Most horror stories centre around a cabin in the woods… mine is about an apartment in Nashville. But, same difference. Bit of background: my sister and I started planning a trip to America (we live in the UK) for her 30th birthday. Our trip gradually grew and grew as we started adding more places thinking ‘ah, that’s not far…’ and before we knew it we were travelling thousands of miles across the country. We started in New York then flew down to Washington, on to Nashville, Los Angeles, and finished in Las Vegas. Having used Airbnb many times before, we decided to make that our first search for accommodation. We went for a hotel in New York and Vegas (as it was, surprisingly, cheaper) but we booked Airbnb accommodation for Washington, Nashville and Los Angeles. Our stays in Washington and Los Angeles were fantastic; absolutely nothing to complain about. Nashville, however, is a different story…
We chose an apartment right on Broadway, in the centre of all the action so that we could get out and see as much live music as possible, as was the opportunity described in the listing – ‘immerse yourself in a world of honky-tonks where locals, musicians and the music industry executives hang.’ Live music, there was not. The bar next door to the apartment building played very loud, very bad, hip-hop music ‘til 5am. We were less than impressed. The noise, however, is not where my complaint lies…
This is the link to the listing in question. It’s called ‘MIDTOWN: BARS, MUSIC & HISTORY!!’ Blake – the owner of this apartment – had sent us an email the day before our stay was scheduled to begin saying that he would leave the key – I won’t say where, as I don’t want him to be burgled, no matter how angry I am – and to text him when we had arrived. Firstly, he failed to provide a number on which to reach him. Secondly, we both had UK mobile phones and couldn’t get a signal to ring even if we had had his number. So, we sent him a message through the Airbnb site letting him know we had checked in and asking a couple of questions… Firstly, he claimed in his listing that he had wifi… we tried to find a connection that looked like it could belong to the apartment but couldn’t. We had a look around to see if we could find a wi-fi box, but had no luck there either. Secondly, we needed to stock up on some basic supplies for the week so we asked him where the nearest shop was.
He replied some time later that day (obviously he was not that bothered about being a good host) and his response was thus: ‘Hi!!! So sorry for the delay – my phone has seemingly been without great service. We have been out at the vineyard this afternoon. For wifi use *** …’ I have omitted the wifi details because, as it turned out, Blake does not have wifi; he simply piggy-backs off the connection from the bar next door. This, in my opinion, does not constitute the provision of wifi. Glad to hear that he had had a good afternoon at the vineyard, though… We left our luggage in the apartment and went out to explore. When we initially arrived we climbed the fire escape stairs, as per Blake’s instructions, but as there was a noticeable amount of broken glass and rubbish at the rear of the building we opted to exit out of the front. Any better? Well, the main front door to the building did not lock; it didn’t even close. Not very safe and secure…
When we returned later that evening we had more time to actually have a look around. Wishing we had done so before, we discovered that the apartment was, quite frankly, filthy. A thick layer of dust covered every surface, the oven and hob (editor’s note: stovetop) clearly hadn’t been cleaned for quite some time and the bathroom… well, I have lived in student accommodation that was cleaner. The bathroom was painted black and Blake seemingly uses these black walls on which to write messages to his guests (no other welcome pack or leaflets were provided, just the graffiti). There were directions to a fried chicken joint alongside the message ‘sorry the shower is old’. ‘Old’ I can cope with. ‘Old’ is acceptable. ‘Old’ is how I would describe my parents’ 1850s cottage. ‘Old’ is not what this shower was. This shower was revolting. Neither of us even wanted to set foot in the bath tub for fear of needing another shower on exit. Not only were there hairs in the bath (a common occurrence and, admittedly, difficult to get up every single one) but the mat inside the bath which, in a past life had started out as white, was pink with grime and dirt.
