Terri was fast asleep when her phone rang. It is midnight on a Tuesday in early May. Despite the time, he answered the call because it came from a guest on his Airbnb rental. The news he got was alarming.
"I was bitten by something," Terri told her guest. "I think you have bedbugs."
Terri, a retired federal agent, has been renting her three-bedroom condo off the coast of South Carolina for almost two years. (CNET chose not to disclose his full name in order to release his public investigation.) He is what Airbnb calls a "superhost," an experienced and highly regarded owner. Terri doesn't know where the bedbugs came from, but she's sure they weren't there before her guest arrived. So, he turned to Airbnb for help.
Initially, the short-term rental service provided assistance. Terri spent three hours on the phone with the company that night trying to find a new lodging for his guest and information on how to get rid of bloodthirsty creatures. But then Airbnb was quiet. After CNET informed Airbnb more than two months later that it was writing a story about what had happened, the company contacted Terri. Airbnb acknowledged that it regretted the situation.
"We have an outstanding customer support team," Ben Breit, Airbnb's head of trust and safety for Americans, said in an email. "But when our handling of an issue fails to meet the high standards we set for ourselves, we work hard to make sure it is not repeated."
Terri's tangle with bedbugs is just one of hundreds of examples of creepiness creeping into the problem of popular lodging services. Spend time on an Airbnb forum, Twitter or Reddit and you'll find report after report of bedbugs, whose bites do not spread the disease but can leave itchy welts and cause allergic reactions . Some of the reports include pictures of swollen arms and legs covered with dozens of red bruises like bruises. Property owners often say that rentals are the source of unwanted guests, while travelers – or guests on Airbnb parlance – blame the hosts for not keeping their property clean. -day. Both sides agree that Airbnb is not doing enough to fix the problem.
CNET has spoken to eight people who have dealt with bedbugs on Airbnb rentals over the last three years. All of these said Airbnb, founded in 2008, does not seem to have a systematic approach in place for handling outbreaks. And many said that while they eventually received some form of compensation from Airbnb, the company failed to provide sufficient support.
"This is my first real issue with Airbnb," said Dariele Blain, whose weekend away with friends woke up after she said critters appeared at her Airbnb rental in Philadelphia. "But it was such a cynic that I didn't know I would book with them again."
Like other Silicon Valley unicorns – high-value private companies – Airbnb is known for "disruption," the idea of transforming a service or product with technology to make it better. It disrupted the lodging industry by getting regular people to use its platform to rent rooms or whole houses to travelers. Airbnb's service now runs in almost every country on Earth and has over 6 million listings for rent. That's more room than the top five hotel chains.
For every rental, Airbnb typically earns a cut of between 14% and 20%. The company, which could go public this year, is currently worth $ 31 billion.
Airbnb proponents say short-term rentals are helping hosts to end, while also bringing more visitors to cities where people can't afford expensive hotels . But its business model has also triggered unintended consequences. The company is blamed for rising rents and reduced rental properties in many cities, including the city of San Francisco. And in the case of bedbugs, Airbnb's use of millions of independent hosts means that trying to maintain a pest control cover may be impossible, experts say.
"The concept of Airbnb has led to less control by health authorities in general compared to more traditional hotel concepts," said Bastiaan Meerburg, which runs the Dutch Pest & Wildlife Expertise Center. "People are renting a room in their house to make money but don't know who's going to occupy it, which can lead to bedbug problems and a lot of costs to get rid of them again. nor do we know what to expect. "
It is unclear whether Airbnb's bedbug problem is equivalent to hotels or other residences as it refuses to provide any details about how limited or widespread this issue is . For cases that do have it, Breit said the company will suspend the list until "the host can provide evidence (i.e. from an exterminator) documenting that the issue has been fixed."
However, when it comes to individual complaints from hosts and guests about bedbugs, Airbnb said in a July 2019 tweet that it handled such situations in a basic case.
The borderless bedbugs
After talking to Airbnb that night in May, Terri went into high gear. She managed to move her guest and get an exterminator in her condo the next morning.
The washer did a thorough search and found several full bed beds. But there were no nests, and Terri's mattresses appeared without black spots from the bedbug feces. It does not appear to be an infestation, Terri said. The killer told him that he believed the bedbugs were probably carried by his guest (the bedbugs could attach themselves to the luggage while traveling, for example). She wrote a report on her work and Terri gave it to Airbnb.
Bedbugs are red, brown-sized apples that are attracted to heat and breathe carbon dioxide, so they don't often bite while their victims are asleep. . When a place is filled with pests, they are extremely difficult to get rid of because they can live up to three months without blood meal. It can take many visits from exterminators, discarding furniture and washing everything in high heat to eliminate bugs. It can take a financial and psychological toll on people.
Insects were virtually extinct after World War II but had a major resurgence in 2010. Since then, they have been found almost everywhere, including five-star hotels, cruise ships, movie theaters, libraries, subway cars, night clubs and even jury rooms. No wonder they found Airbnb rentals as well.
