Erika Gemzer says her Airbnb guests flooded her San Francisco duplex, leaving her $300,000 in debt.
She posted a thread on X six months later, criticizing Airbnb for its compensation offer.
The post went viral and Airbnb later made an offer that’s enough to “make a difference,” Gemzer said.
Six months after Airbnb host Erika Gemzer’s duplex in San Francisco was flooded, she took to social media to confront the vacation rental company.
In a 30-post thread on X, formerly Twitter, on October 19, Gemzer detailed the story of how her Airbnb guests had flooded her property, leaving her “homeless” and more than $300,000 in debt — all while she was pregnant.
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.
— 📣 Coach Erika (@ErikaCoaches) October 19, 2023
And Airbnb wasn’t doing much to help her clean up the mess. Its reimbursement offer covered just 10% of her out-of-pocket costs, she contended in the thread.
Gemzer’s thread went viral — garnering more than 20 million views — and a couple of 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 to 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.
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, just based on how much water was pouring down. Instead, she discovered that the toilet bowl in the upper unit had been clogged, and the valve connecting it to the water tank had been damaged. Water had been continuously flowing out of the toilet bowl for more than 15 hours by that point, she wrote on X.
Gemzer — who says the guests clogged the toilet — contacted Airbnb to figure out what the company would cover. Airbnb’s Host Damage Protection policy called AirCover reimburses hosts for up to $3 million in damages to their home or belongings, according to Airbnb’s website.
However, the company told her it could only create a case under its Host Damage Protection program if the guests refused to pay, she noted 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. Meantime, the bills kept adding up.
Airbnb, however, 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, taking into account 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 that 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.
She has, however, 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 a rash of criticism from “nasty trolls on Twitter” telling her she doesn’t know how to run a business.
She argues 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 and 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, according to Redfin’s figures for September. And with the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom about $3,000, California’s housing department classifies single-person households earning even $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 that she’d have a space for her family after her baby was born.
However, officials at the San Francisco Planning Department said that Gemzer’s residence wasn’t authorized for “intermediate-length occupancy” stays of between one month to 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 like 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 she recently signed a lease for another home in the area while she waits for construction to be completed on her duplex.
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