Nikki Hay knew there was something wrong when she returned back to her small Edinburgh flat and her shoes became stuck to the floor.
It wasn’t typical for the laminate panelling to exhibit a glue-like quality, and quickly enough, the 30-year-old discovered what was causing the excessive stickiness – lots and lots of spilt alcohol.
Bottles of booze – vodka, wine and tequila among the vast collection – seemingly littered every part of her two-bed property, which she had rented out to an unassuming woman on Airbnb.
‘When I say there were bottles of alcohol on every surface, I mean it. I filled up six bin bags worth of bottles,’ Nikki says, recalling the incident that took place in early 2020.
‘I went into one of the bedrooms and opened the wardrobe and even found bottles in there. My property sleeps four people and if only four people had consumed all that alcohol, they’d be dead.’
An off-license worth of booze was not the only thing that Nikki found while tidying her apartment, which also had food and leftovers littered everywhere.
‘A small ziploc bag of white powder was found under my rug, which I immediately disposed of,’ she says. ‘It was just a mess. Having to tidy everything up for the next guests in a few hours was just so stressful.
‘Nothing was broken, so I didn’t report the incident to Airbnb. But I did leave the guest a really poor review, saying she had disrespected the property and the house rules. She then deactivated her profile.’
Thankfully for Nikki’s sake, raucous events in Airbnb properties like hers are set to be a thing of the past.
The holiday rental platform has called time on ‘party houses’, with a ban introduced as a public health measure during 2020 becoming permanent as travelling returns to pre-pandemic levels.
A statement released last week by Airbnb read: ‘The party ban [has] become much more than a public health measure. It developed into a bedrock community policy to support our Hosts and their neighbours.
‘Disruptive parties and events will continue to be prohibited, including open-invite gatherings. “Party house” properties will continue to be strictly prohibited as well.’
Speaking to Metro.co.uk, a spokesperson for the brand adds: ‘We take reports of disruptive parties very seriously.
‘Hosts can report a party using our in-app 24-hour safety line, and neighbours can utilise our Neighbourhood Support Line to speak to us directly with urgent concerns about a listing in their community, like a party in progress.’
The new policy comes after numerous Airbnb hosts over the years have spoken to the press about their properties being trashed as a result of wild parties being held by a guest staying there.
In 2016, a woman rented out her West London flat via the site to a guest on New Year’s Eve, only to find the place ‘trashed’ by a hundred revellers.
Meanwhile, police were called to Bearsted, Kent last year when an £800-a-night Airbnb was used to host what was described as an ‘illegal, all-night rave.’
Over in the States, things took a tragic turn at an event at a property in Pittsburgh, attended by over 200 partygoers. There, two boys were shot dead and eight were injured, with partygoers jumping out the windows to avoid gunfire.
Airbnb has now promised to clamp down on those violating its party ban, as well as reassuring hosts that their properties are safe.
According to a spokesperson for Airbnb, potential violations include: ‘factors like whether there has been an open-invite, excessive noise, excessive trash, excessive visitors, parking that impacts neighbours.
‘Guests will still be required to abide by a host’s House Rules, and hosts can cancel reservations penalty-free if they reasonably believe that a guest intends to hold an unauthorised party or event,’ they add.
For Nikki, who started using her flat as a rental property in 2018 alongside her job in sales and her jewellery business, it’s a relief to know that there are safety measures to stop her property being trashed or misused by guests.
As a superhost – someone with a certain number of five star reviews who has never cancelled a booking – she wants to maintain the same quality for guests staying without compromising her status.
‘A lot of trust is needed to run an Airbnb,’ she explains. ‘People seem to forget that it’s not a hotel, this is my home. I don’t have a team of staff to help me look after this place, this is something I run myself. I do all the washing and the cleaning.’
For Justine Smith, Airbnb’s efforts to codify their rules on partying are too little, too late. The 33-year-old’s wedding night became one to remember for all the wrong reasons after a booking at her home went awry in 2016.
Alongside her now-husband, writer Justine had been using the site since 2015 to rent out the spare room in their apartment in downtown Montreal, Canada – and for the most part, found it a pleasant and straightforward experience.
‘We started renting out the room because we just needed the money at the time,’ she explains. ‘It was a nice alternative to a long term let – we got to meet some interesting people, and it allowed my husband and I to have some privacy if we felt like we didn’t want someone renting the room. It was a nice balance.’
However, Justine made a grave error in the hectic run up to her nuptials. While planning a small, low-key wedding at her parents’ house on New Year’s Eve, she forgot to block out her flat as unavailable – and was crestfallen to see that the room had been booked by two twenty-somethings.
‘We did try to cancel it almost immediately, but you are penalised with a $100 fine,’ she says. ‘When we reached out to the guests, they explained they weren’t even going to be in the flat. They were coming down from Ottawa, which is more than a two hour drive away, and they said they only needed a place to sleep for a night.
‘All the hotels in the area were booked up, and they weren’t going to find anything else. Because we were going to be at my parents’, having a wedding reception, we decided just to go for it. We even said to ourselves: “We probably won’t even notice they’ve been.”’
They were wrong. When newly spliced couple got back from their wedding celebrations at around 3am, they walked through their front door to a ‘total mess’.
‘They were out but had eaten a lot of food and left everything out,’ she says. ‘And for some strange reason, they’d completely reorganised the furniture in the living room. It was the biggest mess I’ve ever seen in our apartment, before or since.
‘I was annoyed, but it was so late at night, and they weren’t in, so who was I going to fight? We decided just to go to bed.’
Things worsened, however, when their guests returned, loudly slamming doors and moving furniture around. They were back from their New Year’s night out, but the party was far from over.
