Living and Dying on Airbnb

My dad died in an Airbnb rental, and he’s not the only one. What can the company do to improve safety?

Zak Stone
Zak Stone
Nov 9, 2015 · 24 min read
Photo-illustrations by Matter

TThe rope swing looked inviting. Photos of it on Airbnb brought my family to the cottage in Texas. Hanging from a tree as casually as baggy jeans, the swing was the essence of leisure, of Southern hospitality, of escape. When my father decided to give it a try on Thanksgiving morning, the trunk it was tied to broke in half and fell on his head, immediately ending most of his brain activity.

I was in bed when my mom found him. Her screams brought me down to the yard where I saw the tree snapped in two and his body on the ground. I knelt down and pulled him up by the shoulders. Blood sprayed my blue sweatshirt and a few crumpled autumn leaves. We were face-to-face, but his head hung limply, his right eye dislodged, his mouth full of blood, his tongue swirling around with each raspy breath.

What do you do in this situation? I grabbed a washcloth and started mopping up his leaking face. I told my sister not to come outside. She faints when there’s blood.

“Tell me each time he takes a breath,” the 911 dispatcher said in my ear.

“He’s breathing in; he’s breathing out. He’s breathing in; he’s breathing out.” Saying it aloud like a mantra calmed me down slightly, but was it doing anything for him? I decided to go in for mouth-to-mouth; I ended up with a mouthful of blood.

The EMTs arrived and suctioned the blood away from his face to see the damage. “He’s breathing. His heart is beating,” one of them said, “but it’s very serious.” They called for a helicopter and told us to start driving to Austin.

I scrubbed the blood off my lips and took off my soaking sweatshirt. Everything was blurry — adrenaline makes things that way. So does not putting on your contacts. I popped mine into my eyes and got into the car.

“I“It’s only a matter of time until something terrible happens,” The New York Times’s Ron Lieber wrote in examining Airbnb’s liability issues. My family’s story — a private matter until now — is that terrible something.

Since the incident, I’ve felt isolated by the burden of this story and my sense of obligation to go public with it, but with an unclear aim. Am I “raising awareness,” in the familiar path of the victim speaking out? And if so, to what end? What will sharing my story really mean for Airbnb? Could the company, with its reportedly $24 billion valuation and plans to go public, do more to ensure the safety of the properties where millions of guests stay each year? As Airbnb rises into a global hospitality behemoth — reinventing not just how we travel but how we value private space — what responsibility does the company have to those who have given it their dollars and trust?

Startups that redefine social and economic relations pop up in an instant. Lawsuits and regulations lag behind. While my family may be the first guests to speak out about a wrongful death at an Airbnb rental, it shouldn’t exactly come as a surprise. Staying with a stranger or inviting one into your home is an inherently dicey proposition. Hotel rooms are standardized for safety, monitored by staff, and often quite expensive. Airbnb rentals, on the other hand, are unregulated, eclectic, and affordable, and the safety standards are only slowly materializing.

To be fair, Airbnb has always put basic safeguards in place, like user reviews. But its general approach to safety is consistent with Silicon Valley’s “build it first, mend it later” philosophy. When an early product produces negative outcomes and bad press, apologize. Then, fix it; make it better. “We let her down, and for that we are very sorry,” CEO Brian Chesky wrote in 2011, after a San Francisco woman, “EJ,” returned home to find her apartment destroyed, her possessions burned, and her family heirlooms stolen. When her blog post documenting the ordeal went viral, they changed their policy to guarantee $50,000, then $1 million, in property damages and hired enough customer service reps to man the phones 24–7.

Less has been done to protect guests against hosts, presumably because fewer horror stories have gone public. When an American man was bit by a dog left behind at a homeshare in Argentina this March, Airbnb refused to cover his medical expenses until after The New York Times . (About that incident, Airbnb told me, “Our initial response didn’t measure up, and we’re constantly auditing our customer service team to ensure these kinds of errors don’t happen. In this case, we worked with the guest to help cover his medical and other expenses, and we provided a full refund of his booking costs.”) Home safety tips were not incorporated into the sign-up process for new properties until after my father’s incident.

Even so, nothing is currently done to make sure hosts actually comply with safety guidelines (or even read them), which is a problem particularly for newer properties on the platform, which Airbnb’s customers, as opposed to employees, are left to vet for safety. Should the company demand more from aspiring hosts — submitting an application, passing a safety quiz, hopping on the phone with an Airbnb safety rep, or undergoing a home inspection (an idea which ) — they’d burden the seamlessness of the minutes-long sign-up process and deter new registrations.

