Woman says her home was confused for an Airbnb 4 times

·3 min read
Camille Xu, a new mother, has lived with her family in Ottawa's Barrhaven suburb for seven years. (Stu Mills/CBC - image credit)
Camille Xu, a new mother, has lived with her family in Ottawa's Barrhaven suburb for seven years. (Stu Mills/CBC - image credit)

An Ottawa woman says she repeatedly found misguided tourists on her doorstep who believed they had rented her house on Airbnb, and she never received an answer as to how it happened.

Strangers, insisting they had rented her home using the popular online platform, first knocked on Camille Xu's door about two months ago, even though the new mother says she didn't even have an Airbnb account, let alone list her house.

When CBC reached out to the company, Airbnb said the string of unwanted visits were caused by a typo.

"For the mistake to repeat four times?! I think that's kind of ridiculous," said Xu, who said the strange and unnerving visits had her considering leaving the neighbourhood.

Xu, who lives in the south Ottawa suburb of Barrhaven, says she would find travellers with suitcases in tow, and she would have to convince them her home was not available.

Each time, the travellers would try to prove they had legitimately booked her house. Each time, Xu was forced into the uncomfortable and unnerving position of having to close the door on complete strangers who had already paid a non-refundable fee.

"You're being approached by strangers who want to move into your house," said Xu, who eventually posted a hand-written sign to her front door to discourage the visits.

Stu Mills/CBC
Stu Mills/CBC

Typo for rental nearby

Xu said she contacted AirBnb twice and each time she was told a special team would be assigned to respond. They never did.

"They keep on pushing the responsibility on you instead of them figuring out what's going on. How come no one is solving the problem?"

Xu did learn from the unwanted visitors the host offering her home for rent went by the name "Book." Eventually she downloaded the AirBnb app so she could check the schedule of availability on that account's listings.

"This is driving me crazy," she said.

AirBnb declined an interview about this case, but did tell CBC when setting up a listing for a new rental in the same neighbourhood, a legitimate user made a typo when entering the street address.

The company said to prevent misrepresentation only AirBnb can change the address of a lodging once a listing has gone live.

Stu Mills/CBC
Stu Mills/CBC

Visitors kept coming

Even though Xu contacted the company about the unwanted visitors, for several weeks, the listing continued to point travellers to her house.

When messaged by CBC, "Book" disputed there was ever a problem.

"I don't know about anyone going to the wrong address. Take care," the user replied before blocking the reporter from messaging further.

Xu said she does wonder why the listings from the account are about one third of the rate of similar homes in her area.

Stu Mills/CBC
Stu Mills/CBC

Woman's experience 'fishy', expert says

CBC was unable to track down any of the four groups to arrive at Xu's home because they never complained to Book about being sent to the wrong address.

Stu Mills/CBC
Stu Mills/CBC

Asher Fergusson, a travel researcher who has studied complaints levelled against AirBnb over several years, thinks the accounts likely did complain. He called Xu's experiences "fishy" and reminiscent of the 2017 encounter that inspired him to begin his research.

In that case Fergusson and his young family had a challenging time finding their Airbnb listing. They were redirected once and then told they would have to pay in cash because of a "payment-processing problem" with the platform.

Fergusson continues to call on the platform to do more to verify listed properties are where they say they are, and to ensure there is greater security around verifying the identify of hosts.

He said hosts continue to advertise non-existent properties or create several listings for the same location at different prices, and then cancel on guests who booked at lower prices.

Fergusson suggests travellers avoid listings with reviews below 4.85/5 and those that have fewer than 30 reviews.

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