‘They were clearly very drunk,’ Justine says. ‘And we could hear snorting and sniffing, so I’m pretty sure they were doing drugs – especially as we found the tell-tale baggies the next day.
‘I just lay in bed and listened, I didn’t want to have a confrontation in the middle of the night, especially on New Year’s Eve, when the police would be so busy and could take a while to come. I was upset and confused, but I felt powerless.’
Tired from an exciting, but emotional and exhausting day, the newlyweds fell asleep – but Justine was woken up by her husband.
‘He asked me to listen up because we could hear something. Then we heard them having sex in our living room,’ Justine recalls, smiling awkwardly. ‘I don’t know why they did that, they had a room of their own to do it in.
‘My husband was concerned that a couple with so few boundaries may even try and take our stuff, but it was the middle of Montreal winter at minus 10 degrees, and it was clear they weren’t in any fit state. After some hushed discussions, we both went to sleep.’
In the morning, Justine braved crossing her living room to nip to the loo, and found two naked strangers strewn across her sofa.
‘They weren’t the people who booked the room,’ she remembers. ‘Those two were actually in bed with a third stranger, so there were five of them in total.
‘Naturally, seeing the actual state of our flat in the cold light of day left my husband and I a little upset. We did confront the guests who originally booked the apartment, and they were incredibly apologetic and promised to tidy.
‘My husband told them they had an hour to clean up and get out, and in all fairness to them, that’s exactly what they did. They left a note for us, apologising once again that everything got out of hand and even congratulating us on our wedding.’
But what would make a person treat someone else’s property with such disdain in the first place?
According to psychologist Callie Stewart, trips away can often trigger an identity overhaul, causing even the most mild-mannered holidaymakers to go into full-on party mode when given the chance.
‘A break can provide a certain type of person with an environment that allows them to let their guard down, step out of their default identity and into one that they would choose,’ she explains.
‘It’s liberating to have a brief moment to escape, so some people act and behave however they want. When people are trashing their hotel or rental they’re staying in, they’re not acting consciously – they’re using a very small window of opportunity to let go, get loose and enjoy themselves.’
For Justine, her guests’ decision to ‘let loose’ in her home – despite knowing it was her wedding night – led to her and her husband making a complaint to Airbnb about their behaviour, particularly as their wild partying meant there was a casualty: their rug had been ‘soiled’ and had to be replaced.
‘Airbnb were helpful throughout the complaints process,’ she says. ‘What we were asking for was such a small amount for a large company. They refunded us one night and paid for our new carpet, which was $200, we just had to provide a receipt.
‘They also banned our guests from the platform, to prevent it from happening again.’
At the time of the incident, Justine recalls that she and her husband felt both bemused and angry. Now, nearly six years later, they can laugh off the wedding night debacle, describing it as a ‘funny story’ they can tell friends.
‘They were only about 20,’ Justine reflects. ‘They were just kids themselves. If they were older, then I probably would have a different view on it. It’s no harm, no foul – our house was mostly fine, I’ve seen stories of people getting their entire properties trashed.’
Justine and her husband even continued to use Airbnb for another year, before letting out the room in their flat for a long-term basis to someone they met on the platform, looking for a room to rent in Montreal.
‘We probably would have stopped at that point anyway,’ she says. ‘We found as the site got more popular, people’s expectations changed. People treated us more like a hotel, demanding 10 fresh towels and access to things we couldn’t guarantee. We also had guests complain about noise in the other apartments, but who are we to tell other people to be quiet in their own homes?
‘I think as the app really blew up, more people wanted to rent whole houses, especially if they were looking to party. We found bookings started to taper off and it wasn’t as lucrative as it once was.’
For Airbnb, their party ban is serious business – even if it means losing customers. They confirmed in a statement that around 6,600 people’s accounts had been suspended in 2021 alone for ‘attempting to violate’ the new rules.
‘We believe there is a direct correlation between our implementation of the policy in August 2020 and a 44% year-over-year drop in the rate of party reports globally, a 49% drop in reports in Ireland and 63% drop in the UK,’ a statement on their site reads. ‘The ban has been well received by our Host community and we’ve received positive feedback from community leaders and elected officials. As we build on this momentum, we believe the time is right to codify this policy.
‘Strong policies must be complemented by strong enforcement. We’ve introduced a number of anti-party measures in recent years to enforce our policy and try, to the best of our ability, to stop both unauthorised parties and chronic party houses.’
Meanwhile, Nikki says that as someone who still lets out her flat, there is still more that can be done to put hosts at ease.
‘I think Airbnb should encourage guests when they book your place to introduce themselves to you and let you know why they’re staying at yours,’ she says. ‘More and more recently, I’ve had less of that. People just book your place and you don’t hear anything from them, and it does make me a wee bit more anxious.
‘Another issue is that sometimes, you can’t see a picture of who has booked your place. Sometimes their display image is a cartoon or a group shot so you don’t know who you’re dealing with.
‘A huge amount of trust is put in from the hosts and it would be nice to have some more reassurance,’ adds Nikki.
‘I’ve set my account so that I have to approve people to book my property if they don’t have any reviews – if someone has poor reviews, I don’t allow them to book. That makes me feel slightly more at ease.’
Thanks to the reasonable behaviour of most holidaymakers, Nikki is still enjoying her time as an Airbnb super-host, and says she has no plans to leave the platform, particularly as it’s so lucrative for her.
‘I had one bad experience, but on the whole, the majority of people are pretty good,’ she says. ‘If I had a string of rubbish guests, it was causing me endless hassle and I had to replace stuff all the time, then I would look to just rent my property out long-term. At the moment, this works best for me.
‘Even so,’ she adds, ‘it’s always a relief to go back into my flat the morning after someone’s checked out, and see everything is in one piece.’
Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing Kimberley.Bond@metro.co.uk
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