Recently I had an experience that will make me reconsider ever using Airbnb again. I have been coming to Brussels for work on regular basis, usually renting a room and meeting a real Airbnb host. I never had a problem, and always exchanged positive and genuine reviews. Recently I had to stay longer. Therefore I brought my little daughter with me and an au pair, and to play it safe decided to splurge on a nice apartment in a safe neighborhood. I paid 1000 EUR for 11 days in a one-bedroom apartment, and chose a nine-time verified host.
When we arrived there was no host – just a key in a safety lock. There was no bedroom either, just an alcove off the main living space that contained a kitchenette in one corner and a bathroom in the other corner of what once was a very grand parlor. The apartment had stale air, a lot of grime and dust, electricity provided by extension cords as the wall sockets did not work, a door handle falling off, a non-working stove, and no real bed frames but sort of collapsible beds in the middle of the room (the parlor had ornate, curvy walls – there was not a clean line long enough to put a bed against it).
The host warned us in advance very politely that the stove was not working; after one look at it, it was obvious that it had not worked since the 1980’s. It was a big hassle to have it repaired or replaced, so the host tried to shift the responsibility on us, via phone and email. We never really met him. I had the impression he was running the place, or rather several places (as he said in an email), on behalf of someone else. In the middle of the first week the legs on one of the collapsible beds started falling off – probably because they did not fit the frame and were fastened with the plastic tape. Foolishly I just propped the bed with my suitcase, not willing to enter into another marathon of email excuses which took, in case of the stove, three days. The host was relentless in his correspondence.
Working from 9:00 to 18:30, with two people depending on me for everything, I had no energy or time to look for another apartment. We left very early on the final day, not having seen our host. A couple days later, I received a request for 15 EUR for the new bed legs. I refused, and got myself into trouble. Next came the request for 80 EUR. I refused again, pointing out that the damage was already done and patched up with sellotape. The host then blamed it on a previous guest, claiming he had not noticed, but did not retract the claim.
To make a long story short, the Airbnb dispute resolution board sided with the host. Which makes me wonder – how do they verify the hosts ? Who deals with the disputed issues – is it some real guy or an algorithm? There were obvious loopholes in our host’s arguments. He proved to be not completely honest from the beginning, but also very polite and knew how to use the right words (“never in my life”, “hundreds of happy guests”, “in all of my apartments”, etc.) or rather how to work the system. What also made me angry was the fact that the damage compensation was charged to my credit card by Airbnb UK Limited couple of hours before the dispute decision arrived from the Airbnb Sydney unit. This seems to have gone very far from the notion of a simple platform linking authentic hosts and guests together.