What’s it really like living next door to an Airbnb?
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Richard Burton’s neighbours haven’t tended to become his good friends, but that’s mainly because they haven’t been around long enough. Living next door to an Airbnb can be like that…
Here’s a confession. I empty my neighbour’s bins most weeks. Usually, after the school run on a Monday as the refuse trucks are working their way towards us.
That is, I reorganise the bins so the refuse collectors won’t ignore them or slap on notices explaining why they’ve left them behind unemptied.
This usually means taking the pizza packets out of the green gardening one, the sacks of pungent unmentionables out of the grey recycling one and the Pino and Peroni bottles out of the little crate meant for cardboard. I wouldn’t mind, but I don’t even know the name of the people who put them there.
Why? Because I’m one of the many, many thousands of people who currently live next door to an Airbnb.
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Not that I’m complaining. New cars – usually the shiny high-performance ones you find in many Harpenden driveways - have been arriving and leaving for the past two years. And, whether they remain for a few days or a few weeks, their owners have been generally affable and, often, entertainingly larger than life.
Eighteen months ago, a local woman who’d made a new life in the Virgin Islands, came back carrying a sizeable bump and announced she’d taken the last flight out her condition would allow to sit out the rest of the pregnancy somewhere close to an NHS hospital.
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Another family arrived one warm, sunny day and spent an afternoon cleaning the patio ready for a party wearing shirts and jumpers. They explained they’d come from California and needed to acclimatise to the “cool” climate.
I’ve lost count of the number of times women have arrived in jeans and T-shirts and emerged the next day veiled in white and on their fathers’ arms as a limo arrived.
And the reunions that have seen three or four cars jigsawed on to a drive made for two and everyone pouring out, embracing and telling each other how much they haven’t aged.
Once in a while there’s a knock on my door and a request for a corkscrew or directions. Occasionally, it’s a FedEx dropping something off or an Uber picking someone up and getting the wrong house. I get asked to sign for stuff that arrives after the people it was intended for have left or which arrives before the ones who ordered it have moved in.
But problems, if you can call them that, have been few. There was one shadowy figure who took a step back when we spotted him snapping pictures of our garden from their Juliet balcony and a time when eight cars arrived, leaving the tail end of a Mercedes blocking half my drive.
The house is a stunning four-bed detached and the guests tend to be well-heeled and well-behaved. I’ve never been kept awake by late-night revellers but have, instead, got used to the uncorking of champagne bottles and lots of laughter.
It also helps that I know the owners and you can agree ground rules. In fact, they went out of their way to oblige when I suggested they improve the fencing between us, the flat roof facing one bedroom should not be a balcony - and I did my bit by encouraging the foliage to mature.
Opinion in our house is split to be honest. I did concede that it was better when the nice chap with the Range Rover and his engaging yoga teacher wife stayed for a few months with their daughters the same age as our sons while they had the builders in. Real neighbours, in other words. Familiar faces in the drive and voices in the garden. Ones who’ll ask me how Leicester got on and I can congratulate on Liverpool’s win.
But I did argue that, if we were ever to get neighbours from hell, they’d be gone in a few days.
There was one Geordie Shore Sunday when a loud lady holding court over pints of Newcastle Brown shared her opinion on everything from the too-expensive shops, to the snootiness of some people she met in Waitrose to the house itself. The hosts will be pleased to know she thought the place was a reet belta but I was even more pleased to hear her on the on the phone announcing Howay, pet, I’m gan hyem.
She was only slightly louder than the American Armani Boy who parked his 4x4 and strutted around the garden shouting into his earpiece: “No, listen, I can’t come over. I’ve just touched down in Hart-forrd-Shy-er, London.”
And then there were the three Polish girls who did look a tad chavvy sitting out front on the wall smoking in their onesies. But even they were charming, apologetic when they saw me looking and made my day when they actually asked for help in ensuring the right bins were out on the right day with the right stuff in them.
Ironically, the all-male delegation that followed them became the worst bin offenders with 23 unfinished takeaway cartons in the green bin and seven wine bottles in the cardboard crate. Sad that I know that. But better I took the time to bag them up for Monday.
So, thankfully, no horror stories; not like the all-night parties and drunkenness that abound on internet forums. Such as the party in Hackney which drew more than 150 to a four-bed terrace after the guest advertised it on social media. Or the 3am games of football as a gathering spilled out into a Liverpool street. Or even the filth neighbours were left to clear up in the stairwell of one Edinburgh flat.
Last year Airbnb bosses introduced an online Neighbour Tool to help people complain if they have problems. But to be fair, it wasn’t exactly swamped. In its first six months only about one in 18,000 guest arrivals resulted in calls.
A spokesman told me: “The overwhelming majority of Airbnb hosts and guests are good neighbours and respectful travellers. Over 400 million people have travelled on Airbnb and negative experiences are extremely rare.”
They were keen to highlight the fact that, unlike other platforms, they use sophisticated technologies and behavioural analysis systems to help prevent potentially troublesome hosts or guests from using the service in the first place. They also run roadshows with hosts, “reminding them of the rules and how to be a good neighbour”.
It also estimates that around two million people stay in homes in 81,000 cities - more than those booking into all of the rooms run by the world’s top five hotel chains combined.
So the likelihood of having one near you is high, as are the incentives for property owners to use it. Westminster City Council recently estimated that a landlord renting a one-bedroom flat in the area would make typically £495 a week on a normal shorthold tenancy but £1,561 if they switched to letting on a nightly basis.
Of course, there will be some properties unlikely to ever have neighbour issues, positive or negative. Such as the £85 a night waterside log cabin surrounded by woods in Northaw, or the six-bedroom farmhouse near Hatfield with room for 10 you can get for £439 a night and, best of the lot, the £124-a-night classic VW Camper Van you can pick up in St Albans and use the unlimited mileage offer to go wherever you want.