Guest has me reconsidering hosting on Airbnb at all

Hi! Newbie to this forum, not new to hosting on Airbnb so forgive me in advance if I’m hitting on a redundant thread.

My prior Airbnb hosting experience was sharing my condo in downtown San Francisco as a host. I just finished a long top-to-bottom remodel and my place is now set up to accommodate unhosted stays as well.

My first unhosted guest checked out at the end of his five-week stay last Sunday… and I’m still picking up the pieces.

He didn’t follow house rules. He broke light fixtures and appliances. He disappeared towels and bedding, leaving me with incomplete sets of everything. Did he report any damages? Nope.

He called me in a panic on his last night after he’d locked himself out of the building to ask me to come let him in. I interrupted dinner to do so, letting him know that I’d waive the missing key fee listed on my house rules but that he would need to pay my cab fare to and from the building. He agreed. After I let him in, he tried to haggle over my cab fare and asked for screenshots from my phone!

Anyhow, you can say all those things are simply the cost of doing business with demanding people. But the worst part was his parting gift on check-out.

I placed a brand-new heavy-duty lockbox at the building entrance for guest keys. When he went to return to the keys, he discovered that the lockbox had been tampered with - someone had literally taken a torch to it. He didn’t call or text me - he had my cell and had no problem calling many times before.

Instead of calling or texting, he placed the keys inside the badly damaged lockbox, took a picture and sent it to me on the Airbnb app AFTER he left. When I saw his message I immediately went to retrieve the keys. Being downtown San Francisco, by the time I arrived whoever torched the lockbox came back and finished the job - the cover was melted open and the keys were gone.

I called the building HOA and then a locksmith to rekey the front gate and entrance and cut 30 replacement keys for everyone in the building. $300 dollars later, I called Airbnb support to learn that before I could initiate an Aircover claim, I first needed to reach out to the guest seeking reimbursement.

I did that and while I was fully expecting this guy to shirk any responsibility, he did me one better by blaming ME for allowing self-check-in in a “dangerous neighborhood” in the first place.

Nothing but his refusal matters to me because that’s all I needed to get my claim started. And I have started a claim, to which I’ve been adding with regularity over the last several days as I discover more surprises. It stands at about $1,500 in damages to date.

After putting A LOT of work into my home of the last 17 years and staging it with hosting in mind, and with new guests only days away, I’m still digesting what my next steps need to be to be better prepared.

At first, my big concern was getting a bad review FROM this guy. Then I was worried about Airbnb’s response since it appears that Aircover will be scrutinizing very closely even undisputed items on my claim.

I thought I’d taken steps to protect against problematic guests: I set a 20-day minimum stay and I read ALL the guest’s reviews. And while limited, all his reviews were positive, without a hint of what I encountered. Remember that while this was my first unhosted stay, all my prior (hosted) guests were fine, some affable, some quirky, some I wouldn’t want as friends, but all fine, really.
This experience, however, shakes my faith.

So ultimately, my question is much more about whether I need to reconsider using Airbnb as a hosting platform at all, and forego the higher earning potential in favor of a traditional (furnished) rental.

In any event, I thank you for reading this far. Any and all feedback appreciated and especially interested to get the take of more seasoned hosts on what I might do differently IF I stick with Airbnb.

If you have to question it, it suggests that you’ve already decided. But all hosts are different - it depends why you’re listing with Airbnb and what you expect from them.

Remember that Airbnb is only an advertising medium with the addition of today’s technology (the ability to write and edit one’s listing, the money-handling services, etc.)

I’m also interested in knowing why you say that listing with Airbnb offers a higher earning potential?

I use Airbnb (I have two rentals) but also take bookings from return and referral guests via my website. Airbnb isn’t noticeably more profitable. I also haven’t noticed a huge difference from the pre-Airbnb days.

I’m just wondering why you think that you’ll do better with Airbnb?


Why did you set a 20 day minimum stay? That’s a long time to leave a guest to their own devices without checking up on the place.

And I’m not sure what you mean by “unhosted stay”. All stays are hosted whether the host is on-site or not.

I would suggest that you set a 2 week maximum stay. If you allow bookings for over a month, that puts guests in the category of tenant, rather than guest in most jurisdictions, subject to landlord/tenant acts.

And did you instruct the guest to notify you if anything was amiss, or just expect him to?

Many hosts who accept longer bookings in stand-alone listings arrange to go in once a week or two to change out bedding and towels and do a quick light cleaning if necessary. This can give you the chance to see how the guest is living in there, and if it’s unacceptable- filthy or they are damaging things, to cut the booking short. It will also tend to make the guests more careful if they know the host will be coming in.

Simply reading a guest’s reviews is only one tool in vetting prospective guests. Communication is really important in getting a feel for the guest. As this guest seemed not to communicate with you about anything unless it negatively affected him, you might have gotten a sense of this had you asked him some questions before accepting him, as he may not have responded in a timely manner, or at all. And you might want to turn off IB if you are using it, until you get a better handle on vetting guests. Hosting a private room in one’s home does not pose the same challenges as hosting an off-site location.