HHad the hosts of the Texas property opted to become part of a community of more traditional B&Bs, they would have encountered a cumbersome but rigorous process, according to the Texas Bed and Breakfast Association’s executive director Connie Hall. “For new members, they are inspected with an overnight stay, and then every two years, our properties are inspected,” she says, covering everything from cleanliness to decor, and ensuring that individual rooms have a deadbolt, smoke detectors are functioning, and landscaping seems safe. “As far as the safety stuff, it’s mandatory for our members that they meet all these criteria,” adds Hall.

Introducing similar measures would not only require Airbnb to spend money, it would also mean flirting with liability it would rather outsource to hosts. (As the company’s website clearly states: “Airbnb has no control over the conduct of Hosts and disclaims all liability.”)

“What [sharing economy startups] need to be in order to minimize liability is as passive a platform as possible,” lawyer Jim Rosenfeld told a this March. “The more they themselves are providing content and providing services” — like vouching for the safety of a property — “the greater their risk of exposure. The more they’re like a bulletin board or an old-fashioned matchmaking service” — in a word, Craigslist — “… the better off they are.”

While “Airbnb’ing a room” has become the norm for many travelers, the company denies it has anything to do with lodging. Rather, it’s “a trusted community marketplace” and “an online platform that connects hosts who have accommodations to rent with guests seeking to rent such accommodations.” Of course, platforms are not neutral pieces of technology: they are embedded with the values of the marketplace, strategically designed for maximum profit and minimal liability. Companies that take advantage of such ambiguity pose risks to consumers, particularly when they’re trafficking in human experience, not just data or speech like Napster, Tumblr, and others before them who have appealed to their platform status to weather challenges to the legally murky activities they host.

But companies are highly strategic about which aspects of their platform they’re willing to invest in and which parts they ignore. Airbnb, for its part, figured out early on that “really bad” photos of its listings in New York City were keeping guests away, as co-founder Joe Gebbia in 2012: “People were using camera phones and taking Craigslist-quality pictures. Surprise! No one was booking because you couldn’t see what you were paying for.”

Airbnb’s solution was to send professional photographers to document hosts’ properties free of charge. The program was a success: professional photography quickly helped double revenue in New York and is now available nationally. Of course, were Airbnb to invest in safety requirements by offering home inspections or by analyzing photo content to target higher-risk properties and features (pools, saunas, trampolines, etc.) with site-specific safety recommendations, such a program could be far more costly, and might jeopardize Airbnb’s covetable neutrality as a platform. The irony is that amateur innkeepers who couldn’t be trusted with the banal task of photographing and marketing their properties are expected to excel at hospitality’s most important rule: keeping guests safe and alive.

The result: Airbnb is willing to send someone to make sure your trees look beautiful in their photos, but won’t deal with whether or not those trees will fall on your head.

DDisbelief is often the impetus to pull out a smartphone and snap a photo. As I drifted through the daze of the accident, I relied increasingly on documentation to ground myself in the reality of the experience, photographing each strange, sad, and shocking moment to link it up with the one that came before it: the emergency first responders, moving so slowly I thought my dad would bleed to death before he made it to the hospital; the macho helicopter that carried my dad to Austin, parked dramatically in front of the Texas capital’s granite dome; my hospital cafeteria tray loaded up with rubbery turkey for the world’s saddest Thanksgiving meal. The resulting images provided both distance and proximity to the unfolding trauma — it was mine but also outside of me. So began my evidence gathering.

After the hospital, I returned to the cottage with my cousins to pick up the items we had left behind in our haste — suitcases, my dad’s clothes, the tray of cauliflower we never had time to cook — and photograph the accident site. I descended the steps of the deck and returned to the tree, this time alone. It was an eerily innocent scene: the soft November sun lit up the blonde wood of the fallen tree’s decaying core. (We found out later that it had been dead for two years.) The rope swing sat to the side, still attached to the tree on chains. A fresh breeze rustled leaves where my dad had been lying, now matted to the ground with blood. A kelly-green birdhouse clung to the part of the trunk that still stood upright. I could hear the light gurgling of the creek in the distance.

“I always feel a sense of peace come over me when I look out at the yard,” our hosts had written beneath a photo of the yard on their Airbnb listing, the company’s insignia floating just pixels from where the trunk later split in two. As I revisited the listing to screengrab photos, I felt bad for our hosts: it was unlikely that their beloved view would ever inspire that feeling again. They didn’t seem like bad people, at least, not from the brief impression they made at the hospital, where they showed up soon after my family and I arrived.

