I Airbnb-ed My Apartment For 4 Years — & Learned These 5 Things

Refinery29’s original scripted comedy, Strangers, centers on a woman’s experience discovering her sexuality and identity while dealing with a changing roster of tenants via an Airbnb-like service. Based on director Mia Lidofsky’s personal experience renting out her New York City apartment, the series examines what happens when you let complete strangers into your home. Here, Lidofsky spills everything she learned from her experience with Airbnb.

For two years, I worked in television assisting director Jesse Peretz (Girls). As much as I loved my job, however, I knew I had to leave if I ever wanted to direct something myself. So I decided to quit — and realized that I had to face the reality of surviving as an artist.

The resolution: Airbnb. Prior to this, I only Airbnb-ed out my place when traveling, or I would stay with a girlfriend, just to make a little more cash. Now, however, it became a real source of income. I took on another job that involved travel, and rented out my West Village apartment as a secondary source of cash.

This went on for years. Airbnb was unregulated at the time, and it was a whole new way of communicating with people and sharing your life. It was a unique experience of discovering and exploring, and it allowed me to pursue the life I wanted. Even when I had the opportunity to move back to New York, I still rented out my apartment and shared a loft in Williamsburg instead, charging a couple hundred a month over the rent.

Only recently did I give up Airbnb, when I moved in officially with my long term girlfriend this past winter. It was a real goodbye to a chapter of my life — this single, subletting artist trying to survive and become a future version of herself. This was a means to help me get there, and I’ve learned a lot along the way.

Be Honest

Be honest and communicative — particularly when it comes to photographs and reviews. You want to set expectations. If people know exactly what they’re getting, they end up being happy. Honest photographs are also such a big deal. A picture tells a thousand words, and you don’t want to ruin someone’s experience by creating false expectations. You’re creating the image of your home, so you should just be honest with it. And if your place isn't something you're happy with, you should make it better so you can present the version of yourself that you want your tenants to experience.

Hire a professional cleaner

At the beginning, I would clean up myself after every tenant. But after a few times, I just started to hire a cleaner. People expect it and want it, and it makes things harmonious. I think it also helps remove the idea of other people being in your home in that manner. I haven’t had any traumatic experiences — no one has ever wrecked my apartment — but I’ve found that cleaning up myself after someone stays with me has made it feel too personal, almost too intimate.

Respect Your Neighbors

It’s important to remember, especially in New York, that you’re not just inviting people into a home. You’re inviting people into your apartment building — so you have to think about the safety of your roommates, your neighbors, your neighborhood. You have to find good people you can trust to take care of your home — who aren’t going to keep your neighbors up, who aren’t going to take your stuff.

At first, I had a pretty high rotation of people coming in and out — but I lived in a small building where everyone knew everyone. One time on set, I got a call from my neighbor who lived below me. “We’ve got a problem,” he said. “I don’t want to feel like a guest in my own building.” From then on I only rented out my space for long periods of time, and I tried to rent out to friends of friends, and I always let him know when I would be away or renting.

It’s Not For Everyone

With Airbnb, people are allowing you a little window into their home — and it’s nice to enjoy the little peek and see what someone else’s life is like. As a host, though, it can be scary. You are inviting strangers into your home, and you have to learn what’s replaceable and what isn’t. You also have to learn to screen — there’s a natural screening process with Airbnb, where you can read other people’s reviews of them, but I also try to have conversations with potential tenants beforehand, to get to know them. I ask people what strikes them about my home, and if I respond to what they’re responding to, they’re a good fit.

Still, don’t necessarily leave anything that you would be devastated about it breaking or disappearing, and if that’s something that worries you, it might not be for you. Now that I’ve stopped doing it and let that apartment go, I can say I definitely feel like I can breathe a little easier not having to worry about who is in there or whether I will be able to cover rent.

But If You Choose To Do It, You Might Be Surprised

You never know who will enter you life after you open up your home to them. My most memorable tenant was a woman who rented my place for a short chunk of time while she was directing a Shakespeare play in New York City. She has her own all-woman Shakespeare company, and she ended up entering my life again through a project my girlfriend is working on.

In fact, Strangers was inspired by one Airbnb experience in particular. One Thanksgiving, I was super homesick, and I really wanted to come back to New York. But, my apartment was already booked. So I decided to Airbnb out this loft I found in Williamsburg, and explore a different version of life in NYC. I went there, and totally fell in love with the experience — I got to try on someone else’s life in a brief moment of time.

As I was returning the keys to the host, the host says, “Mia, I’ve got a funny story for you. I’m dating this girl from LA, but she’s living in New York and Airbnb-ing a place in the West Village right now.” And I said, “Oh cool, I live in the West Village.” And he says, “I know. I stayed with her this weekend so you could stay at my apartment — my girlfriend is your subletter.” Without knowing it, and without knowing each other, we both gave up our homes so someone else could live there as a means of survival, and he became one of my close friends. That was the birth of Strangers, in my mind. Sometimes, when you stay open to the world, it lets wonderful people into your home.

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