Nightmare on Craig’s List

by Judith Fein


I love Craig’s List. I really do. It has transformed the way we advertise, buy, sell and think about transactions. It’s beautiful. It’s free. I have used it so many times that I refer to the founder as Craigie. But, like the little girl with the curl, when the list is good, it is very very good, and when it is bad…well, you know.

My Craigie episode started a few months ago when my husband and I decided we desperately needed a vacation. Truth be told, I am not sure we’ve ever taken a vacation. As travel journalists and photographers, we’re always writing, shooting, taking notes and stumbling over stories, even when we don’t mean to.

But this time it was different. We were burned out from having our eyeballs glued to our computers l5 hours a day, meeting deadlines, emailing, researching. We looked at each other, and, in that silent way we sometimes communicate when we are not yakking or yukking, we knew we had to stop. For a full month.

I went to Craigie, of course, and typed in the name of a beach community in California.

There it was: the little bungalow that was waiting for us, half a block from the ocean.

It was, according to the owner, small, clean, with a spacious backyard where we could hang, escape the winter, and drink margaritas. For me, it was a done deal.

It took several weeks to get a contract. Turns out the dude who advertised with Craigie wasn’t the owner, but the renter, and this was a sublease. Fine. Also, he was doing some mysterious work or traveling in Asia and was hard to contact. Okay. His friend was handling the rental. Fine. When you have the prospect of being half a block from the ocean, you’re willing to put up with a lot. At least I am.

I asked the renter several questions by email. Was the kitchen fully equipped? He said it had everything I would need. Could he reassure me there wasn’t dog hair or dog dander around, as I am allergic to that and feathers. No dog, he said, and, as for feathers, the pillows and duvet were stuffed with plumage, but I happily offered to schlep along my own. Signature on contract, end of story. Hardly.

The dream bungalow was a nightmare. It was abnormally cold in coastal California, but there was no heat. Wait, let me correct that. There was a 6-inch portable heater. But if you turned it on to “high,” it blew out the circuit. My husband had to crawl through a closet (more about that later), through the renter’s clothes, girlie magazines and used underwear, until his digits located wires that were hanging from the wall. He got a shock and a reset of the circuit breakers at the same time. If you turned the heater on “low,” and then, let’s say, had the audacity to plug in a hairdryer, it was back to crawling through the closet to find the wires.

Now let’s get to that closet. There was only one in the bungalow. It was deep, narrow, and full of the renter’s clothes. Way in the back, if we pushed back the shirts, jackets and surf clothes, there were several drawers full of his clothes. That’s it. For us, the subleasers, there was one hanging plastic shoe-holder. For a month.

We walked outside to the backyard where we could sip margaritas in the moonlight. Sure, if we were standing up. There wasn’t a stick or a lick of furniture. Nothing. A yard full of grass. Where we supposed to buy outdoor furniture for a month?

The fully-equipped kitchen? A few plates, two forks, two knives, two spoons, and a refrigerator full of half-opened things in cans that were colored orange and brown. At least there were pots and pans.

The lack of dog hair? I wheezed from the minute I arrived. Finally, in an email, the renter acknowledged that he had a big dog who rolled around on the couch and bed.  We spent our retirement fund on products that were supposed to get rid of pet odor and dander. I was still wheezing a symphony. The renter agreed to pay for a cleaning. Fine. The steam cleaner came. He had the kindness of a mass murderer. He cleaned, all right, and then told us we couldn’t sleep on the mattress or sit on the sofa for a day because both were wet. So we had to leave the apartment and find another place to sleep.

When we came back, we were freezing. So we dressed in two layers of clothes and got into bed. Sounds cozy, huh? The bedroom was so small that one side of the bed was wedged into the corner. When my husband wanted to get up, he had to leap over me to emerge from the bed. He hadn’t bargained for bed aerobics.

Finally, we said we were leaving. The renter had come back to the USA and he showed up on our doorstep. After his brother called us 4-5 times a day. They wanted the check. They didn’t care about dog hair, no furniture, a wedged-in bed and the fact that we were practically cryogenically preserved. This was a business deal. We wrote a check, specifically stating on the back that it was payment for the time we had been there and other contractual details. The renter was outraged. He began making unannounced visits to us. Once, late at night, he came with a friend. Did he need backup because he thought we would beat him up? He wouldn’t accept our check. We wrote another check. He didn’t trust us. He wanted us to go with him to the bank. But we were too busy looking around for another place to which we could move. We told him we’d be out by mid-afternoon. He grumbled, and then started calling and showing up again. By the time we left, we were completely exhausted from the ordeal. Was this our vacation?

So friends, be sure you ask a lot of questions before agreeing to a vacation rental. If you can’t think of enough questions, open your dusty volume of Sherlock Holmes for ideas.

And to you, Craigie, I have this to say: I love you, I really do, but it’s up to me to learn to ask questions before renting anything ever again. I suppose you can say I have learned my lesson. Now I’m ready for a real vacation.


Judith Fein is the co-founder and editor of An award-winning travel journalist and inspirational speaker, she has contributed to over 85 publications and spoken to many thousands of people about traveling and living well. Her website, which she shares with her photojournalist husband Paul Ross, is    

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