Airbnb Horror Stories (& How You Can Prevent Your Own)

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October is the perfect time for snack-size candy, questionable costumes, and entertaining your own worst fears. And for those of you (my mother) who love a good horror story, this month’s Airbnb news may definitely feed those fears (more on that later).

But for those of you who want to try Airbnbing—aren’t sure—but would like to hear about all the stuff that doesn’t make the news (but could potentially be a nightmare) we’ve listed our personal worst Airbnb stories below.

We’ve also included tips for how to avoid your very own house of horrors.

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Things That Go Meow at Night

The listing said there would be a cat that needed to be fed. The listing did not say that there would be a cat that needed to be fed and medicated three times a day, was prone to meowing all night, preferred the bathtub to its litter box, and was owned by a very neurotic part-time actor whose claim to fame was minor roles in Bruce Willis movies and harassing Airbnb guests via text: HAVE YOU PET THE CAT TODAY? IF THE CAT MEOWS, SHE NEEDS LOVE. DO NOT USE THE CURTAINS.

Suffice to say, as guests, this has been our worst Airbnb experience to date, but there were warning signs.

First, he mentioned the cat and some cat maintenance. Second, his Airbnb description included some language that suggested he was a wee bit demanding and did not have the strongest grasp of customer service: Will TEXT YOU if time permits, otherwise, Google it. 

The take away on this one? Read between the lines and be clear on expectations. If there’s something about a place that seems or feels a little different (like paying to be a cat sitter), ask for more clarification on the issue, what’s expected, and what the scenario totally encompasses.

Related: The Top 10 Dos and Don’ts for Airbnb Short-Stay Landlords

When Nature Calls

So, this one was 100% our fault. After checking a guest in on a Friday around 3 p.m., we left for a mountain getaway with spotty cell service. It wasn’t until 9 a.m. the next morning that we heard our guest’s multiple voicemails. Her messages had started around 6 p.m. and informed us that she had locked herself out on the balcony. Worse yet, by the third voicemail, she had needed to use the restroom. By the time we heard her messages, some good samaritan on the street had heard her pleas, notified the front desk, and helped her off the balcony and back into the studio (but not before she had to pee in a cup outside on our balcony).

We owe it to our guests to be reachable during their stays. They pay us. They depend on us. It’s about trust. It wasn’t cool that we weren’t able to help her. If you’re out of town or otherwise unavailable, make sure there is someone near by whom you trust to take care of your guests—someone who can help them in emergencies (in many cities, including Denver, this is actually now required by law).

Related: Dirt, Cobwebs, & Dead Mice, Oh My: What I Learned From My Latest Tenant Horror Story


Actually, we used more colorful language than “rest in peace” for the $2,400 condominium garage door we had to replace, but the point is it died after our guest ran into it with his Jeep. We know our guest did this because our condo security cameras caught it and a month later informed us we had a $2400 bill to pay because buildings like working garage doors.

I won’t bore you with the details, but know that we did get the money back. The good news is Airbnb has all sorts of safe guards in place to help you in this kind of situation. First, they encourage (and we encourage) conducting correspondence through the Airbnb site so they can mediate. Second, you can give reviews and research people before they stay. Finally, there’s insurance. Airbnb offers host guarantees (which we don’t think is enough), and you can also get private short-term insurance which will cover you in such disasters.

Lastly, there’s been a lot of press recently about someone in Florida who used a modified smoke alarm to film their Airbnb guests in the bedroom. This is truly creepy and a legitimate horror story. While I feel terrible for everyone involved, Airbnb has had over 50 million users and relatively few horror stories (and we’ve had over 150 guests with minimal issues). The truth is the review system on the site helps keep (most) people honest, and it’s proven to be a fairly safe platform for almost everyone who has used it.

Try not to let the occasional nightmare spook you too much.

And with that, all I have to say is happy Halloween!

Have any horror stories of your own to share? Leave them in the comments below!

About Author

Erin Spradlin

Erin Spradlin co-owns James Carlson Real Estate. She loves working with first-time homebuyers for their enthusiasm and excitement, and loves working with investors because she's a fellow spreadsheet nerd. She and her husband own three properties in metro Denver and are currently in the process of acquiring a duplex in Colorado Springs. You can find Erin's blogs here: and her airbnb video series here:


  1. Erik Whiting

    A major concern I’ve had with AirBnb (and regular tenants as well)…bed bugs. They’re rampant and moving everywhere. With a long-term tenant, at least you can somewhat prove who brought the bugs in….if the unit was free of bugs at moving in and they don’t start complaining until month 2-3…it’s pretty clear they brought them in. With AirBnb, who knows?

