We took a job in Biloxi and had to find accommodations for two months. Of course, the day we got the job was the day that the summer rates kicked in so we struggled to find something in our budget that was within ten miles, had a kitchen, and was available for the full two months. We’d never used Airbnb before but after relentlessly searching for the traditional extended stay hotels without any luck, we found a property on Airbnb that was available, fit into our budget (barely) and advertised a full kitchen. Here’s the listing and description:
This spacious 900 square foot two-bedroom apartment is nestled on a side street just off of Washington Ave across from a city park. Private parking and walking distance to shopping, dining and all activities in the downtown area.
The space: Close to everything, downtown Ocean Springs.
Other things to note: We hope your visit to Ocean Springs creates wonderful memories that will last you a life time.
Further down the page there was a section called “House Rules.” Here’s how it looked as I scrolled down:
No smoking, no parties or events, check in time is 5:00 PM – 9:00 PM, prices subject to special event pricing and all local and state taxes. Listed price is for weeknights with a two-night minimum. Pets possible, deposit required. Possible sleeping arrangements for children. No more than four adults. Rules can change without being written on this site. However, the rules will be acknowledged by parties prior to completing the reservation. Cancellations must be made one week prior to stay for a full refund and three weeks prior on special event pricing nights. Enjoy your stay in beautiful downtown Ocean Springs.
You must also acknowledge the potential for noise – a train runs through the city of Ocean Springs.
This “acknowledgement” about trains running through Ocean Springs is the absolute last thing on this long list of “House Rules” and something that would be more appropriately listed under the “Other Things of Note” section, wouldn’t you think?
If you’ve ever used Airbnb, you will know that when you’re looking for the place, they don’t give you an address. They just provide a circle on a map and the property is somewhere in that circle. We didn’t notice the “acknowledgement” about trains until we were about to pay, but it seemed rather innocuous. I suppose we assumed that if the host had to warn us about noise, the warning had to adequately reflect the noise level. The fact that a train ran “through Ocean Springs” which covers about 12 square miles didn’t seem like the property would be close and based on the description that the property was right across from a city park, it sounded like the property was across from the only city park in that area; that was about as far southeast from the train tracks as you could get.
We booked it. Our job started, as did our reservation, on July 5th. We couldn’t check in until 5:00 PM, and we started work at 7:00 AM, so we didn’t actually get to the property until 4ish, which is when we discovered that the “city park” described in the listing was actually the railroad easement that runs along the tracks. The property was directly adjacent to the easement, separated only by a residential street, less than 100 feet. Being optimists, we thought, well, surely the trains don’t run at night because the host would have had to disclose that.
At 8:00 PM, the first train came blasting through. The whistle was earsplitting, and the entire property shook. However, we thought 8:00 was manageable. The next one was at 10:30 PM. It woke us both up and I thought maybe that was it. The next one was at 1:30ish. I almost laughed out loud because it was right out of “My Cousin Vinny.” The next one at 3:30 wasn’t even a little bit funny, and the 5:00 AM one would have been fine, since we had to get up anyway, if it hadn’t been for the three prior.
I immediately notified the host (at 5:30 AM) and Airbnb that there was no way we could stay there with the trains. We are working 10 to 12 hour days with heavy equipment, and we would either get hurt or hurt someone else if we weren’t able to get enough sleep. Airbnb sent an automated reply almost immediately assuring me that someone would be reaching “very soon.” I didn’t hear anything from our host until 4:00 that afternoon, and still hadn’t heard from Airbnb.
In the meantime, we were on the job starting at 7:00, and didn’t get off until 5:00, a short day. We were exhausted, but had to return to the property because we had no other place to go. We started looking for another place and actually found one that was available starting the next day. I reached out to that host and they preapproved us, but I was still waiting to hear from Airbnb about our refund. Our host had essentially not responded in any meaningful way so I knew we were in for a fight.
The second night the 8:00 PM train rolled through right on time. Then there was another one at 8:40, then another around 10:30, then another at 2ish. I was so tired I could not make myself get up for the 2:00 AM one, but I did record the 8:00 and 10:30 ones. Here’s the link to the video of the 8:00 PM one, and as you listen, keep in mind that the loudest part of the train has already past by the time I started recording.
I had not heard back from Airbnb by the next morning, so I called. I explained to my case manager that we could not stay one more night because we were exhausted and that was a problem at work. I needed to book something ASAP. She asked me to hold off for a couple of hours so that she could complete my claim and transfer any refund to my next booking. Four hours later, I had not heard from her and we lost the other booking by that time. We had to drive home, exhausted, and would have to drive back again tomorrow, though we have been able to book another place, just not through Airbnb.
Airbnb had nothing for us by the time the case manager got around to trying to transfer our refund. As for the refund, it’s pretty obscure what it would be. She said that the host was refunding half the fee we paid. However, her numbers didn’t add up. Here’s what she said: “As we’ve talked over the phone, I will now process the refund amounting to $3662: $1022 will be from the host, and $2640 will be from the nights not spent in the listing just for us to use the money for another listing that you want to book.”
The problem with her math is that we paid $2,428 for the first month of the reservation. We have not paid for the second month. A refund of $1,022 from Jeffrey amounts to less than half of what we paid. The remainder of the refund appears to be for amounts we haven’t paid yet (and won’t) so that’s not a refund. I was very suspicious of that garbled reference to using the refund “just for us to use the money to another listing that you want to book.”
I have written her back and asked for clarification, but I am already drafting a complaint to file in small claims court in Ocean Springs against this host. If I have to add Airbnb, I will move the case to federal court. The case manager was nice enough and definitely knows how to handle irate customers, but she told me things that were misleading at best, or flat out lies at worst. She told me that she had to negotiate with our host, and if he didn’t agree to refund us, then her hands were tied.
According to Airbnb, they have the final say in resolving all disputes. Since I have objected to this particular resolution, it is unclear if I will receive any kind of refund at all. I guess we’ll find out. At this point, I see no point in using Airbnb except that to rip off both legitimate hosts and guests by hiking up prices as a go between service without offering anything of value except a website. Rather, call a local realtor and check local listings for vacation rentals. Maybe it’s less convenient, but at least you won’t get ripped off. Because we cancelled, we are not even allowed to give a review of the host.
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