I’ve been an avid Airbnb user for a while now, paying for around nine consecutive months in my travels. I used to trust the service and recommend it to anyone. I recently booked a new place. The listing said it was for two people, a private room with one bedroom and six beds. I messaged the host, who should have been a woman based on her profile picture. I asked to book for around a month and a half from March 11th. The response I got was that the house was not finished yet, but should be by March 17th. I said that it was important for me to arrive on the 11th. I got a response saying that they may have everything ready by that day, and if I was fine with that I may come; they sent a special request for the new time I stated for the same price. Later, I found out that they changed the cancellation policy to a stricter one as well.
Unfortunately, my flight was cancelled twice, leading to me getting there a day late. The owner declined a refund for that day when I asked. This is where things started to go astray. I met the owner, a middle aged man nothing like the woman featured on the profile. He showed me the place, which wasn’t where it was listed on Airbnb but a few minutes’ walking distance from there. He explained that the house wasn’t ready yet, and led me to a house still under construction, unfurnished, and filled with cardboard and dust. Basically I had a decent room, but no shower, kitchen, or almost any of the amenities that appeared in the listing. Construction workers woke me up everyday when they started working, and there was no internet in the apartment, though it had been listed – something that was specifically important for me.
There was another guesthouse rather close by where there were some of the amenities listed (like a shower, kitchen, internet). I used that for whatever necessities I had. On the second day, I was locked outside by the construction workers and had to call the owner in the middle of the night for help. The first time this happened he asked me to sleep in the other guesthouse’s attic, which I myself had suggested earlier. However, I found out later that this wouldn’t be a good idea since people go in and out of there many times and it wouldn’t be possible to sleep. I called once more and he angrily refused. I had to make him come and open the door to my house, which was very bothersome for him. The living situation wasn’t comfortable at all and it was very cumbersome to move between these places and in between the construction going on in the building.
He had said things were expected to be finished by March 17th. So I waited. Things didn’t improve much, besides the shower and adding a few hangers. There was still no internet, no common areas, and no kitchen. I decided to call Airbnb customer service, and had a talk with a guy named John who was nice and promised to help me. He said that he could refund all of my money and help me find a new place. However, after a while we couldn’t find anything feasible so he said that he would advise me to keep looking for places and his colleagues would help me. After that, I got few responses from the team, in which they sent me links to places that were very different from my requirements: much lower standards, way over budget, or very far away from where I was. I talked to them once more and tried to explain that right now, apartments in Tokyo are hard to find with such short notice. It was also a busy tourist season, which would make it even harder.
More time passed, and I called again. Emailing customer service was slow and cumbersome. This time I spoke to another guy who asked for pictures of the place, which I provided. He agreed that the pictures showed the place in construction. However, he decided to call the host. What followed was a long conversation I had between him as a proxy towards my host. I basically said that I would like to get a refund as well as some compensation for the trouble that I got. It is simply unfair to customers to sell them places that are still under construction and not ready; I wanted to get some compensation for the days I stayed in that house as well as the days I was looking for a new apartment. The customer service personnel told me that since the host sent me a special request that showed the value of the new place with construction and everything, and made it clear to me that the place was under construction, I would not be compensated. They also said I should have expected that construction such as this go well past deadlines.
This would have been a good response, if it weren’t for the fact that it was simply not true. The price was exactly the same price, and not a special offer at all. This was simply done to change the date as well as the cancellation policy, in and of itself something a scammer would do. The message I had been sent was “the house was not ready”. I always assume that the houses listed on Airbnb are held to some sort of standard. In no way do I think that “not ready” is equivalent to “there will be construction workers with helmets building rooms and running around you filling your socks with dust.” I was given a date when everything should have been finished. There shouldn’t be any excuses on that point. It’s a business. I paid money. I expect things to be on time. If they are, the minimum response is to compensate and apologize. I tried explaining this to the case manager but he wouldn’t really do anything about it. He decided to give me a coupon for Airbnb and said that this was already above and beyond what I should get. I left with a feeling that I would rather spend my next twelve months of traveling with a different company. I advise you to do the same; there is not much added value for a middleman if he doesn’t help you once things get shady.
Here are some pictures of the apartment on the first day.