“What’s the worst that can happen?” I thought when I put my house on Airbnb. While I didn’t have a warm feeling about strangers sleeping in my bed, I was intrigued by the idea. I was recently divorced and I bought my home, with three bedrooms and views of New York’s Hudson River, at the end of 2016. It represented a new chapter for me. Its contemporary architecture isn’t for everyone, but I was seeking to simplify my life. My two teenage boys stay with me half the time.
Last December, I put the house on Airbnb and rented it four or five times. The listing explicitly said no parties. Then a request came through to book the house for one night on New Year’s Day. It was from a young man, probably in his early 20s. He had one review but it was terrific. He told me he owned a small record label and wanted to use the house to get some Instagram shots. I’d had a model with the same request before, so it wasn’t unusual.
The night before the booking, on New Year’s Eve, two couples with infants had stayed and I spent three hours with a cleaning crew to get the place ready – changing sheets, cleaning the hot tub on the roof. By the end, the house was pristine. The guest arrived at 3pm and was respectful. He said there might be a couple of people coming over, but that was it. I picked up my boys and we stayed down the road at my mother’s apartment.
I went to work the next morning, and around noon, which was checkout time, I texted the guy to say I was heading over. As I approached, I noticed his car wasn’t in the driveway. Then I saw that he’d texted to say he’d woken up late and could I give him half an hour. So I went and bought a sandwich. When I got back I saw three or four cars in the driveway. I threw my food down and knew I was screwed.
Inside there were about 12 young adults, all trying to clean. The floors looked like someone had poured Jägermeister and champagne everywhere and then danced on them. Everything seemed wrong: my artwork was not on the walls; there was furniture missing; the glass panel on my staircase was shattered; even the floor didn’t seem level any more. Then I noticed they were using my best sheets and towels as mops.
Without raising my voice, I pointed to the guy I’d rented to and gestured for him to walk over to me. I felt like a father about to lecture his son: “What the fuck? What did you do?” He was remorseful and said things had got out of control. I asked how many people had been there and he said, “20, 25.” I wasn’t buying it.
I didn’t know what to do next. I told them no one was leaving and I called the police and Airbnb. When a police officer turned up, he said it was a civil matter, before adding: “We were here last night.” I couldn’t believe no one had contacted me. One of the neighbours said they thought it was my kids and they didn’t want to get them into trouble. I lectured all the kids and had some call their parents. Ultimately, it was just stuff and I knew it would be OK. But I felt a massive disappointment in humanity.
That night, it wasn’t hard for me and my boys to find Instagram pictures and videos of the party. It was horrifying to see so many people in the house, jumping up and down on the furniture and windowsills. They broke my hot tub and tiles in the bathroom; when I looked in the rubbish bags, I saw all my drinks bottles empty, as well as broken glasses and towels. I found an image online of the invite that said, “Mansion Party” with my address. There had been 300 people there. Boys were charged to enter; girls got in free.
Airbnb didn’t get back to me. After three days I decided to call the local press and share the videos we’d found to try to get the company’s attention. Airbnb then got in touch and apologised. I can’t disclose the amount it has paid me for the damages, but a year later repairs are continuing. The floor is still uneven.
When I look back at the video now, I find it funny. There are much bigger problems in the world. Right now, I’m out of the Airbnb business; I want to get back to simplifying my life.
• As told to Candice Pires
Do you have an experience to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org