Tampa Nightmare: Airbnb Doesn’t Care About Guest Safety

I really wanted to have a good experience with Airbnb. Really. The concept is simple enough: rent out a room in a “host’s” home and save considerably over the cost of a hotel room. Unfortunately, my first (and last) reservation with Airbnb has risen to the top of the list of the worst customer service experiences this quinquagenarian has ever seen. I accepted a new position with a software company in Tampa with the hopes of relocating my wife (and our dog, Lucy) sometime in the first quarter of 2017. Unfortunately, President Trump issued an Executive Order that implements a hiring freeze for all non-medical employees of the Veteran’s Administration, my wife’s employer. Since her move was postponed, my employer has graciously allowed me to return to North Carolina every 2-3 weeks. Because this situation is no fault of my employer, I am responsible for my housing while in Tampa.

It’s only natural that I would look for the least expensive roof to put over my head. My philosophy is that for the majority of the time I’m under the roof, my eyes will be closed, so my decorative expectations are low. I started by searching for a no-tell motel near the office. It turns out most motels in downtown Tampa double as retail crack and prostitution outlets. Who knew? The chain hotels, including the long-term suites, are just outrageously expensive. I resigned to the idea that the least expensive route was probably going to involve a shared property or roommate.

Enter Airbnb. I searched the site and discovered that not all of the listings are for roommates. Some listings were for entire homes and apartments. Others are homes that are set up like European hostels with digital bedroom door locks and shared common areas. I was optimistic as I inquired about several properties. One of the first hosts to get back to me were “Chris and Loni” who listed a “Luxury Private Room” in the Ybor City neighborhood of Tampa. Chris and Loni don’t live in this Ybor City house, but it appears as though they recently purchased it and have set it up as a hostel. I have driven through Ybor many times and it appeared that parts of it were being redeveloped. Other parts seemed to have not come around yet. Naturally, one of my concerns was the safety of the neighborhood. Before I made the reservation I asked about safety. They responded: “I can assure you this is a safe and friendly neighborhood.” I accepted their assurance and made the reservation.

After a nine-hour drive last Sunday, I started to approach Chris and Loni’s “luxury private room.” The first thing I noticed was the dilapidated houses, overgrown yards and then… there they were. Plain as day. Practitioners of the world’s oldest profession, approaching slow moving cars within 100 yards of Chris and Loni’s hostel. I continued down the street and past the little blue house, until the street dead ended at train tracks. To Chris and Loni’s credit, their house appeared to be the nicest one on the street. People were relaxing on their porches and in folding chairs and milk crates on their lawns. Many of them sipping on beverages wrapped in brown paper bags. I decided that it was probably best for this unarmed, white male driving a Prius, not to get out of the car. I found a McDonald’s, called the Airbnb customer service number, and expressed my safety concerns. The agent on the other end of the line offered to contact Chris and Loni and request a refund. About twenty minutes later, I received a text from the hosts that read: “This is a last-minute cancellation and we will not offer a discount. You’re welcome to cancel and address this with Airbnb.”

This text was followed by responses defending the safety of the neighborhood. I have been addressing this issue with Airbnb for four days now. Here’s a synopsis of my Airbnb customer service experience:

Sunday, February 19, Afternoon – after those texts from the hosts rejected my request for a refund, I called Airbnb customer service. After being on hold for 25 minutes, I finally spoke to “Miriam” and presented my case. She offered to contact the hosts and attempt to negotiate a resolution. Later on the same day, I received a phone call from Miriam indicating that she had not been able to reach the hosts.

Sunday, February 19, Evening – I booked and checked into another (more expensive and safer) place I found on Craigslist, called Airbnb, and asked to speak to a supervisor. I spoke to “Billy” who offered to open a resolution case. He suggested that I cancel the reservation, so that the dates would be made available to rent to someone else, thereby giving Airbnb more leverage to negotiate with the hosts. I promptly canceled the reservation. I am also told that my case manager, Miriam, will be off until Wednesday, but Billy was going to assign it to someone else.

Monday, February 20, Morning – I do as Billy suggested and covered all bases by going online and opening a resolution case with Airbnb. I submit crime statistics for the neighbor that show the area is 52% more unsafe than any other Tampa neighborhood. No communication from Airbnb.