Continuing on in the bathroom: the toilet, when sat on, came away from the wall. If the fear of catching a disease wasn’t enough to turn the most avid sitters into stoopers, the fear of potential drowning certainly was. The sink was covered in a thick layer of dust and grime. The bathroom floor hadn’t been cleaned for a considerably long time. The only thing that we could say, with some degree of certainty, had been ‘cleaned’ prior to our arrival were the bedsheets. Bravo, Blake, you changed the bed. Although the bed cover had a giant grease stain on the top, so maybe my praise was premature… As it was rather late when we noticed all of this, we decided to grit our teeth and stay one night. Obviously, with the bar next door playing music ‘til 5am, it wasn’t a very restful night. First thing in the morning, we discussed the best action to take. As we had had no physical contact and very little virtual contact with Blake, we were very reluctant to contact him with our complaint. He certainly didn’t seem a very hands-on host and as we were two women alone in a strange city, we really didn’t fancy the thought of confronting him.
We made the decision to find somewhere else to stay and sent Blake a message explaining the situation in full and that we had decided to leave. As it was last minute and there were events on in Nashville, we struggled to find anywhere with availability so ended up paying out substantially more money for a hotel. As well as informing Blake of the whole situation, we made an official complaint to Airbnb. This is where the fun starts. The response we had from Blake: ‘Hey – so sorry that the place was not up to your standards! I certainly did clean it thoroughly. There is a wifi extender in the unit – so all works. Please make sure to cancel your reservation and I will reimburse you for days that are able to be rebooked. Again, very sorry that the place did not meet your standards!’
Standards. I will be the first to admit that I have standards. It is not, however, unreasonable to have a standard of cleanliness. I am not asking for the place to be immaculate; when you have a fast turnaround of guests it is not always going to be possible to clean every spec of dust. I am not asking for that. I am simply expecting, as a paying guest, a basic standard of cleanliness. But this apartment simply had not been cleaned, and he is now lying to us saying that it had. Airbnb responded to my complaint and requested photo evidence, which I gladly sent over. As Blake had volunteered to refund us for the days that he was able to rebook, I reiterated this to Airbnb who proceeded to cancel the reservation on our behalf to enable others to book Blake’s listing. Straight away, Airbnb refunded us their service fee as they didn’t want to ‘benefit from the uncomfortable situation.’ Isn’t that nice?
That’s really where the niceties end, unfortunately… ‘Although [the photos] do show significant dust and a messy oven, these are issues that your host may have been able to attend to had he been offered the chance. Because the cleanliness concerns aren’t egregious, I won’t be able to supply you with a mandated refund from your host aside from the cleaning fees, which I wanted to make sure you received given your predominant concerns.’ We were advised to set up a case through the Resolution Centre which is their formal route of requesting a refund. I filled this out in detail and this request went through to Blake himself, not Airbnb.
Unsurprisingly, our request was declined… ‘Jennifer – I’d like to apologize again that this apartment was not up to your standards. I can assure you that the place [is] very clean — however, as mentioned in the listing – the building is over a hundred years old and is quite creaky and aged. Airbnb is a wonder[ful] community with PLENTY of options. I hope you are able to be more selective next time and find something that meets your tastes. If you ever come back to Nashville, I will be more than happy to help recommend something. I have told Airbnb that I will refund the cleaning fee since this was the cause of your concerns. Sidenote: upon my arrival to the unit after your departure, both doors were closed and locked. The door operates as any standard door would — I’m glad you figured it out!’
To start, in my initial complaint about the cleanliness I made a point of stating ‘although we understand that the building is old and this can provide reason for cracks in walls, etc’… to make sure that he knew we weren’t complaining about the age of the building. Clearly he did not read this as he seemed to assume we were complaining about the creaks… I also added that ‘the main front door to the building does not lock or even close’ – is this not clear that I am referring to the ‘main front door to the building’ and not the apartment door? I thought so, too. So now not only is he refusing our request for a refund, he is insulting our intelligence. The added sarcasm just made my blood boil even more. Game on. Another email back to Airbnb stating my dissatisfaction in Blake’s response, his sarcastic language and our refusal to back down. I stated that we were willing to pay for the night that we stayed and also the second night as that would have been extremely difficult for him to re-let – more than reasonable, in my opinion. But the other five nights (yes, we were staying for a whole week) we wanted back.
