. It was just a sheet, which hung from the left side of the bed and could be pinned to the right. The sheet was about the size of a large pillowcase. It covered just my face and chest. I was just like “Are you fucking joking” but passed out anyway, exhausted.
I woke at 7am to the word “FIRE!” being screamed by our host. She’d knocked over a lit candle and, understanding what a huge fire hazard the gaff was, panicked. The flame went out as soon as it hit the floor, hot red wax was spilled everywhere and sprayed up the walls, and she sat on the floor crying hysterically. I popped my head from behind the privacy pillowcase and found her crying, sat cross-legged on the floor, trying to chip wax off of a pair of shoes. It honestly looked like a horror film. It was still dark and she was only lit by the light of her phone torch.
I got up and packed and went to speak but she cut me off, sobbing “Have... I... ruined... New... York... for... you?” And I said “No! Of course not!” She noticed my bags and I noticed her notice and said: “I’m... not going, I just... I have to go. For a bit.”
I took all my shit and left the key on the side. I requested a refund and they paid within 12 hours. I don’t imagine I was the first (or will be the last) to make that request. Sam, 28.
“I came back and noticed the host was wearing my socks”
I went on holiday alone to Florence for a week. The Airbnb was nice enough, standard Italian apartment with big windows and balcony etc, so I was pleased to be there. The host seemed nice too, just a polite guy in his thirties. But then I kept noticing little things, like my bag moving from one side of the bed to the other, or things in my room changing place.
I thought I’d just forget about it, it’s not like I left any valuables in there as I brought my passport and money with me everywhere. But then one night I came back and noticed the host was wearing my socks? They were stripey pink and blue, and I’d bought them from a small shop in St Ives, so definitely mine. I was like “Erm, aren’t they my socks?” in a jokey way so it wouldn’t be awkward and he acted really surprised, making up excuses that he’d found them behind his bed and assumed they were his. He washed them and gave them back.
I let that go, like whatever right they’re just socks, maybe he just really liked them. But other things started to happen. One night I came back after being at a bar and a couple of my t-shirts were outside of my bag and also a white vest was missing. Being a bit drunk, I confronted him and he said something about not being sure if I wanted my clothes washed. I was like, “Thanks but you don’t need to touch my clothes.”
He didn’t do anything more after that and we got along politely and avoided each other for the rest of my stay. I left an honest review saying the place was nice, but he kept touching my clothes. He replied saying I was a liar and paranoid. The whole thing was really weird. Gabriel, 24.
“And she’s like, ‘Oh, that’s Osama Bin Laden. He’s my father’”
So I turn up to this woman’s Airbnb. It’s got good vibes, pictures of Bjork on the toilet wall, lots of nice vapours, lovely records. And then we get talking about her record collection. She invites me into her living room and shows me some of the people on her wall: Billie Holiday, Amy Winehouse. And then I look above her piano and am like, “...who’s that?” knowing full well that it’s Osama Bin Laden. And she’s like, “Oh, that’s Osama Bin Laden. He’s my father.”
I ask how she knows that and she said the radio told her after he died. And then she warns me to stay inside for the duration of my holiday because an attack is coming. The day after that, I come into her playing like five radios on different frequencies blaring around the house while she lies in the bath. Then afterwards, she climbs into my bed! It was a lot, I didn’t know what to do. So eventually I leave, saying she should maybe call someone on Monday. I was trying to help, but felt kind of clueless. Sean, 24.
“There was one house rule, involving the bathroom and a rescued pigeon”
This was a replacement Airbnb in south Williamsburg, after the last one fell through. I was staying with this eccentric middle-aged lady who, when I arrived, was playing The Strokes at top volume on her stereo. “Hello! I can’t turn it off!” she shouted. She was smoking a spliff to calm herself down. “I’m sorry about this! You can smoke if you want!” And I said: “Have you unplugged it?” That worked.
I dropped my bags in my room and went for the shower. “Okay, one rule,” she said. “Be careful of the bathroom.” I... “I’m nursing a pigeon back to health in there – this little pigeon that I found on the fire escape with a broken wing – and I have four cats and they know she’s in there and they want her dead. You have to sneak into the bathroom. Don’t let the cats kill her.”
I was just like 'Fu-cking-hell.' Anyway, the cats didn’t murder the pigeon, the pigeon made a full recovery, and the host wrote a creepy review of my stay saying I was a very ATTRACTIVE British man. Sam, 28.
“He said ‘DO NOT look in the black bag under the bed”
I went on holiday to Brisbane, with a female friend, three or four years ago. The host was a single guy in his forties. We were staying in his bedroom while he was on the sofa, which was so strange but we thought, 'you know what, guess he’s gotta get that bread.' When he showed us to his room he said: “Okay, you girls can sleep in my room... but DO NOT look in the black bag under the bed, whatever you do.”
Like, he had plenty of time to go and remove that black bag before we arrived, but he purposefully left it in there, on full display. Naturally, we peeped in there straight away, as soon as he was gone. Inside was a full latex gimp outfit complete with a mask, lead and a whip. Like obviously each to their own, but why purposefully leave it for us to find and tell us about it? He also used to act jealous when we said we were going out to meet guys. We obviously checked out early. Hayley, 25.
“The sink was full of dirty, wet pasta”
Me and my ex rented a room to some people who were 21. I was going to just pick up the keys when everything was ending. But they were absolutely wasted when we showed up, their eyes were red and the house was trashed – full of empty bottles of cheap wine. The house was covered in cigarette butts and they’d used like 20 air fresheners to hide the smoke. The bed was covered in weird brown stains that we wanted to assume was chocolate, but… I don’t know. The sink was full of dirty, wet pasta. It was dreadful. They had to pay us 500 bucks for all the things we had to fix that they damaged. Florence, 35.