I think she means more profitable than renting on a long-term (say, annual) lease as a landlord-tenant. Short-term rentals are said generally to be more profitable than the typical annual landlord-tenant arrangement.

She says:

I think what she meant was doing strs as opposed to having long-term tenants, not as opposed to doing direct str bookings.

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Ah yes, thank you for clarifying. Of course, the third option is STr with the apartment using another OTA or self-managed

I think it may also depend on the area and several other factors. An important one probably being local demand for longer-stay traditional lets.

I did LTR in one of our apartments for a couple of years and, rather to my surprise, it wasn’t noticeably less profitable than STR. The expenses were considerably lower. STR, of course, is more time-consuming.

Apart from tenants’ rights (which was what led me to go back to STR) the only other problem we found with LTR is that tenants think of the place as their home and can take various liberties,

I’ve mentioned here before about my neighbour’s long-term tenant who painted the bedroom walls a nasty shade of :face_vomiting: green and the white wicker furniture a particularly horrible :poop: brown.

Cost my neighbour dearly.


Welcome to the forum and I’m sorry that you had this terrible experience.

You say:

Is this a step because of your HOA rules or San Francisco rules on short-term rentals?

I ask because I don’t know that a 20-day minimum rental makes it safer. I’m curious what others here think on that.

I certainly hope that you have a 28 day (or shorter) maximum so that any guest does not gain tenant’s rights in San Francisco. I used to live there, and at that time tenants had formidable rights. I would be sure to talk to an experienced real estate attorney before I developed a tenancy relationship in San Francisco.

Of all the things you say this guest did, I am sympathetic with the guest on this issue of leaving the keys in the damaged lockbox. It’s not the guest’s job to leave them elsewhere; he might have been in a rush; it was nice he informed you of the damage to the lockbox.

I’m amazed that you got 30 replacement keys for just $300 (and I assume that includes re-keying the front common door). I don’t see this at all as a charge against the guest and I think you’d lose credibility by trying to charge the guests for that. I’ll be curious what others here think.

It’s hard to advise you on what to do differently without knowing exactly what you’re doing today – what your rules are, how and what you message, the listing itself.

I’m also curious on how he broke light fixtures and appliances. Are we talking scratches or dents? Are the appliances inoperable – how might that have happened? Are we talking a stove or an alarm clock? That kind of thing.

The particular facts always matter. For example, we had a guest damage a light fixture (I suppose I could say they broke it but, more precisely, they knocked off one of the globes of the lights, which broke, In truth, we had positioned this pendant light fixture too low. It was our fault.

We didn’t charge the guest, thanked them for pointing it out (they volunteered to pay for it) and we apologized to them for any inconvenience. I’m not saying that similar facts apply in your situation, just that the exact and honest facts can make a difference in the value of the guidance you can get here.

Agree. We have a seven day maximum as we see longer stays as more risky than shorter ones. More potential for damage, creating a major mess et cetera.

But to be fair we are happy to host “part-time” rather than trying to maximise bed nights.


First of all, welcome and sorry this happened to you. We’ve all had THOSE guests. It sucks to put your heart, soul and a ton of money into a place just to have it trashed.

I do STR because I want to be able to keep a closer eye on my investment while still making money. While my experience with the one LTR I had was good, I count that as lucky. So like Muddy says, I do a maximum of 28 days, and let them know that I’ll be coming in once a week to freshen things up, aka, make sure they’re not wrecking the place. People apologize for having their things about, I don’t care about that. I care that nothing is damaged and the amenities are working.

If I were you, I’d set a minimum of five days, and a max of 28 days, and write in that you (or someone) will be coming in once a week to freshen. Do a quick bathroom clean and wipe down the kitchen counters. Yes it’s more work, but it’s the best way to keep an eye on your place.


I actually do a max of 2 weeks because I homeshare. I figured if I get a guest I don’t like having around, 2 weeks would be all I could handle and don’t want to feel like I have a semi-permanent roommate. I did let one guest this year extend for a week, as she was easy to host, and I’d accept longer bookings from repeat guests who I quite liked.


Yikes! You had a tenant in San Francisco.

I think you dodged a bullet when he checked out.


It doesn’t seem that amazing to me. Of course, it depends on what type of keys they are, but usually simple door keys only run from $1-$5 each, and getting 30 cut may have resulted in a better price. So that and a rekeying of the lock, which most locksmiths can do pretty quickly, for $300, seems about average.

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I guess you’re right.

I’m simple that way.

If you have instant book on, I recommend turning it off.

If you are going to allow stays of anything over 7 days, do what others suggested and do a light cleaning and change the bed linens every 7 days.

