An Airbnb host said guests flooded her San Francisco duplex and left her about $300,000 in debt.
Erika Gemzer posted a thread on X six months later, criticizing Airbnb for its compensation offer.
The post went viral, and Gemzer said Airbnb later offered her enough to "make a difference."
Six months after the Airbnb host Erika Gemzer's duplex in San Francisco flooded, she took to social media to confront the vacation-rental company.
Want to hear an Airbnb horror story this Halloween season? Here's the story of how I ended up pregnant and homeless and in over $300,000 of debt after Airbnb guests flooded my home. It's a real cliffhanger.
Would love your thoughts @airbnb and @bchesky. pic.twitter.com/ASvguMlnet
— 📣 Coach Erika (@ErikaCoaches) October 19, 2023
And Airbnb wasn't doing much to help her clean up the mess. Its reimbursement offer didn't cover about 90% of her out-of-pocket costs, she wrote in the thread.
Gemzer's thread went viral — garnering more than 20 million views — and a couple weeks later, the company came back to her with a bigger offer.
Neither Gemzer nor Airbnb disclosed specific details about the offer — including the amount — but Gemzer believes her social-media blitz spurred the company into action.
Airbnb didn't explicitly comment on how Gemzer's social-media activity impacted their final offer. "After receiving additional documentation, we provided further support to our Host with some of the additional costs not covered by her insurance," a representative for the company told Insider via text message.
Here's what happened
On the morning of April 14, Gemzer — who lived in the lower unit of her duplex and rented out the upper unit on Airbnb — woke to what she described on X as "waterfalls of water" pouring from the ceiling and light fixtures.
The guests who had been staying in the upper unit had checked out the day before — two days earlier than expected, she later told Insider by phone.
Gemzer said she rushed upstairs, worried that one of her guests had drowned in the bathtub based on how much water was pouring down. Instead, she discovered that the toilet bowl in the upper unit was clogged and the valve connecting it to the water tank had been damaged. She wrote on X that water had been continuously flowing out of the toilet bowl for more than 15 hours by that point.
Gemzer — who said the guests clogged the toilet — contacted Airbnb to figure out what the company would cover. Airbnb's Host Damage Protection policy, "AirCover," reimburses hosts for up to $3 million in damages to their home or belongings, according to Airbnb's website.
But the company told her it could only create a case under its Host Damage Protection program if the guests refused to pay, she wrote on X.
Airbnb did open a case, but Gemzer told Insider it took weeks of correspondence with the company and the third-party adjuster it had hired to investigate the case before a plumber came to examine the toilet. Meanwhile, the bills kept piling up.
But Airbnb has a slightly different account. "We take Aircover requests seriously, including in this case, and we remained in continuous contact with the Host," its representative told Insider by text.
In her posts on X last month, Gemzer said her unreimbursed expenses were upward of $300,000, considering costs such as her water bill from the flooding, property taxes, mortgage payments, insurance-premium increases, damaged appliances, water-damage-restoration costs, packing and storing her belongings, and lost rental income.
Drying the home alone cost about $130,000, and a contractor estimated that rebuilding the home will cost almost $250,000, though her homeowners' insurance is covering the bulk of those expenses, Gemzer later told Insider.
Airbnb offered her $6,000 at one point before increasing the offer to about $31,000 in mid-October, she said on X, noting that the company asked her to sign away her rights to future payments with each offer.
But she has accepted the company's most recent offer. While the new amount doesn't cover everything, it covers enough to "make a difference," Gemzer told Insider via text.
'I didn't want to be a landlord'
Since her post went viral, Gemzer said she's fielded criticism from "nasty trolls on Twitter" telling her she doesn't know how to run a business.
She argued she never wanted to run one in the first place: "I couldn't afford a single-family home. I bought a two-unit building because that's what I could afford, and I decided I have to become a landlord as a result of that."
While San Francisco's notoriously pricey housing market has cooled in recent months, the median price for a home in the city was still around $1.3 million in September, according to Redfin's. And with the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom unit being about $3,000, California's housing department classifies single-person households earning up to $104,400 as "low income."
Gemzer said she decided to rent out the upper level of her duplex to Airbnb guests for short-term stays — instead of taking on long-term renters — so she'd have a space for her family after she gave birth.
But officials at the San Francisco Planning Department said Gemzer's residence wasn't authorized for "intermediate-length occupancy" stays of between one month and a year, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
And Gemzer said her expensive — and emotionally exhausting — takeaway from the incident is that Airbnb doesn't do enough to "educate" hosts such as her. Not all Airbnb hosts are "mini corporations" running several Airbnb locations, she said.
Gemzer would now advise other Airbnb hosts to get homeowners' insurance, umbrella insurance, and short-term-rental insurance.
Since the incident, Gemzer said she's lived in four different Airbnbs in an "ironic" turn of events and recently signed a lease for another home in the area while she waits for construction to finish on her duplex.
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