Using Airbnb During a Natural Disaster

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There have been a lot of natural disasters devastating areas across the world, from the recent wildfires in California and Hurricane Maria across the Caribbean. There’s no doubt this won’t be the last of them.

Although Airbnb has infiltrated nearly every corner of the globe, the recent hurricanes have been particularly noteworthy – at least, from a hospitality perspective – because they struck areas popular with vacationers at generally pleasant times of the year. The sudden appearance of storms and earthquakes can make cancelling a trip a necessity for safety or a choice as a matter of comfort.

When you’re using Airbnb during a natural disaster or have a reservation for one when one is predicted, assuming your life isn’t in any immediate danger you probably have some concerns regarding your plans, your money, and your continued safety.

 

Prior to Departure

If you booked an Airbnb in Florida before one of the hurricanes was announced, you technically qualify for a full refund under the Extenuating Circumstances clause of the cancellation policy:

“Significant natural disasters or severe weather incidents impacting the location of destination or location of departure.”

The procedure, however, may not be readily apparent unless you read everything thoroughly. If you made a reservation and then discover a hurricane, earthquake, or other natural disaster is scheduled to hit or has already occurred in the same area (not necessarily the property itself), you’re supposed to cancel immediately, regardless of whether the host has a strict cancellation listed. Inform your host via the Airbnb messaging system that the natural disaster is the sole reason you are cancelling. Then, as long as you file a claim with Airbnb within two weeks, you might be entitled to a full refund.

“Might” is the term Airbnb uses on their own website, and with good reason; even following these exact guidelines, we at Airbnb Hell have heard of Airbnb not honoring a cancellation refund for a Puerto Rico property in Hurricane Irma’s path:

“Both of these reasons [for cancellation] were valid in this case. I was told by Airbnb that this did not meet the definition and they suggested that I rebook with the host or try to work it out with her. It amazes me that this was their response and that they provided no assistance whatsoever. It is disturbing to know that both the host and Airbnb are willing to risk the wellbeing of their guests to make money. The current state of Puerto Rico is still a disaster area and the money I lost is small to what they are suffering. I do wish I could have that money back to spend time with my family but it would have been even better to be able to donate it to my family still in Puerto Rico.”

 

During a Natural Disaster

Everything aforementioned might seem just like small potatoes when you consider guests are safe and sound outside the disaster area – not that hundreds or thousands of dollars should be wasted. However, what should you do if you’re currently staying at an Airbnb and a natural disaster is supposed to strike? This situation may apply to those in Bali facing a volcanic eruption.

The same Extenuating Circumstances should apply whether you’re cancelling prior to a trip or already staying in the Airbnb, though naturally a refund would only be issued for the nights you didn’t stay. However, neither of these situations takes into account whether a host decides to cancel due to the natural disaster.

There could be a variety of reasons for this. Some hosts use their primary residence on Airbnb and may wish to return to remove any valuables and secure windows, etc. Others may take a nobler angle and simply not wish to risk the lives of any guests, regardless of whether they’re willing to complete their scheduled stay.

In any case, this reason for cancellation is just as likely to be honored by Airbnb on the host’s side as it is on the guest’s, particularly because hosts may cancel due to “severe property damage or unforeseen maintenance issues that directly impact the ability to host safely.” If this means kicking out paying guests who want or have no choice but to wait out the storm, so be it.

 

What can you do if things don’t go your way?

If you’re unable to get a refund or find yourself homeless with no chance to escape the upcoming emergency, there is always the option of turning to social media. During deadly hurricanes and earthquakes, so many eyes are on social media, including Airbnb’s PR department; the last story they want spreading like wildfire – hopefully, that’s not the disaster you’re escaping – is one of the company stranded or defrauding guests.

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The Pros and Cons of Using Airbnb in Other Countries

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Airbnb may have started in San Francisco to fill the needs of visiting business travelers as guests and vacationing homeowners as hosts, but obviously it’s become something much, much more… and not all good. Plenty of guests swear by the platform for all their vacations, domestic and international, but if something should go wrong, where would that leave them? Here are some of the factors to consider when you book an Airbnb in another country.

