Scale Fail: When Short Term Rental Stays Go Wrong

“3 stars: I found hair in the shower,” you read and instantly your mind wanders to the potential impact, all from some missed hairs by your cleaning team. Now you have to deal with the repercussions. You know this property can’t afford any tighter margins and this review could impact your ability to hit your revenue objectives. 


Property managers know all too well the issues that can come with just one negative guest review. But how do you control things like your cleaner missing what seems obvious? Luckily, with the right tools and expertise, these #scalefails are easy to avoid.


We understand scaling your business comes with many challenges, and how these negative reviews impact you. But just for fun, we asked the Operto team to share some of their host horror stories, so you can think “thank <insert profanity of your choosing> that wasn’t my property!” Here are four rental experiences the Operto team are still talking about to this day. 

Scale Fail boiling pot filled with steam

Scale Fail #1: The smell of burning meat

Before moving to Valencia, Spain, Tim rented a small, ground-floor apartment on Airbnb to get a feel for the area. One night while cooking dinner, he stepped outside and accidentally locked the keys inside the property.


Immediately contacting the property manager, he asked them to call a locksmith as soon as possible. Any other time it wouldn’t be such an emergency, but the problem was, Tim had left the gas stove on. The property manager suggested Tim walk over to his business partner’s house, and did not seem to acknowledge the severity of the situation.


What he failed to mention to Tim, was the spare key was five blocks away. In a sweat from running there and back, he found his Airbnb was rapidly filling with smoke. He panically tried to open the door, only to find out, the key did not work.


He was left with no choice but to break the door open with brute strength. He managed to get back inside before the fire was serious.  Tim, now uncertain if Valencia was the right move for him, begrudgingly spent the night coughing in a smoky Airbnb with the front door unable to securely close.

A group of spiders walking across a bed

Scale Fail #2: Creepy crawlies 

Ellie checked into a cottage in Burlington, Vermont, USA. She was so excited, the place was cute and exactly how it was pictured online. She was looking forward to  some downtime before the rest of her party arrived, and decided to take a well deserved nap.


Excited for some rest after a long day of travel, she pulled back the covers and to her horror, there were DEAD WOLF SPIDERS between the sheets.


That’s when she realized the whole place was quite dusty. Clearly cleaning was done when the last guests left — just months before. And no one had done a spot check in between the stays.


She started to check the other room, and same thing, more spiders. There were multiple spiders. Every single one had at least one. To this day, Ellie does a spider spot check before jumping into bed.

Scale Fail #3: A haunted house

Molly and her partner were excited to take a trip to an Airbnb in Houston, Texas. But on their way to their rental, it became clear their stay wasn’t going to go as expected.


Molly was surprised to receive a message from their hosts: “Sorry, you cannot check in yet. Our previous guests have trashed the property and we need to tidy up.” Already on their way, she replied, “Check-in was meant to be at 4 and it’s 6 now. How long is this going to take?”…No response.


They continued on their way and when they found the property, the front door was wide open. Expecting to find the cleaning team inside, they realized aside from a layer of dust covering the surfaces, there was no one in the house.

Too tired to uncover what strange events were going on, they decided to go out for food. However, when they came back they found the code they had been given didn’t work and they couldn’t get into the property again.


Who were they going to call? Ghostbusters? The host who was unresponsive? Molly’s solution was to prop her partner through the closest window and risk the perception of a break and enter. They never heard from their host, and had to crawl through the window two additional times before their stay was over.

Scale Fail Man enters window from outside
Scale Fail Man in his underwear running away

Scail Fail #4: Error – Room 404

Arriving in Rome, Italy one hot summer, Ryan and his friend were excited to check into their rental and relax. Pulling into the drive, they breathed a sigh of relief to see their host already waiting by the door of the apartment.


Everything was easy, he took their bags, helped them up the four flights of stairs, and showed them around. He even offered them a few beers and told them to kick back and relax. After the host left, they did just as he suggested, cracked a beer and stripped down to their underwear to escape the heat.


Looking to put some music on, Ryan realized he didn’t have the wifi details and reached out to the host. He couldn’t have been more confused by their reply, “I’m running ten minutes late. I’ll be there in a moment to check you in!”


To their horror, Ryan and his friend soon realized they had been sitting in the wrong unit and drinking beer from someone else’s welcome basket in their underwear.

#ScaleFails happen every day

The bottom line is, guest expectations are rising,  and they will talk about it when they aren’t met. Something as small as  a hair in the shower can wreak havoc on your reviews and your business plans.


Unfortunately, as we saw in these stories, so much can go wrong with the guest experience. It’s easy for cleaning mistakes, communication errors and check-in difficulties to creep in when turning your side hustle into a legitimate business. To scale efficiently, you need the right tools in place. Smart locks with unique access codes would have prevented the fire in Valencia and crawling through the window in Houston. Automated cleaning schedules with customized task checklists would have prevented the wolf spiders in Vermont. And pre-arrival digital check-in would have prevented the panicked underwear situation in Rome.


When property managers are looking to scale, it’s critical to choose the right partners that are invested in your growth and success. Comprehensive property care, smart contactless access, and exceptional digital guest experiences are all things the STR pros are automating to meet the unique needs of each of their properties. 


Join the #scalefail conversation on LinkedIn.