Family photos courtesy of the author

At first I had no idea who they were or why they were there. (My sister had texted them.) But through the blur of emotions and tears, somehow I grasped that they belonged in this small holding room with all of our closest family: my mom, sister, uncles, aunts, cousins, grandmother, and “the Airbnb people,” as they soon became called. As I paced around the hospital wing for hours, they camped out in the lobby, clearly devastated. When the neurologist told us there was no choice but to take my dad off life support and that it was time to start saying our goodbyes, they cried when they found out. Then, my uncle suggested they say goodbye to us as well, and they left.

A few hours later, my dad took his final breath.

TThat night, back at my aunt’s house in Austin, we silently ate pumpkin pie and lit the Hanukkah candles, joylessly going through the motions of tradition. As I sat watching the flames flicker, that day’s violent movie streaming in my mind (as it’d continue to do so, nearly non-stop, for months), the realization that we had booked a second night at the cabin suddenly jarred me. Had the company been told about the accident? What was there to even say? I logged on to Aibrnb’s website and looked up the customer service number.

“There was an accident, and we’ll need a refund.”

I remember uttering an approximation of those feeble words to the chipper customer service agent who answered Airbnb’s hotline, his voice young and sweet, clearly not yet jaded by the job. A tree fell on my dad, and what are you gonna do about it, and how would that look to see “Airbnb Killed My Dad” on the internet. The guy panicked, as expected, put me on hold, then asked to call back. Later, I spoke to a higher-up, collected myself and said, “Let’s talk about this another day.”

I wasn’t sure what I was hoping to get out of the phone call, exactly. I knew that I was letting emotion and shock rule my response. But for some reason, remembering that it was Airbnb who had led us to this deadly cottage made the incident feel suddenly, oddly personal. As a journalist who has written for startup-cheerleading publications like Fast Company and Good, I’d spent much of the past few years writing about the emergence of the sharing economy from a highly supportive perspective. While about a proposed ban on Airbnb in Los Angeles two months before my dad’s death, I was far more sympathetic to Airbnb supporters — the hosts claiming the website helped them pull their homes out of foreclosure — than to its detractors — bitter neighbors complaining about Airbnb guests snatching their parking spots and making noise at night. Moreover, as a traveler who had booked accommodations through Airbnb all over the world, I had trusted the platform and “community” enough to introduce it to my family.

Three months before my father’s death, I convinced my parents to use Airbnb for the first time while visiting me. Though my mom was skeptical about a stranger’s standards for cleanliness — she made me email our host to make him promise the loft would be spotless — they were both quickly sold on the rental apartment, with its sweeping views of downtown Los Angeles and endless sunshine streaming in through oversized, industrial windows. My dad seemed particularly grateful to get an insider’s perspective of the city that corporate hotels couldn’t offer. I remember him full of life that weekend, swimming in the building’s communal pool, hustling to make sure we got to our dinner reservations on time, and returning to the East Coast feeling refreshed.

I’m reminded of that weekend whenever I go back to that apartment (our host had crashed with family in the building during our stay, and we became friends) but also, whenever I revisit past correspondence with my dad, nostalgic for the chance to communicate with him. “Thanks for organizing an incredible venue,” he wrote in a text message after he got home, the penultimate one I’d ever receive from him. “I’m so proud to be your dad.”

AAirbnb is impossible to avoid in my daily life, in conversations with friends and in my work as a journalist, in pop culture and in the news, in the cheeky and controversial billboards reminding Californians of everything they can afford thanks to the company’s taxes. All the while, over the past two years, I have been working on this piece, and it’s been an important part of letting go of the trauma.

first reached out to Airbnb with factchecking queries over the summer. The company has been dutiful and respectful in its responses, but getting the answers took longer than we expected. As a result, my story arrives at a moment when tension between Airbnb and cities around the country is coming to a head.

Communities are trying to process the deep impacts of Airbnb on domestic space, real estate, travel, hospitality, and the risks and benefits we ascribe to such things. Supporters of Airbnb have argued for the rights of homeowners to make money off their own property, and for the ability of home-sharing platforms to police themselves. The company has rallied to its hosts’ defense, offering legal support and helping start Peers, an association for Airbnb hosts, Uber drivers, and other freelancers that turns out opposition to legislation to curb companies operating in this on-demand economy (including at the community meeting in Los Angeles I wrote about). In San Francisco, Airbnb spent nearly $9 million to successfully defeat Proposition F, which would have capped the number of nights a host can rent out her property at 75 per year and enable the city to fine home-sharing sites up to $1,000 per night for non-compliant properties.