Annoyingly, as were travelling back from America to the UK, I was unable to check my email in time before the 24 hour (yep, that’s all they give you) time limit to respond to Airbnb had expired. So, on our return I had to open a new case to enable me to continue with my complaint. I asked if Airbnb had a policy to go out and inspect a listing that had a complaint against it… ‘When it comes to hosts and listings we have multiple internal routes and tools that we use to ensure unwanted ones are removed. Once this case is closed I will be sending the details of the case and a team will be following up with them directly. This often requires additional steps from the host and does not guarantee a host’s future within our community. We do not have people go out to listings to personally inspect them but instead we go off of reviews set by past guests. I am able to search the host’s end of things and see if there is a pattern worth nothing and in this case, there was none found. The many reviews reflect that the listing worked greatly for people due to the location and there are a good amount of people who said the apartment itself was great.’
That’s not entirely true. I had another look after – something I wished I had done before – and there are several reviews that mention the cleanliness and even one guest who described the apartment in very similar words to me, and had even requested a refund only to be denied. I told them this, and their response… ‘Thanks so much for your patience throughout this process. We appreciate the time you’ve taken to share your concerns with our team. However, we have issued our final decision for this case and we will disengage from further discussion on this topic. We’re truly passionate about providing our community of hosts and guests with the best possible traveling experience. I’m really sorry that this hasn’t been the case here. Just know that we’re always working to improve our products and policies, and even when we aren’t able to accommodate requests, we absolutely value our users’ feedback. As a customer of Airbnb, your voice is both powerful and essential and I’ll be sure to pass your thoughts on to the right team.’
‘Disengage from further discussion on this topic.’ Have you ever heard such a response from supposed Customer Services? They wanted no more to do with it so they basically said ‘end of,’ ‘we’re not listening anymore.’ Needless to say I did not leave it there. I did some research and found a different email address for Airbnb and I have now written a very strongly worded complaint in the hope that a member of the management team will now be informed. Initially, my complaint had nothing to do with Airbnb; my complaint was about the host and the listing. Airbnb made my complaint about them when they disengaged themselves from the topic.
I did some further fact checking before sending off my latest complaint and found that Blake has five reviews from April meaning that he was actually able to re-let his apartment, after all. So, should we not be entitled to our money back for the nights that he re-let? He has also changed the description on his listing, adding ‘This building has not been renovated since the late 40s – so if you’re accustomed to staying at 5 star hotels… you want to keep looking as this place may not be for you!’ I may be paranoid but it feels like that comment is slightly aimed toward me?… Also, he has, without a doubt, uploaded new photographs onto the site… it sure does look cleaner. Worried much? He has also added that he will ‘be there to greet you upon your arrival…’
If he had done this for us, he could have saved us all this trouble as we would have met him initially, had a face to put to a complaint and all of this could have been dealt with a lot easier. Let’s hope he’s learned his lesson. I, myself, as well as many of my friends and family, have used Airbnb and have never had any trouble. We stayed in two other places during our trip and had absolutely no complaints, whatsoever. It seems, however, that in the event that a customer does wish to complain, they make it extremely difficult and do whatever they can to ignore your words. On my discovery of this Airbnb Hell website I felt slightly less alone in my complaint and thought that I would, as many others have, use this as a platform to get my voice heard.
Plus, as Airbnb cancelled our reservation to enable the listing to be rebooked, even though we stayed for one night our reservation was removed so we are unable to write a review. Well, this is your review. Airbnb has clearly washed its hands of this complaint, but, in my experience, a complaint should be dealt with until the complainant is reasonably satisfied with the resolution. Well, I am not reasonably satisfied. So, Airbnb, if you are reading this, what are you going to do? And for all you potential guests out there: stick to hotels.