Tuesday, February 21 – I contact Airbnb to determine the status of my request. I’m told that they have not yet received a response from the hosts. I tweet my frustrations to Airbnb and its CEO. I get a response indicating a case manager will be in touch shortly.

Wednesday, February 22, Morning – Miriam calls to tell me that the hosts have not responded to both email and telephone calls.

Wednesday, February 22, Evening – No more communication by 6:00 PM. I tweet: “Day 4 of no resolution and no refund from Airbnb or slumlord “host” Brian Chesky probably spends my $300 on bottle of wine at dinner tonight.” Shortly thereafter I receive a call from Miriam indicating that the owners had responded to resolution case with additional BS about their neighborhood being safe and refusing to offer any refund or compromise. She tells me that “safety” is not among the hosting standards of Airbnb and it is my word against the owners about crime. I suggest they review the crime statistics I sent. She tells me that I will not be getting a refund or even a partial refund. I go on a rant and asked to speak to a supervisor who can make a decision. Miriam tells me that supervisors don’t talk to customers and that they are only there to guide her.

My gasket is blown. It’s not enough money to sue over. My credit card company says it may or may not allow me to challenge the charge. The paperwork is extensive, has to be notarized, and may take 30 days to get an answer. This morning I sit here, for the first time in my life, contemplating contacting one of several Tampa-area consumer reporters who I’m sure would love to take on Airbnb. Does anybody have Keith Morrison’s cell phone number?

Moderate Cancellation Policy Leads to Terrible Customer Service

After our Airbnb reservation was canceled by the host less than 24 hours prior to our arrival in Los Angeles (it had been booked for two months), we were in desperate need of booking a new place as soon as possible. We quickly booked the first one that looked good to us but unfortunately once they showed us the address, we realized it was in the wrong location. We then canceled it so we could book a new place in the right location. The cancellation policy was ‘Moderate’ which essentially means they only refund you 50% of the full payment. The Airbnb property had been booked for less than twenty minutes and we felt we should have gotten a full refund. We could have used it towards a new reservation in the part of the city we were expecting. After speaking with about six different customer service representatives who all told us the exact same thing – we cannot get a full refund because it’s ‘policy’ – we were furious. We were in a 24-hour battle over the phone with a number of different reps who did absolutely nothing to help us. They were unsympathetic toward our situation which we wouldn’t have even been in in the first place had our original Airbnb host not canceled on us. They refused to refund us the rest of the costs and did nothing to even put us up in a replacement Airbnb. We ended up having to book a hotel room for our first night in LA because our Airbnb account had been disabled. This was a huge inconvenience for us and had a huge negative impact on the rest of our trip. We will not be using Airbnb in the future and will tell all our family and friends to boycott it as well. Airbnb should get better customer service.

Arrogant and Opaque Conflict Resolution – Host Extortion

I went to visit my daughter in Seattle, planning to stay for a week. The apartment, given that it was the host’s primary residence, was pleasant. However, after five days the host called my daughter on the phone and informed her (not me) that I was to vacate the apartment immediately. He claimed that if I didn’t his landlord was going to evict him and charge him $600. My daughter was distraught; she took one of my checks and gave it to the host. The host gave me about twenty minutes to pack up and leave. The only review of the host stated he’d abruptly cancelled the reservation of two young women who just happened to be counting on staying in his apartment when I was requesting a reservation. I doubt that was a coincidence.

Of course, Airbnb would have liked to have washed their hands of the whole matter. I persisted as best I could and the host offered a small settlement. Airbnb claimed they’d tried to reach me; they tried exactly once. After that, they screened my calls. In the end, being the clever person I am now and then, I had my bank cancel the check due to fraud. I also immediately cancelled the credit card Airbnb had on file. Once they have your card they can do anything they like. In the end I guess I prevailed. The $600 was returned, the security deposit was returned, and I still received the settlement.

Now they send an email a day over a bill for $19. I go to their help section and tell them I’ll send them a check. I just put one in the mail. The point is that their customer service is dreadful. It’s all skewed towards the hosts. How many young people get caught up in this kind of nonsense? They’ve gotten too big, too fast. I do give Airbnb some credit. The host has lost his privileges after extorting cash from my distraught daughter. No cash should ever change hands directly between host and guest.