Elsewhere, some landlords and neighborhoods are working to expel informal hotels from apartment buildings and quiet residential blocks. Affordable housing advocates have called Airbnb the gasoline lighting up scorching rental markets in gentrifying areas, arguing that it pushes up prices by transferring housing inventory from locals to tourists. Hospitality industry players, threatened by Airbnb’s rapid ascent into a brand worth more than the Hyatt, are lobbying statehouses to introduce legislation blocking short-term rentals. Elected officials and community groups, for their part, have contributed funding to campaigns like Share Better, which features videos of Airbnb guests confronting mouse droppings and unfinished construction.

Airbnb is touting its success in San Francisco as a sign of its growing electoral power, on par with groups like the NRA or Sierra Club in their ability . They’ll certainly have plenty of new arenas to test their tactics. At a recent meeting of the New York City Council — which is considering introducing fines as high as $50,000 on homeowners who break short-term rental laws — local lawmakers clashed with Chris Lehane, Airbnb’s head of global policy and public affairs. They argued over who was really looking out for the best interests of rent-burdened middle-class families: afterward, the company agreed to comply with the Council’s request for data on illegally run rentals.

In 2014, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman of four years worth of subpoenaed data on rentals where the host was not staying on the premises. It showed that more than a third of the revenue generated by those Airbnbs in New York City — $168 million — went to informal hoteliers who controlled anywhere from three to 272 properties, some of whom earned millions of (likely untaxed) dollars annually. Seventy-two percent of all rentals were either violating housing laws against short-term rentals or using commercial properties for residential purposes. And in 2013, as many as 200 listings on Airbnb appeared to function as informal hostels, which are outlawed across New York State for safety reasons. One Brooklyn Airbnb listing managed to cram in 13 visitors on an average night. In typical Airbnb fashion, once the news of the quantity of illegal hotel bookings went public, Airbnb scrubbed 2,000 listings from its site overnight, just in time for an important court date in New York.

In New York State, the Multiple Dwelling Law prohibits New Yorkers from renting out their apartments for less than 30 days if they’re not staying on the premises. It is intended to preserve affordable housing and to help keep tourists out of properties that aren’t up to fire code. As routine inspections by New York City’s Department of Buildings show, illegal hotels often create dangerous scenarios for guests — by neglecting to offer automatic sprinklers, fire alarms, or proper means of egress, among other violations. “Visitors who stay in transient residential occupancies are not familiar with the layout of the building, including the exit stairwells,” Thomas Jensen, chief of fire safety for the FDNY, explained in an affidavit. “Occupants of transient accommodations therefore are likely to find it more difficult to evacuate the building quickly.”

While New York requires hotels to adhere to much stricter safety standards than apartment buildings (portable fire extinguishers, automatic sprinklers, posted emergency guidelines), unregulated hotels — whether a sketchy commercial operation or a branding consultant’s Williamsburg loft — usually don’t. “[T]he visitor is thus placed at significantly increased risk of injury or death,” adds Jensen, noting that the stricter standards Airbnb rentals may ignore have helped decrease fire-related fatalities in New York City by more than 80 percent from 1976 to 2013.

Like many people reading this story, I have Airbnb’d an apartment in New York where the host was violating the law by allowing me to be there for fewer than 30 days when she wasn’t home. I know that many of my friends in New York rent their apartment out on Airbnb in a manner that’s illegal; even though they don’t provide fire extinguishers or exit maps for their guests the way New York hotels do, they haven’t accidentally killed anyone yet. But not every illegal hotelier is so lucky.

“T“Today, we are proud that over 50 million guests have had a positive experience in an Airbnb listing,” Airbnb told me, in a statement. “We’ve grown from 1 million guests over a year to 1 million guests on our peak night and negative incidents are incredibly rare. Sadly, there have been tragic accidents.”

While reporting this story, I discovered that my father was not the only person to die in an Airbnb. During the 2013 holiday season, a Canadian woman and five of her friends stayed together in Taiwan for a wedding, booking accommodations through Airbnb. On December 30, she was found dead. Airbnb did acknowledge her death, in their statement to me. But her tragic accident, like my father’s, has been left out of the company’s self-reported narrative about its safety record until now.

