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Airbnb apologizes: 'We have really screwed things up'

By A. Pawlowski, CNN
  • Airbnb connects people who have space to rent with those looking for a place to stay
  • Blogger says that her apartment was ransacked by a renter
  • Airbnb announces property protection guarantee, other security measures
  • Incidents have some wondering whether it's safe to book and rent out through the agency

(CNN) -- Vacation rental site Airbnb apologized Monday in the wake of recent highly publicized rental horror stories and announced new property protections and safety measures for site users.

Brian Chesky, CEO and co-founder of the site, called the days since reports of theft and damage to one host's San Francisco home surfaced "a crash course in crisis management" in a blog post on Airbnb. "We felt paralyzed and over the last four weeks, we have really screwed things up," Chesky wrote.

Last month, a San Francisco blogger identifying herself only as "EJ" wrote that her apartment had been ransacked by a person who rented her home via Airbnb.

Police have made an arrest related to the case, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. The newspaper described EJ as a corporate event planner in her late 30s who asked not to be named because she still feels victimized.

"We let her down, and for that we are very sorry," Chesky wrote of EJ's experience in his blog post. Chesky also announced a $50,000 Airbnb Guarantee to protect hosts' property. EJ will be eligible for the program, going into effect August 15.

The suspect allegedly took EJ's passport, cash, credit card and her grandmother's jewelry hidden inside a closet, EJ wrote in her blog post.

Also reportedly missing: her camera, iPod, laptop, and an external backup drive filled with photos and journals. EJ is also worried about identity theft because she suspects her birth certificate and social security card were photocopied.

"I do believe that maybe 97% of's users are good and honest people. Unfortunately I got the other 3%. Someone was bound to eventually, I suppose, and there will be others," EJ wrote.

In addition to the property guarantee, Airbnb has doubled its customer support team to 88 employees since last month and has designated a team to review suspicious activity. A 24-hour customer support line will be available starting next week, according to Airbnb. Hosts now will be able to select "Trust Settings" for bookings and new profiles will provide more user history online.

Chesky outlined some safety improvements last week in a guest column on the blog TechCrunch, but over the weekend, another Airbnb user came forward with an alleged rental horror story.

Troy Dayton told TechCrunch that a meth addict with a stolen identity rented his Oakland, California, home two months ago and did thousands of dollars worth of damage.

"At the end of the day, you are renting to a stranger. You should check ... ID's and phone numbers to make sure they match," Dayton told TechCrunch.

Still, he said he reached an "agreeable solution" with Airbnb and has since both rented his place out again and stayed in others' homes through the service.

In a "Safety Tips" section on its website, the company advises both parties to look for a user's complete profile on the site and check how others have rated the person.

Meanwhile, the incident involving EJ, the San Francisco blogger, took another twist late last week when she wrote that one of the co-founders of Airbnb asked her to shut down her blog or limit its access because of the "potentially negative impact it could have on his company's growth and current round of funding."

Airbnb has not responded to requests for comment about the blogger's claims.

Airbnb was founded in 2008 with a simple concept: Connect people who have space to rent -- anything from an extra bedroom to a whole house -- with those who are looking for a place to stay.

The company gets money from both parties: Hosts are charged a 3% fee when they receive a successful booking, while travelers pay an additional 6-12% on top of the rental fee.

Users have booked more than 2 million nights in 190 countries through the service, the company says on its website.

The startup is so hot that it has attracted actor Ashton Kutcher as one of its investors.

Even before the reported horror stories, consumer advisers urged potential users to be sure they understood the process and proceeded with caution.

HLN money expert Clark Howard has said Airbnb is not for everybody, calling it an option for "extra-thrifty" and adventurous travelers.

Laurie Segall, a reporter for, recently tested the service and had a mixed experience.

For less money than it would cost to stay in a hostel, she rented a charming flat in London. But she encountered a strange host and a flooded kitchen when she rented a loft in Berlin. Still, Segall said she would definitely book through Airbnb again.

CNN's Marnie Hunter contributed to this report