 

Airbnb Scams Guests and Apparently Hosts

We have had three terrible experiences using Airbnb. After reading this blog from both guests and hosts, it appears Airbnb doesn’t discriminate on whose money they steal. We have been told to lie and say we had not rented the property through Airbnb, that we were friends with someone in the complex (they provided a name). Then when we left an unfavorable review because of some issues with the apartment, the true host posted that we threatened him; we never even dealt with him in person. The second time, when we received the itinerary my husband Googled the address to find it did not exist; there was only a commercial building at that address. We contacted Airbnb and they told us to cancel. We received $74 of the $447 as a refund. Because we had already planned that trip, we looked for another apartment, which we found and booked. Upon arriving, we found that the apartment was not quite as it was described in the posting. After our stay, we once again left an unfavorable review on some of the noise issues, but again, nothing that prevented us from staying. After we posted our review, we received a message through Airbnb from the host that the couch smelled of urine and requested we pay an additional $275 for cleaning. Of course we denied it. We have all the text messages and emails to support our claims. Something needs to be done to stop Airbnb from their unethical business practices. They are stealing from hard-working middle class people. We are willing to help any way we can.

Worst Host Ever After Guest Breaks Elbow

The host is called Maryann, and she has a listing titled “Vermont, Mt Snow Ski house in Dover Vt”. Do not, and I mean, do not ever ever book or rent from this woman. She is the meanest, nastiest, greediest person alive. It’s no wonder she has zero reviews on this property. Here are the details.

My friend booked Maryann’s Vermont Mt Snow Ski house for February 17th-20th, President’s Day Weekend. My friend made this reservation primarily so she could go snowboarding at Mt. Snow. After all the house is titled after the resort so the host tries to capture this crowd. However, my friend broke her elbow on January 15th while snowboarding at Mt. Creek. She dislocated all of the bones in her elbow as a result of her fall. She went to the hospital and the doctor reset her bones and put her in a cast. The doctor told it would take months for her to get most of her mobility in her elbow. So my friend contacted Liftopia who she used for the lift tickets; they gave her a full refund after she sent them her medical documents.

My friend then notified Maryann. She even sent her the medical and doctor release forms and analysis. Could you believe Maryann asked to see the x-rays? About a week after the accident, my friend had her first checkup and got a letter from the orthopedic surgeon that she would not be able to snowboard for three months; she would be in a cast for an additional four weeks. My friend then sent all this to Maryann she wrote: “You and your friends could still come and enjoy the house and area. It is not rented with the idea that one must be on the slopes. Thank you but I do not feel any further funds should be refunded.”

This woman who titles her house “Mt. Snow Ski House” is now telling customers that the house is not meant for going to the slopes? Why else would we be going to Vermont in February? If the Airbnb policy was so straightforward why did she ask for medical forms? This is absolutely crazy. The host has had over a month to find another customer to rent her house. My friend, in addition to all the pain she has endured, the countless medical bills that she has to pay and continued future physical therapy, has the added insult of this nasty host who prefers to keep my injured friend’s money. If this is Airbnb’s policy, do not ever rent from them, and do not use their services.

Math is Funny to Airbnb Customer Service

To even attempt to express my full dissatisfaction with Airbnb right now would be difficult; I barely have the words. I have been attempting to resolve the following issue for two weeks. I’ve spoken to six people, and nobody will connect me to an actual manager. I asked for a manager before even explaining what I was calling about this evening and was hung up on. Airbnb has lost my business forever. This all started with a $500 gift card. I placed a reservation, then cancelled the reservation because of issues with the host. Everything is documented. The host refunded half. Airbnb refunded the other half after a case review back to the gift credit. While this was going on, we placed another reservation with a host we have booked through Airbnb in the past.

The balance at booking we owed before the resolution with the original host was refunded: $181. This was charged to my debit card. Then I was refunded $8 to the debit card. Then Airbnb charged $210 to the gift card. Then Airbnb refunded $210 to the gift card. Then Airbnb charged $113 to the gift card. Then Airbnb charged my debit card $218. Airbnb has $391 of my money now after the $8 refund. The amount left on the gift credit is $387 (a difference of $4) The total for the trip: $504 The original starting gift credit: $500. I owe Airbnb $4. They managed to take their $4 after charging me for everything else instead of using the gift card. I need my money returned to my debit card. I have been attempting to accomplish this for two weeks. The gift card needs to be depleted to $0. I owe Airbnb $4. I needed a phone call from the “trip team” or an actual manager capable of issuing the refund. This has been absolutely ridiculous, unbelievably frustrating, and incredibly disappointing.

