2016-05-12 15:30:26

Ziroom, a Chinese app similar to Airbnb but for long-term rentals, is being plagued by that all-too-familiar character: the roommate from hell.

According to an article in The Beijing News, customers of the app have recently had some strange encounters, including one visitor who liked to steal, and another lodger who laid dead in his room for weeks.

According to the report, one Ziroom user, a woman surnamed Zheng, discovered the weeks-old corpse of a fellow tenant in her shared apartment in Beijing on April 16. Earlier, on March 23, she had reported hearing vomiting noises inside the man’s room, but the tenant at the time said he was not in need of help. A police report concluded on April 23 that the man had died of a heart attack.

The article also mentions another customer, a woman surnamed Chu, who woke up in the early morning of May 7 to find a woman she did not know inside her bedroom. The intruder left immediately when she noticed that Chu was awake, but not before stealing Chu’s gold ring, iPad, cellphone, and wallet.

Since neither the front door nor the bedroom showed signs of a break-in, Chu believed the thief must have been familiar with the apartment.

Ziroom is popular among young professionals in China’s biggest cities. The company, a subsidiary of Lianjia, one of China’s most well-known real estate agencies, rents properties at low prices on long leases, renovates them, then sublets them at higher prices.

Ziroom could not be reached for comment when Sixth Tone tried to contact them on Thursday afternoon.

In response to media attention, Ziroom posted a statement on their Weibo microblogging account on Wednesday, saying that they responded to Zheng’s case by offering compensation, temporary hotel accommodation, counselling, and two months’ rent.

For Chu’s case, the statement said Ziroom helped with the police investigation, changed the locks in the house, and offered Chu a partial refund.

Yang Lisha, a lawyer for Beijing-based Yingke Law Firm believes that in the case of the dead man, Ziroom has a financial duty to the other tenants if the incident has had an effect on them mentally. “Ziroom has no responsibility in causing his death,” she said. “But they are managing the apartment, and if the tenant has been shown to be psychologically damaged, Ziroom should pay compensation.”

Yang said that, in the case of Chu’s stolen goods, Ziroom also has a responsibility to make sure the locks on the doors are safe.

However, many of the commenters on Weibo fail to see how the incidents are the responsibility of Ziroom. One popular comment said: “I’ve used Ziroom for nearly a year now, and everything has been great. You’re not telling me that even the tenant’s heart problems should be blamed on the agent, are you?”

Ma Wei, a 27-year-old Ziroom user from Beijing, told Sixth Tone that despite his apartment lacking hot water, his experience has been positive. “Agents are liars,” he said. “I’m happy that there’s an app like Ziroom.”

Fellow Beijinger Sun Yuanxin, 28, told Sixth Tone he appreciates the quality of the apartments and the clarity of their contract. “It saves me the trouble of having to argue with the landlord,” he said.

Ziroom is not the only app to have received negative attention in recent months. On March 15, state broadcaster CCTV aired a report showing how some food for orders made through delivery app Ele.me was prepared in unhygienic kitchens. Earlier this month, ride-hailing app Didi Chuxing faced criticism over its vetting process for drivers after a passenger was allegedly murdered.

Additional reporting by Cai Yiwen.

(Header image: A man walks through a hall at a leased apartment in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, Jan. 12, 2010. Hyj/VCG)