The one thing that has not been suggested here, that I think makes absolutely the most difference, it is to not have self check in. If the guest meets the host (or cohost, if you can’t manage to greet them yourself), it makes the experience personal to them. It’s easier to steal from someone you don’t know; it’s easier to damage things that belong to someone you don’t know. I think it’s harder for them to do those things if they’ve met you and you are “real“ to them, not just a picture on the listing.

And when you meet them, you have them show you identification, and you write down their name and address. You must have this requirement in your house rules. What does does is deter any sketchy people from booking a place to begin with. Secondly, if you do have guests that do damages, you are not just reliant on Airbnb to make you whole. You have the information you need to either take them to small claims court, or if appropriate, make a police report and file charges.

You will never, ever get this information from Airbnb. Even in a case where the police are involved, they will only release that information to the police—never to the host. Airbnb doesn’t require guests to book using their real name. I once had a guest book my house using the name “M”. I would’ve been up the creek if they had done anything to my property because this was in the days before AirCover.

No one enters my property unless I’ve seen their identification, and I have their name and address written down.


I don’t do more than 28 days rental but if you wish to continue, maybe you should require a $300 or $500 deposit. I don’t think you can do that with Airbnb but if I recall correctly you can do that with VRBO.

We’re on VRBO. I don’t know if we can do that but we can require the guest to buy damage protection insurance for either $3K or $5K. You can require a security deposit, I believe, on OwnerRez but for sure you can require damage protection that you can markup the premium if you’d like. OwnerRez also offers the option of a signed agreement, which is vastly superior to what you can do on Airbnb.

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@muddy this is how San Francisco works. If it’s a separate unit it counts as unhosted. It’s only hosted if it’s a part of your home without separate entrance , etc. This matters because the city strictly monitors & limits how many days you can rent out an unhosted unit on a short term basis, to keep potential homes on the market.

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Well, that’s bureaucratic semantics. What I meant is that there is a host who communicates with guests, as opposed to a landlord/tenant situation where they may not have any contact unless something needs fixing or a lease needs to be negotiated. And the host would still be called such on the str platforms.

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Thank you all for your responses. I’m on the steep end of a learning curve, apparently and your feedback has helped me along. In no particular order, I hit on a few points below and share a little update:

  • Might have the nomenclature wrong but by ‘unhosted’ I mean the guest has the unit to themselves versus ‘hosted’ (IOW, shared with me)

  • I have instant booking turned off and my house rules include reporting of any and all damages.

  • I landed on a 20-day minimum after a lot of deliberation, trying to strike an almost impossible balance between the effort of regularly turning over my place and unwittingly taking on a sticky tenant. 28-days is the ‘magic’ number after which a guest acquires tenancy rights in the eyes of San Francisco Rent Board - it’s a rental landscape fraught with hazards. Another consideration is that, yes, I want to stay in good graces with my HOA, which presently does not have a restriction on STRs. Plus, downtown SF is increasingly dodgy so bringing into the building an ever-changing parade of strangers wouldn’t be very neighborly so three weeks felt about right. It’s goldilocks guests I’m hoping for, I guess - not too short, not long, not too careless, not too needy.

  • $300 to rekey two locks and make 30 keys may not be the going rate but instead a ‘frequent flyer discount’ as I’ve got this locksmith on speed-dial, such has been the need to call on him semi-regularly when building keys get lost or stolen. Rough and tumble it is.

  • Airbnb pushed self-in as an appealing amenity, which it may be, and I took the bait. Turns out that it’s just not workable for me and was a change I made immediately. Now I’m noticing all the lockboxes all over the city and eye them with wary suspicion.

  • Another change I’ve made, based on suggestions offered, is to notify guests I’ll be checking-in periodically for refresh visits. It’s more laundry and labor for me, with the upside that it’ll either give me peace of mind or alert me to trouble.

  • After a LOT of back and forth with them, Aircover notified me just now that a claim payout of $161 posted to my account - just under 10% of my total claim. The prospect of that supplemental coverage had mollified me. I now know better than to rely on it and have beefed up my own insurance policy as a result.

  • I’ve almost completely picked up the pieces of this last hosting disaster and, happily, two new guests checked in a couple of days ago who seem perfectly lovely and even appreciative of the news that I’d be checking in on them in a few days. After them, the next guest-cum-tenant arrives for a months-long stay who came my way through a recommendation and NOT through Airbnb.

In the end, I won’t abandon my Airbnb listing but I’ve learned my lesson about thinking I could or should rely on it as my only hosting platform. Fingers crossed the urban SF doomloop doesn’t get me first.


Don’t you mean a 20 day maximum?

Sounds like you have learned a lot quickly and will do fine.

(Usually a listing for private rooms in the home where the host lives are referred to as “homeshares” and the others as “entire home”. There are also the terms “onsite” and “off-site” hosts, but on-site hosts do not necessarily have homeshares, they may just live on the same property in another dwelling, so guests indeed have an entire place to themselves. And according to the other poster above, SF has its own designations for “hosted” and “unhosted”.)