Biggest Storm of the Decade not a Valid Excuse

My wife booked a house for out winter vacations in Lake Tahoe. The check-in time was at 3:00 PM. Around 1:00 PM an avalanche blocked the highway. We were 40 minutes away from the house and ready to go. However, we were asked to wait until the road would be accessible so we waited. The officers told us they would clean it up in a few hours but it kept raining and snowing; it was the biggest storm in the past decade. We had to drive back that night because there were no hotels available. I checked the news the next morning and the storm was even bigger; the road was blocked for two days, so the only way to get to our Airbnb reservation was with a helicopter. Obviously, we didn’t have one. Our host refused to give us a refund. This is ridiculous; even hotels and other Airbnb properties refunded others. This was an extreme situation and it wasn’t fair our vacation got ruined. We lost our money. There must be something bigger than a “partial refund” from Airbnb customer service.

Uncomfortable Airbnb Experience in California

I booked an Airbnb for the first time for a recent two-week stay in the Los Angeles area. I was messaging the female host who sounded pleasant but upon arrival was greeted by her “boyfriend” who I was never even told lived there. He helped me with my luggage and I was taken to my room. I was never greeted by my host, saw her in the flesh or spoke to her in person. I started to question if she was even real. The boyfriend told me to keep quiet to the neighbors about him as he wasn’t on the lease. The whole thing felt sketchy and I was a woman traveling alone. There was no way I was going to stay there for one night, let alone two weeks, so I left and got a hotel. I called Airbnb, told them that I did not feel safe and that the listing was not as advertised which they seemed understanding about. I am now in a dispute with the company and had the full prepaid amount of nearly $1000 reversed from my bank as the case was being disputed.

Today I received a letter that I lost the dispute because of the Airbnb reservation policy and will only receive a partial refund of about a third of what I prepaid. I was in the room for less than one hour and their policy includes you must be greeted by the host. This is ridiculous and I am looking into small claims court. Has anyone else experienced something similar? This service came highly recommended to me by friends who both host and others who have been guests. I am beyond disappointed with this experience and being told I’m obligated to pay for a misrepresentation of the service being offered. All hosts should have to supply documentation of other residences and have a formal letter from their landlord or coop that they are allowed to host.

“You have to use the Resolution Center, sir.”

I made a reservation for three weeks in Coral Gables, Florida. Based on the information in the listing, it looked perfect for my daughter and me. I’m 70 years old but my daughter is 38 and positively brilliant. She took a look at the listing and said “Dad, did you see these reviews? They’re pretty bad… and I think there’s no wifi or internet.” I had not looked at the reviews. Having had very good experiences with Airbnb for the last few years, I trusted their vetting process. Sure enough, this host had five different listings for the same property, under different headings. This normally isn’t a big deal, but every other item in “amenities” apparently had problems according to the reviews (of which there were 79). The property was an apartment building, not the home of a host; there was nothing kosher about this guy. According to the reviews, the listed wifi was essentially non-existent, 30Kb/s at best – virtually dial-up speed, if that. The electricity had gone out, there were stained sheets and mattresses blackened by the filthy tiled floor, unusable pots and pans, one towel for four guests, and two instances of this host canceling reservations a day before due to “a calendar sync issue.”

The list went on, from severely uncomfortable spring mattresses to the host being inaccessible. When I called this host, the phone number he’d listed with Airbnb had a recording I’d never heard before: “This customer is not taking incoming calls.” Ok, the plot thickens. First I called my credit card company, and before I could say anything, they wanted to know if there was fraudulent activity for a charge in Miami of about $1,400. “You bet your ass!” I replied. My pal at Capital One said, “Hold on, I’ll get Airbnb on the line and you explain your situation, see if they’ll cancel this recent charge… geez, it’s not even an hour ago! I’ll be listening in.”

Well, I got an amiable young man at Airbnb and explained my situation. He brought up my booking request, informed me my request had been accepted and if I wanted to cancel, the host’s strict cancellation policy applied: I would lose half the amount for canceling, since he said the payment had gone through. Although the reservation had been confirmed, the payment was still pending.