Pros:
– Even if you’re renting an entire house or apartment, an Airbnb is a window into another culture abroad: how homes are decorated, what foods people eat, how they cook, where they live.
– You can have that “at home” feeling instead of the sterile cookie-cutter environment of a hotel room or a crowded hostel.
– Airbnb properties can be cheaper than hotels, and don’t always conform to peak season prices.

Cons:
– Checking in and meeting the host is difficult if you don’t plan ahead by getting a local SIM card or arranging a place to meet.
– Your host may not speak your language. Though this isn’t always a problem if the Airbnb is pristine and in working order, if something goes wrong, you’re going to have a hard time explaining it.
– Should there be a major problem with the property or the host, it’s a little daunting to just walk out the door into a foreign country without a backup plan.
– It’s harder to report a scam or fake listing for some of the reasons above. Airbnb scams in NYC have been so successful with international guests because they’re unfamiliar with the area, may not be able to stay in touch with Airbnb – calling online instead of by phone – and can’t always arrange replacement accommodation on short notice.
– Though there are plenty of Airbnb properties near tourist attractions and accessible by public transportation, these are people’s homes; they’re scattered across the countryside, suburbia, and the city and don’t always make it easy for travelers to get in and out.

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What to do if your Neighbors are Airbnb Guests

Whether it’s legal in your area or not, Airbnb has done a horrible job cracking down on listings that shouldn’t be there. As a result, many residents in big cities have been complaining about guests moving in and out at all hours, throwing parties, and generally just disrupting life in the building or neighborhood. While it’s tempting to think neighbors can just calmly walk next door and say “please, stop it,” there are a number of issues to overcome, not the first of which may be a language barrier by international guests. Other more pressing ones may include the entitlement guests feel at having paid for a vacation home, then being told to shush. What are some of the actions you can take when you discover your neighbors are Airbnb guests?

1. Alert the Owner and Homeowner’s Association
Some homeowners and hosts are completely absent from properties they rent out, save a visit or two every month to ensure the building isn’t on fire. Though this can make them difficult to contact, it’s far from impossible; as a resident, you should have the contact information for the Homeowner’s Association for your home, and reporting an illegal sublet isn’t taken lightly.

Certain hosts may be blissfully unaware of the negative impact of their Airbnb business on the community; they just want to raise a little income. Alerting them that things are not all sunshine and lollipops in the area may get them to reconsider, or at least be more selective in guests.

2. Call the police
If things get bad enough – shouting at 2 AM, violence, theft, property damage – the homeowner is probably the last one you should call. Calling the police won’t necessarily result in the guests getting evicted that day or stop the Airbnb from being rented, but a report will establish a paperwork trail that can be used down the line.

3. Just for fun: the passive aggressive approach
If you’ve ever had an annoying roommate or neighbor and didn’t respond to their petty infractions because you wanted to be the bigger person, there’s no better time to live out your passive aggressive fantasy than with Airbnb guests. If all else has failed and you don’t have any hope of removing them from the property or preventing the host from renting again, you might as well enjoy yourself at their expense (assuming they deserve it).

There are few repercussions to such actions – the police won’t get involved because you should have already tried to get them to do the same to the guests – other than making the guests’ Airbnb experience a bad once, resulting in the host getting a bad review, and reducing the likelihood of future guests. As the real residents in the neighborhood, you’re morally justified in annoying the Airbnb Hell out of disruptive guests… just be careful of your safety and well-being.

Four Things You Can Do if Your Airbnb Host is a CREEP

1. Get the Airbnb hell out of there!
It doesn’t matter if you’re in a foreign country where you can’t speak the language. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a car and the host picked you up. If you feel your well being is in danger, no amount of money you’re saving by using Airbnb is worth it.

