Airbnb. Thanksgiving. Burglary.

6 minute read

I used Airbnb for years in Russia, Germany, and the United States. All the time, the experience was great. At some point, I read a book about Airbnb to understand the company better.

For Thanksgiving week (November 21-29), five of my friends and I rented a house in Las Vegas.

The total price for nine days: $2543.

Previously people went to Vegas to spend time in casinos or walk on The Strip. This year, the pandemic made it impossible.

It was not a problem for us. We did not plan to socialize; we were going rock climbing.

Red Rocks, located next to Vegas, is an excellent place for traditional, sport, bouldering, multi-pitch climbing.

The plan was for some people to take days off and climb every day, and for others to work three days remotely and join the gang during the rest.


We moved in on Saturday night. The next morning, excited, we woke up at 6am, had breakfast, verified that we closed back and front doors and at 7am drove to the Red Rocks Park.

We had a fantastic day of climbing, but after the sunset, we went home to realize that the window in one of the rooms was open and some of our belongings had disappeared.

I called the host, told her about the situation. She shared a set of images from the cameras and the next day sent the whole video.

We believe this is what happened:

At 8:55am, two hours after we left, someone

  1. Openly came to the front door.
  2. Knocked in the door.
  3. Waved Lexus car keys at the camera. (We do not have Lexus.)
  4. Ringed the bell.
  5. Waited to verify that no one was at home.
  6. Got to the back of the house.
  7. Put gloves and balaclava on.
  8. Checked if the back door was open. It was not.
  9. Checked if he can open the window. And it was possible. 10 Moved the pool chair below the window.
  10. Got into the house.

We called the police, and in two hours an officer came. He was polite and professional. He got the list of the stolen items, our version of the incident in the written form, and left.

I was curious, how did the burglar open the window? I checked, and the answer was simple: the lock on the window was not operational. No need to break anything, anyone can open the window from the outside!

If the weather was warmer, we would probably try to open windows the night we came. In that case we would discover the problem, but the night was cold and we did not touch the windows.

Till this moment, I was chill. Bad things happen. Burglars get into houses, and no one could be protected from it. We were safe in this incident, and from the money perspective, our loss was not huge.

But the fact that the lock on that window was not functioning is an issue (few more windows had the same problem). If the front door lock was broken it would be worse but even windows that could not be locked are sketchy.

In general, I prefer to blame myself for bad things that happen to me. This time I cannot figure out what was my fault. For sure, we could check all the locks in the house, but it is an overkill.

I am ok with making mistakes and paying for them. But this time, we paid for the host’s errors and Airbnb’s as a company.

  • Host: the house was not ready for hosting the guests.
  • Airbnb: limitations of the onboarding policy. I believe there is a list of things that the house owner needs to mark to become a host, and either functioning window locks are not on the list, or it is not enforced.

After we told the host about our discovery, she sent a person to lock all the windows completely. From now on, no one would be able to open them from inside or outside.

Contacting Airbnb

I wanted to reach out to Airbnb, tell them about the situation, and ask about the next steps.

Safety comes first. Hence I assumed that even if you are under stress and your brain is not functioning well, it is obvious how to contact the support team.

To my surprise, it is not the case.

I spent some time on the Airbnb website but could not figure out which phone number I should call.

Message to AirBnb: It would be great if you simplify the design of the support page. When we talk about safety, it should be about efficiency and not about the visual appeal or cuteness level.

I would like it to be:

  • I open the Airbnb website => I see an obvious button/link to the support page.
  • I open the support page => I see an obvious button/link to the hotline phone number.

I posted the tweet about the incident and tagged Airbnb and Las Vegas police in it.

A miracle happened. Airbnb contacted me and asked for my email to identify the account and to get more details.

My guess is that the Marketing team at Airbnb has alarms that trigger when someone mentions the company on social media.

Finally, after two hours, we got into the conversation about the incident, but the path to get there was not obvious at all.

Imagine how many people got into trouble in similar situations and did not leverage this communication channel?

I got an email:

My name is XXX, from the Airbnb claims team.

I am contacting you regarding the incident that occurred during your reservation with YYY.

As my colleague informed you in the previous email, we are only able to offer up to $500 for any stolen property. In order to proceed with this refund, I will need the following:

*Original purchase invoice for the stolen items.

This is requested as “proof of ownership”, if you don’t have the original purchase invoice, a picture of you where the item can be seen will also be accepted as proof of ownership.

All this story is not about money. But getting compensated for the host’s and Airbnb’s mistake with cash or AirBnB credits would be nice. It does not address the issue with window locks but sweetens the situation.

We interpreted the email as: “We will compensate up to $500 per stolen item”. Using the numbers from the invoices, it summed to $2600.

We collected invoices, sent them to Airbnb, and got the reply with words: “After additional review, I’m happy to report that we have just released a payout in the amount of $500 to your Airbnb account. You can confirm in your Airbnb Transaction History.”

The guess about up to $500 per item was overly optimistic.

After the end of the stay, I got a message from the host:

Hi Vladimir,

Thank you again for choosing our home for your vacation stay.

I hope the home met (and even surpassed) your expectations. It was a sincere pleasure hosting you, and I really hope to host you again in the near future. I would be truly grateful for a 5 star review of your stay when you have a spare moment and I would definitely do the same for you.

Also, please in the private comments if there is something, the home or myself can approve of please let me know.

I understand that this is a standard template, but under the circumstances, it sounds strange and does not fit the story and overall experience.

I did not plan to share the actual address of the property. The harm to the renting business could be material. But after this text, I changed my mind. It does not look like the host plans to revise the house and look for things that can and should be fixed. For example, the front door lock is barely working. The door could be open with a good push.


We had a great vacation. The weather was good, and the red rocks are remarkable. We had a lot of fun and plan to come back sometime soon.

Work laptops were replaced. We accepted the loss of personal items.

The Airbnb experience was not as smooth as we expected. Our things got stolen, and even on the other days, we did not feel comfortable leaving belongings in the house.

The host was responsive, but it is not enough. Communicating with guests and collecting money should not be the only responsibility. It is worth inspecting the house and fixing things that do not work as expected proactively, without waiting till the universe gives you feedback.

Overall, I believe that staying at AirBnB is safe, and such incidents are the exception rather than the rule, but, for sure, Airbnb has some work to do to improve communication and increase the guests’ safety. The compensation of $500 for all the stolen items does not look fair either.

I would like to end the story with some action items like: “Next time, when I rent a place, I will do XXX.” Nothing reasonable comes to my mind.

One option could be to do an extensive check of all locks in the building after moving in. Another is to take all the expensive belongings with me when I leave the house. I will do it in the future, but it may decrease fun level of my vacations.

What would be your action item after such an experience?