I replied, “No money was transacted, am I right? Airbnb is still holding that money, isn’t that correct?” Of course Mr. Amiable goes circuitously vague and obtuse. I continued: “This charge has not ‘gone through’ – it isn’t even an hour old! The reservation was made under false pretenses. Regardless, this host shouldn’t even be with Airbnb; this isn’t his home, he’s just renting out apartments and doesn’t give a flying crap about any guest-host relationships. He lied about a few things in his listing and I’m not going to be staying in his crappy apartment.”

“Well, you have to cancel the reservation, then take the issue to the Resolution Center and they will resolve the issues between you and this host,” said King Solomon.
“No,” I replied, “because by canceling a reservation, I will be reaffirming that the reservation was made legitimately and will be bound by the host’s cancellation policy, isn’t that right?” Dead silence on the other end of the line, so I answer my own question. “Yes, that’s right and that’s why I’m not canceling this reservation. Instead you, an Airbnb representative trained in conflict resolution, are trying to get me to validate this fraudulent host and his cancellation policy, so that I will be out $700 for services not rendered in the slightest and you are refusing to cancel a charge that was made one hour ago, for a reservation based on fraudulent information.”

I caught my breath and simply asked to speak with the supervisor. After a minute, Mr. Aimless came back and tried one more time to spin what was clearly a losing argument, for which I presented his points as illogical, incorrect and otherwise invalid again. “And by the way, why are you not letting me speak with your supervisor?” I asked this because I had been hearing this knuckle-dragger consulting with that supervisor several times, while I was talking.

“Sir, he has to deal with about 40 Airbnb agents…”

“Fine, you tell that young lady helping you that I’m retired and have nothing better to do but sue Airbnb for the most ridiculous refund policy ever presented. I would hate for a lovely corporate friendship to end in a court of law but you leave me no choice. Oh, never mind. Just do what you want. This charge is not going through and if you pay that crook of a landlord money, you will not be getting reimbursed.”

There were some clicking sounds, after which my pal at Capital One said, “Mr. Haber, once the charge is submitted to us for payment, we will explain why there will be no reimbursement. Capital One has your back.”

Left in the Dark: Abandoned in the UK

I travelled in the UK Sunday for my one-night stay, planning to arrive late evening at 10:00 PM. During the day the host asked if I would switch to an alternate property. I understand now that this is common tactic from disreputable hosts. When I arrived at the property, there were three people having a discussion in the hallway – they were other residents in the same property. I headed upstairs to my room, but found it locked. As a surprise to me, the door opened and there was already someone else in the room. I phoned the host, but his phone was turned off. When I got back downstairs, the couple in the hallway had exactly the same problem. The third person was a regular resident, and he said: “At this time of night, just take any of the empty rooms.”

The couple took one such room. I investigated another but it was clear the sheets had not yet been changed from the previous resident. I tried to phone the host again but there was still no answer. I sent the host a polite text message to say I was giving up, and used my phone to book a room at the nearest hotel. Later that evening I exchanged text messages with the host, who promised a full refund, and apologised. Monday I had a busy day at the office, and then traveled home. On Tuesday, the host refunded me, but not all my money. When I pointed out that I was still owed a small amount the host said that it was Airbnb’s responsibility.

Here is where the problems start. First of all: a navigation hell going around in circles to get a refund. All options pointed me towards the host. Eventually I found a chat link. The customer service representative could see the refund message from the host, but told me they have to check my story with the host. I don’t like my word being challenged like this. Then customer support told me that if I really did not get my room there would be penalties for the host. I wondered why the host would volunteer to take such penalties? Surely it is in their interest to say, “I turned my phone on later, and if he had waited I would have cleaned and prepared another room.”

I argued for 30 minutes in the chat window trying to explain to customer service that I’m only asking for my £5 booking fee to be refunded, and do they not understand how foolish it is to upset customers. She only had one answer which is to quote the policy of checking with the host. I gave up trying to change her mind. Later I received an email from customer service saying I could not get a refund because I would not allow them to contact the host. This is definitely not true; I remember saying it was pointless, and not good service. Many emails have gone back and forth with Airbnb. It seems that each time I complain about the process, they take it as a reason not to perform that process. If you ever fail to get the promised room that you booked, cancel through Airbnb and rebook again if you choose to. Don’t let the host promise an alternative, or a refund. Don’t deal with the host. I don’t normally print the booking receipt, but the agent said that the Airbnb phone number is on the receipt, and with hindsight I should have called that number when I was left in the dark without a room.