When Airbnb Deal Goes Sour

Poonam Sandhu said her home felt like a maximum-security prison.

ByABC News
May 16, 2015, 9:49 PM

— -- Editor’s Note: Since this story originally aired, Airbnb updated its policies to penalize consumers who overstay their rental. Here is Airbnb’s Aug. 6, 2015 statement to ABC News on the issue:

“We recently updated our terms to provide more options for hosts in the rare event that a guest overstays their reservation. Now hosts can charge the guest twice the nightly fee (plus applicable taxes and fees) for every day the guest overstays their reservation. Over 45 million total guests have stayed on Airbnb and these sort of experiences are extremely rare, but this update was an important way for us to empower hosts and dissuade bad actors.”

Poonam Sandhu says she has been living in an absolute nightmare for more than a month.

On April 1, the Santa Cruz, California, homeowner started renting out her back master bedroom to a couple on Airbnb, the rent-a-room service.

Sandhu, 33, said the couple paid for two weeks. But when the third week arrived, she said, the couple told her they were waiting for a paycheck and asked to pay her with cash day to day. Sandhu said that because things had been going well, she agreed.

"I trusted in humanity," Sandhu told ABC News today. "I had no reason not to trust them."

She said the couple fought with each other behind their bedroom door and used her possessions. By the end of April, Sandhu said the couple was paying off and on. By May, they'd stopped paying anything.

After police had to come and break up yet another fight, Sandhu said she'd had enough and told the couple to leave. Sandhu, who was no longer under Airbnb insurance protections, said the couple refused.

"They started to sprawl themselves all over the place," said Sandhu, who added eight surveillance cameras in her home as well as automated locks to alert her to the couple’s comings and goings.

She said her home had been without water for three to four days because the pipes were clogged. "This is my home," she said. "It’s bad."

A California lawyer said tenants were given great protections under state law.

"Once someone’s been inside your house for more than 30 days, they’re considered a tenant," lawyer Leo B. Siegel said. "They’re entitled to 30 days' notice before you can even file the lawsuit."

Airbnb said in a statement to ABC News: "We strongly encourage hosts to only book through Airbnb," which Sandhu did for the first two weeks.

The company also said that it was working on changes to its policies to financially penalize anyone who overstays an Airbnb reservation. Experts also suggested that hosts do background checks on potential guests.

For Sandhu, her home became a maximum-security prison. She said she offered to get the couple a hotel but they turned her down.

Finally, she offered to pay them more than $1,000 to leave. They accepted her offer.

"It’s scary," she said. "All these things I’m learning the hard way. ... I know a lot better now."