The details of her death are sparse, reported in part by local English-language media: A leaking water heater placed on a fully enclosed balcony next to the room she was staying had filled the apartment with carbon monoxide. Her five friends staying in the adjoining room were hospitalized and survived. The apartment was being run as an illegal hostel by two men who lacked proper permitting, and didn’t bother to install a carbon monoxide detector or conform to “structural or fire safety standards.”

I was able to unearth a few more details from William B. Smith, a San Francisco lawyer, who presented this account at a legal conference in March. While her heirs had originally reached out to him about representing them in a lawsuit against Airbnb, they decided to go their own way after the company offered “$2,000,000 to resolve the wrongful death case while telling the family that there is no basis for liability… and it is being offered only for humanitarian reasons,” according to his paper. Then they disappeared from contact. My attempts to reach out to one of her heirs who posted an email address in a public message about the death on social media went unanswered.

Attempts to contact the victim’s father through his employer were also left without a response. In response to queries about their handling of the incident, Airbnb said:

“When we learned about this in late 2013, we immediately reached out to the guests’ family to provide our full support and express our deepest condolences. We permanently removed the host from our community….We attempted to reach the other [guests] multiple times in late 2013 and early 2014 to offer our support but did not receive any response from them.”

Some of Matter’s questions about the Canadian’s death waded into what Airbnb considered an issue of confidentiality. When asked what “humanitarian reasons” Airbnb was trying to address with their settlement with the deceased’s family, Airbnb responded, “Out of respect for our community members’ privacy, we generally do not comment on the conversations we have with them.”

After her death, the company began promoting a program to give out free smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors to American hosts who asked for them. Still, more than 11,000 rentals are available for rent in Taiwan on Airbnb, with no requirement of demonstrating working carbon monoxide detectors or permitting. After my dad’s death, additional safety tips were added to the sign-up process for new hosts. But still, every new property starts off on Airbnb without certification — just self-reporting — to make sure it’s complying with safety guidelines or local laws.

How can Airbnb rectify this? Even the company’s critics have argued that it’d be too cumbersome for the site to look up local regulations in every city and country where it’s operating, but often this takes just a single phone call. For a tourist traveling to a major market like New York or L.A., perhaps a solution would be to introduce a pop-up alerting them that their stay must be 30 days or more, due to local laws. (If they are disappointed, they could always find an Airbnb where the host will be home.) When it comes to home visits, I imagine Airbnb would resist offering these, given the problems it might pose for liability as well as the cost and complexity. But if Google can photograph every surface of the earth and the U.S. government can conduct a census, couldn’t Airbnb peek inside 1,000,000 properties if that would make its “community” safer? Tip from the sharing economy: just hire some TaskRabbits.

TThree days after my dad died, I received a thoughtful note from a trust and safety manager at Airbnb, wishing my family condolences and offering the company’s support. “If it would be all right with you, may I call later this week to check in and see if there’s anything you need?”

I was tempted to say yes, but after looking up her credentials, I noticed that her previous employer was a Northern California police department, where she worked as a detective. Was this a condolence call or was it the beginning of an investigation?

Probably a little bit of both: corporations often reach out to accident victims early, before they’ve had a chance to lawyer up. The goal is to get them to make a first offer on their demands, knowing that victims tend to lowball the price put on wrongful death or injury. Then, a settlement follows, after an NDA is signed, along with an admission that the company was not at fault.

“A man died, and you’ll never hear about it,” my mom has continued to say in the aftermath of her husband’s untimely demise. The papering over of real lives has, in fact, been my main motivation to write this piece. My family remains free to speak about Airbnb’s role in the accident since we never pursued legal action against them. Our lawyer — my dad’s best friend since college — extracted a settlement from the hosts’ homeowners’ insurance policy, which, lucky for us, did not deny coverage for commercial activity.

We seem to be the exception to the rule. Most home insurance policies make exclusions for any commercial activity taking place for residential policies. In January, Airbnb introduced a new product: secondary coverage for hosts who might find their claims denied if something goes haywire during a home-sharing stay. Peers followed suit, with a policy that extends across home-sharing platforms. Given Airbnb’s history of reactive, as opposed to proactive, solutions, I imagine hosts have already found themselves in that conundrum and with the exposure it entails.

“W“What started as a way for a few friends to pay the rent has now transformed into something bigger and more meaningful than we ever imagined. And what we realized is that the Airbnb community has outgrown the original Airbnb brand,” wrote Chesky in a major rebrand announcement on the company’s website last summer. “So Joe, [co-founder] Nate [Blecharczyk], and I did some soul-searching over the last year.”

