This summer, my girlfriend and I stayed at an Airbnb in the South of France for three nights: a one bedroom apartment in the heart of the old city of Aix-en-Provence. We arrived around 6:00 PM. The young guy who greeted us hadn’t finished cleaning up the place yet, so we just left our bags there and went out for dinner.
Fast forward two days. It was around midnight and we had just gotten back to the apartment after a long day. We went to bed, exhausted. I woke up around 9:00 AM, walked into the living room to grab my laptop from the couch – no laptop. I looked around; no phone either. Maybe I left it in my bag? No bag. My girlfriend’s bag was also missing.
I noticed large black footsteps on the tile floor (looked like a construction worker’s boots). I noticed that the window was wide open. My girlfriend still had her cell phone; she kept it in the bedroom during the night. We did our best to stay calm and focused.
We called the host who said he would be there in about an hour (he lives in neighboring Marseille). Meanwhile we went to the local police office to file a report. When we got back, the host was there, searching for any damage to his property. At first he said it didn’t look like there was a break-in. I showed him the footsteps.
Then he blamed us for leaving the window open. I pointed out to him that it had been 110 degrees out, that we were up on the second floor, and that the apartment had no AC. I also pointed out to him that the other window in the living room was broken, and also the window in our bedroom (though that one has bars). He shrugged and blamed the damage on previous Airbnb guests.
Then his tone changed a bit. I think he realized that we were still in shock and at a loss about what to do next. He admitted that when we called him he suspected we were lying, but that he believed us now. He assured us that all would be taken care of, that he had insurance, as does Airbnb. That we would get compensated for our stolen goods (computers, wallets, bags, phone, etc.). He promised to help us as long as we didn’t mention anything about the break-in in our review.
Awkward pause. Then, more gently, he asked us to please check out as soon as possible, since new guests are coming, and he needed to clean the apartment. Another awkward pause. My girlfriend reminded me that we still had lots of stuff to take care of (calling our banks, credit cards, my phone company, getting cash somehow…) so we may as well head out anyway.
Once we started packing all our stuff, she also reminded me that he was a Superhost so he must know how to handle everything with the insurance. I expressed to him my concern about the next guests – maybe the burglar is targeting this apartment? He reassured me it was all fine, and that he would just tell the next guests to lock the windows before they go to bed.
Once we were out on the street, all the admin stuff took us longer, and we ended up having to stay in Aix for one more night. We called the Airbnb host in Avignon (the next town on our trip, where we had another booking for three nights) to tell him what had happened, and that we would only arrive the next day. He said no problem, but that he must charge us still for that unused night. We understand. It’s not his fault that we were victims of a break-in, after all.
It is at this moment that our vacation officially ends (not on paper, as we are still in France, but for all other practical matters) and the saga with Airbnb’s customer service begins. It was the usual progression of “we will call you back” then “please send us the police report for the Nth time” then “please send us all the receipts for the stolen items for the Nth time” then “sorry we can’t help you” then “we can offer you $100 as compensation” then finally “we can offer you $500 out of our goodwill and the case is now closed.”
It took three weeks of constant calling to get to that point. $500 barely covers 10% of what was stolen (not to mention the stay itself, the extra night in Aix, and the lost night in Avignon). That aside, what shocked me most was how little Airbnb seemed to care about our overall experience and about the safety of future guests at that specific Airbnb.
The host, on his end, was always “on vacation” or “busy” when we tried to reach him. He never filed a claim with his insurance (does he even have insurance, we began to wonder). He continued to rent the apartment to guests nonstop through the Airbnb platform.
I became a little paranoid: who knows how many times that apartment has gotten broken into? Who knows how many other former guests now wake up in the middle of the night from nightmares about a man breaking into their apartment? Airbnb knows, but not the rest of the Airbnb community, because we were cheated into not mentioning it in our review. I’m angry with myself for agreeing to that deal. I’m angry with Airbnb for not caring about anything or anyone excerpt for their own profit and growth. Let the truth be known.
UPDATE: Now at nearly four weeks since the incident, we managed to get a hold of the host. He began by apologizing that it didn’t work out with his insurance in the end. He assured us that he did his absolute best. The reason the claim was rejected? We left the window open.
We told him we had done our research on the topic – that an open window voids insurance in France only if the break-in happens on a first floor/garden level apartment. He insisted that his insurance told him otherwise. We asked for the type of insurance policy he has, but he refused to tell us.
Finally, clearly angry at this point, he told us the name of the insurance company, then hung up the phone. We tried calling him back, but he wouldn’t pick up.
We then called the insurance company he had just mentioned, gave them his name and address, explained the situation, and they informed us that a claim was never made. They also told us the type of insurance policy has has: the most basic policy (what in France they call “Assurance Habitation”), which only covers his own belongings in the case of a break-in. Definitely not the insurance policy one should have for a full-time Airbnb rental.
As we had suspected by this point, his whole promise of helping us get reimbursed for our stolen belongings was a charade – a way to manipulate us into not mentioning the break-in in our review during high-season.
As for Airbnb? They know the full story. We’re still waiting for the promised email from their elusive case manager.