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Airbnb revisits policies after vacation rental trashed

Looking for an inexpensive place to stay in San Francisco? Forget about EJ’s place.

Until last month, an apartment belonging to a woman identified only as EJ was one of the more than 100,000 listings on Airbnb.com, an online rental agency that pairs up travelers who need a place to stay with people who have a place to rent. Renters list their available spaces for free, and the company takes a 3 percent cut from bookings. 

Through Airbnb, a user named Dj Pattrson rented the apartment for a week — and trashed the place. 

EJ described the mess on her blog.

“With an entire week living in my apartment, Dj and friends had more than enough time to search through literally everything inside, to rifle through every document, every photo, every drawer, every storage container and every piece of clothing I own, essentially turning my world inside out, and leaving a disgusting mess behind.”

She continued:

“The kitchen was a disaster — the sink piled high with filthy dishes, pots and pans burnt out and ruined. Comet Cleanser was dumped everywhere; the kitchen counters, wood furniture, my gorgeous new bed frame, my desk, my printer ... all were doused in powdered bleach. The death-like smell emanating from the bathroom was frightening (and still is) and the bathroom sink was caked with a crusty yellow substance.”

Ash from the fireplace — Dj hadn’t bothered to open the flue — covered everything, and cash, credit cards, clothing and valuables were missing. 

The story first came to light on Wednesday, just two days after airbnb announced  it had received $112 million in funding from a venture capital firm.

After calling the police, EJ called Airbnb's customer support line and e-mailed the company, but received no response until she contacted an acquaintance who did freelance work for the company.

EJ notes that Airbnb was supportive after learning of the incident. “They have called often, expressing empathy, support, and genuine concern for my welfare. They have offered to help me recover emotionally and financially, and are working with SFPD to track down these criminals,” she wrote in her blog.

Airbnb said it is taking steps to ensure an incident like EJ's is not repeated.

“Whilst we are truly shocked and saddened by this incident we are relieved we had the systems in place to be able to assist with the investigation and the authorities now have a suspect in custody," Airbnb told msnbc.com in an e-mail. "We are now focusing our attentions on how to prevent an issue like this happening again.” 

In a guest post on Tech Crunch, Airbnb.com CEO Brian Chesky outlined some of his company's efforts to improve safety. They include doubling its customer support staff, experimenting with VoIP and video chat to improve communication between guest and host, and beefing up tools to verify user profiles.

Chesky also said incidents like EJ’s are rare. “With a single booking, one person’s malicious actions victimized our host and undermined what had been — for 2 million nights — a case study demonstrating that people are fundamentally good.”

Still, the incident is shocking enough to be the latest story lampooned by Next Media Animation, which has previously posted videos about Tiger Woods' extramarital affairs, Steven Slater’s exit from a JetBlue plane and other much-read news stories.

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Find more by Harriet Baskas on Stuck at The Airport.com and follow her on Twitter.