2. Use physical force 

In some cases, females Airbnb guests who booked with female hosts are dismayed and often threatened to find this was an outright lie, and their hosts are men with whom they haven’t spoken. Though some of these may seem perfectly innocent from the host’s side (e.g. “He’s my brother! What’s the problem?”), there have been cases in which both female and male hosts have become physically abusive.

When this is the case, it can make someone of either gender panic about the repercussions of pushing someone aside to escape, even when they feel their freedom and safety is in jeopardy. If you’re unfamiliar with local laws and don’t speak the language, it might be best to just disappear rather than reporting what happened to the police – this suggestion isn’t made lightly, but with the knowledge there are corrupt officers in many countries, even developed ones, and Airbnb users’ word may not be accepted if they can’t explain themselves in the local language or understand local laws may favor men over women.

3. Call for backup
If you’re in a position where you can’t easily leave, or feel like leaving would be dangerous because your host is physically intimidating or otherwise, try to stall… even if this means locking yourself in your room or a bathroom to put some distance between yourself and the host. If you have access to the wifi network, or a local cell phone number, call a friend or someone reliable to come over and escort you out; they’ll act as a witness if it comes to that. Call the police if necessary.

This isn’t always an option if you’re truly on your own in a foreign country and can’t speak the language with the police, but if there’s anyone you trust in the area, now is the time to call in a marker.

4. Report everything to Airbnb afterwards
This certainly doesn’t help you in the heat of the moment, but – let’s be honest – neither will Airbnb customer service. Assuming you can actually get through to a live person within minutes, cancel your reservation, and arrange for another, you’re still going to have to deal with a possibly belligerent host who is wondering why you cancelled. As we’ve seen here on Airbnb Hell, sometimes there are no happy endings when it comes to creepy hosts. Because the stay wasn’t completed, reviews may not be allowed. Because
you were rightfully more concerned with getting out of a bad situation, you didn’t record evidence Airbnb could use for a refund or to ban the host. If you decide to just leave and not involve Airbnb, you’ll still be charged for a stay and have to look for a hotel… but it’s better than the alternative.

Three Types of Airbnb SCAMS

One of the most common and heartbreaking stories we hear at Airbnb Hell is about scammers. Newbies to the website think they’re paying a legitimate host for their dream vacation, when in fact they’re getting a room in a flophouse, or nothing at all.  What are some of the scams we’ve heard about?

 

Bait and Switch

It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book. Airbnb guests book what appears to be an amazing property at a more than reasonable price, only to be told on arrival or just when it’s too late to look for alternative accommodations that the house in the pictures isn’t available due to an “Airbnb glitch”, but what luck! The host has a comparable property at a different address.

News flash: the first listing never existed. It was all a lure to get you to pay and then force you to accept a worse deal because you’re now desperate and in an unfamiliar city. The biggest giveaway here is a lack of reviews, and a price too good for the quality.

 

Paying by Wire Transfer

NEVER, never pay for an Airbnb reservation by clicking on an email link – no matter how authentic it may look – or a wire transfer directly from your bank. Airbnb is slow to crack down on fake listings like these brazenly telling guests to click on a link in their profile to book; the more clever ones wait until you make a legitimate booking or inquiry through Airbnb, then send you a fake email with Airbnb logos with payment instructions. In the end, Airbnb may continue to list the scammers but – as far as we’ve heard – has never refunded anyone.

 

Lying About Vermin

Scams on Airbnb can affect hosts as easily as guests, and this particular one is why Airbnb Hell got started in the first place. A seemingly normal guest makes a booking, is friendly in his communications, and arrives without incident. Near the end of his stay, he abruptly leaves, files a complaint with Airbnb claiming there were cockroaches, rats, or some other vermin on the property, and expects a 50% refund.

These scammers usually book longer stays so they can maximize their ill-gotten refund. They might even bring bugs onto the property so they can doctor photos. Airbnb policy hasn’t changed much to protect hosts from these types of lies.