"The problem dates back to the days of the bible and it will not go away," said Grant Schwarz, a Florida lawyer handling bedbug cases in the US. "It's not like being small in mosquitos. It happens to you when you're most comfortable and vulnerable – you're lying in bed."
Schwarz says he gets hundreds of calls a year from people who believe they get bedbugs on Airbnb rentals. He said he receives a lot of calls during the summer because that's when people travel.
While Airbnb does not provide numbers on how many complaints it receives about bedbugs, a look at its help forums has brought about 230 results to the topic over the last three years. People from Auckland, New Zealand, to Madrid, Spain, to Kyoto, Japan, tell stories of talking to critters. For comparison, a search for "cockroaches" called 103 results and "missing key" brought 139 results.
A few news stories about rented Airbnb rentals have been published in the last few years. In one, a woman said she was "swallowed by blood insects" at a Los Angeles rental. At a Hollywood Airbnb, an entire family said they had bites on their arms and face and one of the rental mattresses crawled with bugs and was covered in blood stains.
Those stories sound similar to the scenes people shared on CNET.  I looked into the bed and saw something creeping.
Dariele Blain, Airbnb guest
Blain says he rented a six-bedroom town in Philadelphia with 19 more people for his best friend's birthday last month (the booking was made under the name of his friend). The plan is to stay for the weekend, cook a big dinner and spend time together. When he arrived, expecting his friends to show up in all their food boxes, he went upstairs to check the rooms.
"I looked into the bed and saw something creeping in," he said. "I want to, 'Is this what I thought?' Http://www.cnet.com/ "
This is it.
He took the photos immediately and called Airbnb. Blain said the company confirmed it was a bedbug but told him it wasn't The group moved to another Airbnb since they were "at risk" of spreading pests. Instead, Airbnb told them to book a hotel. After calling within a few hours, Blain found a hotels that can accommodate a large group and they can afford it. They saved all their receipts and Airbnb paid them back in a few days for everything, including their rent and hotel.
"There is nothing there [about] what to do if the house is not clean or if there are bedbugs, "Blain said." They need to be more active in things like this because it is a public health issue. "
A widespread problem
When the bedbug population exploded nearly a decade ago, many of the reports were problems with hotels and motels. This type of lodging is considered a major culprit in delivery of insects, according to Michael Levy, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania, but that has changed, he says.
Over the years, hotels have established policies for preventing bedbug delivery, such as leaving linen carts in the hallway during room cleaning and scheduling regular pest inspections.
Marriot, Best Western, Wyndham and IHG hotel chains have not returned requests for comment on their bedbug policies The American Hotel and Lodging Association, which includes chains of more than 25,000 members, said it has partnered with National Pest Management Asso ciation to create a series of workshops to educate hotels on bedbug inspection techniques and prevention tips. Today, 98% of hotels have at least one ongoing bedbug prevention program, according to a 2017 study by pest control operator Orkin.
"Hotels are for the most part at the top of the problem," says Levy. "As the epidemic progresses, it gets to people's homes and there to be adopted."
A 2018 report by the National Pest Management Association, representing more than 6,000 pest control plants, says single-family homes and apartments and condos. – the types of properties most likely to be listed on Airbnb – are chief executives of exterminators who deal with bedbugs. A typical extermination cost is between $ 1,000 to $ 2,500.
While Airbnb rental inventory provides unique options for travelers wishing to dismantle cutter hotel rooms, millions of homes are managed under one main set requirements, such as "accept reservation requests" and "prevent cancellation of guests." Airbnb also recommends that hosts provide a "clean and tidy space." But, in terms of its service, Airbnb says it has "no control over" any of its listings and "does not guarantee" rentals "http://www.cnet.com/" availability, quality, safety , appropriateness, or legality. "
When asked what Airbnb is doing to prevent the spread of bedbugs on its rentals, Breit directed CNET to the company's Community Standards posted on its website. These standards are not mention bedbugs specifically but say "you must not keep unsafe weapons, disease risk, or dangerous animals on your list. "Breit also said Airbnb is receiving bedbug complaints" very seriously. "
"We take bedbug complaints seriously so we want any safety or hygiene complaint," Breit said. "And we appreciate when hosts or guests notice these kinds of issues to improve and correct any problems."
Other than encouraging users to contact the customer support hotline and suspend a listing when bedbugs appear, it is difficult to determine whether Airbnb has a cohesive policy on what to do in those situations that. Asked what the company's policy is for situations where a guest is uninhabited due to bedbugs, Breit taught CNET on Airbnb Safety Resources and Tips, Return Return Policy, contact Us, Trust and Safety portal, Community Standards, Standards and Expectations, Host Protection Insurance (PDF), Terms and Conditions and Terms of Service. None of these documents specifically mentioned bedbugs.
Meanwhile, the company's official customer support team responded to a question on Twitter about its bedbug policy on July 11, 2019, noting that it handles the issue on a case-by-case basis.
"While each case is different within our policies, we cannot provide an exact solution," @AirbnbHelp tweeted . "We have a team available 24 hours a day to help with this, or any other unexpected situation that may arise."