    What step, if any, do you take to mediate and/or reduce the risk of BBs?

        • Erin Spradlin

          Yeah, I’m not sure you can pinpoint it to to one tenant exactly…. and, yes, a bed bug review will not be welcomed on the site, but aside from keeping your place clean (washing sheets constantly, eyeballing the mattress and frame, listening to feedback), I’m not sure how you prevent them from happening. If anyone has an idea on that, I’d love to hear it.

  2. Matt NA

    To eradicate bed bugs is not an easy task. After much research, we used a a good steamer to go over every inch of the bed, box spring, and surrounding areas which included taking apart the bed frame. The steam/heat kills them almost instantly. We also encased the mattress in a bed bug proof mattress bag. Sounds extreme but it was recommended by many and did the trick. You could also purchase bed bug traps which sit under the edge of your mattress. This is not a solution to get rid of them, only to verify you have them.

    • Erin Spradlin

      We had an issue with something- hard to say if it was bed bugs or something else, but we did use the mattress bag and it took care of the issue immediately. You have to keep it on for months to kill them, but provides an immediate block. They are not that expensive either, like $50 online.

      • Deanna Opgenort

        We ended up with bedbugs via a roommate’s stay in skilled nursing.
        Bombing, diatomaceous earth, ALL beds pulled away from walls with nothing touching, bedbug “moats” around each bed leg (filled with mineral oil to prevent them crossing), & the cats treated with flea drops, Bedbug covers on infested beds, white sheets (to see the stains) & repeated hot dryer treatments on bedding. HUGE pain, but doable.
        There are “stealth” detector traps that go on the top of each bed frame leg on a platform style bed that would be useful for detecting them, and certain areas (the back of the headboards) that tend to be bedbug magnets (thus a good spot for preventative spraying if you are doing airbnb).
        Hotels EVERYWHERE are dealing with this pest (5 star as well as dives). Since I travel often I’ve started just leaving my luggage in my car trunk to avoid bringing them home (120 degree heat kills them).

  3. Betsy W.

    As a former AirBnb host, I want to express how useless the ‘host guarantee’ insurance can be. We had an experience in which a couple staying for one night broke the bed. It wasn’t a cheap, flimsy bed frame and the damage was beyond repair. The couple initially denied having seen any damage in correspondence to us, then told Airbnb that it ‘just bent’ when they sat on it. AirBnB sided with the guests, claiming the damage was normal wear and tear. My repeated protests to AirBnb went no where, and we were left with the cost of replacing the bed with expedited shipping so we’d not have to cancel other bookings.

    This cost us a few hundred dollars. Others have had it much worse. AirBnB’s insurance requires you to make a claim on your own policy, first. Many (most?) hosts don’t get insurance that allows them to AirBnB – and many people speak of their insurer cancelling their policy at any mention of having a short term renter, let alone trying to make a claim for a short term guest your agent says you shouldn’t have been hosting.

    We had a commercial and liability policy when we hosted, which cost about 40% more than our previous ‘standard’ homeowners policy. BUT – our deductible was $2500. Had something bigger happened, having to claim through our own insurance before the AirBnB host insurance kicks in would have been pretty crippling and our earnings would take a significant hit. In our case, we paid out of pocket to replace the bed. I cannot begin to imagine how stressful and financially damaging a more significant issue would have been.

    • Erin Spradlin

      Thank you for the information, and sorry to hear about your experience. We encourage people to get a secondary insurance product that covers their home insurance and short-term rentals (Proper Insurance is good for this, have also heard that SafeCo is a good product for this.) That’s good to know that Airbnb forces you to file with your own insurance first, which also results in that policy getting cancelled a lot. In some ways, the host guarantee is a disservice because it creates a false sense of security. Again, thanks for your comment.

  4. Betsy W.

    I feel AirBnB are misleading on the insurance front, and many hosts don’t do enough research before signing up to host. When we first started we were under a policy with a major insurer. We were told that policy was ok for short term rentals, only to be told at renewal we wouldn’t have been covered. Thankfully we never had any major claims. We found a great insurance agent eventually who got us covered with our commercial policy. The lesson learned was that you really have to do your research and make sure you have appropriate coverage outside of AirBnB. Choices for STR coverage are still limited but we hear more insurers are rolling out endorsements for it.

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