An Airbnb Host Got More Than They Bargained for with a Guest’s Offbeat Art Swap—and the Mystery Has Gone Viral on TikTok
Where's the original work? Why an airplane propeller? The story of the "Airbnb Bandit" raises more questions than answers.
Anyone who has stayed at an Airbnb has probably questioned some of their hosts’ interior design choices—but most would probably draw the line at replacing the artwork on the walls.
But that’s what happened to host Amy Corbett at the apartment unit attached to her historic home in Lynchburg, Virginia, that she has rented to guests since 2018. Corbett didn’t notice the change until one day she was taking a Zoom call in the space. In the background behind her, where a black and white map of the world normally hung above the couch, there was instead a closely cropped picture of an airplane propeller.
Corbett, who manages 30 properties through her short-term rental business, All Belong Co, searched the apartment, but couldn’t find her artwork. Nothing else was missing.
“I was creeped out and very confused!” Corbett told Artnet News in an Instagram message.
Examining video surveillance footage showed one of her guests bringing the propeller artwork into the home, then leaving with what appeared to be the map covered with a blanket as he checked out of the property.
Mystified, Corbett took to TikTok to try and solve the enigma, telling her 60 followers that “the weirdest thing just happened.” To her surprise, the video went viral, with 7.4 million views to date.
The off-the-wall chain of events has sparked plenty of theories as to why the guest, dubbed the Airbnb Bandit, had offered his unsolicited interior design services. (And yes, some commenters thought the propeller piece was an upgrade.)
@allbelongco Replying to @exploration_of_love Let’s debunk some theories while we wait to hear from Airbnb… #airbnb #airbnbguest #fyp ♬ original sound – allbelong.co
No, the guest wasn’t an artist leaving behind his original works any place he stayed. Corbett checked in with places he stayed previously, and there had been no previous incidents with the decor—although he did damage a couple of items at one property and had threatened to call the cops when asked to pay. And the propeller artwork? It was a mass-produced piece, printed on canvas and widely available online for about $100.
The wall behind the piece also hadn’t been damaged, and the guest didn’t leave any hidden cameras inside the new canvas.
The guest never answered Corbett’s questions about why he swapped the art, and the only clue to the guest’s motivations that she has uncovered is that he runs a start up for airplane parts. (Corbett has not revealed the guest’s identity.)
@allbelongco What’s going back on the wall? #allbelongco #fyp #airbnbthief #airbnb #riverhouse #paintings #jamesriver #lynchburgva ♬ original sound – allbelong.co
“Maybe the painting was like leaving his business card,” she said on TikTok.
Airbnb agreed to cover the $100 cost of the missing map (the guest has only paid $25 of the claim Corbett filed against him) and banned the guest from the home rental platform.
And as for the unwanted new artwork, the story has a happy ending. Corbett raffled off the propeller picture, raising nearly $1,500 for Rush Homes, a local nonprofit dedicated to finding housing for people with low income and disabilities.
Rather than buying another generic piece to hang on the wall from Home Goods, Corbett then commissioned a local artist, Jennifer Lee Mancier, to create a custom piece for the wall. The new painting captures the view from the apartment of the waterfall on the James River.
Mancier documented the process of creating the replacement painting on Instagram, in a series of Reels in the style of a Wes Anderson film, a recent social media trend. The final installment ends with her shaking Corbett’s hand in front of the newly hung artwork.
“It’s such a cool upgrade to support a local artist instead of just a big box store,” Corbett told the Washington Post.
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