Our Airbnb Hell story begins on May 28, 2017 when we decided to use the service to go to New York with our son who just graduated from high school. We requested that the room accommodate three adults. The listing for a “Cozy Studio by Forest Park Steps To Subway” came up in our search and we thought this would be perfect.
Our first contact with the host was to ask if this would be an appropriate place for three adults. She assured us it was and said she looked forward to having us stay in her studio. Prior to requesting this, we had read her reviews and were satisfied that this would work for us. Only one review was negative at that point; that was from someone complaining about the noisy upstairs neighbors, but she said the problem was “acoustic issues” that would be fixed.
We arrived on July 19th and immediately knew something was wrong. We were told to enter the unit from the back door. We walked inside and wondered if we were in the right place. There was a couch and a bed in the main part of the unit, along with a small refrigerator, and a microwave near the kitchen sink. We backtracked down the hallway to the back door and the first door was a toilet. There was a shower curtain with a shower behind it and then a small area with a shelf with towels. There was a queen bed, presumably for the three of us.
We immediately contacted the host and asked where the other bed was, hoping that the couch wasn’t to be used for that purpose. Our son was mortified by the lack of privacy. Clearly, the room with the toilet was hardly big enough to turn around in, let alone change one’s clothes. Her response seemed to be one of surprise that there were three of us. She assured us that a bed would be coming. This was around 6:30 and we were hungry from flying all day from Portland, Oregon.
We were a few blocks from a street in Queens that had restaurants, though no real suggestions on where to eat. We relied on Yelp since the host had merely stated there were “plenty of places” to eat nearby. We were eating dinner when she contacted us about the bed. She said her husband would be bringing it by and wondered if we were at the unit. I said we would be back within an hour. It was a little after 7:00. We left a few minutes later and went back to the unit and waited.
It was about 85 degrees and the place felt like a sauna. The windows would not open and there was only a large fan to circulate the already-humid air. Finally, around 10:00, her husband showed up. I told him the unit was not what we were expecting. We had told her that there were three of us and this place was clearly smaller and less private than we what we viewed in the photos. There were several photos showing the place with the same bed shot at different angles and with different bedding. The couch was in some of the photos and not in others. In retrospect, we should have noticed the pictures, which were the same, but we felt the perspective was skewed.
Her husband said, “Please do not say this was misrepresented.” These were his words – not ours. Obviously someone had used that phrase before because his defense of the unit was somewhat proactive. We went to bed shortly after he left and tried to fall asleep in an overly hot room with no ventilation.
About midnight, we heard the neighbors upstairs come home. I have no idea what their situation involved, but from the moment they entered their apartment, the noise level was elevated to shouting, crying, fighting, and stomping. It went on until 1:30 in the morning. There was noise that sounded like children screaming and crying and then running around above us.
At first we considered that the noise might end quickly and everyone would go to sleep, but it dragged on for 90 minutes. We were wide awake and wondering what options we had. We thought about vacating the unit, but at 1:30 in the morning, we had nowhere else to go. We were not at a place where we could call anyone to pick us up and go somewhere. When the noise finally died down, we went to sleep.
The next morning, we called Airbnb about our concerns. We explained our situation and our desire to move. Of course they called the host and told her what had happened. She said she did not “misrepresent the space” and if we had a problem with the neighbors, we should have called her to let her know. It was 1:30 in the morning. We had no idea if we were in danger of some sort – we were told not to contact them because they were the residents of the apartment above (which at one point was attached to our dwelling with a door and stairs to the basement).
I suppose we could have called the police to complain, but that seemed a bit extreme. In addition, we had committed to staying there at least until the next day. Our imaginations, at this point, were running a bit wild.
We called Airbnb the next day and told them what had happened. They said if we wanted to leave, we should cancel the reservation, which was followed up by a request from the host. She thought she could open it back up for someone since it was such a desirable place and it was Thursday before a summer weekend. She also offered us a refund for two nights of our reservation. Considering that we had spent over $900, we felt that this wasn’t really enough. We cancelled the reservation and moved into a hotel in Brooklyn. We felt we would deal with the fallout later.
Airbnb claimed they called me several times in New York, which is an outright lie because I had my phone with me the entire time and there were no phone calls from Airbnb. We received an email from Airbnb on our last full day in New York (July 25th) asking if our issue had been resolved and they would consider the case closed if so.
The next day, as we were waiting for our flight out, I wrote an email to them explaining how I felt the situation was not resolved. I felt that adding a toilet and shower to an unlivable space and advertising it as a cozy studio was not acceptable and that yes, the place was misrepresented. We were not happy with the situation and were not happy with Airbnb.
After we returned to our home in the Portland, Oregon area, and the case was not settled satisfactorily, and after hearing from yet another “case manager” at Airbnb, I requested our case be reopened. I got a response from another case manager, who offered us $200. I had requested $794 (which was the amount on the dispute area on the Airbnb website). I was told that the host had three days to give us a response, which not surprisingly, she refused. She also said she hoped we wouldn’t use Airbnb in the future.
At this point we had forfeited our right to give an honest review because it was past the 14 days allowed. During that entire 14-day period, we were still disputing the charges and hoping we could come to some reasonable resolution. By the way, the host’s offer of two night’s reimbursement also dried up. I made screenshots of all the correspondence because I was somewhat certain Airbnb would take them down.
This host, in my opinion, is a scam artist and crook. Her place was clearly misrepresented and all this could have been avoided had she just said, “I don’t think this place would work for you,” at the outset. The other issue I have with Airbnb is that our complaints have always come back to the host and her story is the one accepted by Airbnb. I feel like we, as paying customers, are discounted in favor of their “host” who really has the final say. I mean, after all, we wouldn’t want to give up the cash cow that helps drive Airbnb’s business?