Last month my partner, young daughter and I checked in to our new reservation at the delightfully named Shell Cottage, planning on staying for a month. I’d paid over £2,000 up front to Airbnb – a bargain price, or so I thought, as it was listed at £160 per night and we’d got a great discount for a month’s stay. When we opened the door a stale, musty smell hit our senses, mingled with a strong aroma of artificial air fresheners which was obviously an unsuccessful attempt to mask the bad smell. We discovered the living room furniture was ancient and stained and there were a lot of marks on the paintwork. Clearly the place hadn’t been decorated for a long time, but we figured maybe we could put up with it if we could open the windows and let the smell out. We are between homes at the moment, having had to move out of our long term rental in August and still completing work on the new home we purchased last year. We had been staying in Poole for a month and it took us a couple of days to move all our belongings from that apartment to this new one. So we didn’t stay in the cottage until the third night.
It was at this point we discovered the state of the beds, carpets and bathroom. The mattresses were of varying degrees of age and uncomfortableness, on one the springs were actually visible through the thin fabric covering. The bed linen was so old and musty it made us feel sick. The carpets were dark brown, covering a multitude of sins, but they were clearly very old and smelly. At one point I decided to get closer for a sniff – the smell of old feet and dirt was quite overpowering. How the host could expect us to be happy about letting our 14-month old crawl over them is beyond me! And the smell from under the bath was just as bad – years of accumulated dirt in a damp room led to a strong smell of stinky socks emanating from the area. Plus there was mould around the bath and the shower didn’t stay on the shower rail – to use it, you had to hold it or prop it up with one hand.
It was 9:30 pm on this third night that I wrote to the host to tell her how deeply unhappy I was about staying with my family in accommodations with such a catalogue of problems. I listed every issue, from the smell to the stains, uncomfortable beds to mould. I told her I was not prepared to keep my family in such unsanitary conditions and for the sake of our health and well-being we would be checking out the next day. The host’s reply could not have been sweeter. She seemed so kind and understanding, sympathising with us being between homes. She ended her email by saying she would contact Airbnb the next day about our request to leave early and that “as stated on our website, a refund is made after satisfactory inspection of the property when you have vacated the premises.”
I felt so relieved to know we would have no trouble getting a refund. We spent the whole Sunday packing up all our belongings and moving out. Two days later (as I thought it was purely a formality) I cancelled our booking through Airbnb and requested from the host a refund of the £2139 I had paid. I was shocked when she declined to give any refund and stated we were not entitled to any refund in accordance with the long-term cancellation policy as we’d “cancelled our holiday on a whim” and that our “criticisms of the holiday home were just… our personal opinion” and claimed no one else had complained. The tone of her email was so brusque – the absolute opposite of the sweet charm of her email on the day we checked out. I felt so angry and sick.
I immediately contacted Airbnb to tell them what had happened and sent them photos and video evidence of the visual issues. However, the main issue was the disgusting smell of the carpets, the beds, living room furniture and from under the bath and the second main issue was the uncomfortable beds, both of which you’d have to visit the property to experience. Airbnb did their best to be helpful, but they confirmed that the host had a strict cancellation policy under which a guest leaving early from a long term reservation was not entitled to any refund. But I had not simply “cancelled on a whim” – I felt I had no choice but to leave for the health of my family. Airbnb agreed that the bathroom looked like it needed attention and liaised with the host on my behalf.
What I didn’t realise was that Airbnb had already paid out all my money to the host, so they would have to try to re-coup it from her. Judging by the tone of her last email I felt my chances of getting it back were slim. They managed to get me a 20% refund for cleanliness issues and an Airbnb credit for their fees. But that still leaves me more than £1,500 out of pocket without any clear next step to attempt to get my money back. Airbnb tell me they have done all they can, and it’s the host who has my money. I feel disgusted and powerless, and would like to share my story here in the hope that others will benefit from our experience and possibly be able to suggest what, if anything, I could do now to get my money back.