So what, exactly, did their souls reveal? Most significantly: some new web design, the introduction of a heart-shaped logo nicknamed Bélo, “the universal symbol of belonging,” and a manifesto-like treatise clarifying the founders’ vision on how Airbnb is helping bring the world together:

For so long, people thought Airbnb was about renting houses. But really, we’re about home. You see, a house is just a space, but a home is where you belong. And what makes this global community so special is that for the very first time, you can belong anywhere. That is the idea at the core of our company: belonging.

We used to take belonging for granted. Cities used to be villages. Everyone knew each other, and everyone knew they had a place to call home. But after the mechanization and Industrial Revolution of the last century, those feelings of trust and belonging were displaced by mass-produced and impersonal travel experiences. We also stopped trusting each other. And in doing so, we lost something essential about what it means to be a community. After all, our relationships with people will always be the most meaningful part of our lives. You just need to get to know them. That’s why Airbnb is returning us to a place where everyone can feel they belong.

Airbnb’s purpose, it seems, is to bring us back to some imagined past where strangers felt welcome in each other’s home, but in the placeless future of the internet. Airbnb emerges as a unifier, restoring trust between strangers, between everyone on earth, in fact. A friend is just someone you haven’t met yet. We can all belong anywhere. Anywhere can be home.

It is wishful thinking that Airbnb can scale up “what makes this global community so special” rather than have its community become co-opted by the values of the global marketplace — presumably efficiency, the maximization of profit, and personal interest (as opposed to “trust and safety”). It seems like Airbnb would like to wish away the complexities of what community really means: shared interests that hold people together, a set of agreed-upon rules to keep people in check, and transparency. Airbnb continues to obscure the identity of its community members, and it’s unclear whether Airbnb is tracking data around the risk of death, injury, robbery, or sexual assault.

Despite the frequent misuse of this idea, community is an inherently exclusive concept, requiring boundaries (albeit porous ones) that define who gets to be in and who doesn’t. In fact, exclusivity may be the key to keeping Airbnb’s community safe: by setting higher standards for who may use the service, by taking a proactive stance to push out bad actors who are breaking local laws, by promoting safety standards, by setting a real price for rentals by making sure people pay taxes (which will inevitably push some hosts out of the market).

Airbnb argues that it provides a form of social good by helping people pay their bills and bringing tourists into neighborhoods to spend money. But many people are not prepared for the responsibility of becoming an innkeeper. Opportunists — and, really, anyone who is trying to afford scorching urban property markets — can no longer ignore the financial lure of Airbnb. As I see friends in New York City becoming Airbnb landlords, turning $2,500-per-month rentals into $6,000-per-month revenue generators, I can’t help but feel the opportunity cost of not doing the same.

Right before my dad died, I moved into a somewhat unaffordable apartment, thinking to myself the same thing everyone does when looking for the perfect one-bedroom in L.A.: it’s a bit expensive, so once I make it look nice I’ll rent it out on Airbnb a few nights a month. But that’s a lot of work to do right. Grief hit my apartment like an earthquake, and the irony was not lost on me: No one would want to rent my place out, looking as filthy and unpicturesque as it did.

As months turned into a year, and a year turned into nearly two, I look back at the last 22 months knowing the worst of recovering from the loss and trauma is over. I am able to visualize my father not only on the last day we spent together — chaotic and bloody — but how he looked in a photo taken on vacation with my mom: They are tanned and glowing with a map spread across the hood of the rental car, lost but carefree.

I’ve put the picture up in my living room, along with some decorations and better furniture. I’ve invested in cleaning supplies, a fig tree, and succulents. I could earn an estimated $125 per night off my bed based on Airbnb prices at neighboring “historic buildings” in my “gentrifying neighborhood.” Were I to write my own Airbnb ad, I’d probably invite guests to:

Relax in the heart of Los Angeles in a turn-of-the-century building with hardwood floors, dreamy views, majestic sunlight, fresh breezes, and tons of plants! Unique amenities include Sonos Speakers, a Vitamix, a cold-pressed juicer for all you health nuts, souvenirs, and photos collected while traveling. (See the one of my parents? Weren’t they a cute couple?)

My home is your home. My things are your things. You can even borrow my clothes. Just be sure to avoid the blue sweatshirt with the bloodstains. It’s a token of my last Airbnb stay.

This story was written by Zak Stone. It was edited by Mark Lotto, fact-checked by Hilary Elkins, and copy-edited by Rachel Glickhouse.


The original flagship publication of Medium

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface.

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox.

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store