My wife and I booked a stay at a Beacon Hill area studio in the city of Boston recently and we had a horrible experience. The experience was so bad that it will make us reconsider ever using Airbnb again as guests. Although we really like the idea of Airbnb and we have been strong supporters, we feel that we will likely be victimized by the poor way that Airbnb operates in dealing with guest complaints. We’ll likely lose a bit of money and be left out in the cold even though we have been champions for Airbnb and have contributed to their bottom line.
The listing we booked presented the rental as the “Perfect Little Stay in Beacon Hill”. The unit was everything but perfect; it was overpriced, tiny, not clean, and not safe for us at all health wise. We have been using Airbnb as hosts for some time now and we’ve had nothing but wonderful experiences with the guests who have stayed with us. The guests love our property and the services we provide and we love having them. These experiences led us to try out Airbnb as guests. This turned out to be a huge mistake.
We selected the Boston property because of its location. Beacon Hill is a nice area – we figured – and the few photos online for the property looked good, though there were no photos of the building, which should have been a red flag. We communicated with the manager of the property online before arriving (initially asking if they had availability for a second night and if there was a place we could drop off a bag before checking in) and those communications went smoothly. So far so good.
However, when we arrived, things started to go bad from the start. We were a bit surprised by the overall condition of the building: the front door had a missing lock, the entrance was extremely dirty and in need of repair, there were boxes all over the entrance that we had to climb over, trash bags and laundry bags were piled all over the place, and there were big stains all over the carpet. It had the overall appearance of a drug dealer’s apartment.
We found the key and went to the unit only to discover that the door was unlocked. We dropped off our bag, but as we tried to lock the door we discovered that there were problems with the lock. Fortunately as we were leaving, the cleaning person came by. We showed him the lock problems and he told us that he would take care of it. He struggled with the lock as well and finally was able to latch it. This made us wonder about the security of the building and the bag that we were going to store.
Our first impression of the property was that it looked like poorly managed student housing – cheap, dark, dingy, not decorated well, very bare bones – not something you’d typically expect to see in a nice area like Beacon Hill. However, we figured this is what we selected and we’d make the most of it. Unfortunately, things got a lot worse. I came back to the room in the later afternoon to rest up. The room had been cleaned, but I was really surprised by the condition of the room. It was very tiny, poorly decorated, dark, no frills, had lots of wear (the wood floor was badly scarred up, stains on the bathroom walls, the shower had mold, a window was painted over with latex paint, there was caulk peeling in the bathroom, the view outside the window was of things being dumped in the alley).
I was hoping that my wife wouldn’t be disappointed when she got there and really took a look around. Again, these aesthetic issues were only the tip of the iceberg. After resting in the room for a couple of hours and turning the A/C on, I started to get very ill. I started having trouble breathing, was very congested, developed a bad headache, and felt nauseous. When my wife got there I felt really bad so she took a look around. She noticed several gallons of chemical products and garbage bags of stuff strewn about the stairways directly outside our room. She also noticed some odd chemical smells. We also were concerned about the condition of the A/C as it had some moldy odors. The longer we stayed in the room, the worse we felt.
My wife suggested we go out for dinner to get out of the room and get some fresh air. We did and after about an hour I started to feel better. My wife suggested that we go look for a hotel to stay the rest of the night. Fortunately, we were able to get a booking at the Bostonian, not far away. We went back to the room and my wife made me stay out on the street as she went back in and packed up our things and took all of the bedding off of the bed as we were instructed to do by the printed house rules. We never really used the property, such as the shower or fridge, as we spent so little time there. We were basically in panic mode because of the condition of the building and the fact that the building and room were making us sick. The whole experience felt like a frightening Steven King short story.
Fortunately, we had a good stay at the Bostonian. We checked in around midnight, though this set us back as the last minute booking was very expensive. I feel that we made the right call as one’s health, safety, and well being should always come first. As bad as the limited experience with the property was (poor condition, toxic environment, false advertising, etc.) what was even more troubling was the reaction and later communication with the property manager who listed the property.
I sent her a message in the morning as soon as I got up to tell her about how the property made us ill. In one message she seemed concerned but then in another message she seemed to be blaming us for the situation. This is very wrong to do from a hospitality standpoint, something a professional would never do. I didn’t go into a lot of details about the poor condition of the property, but did tell her we couldn’t stay in the unit and had to move to a hotel because of the condition of the property as something in the room or building was making us ill.
I wanted to give the host an opportunity to address the problem as I would if I were a host and one of my guests with a problem contacted me. She responded by saying that she would look into the matter and she offered to provide us with a 50% refund. We never actually asked for a refund; we just sent her a note about the problem we had with staying in the room. I did respond to her to indicate that her refund offer would be acceptable since we didn’t spend the night there.
She then turned around and changed her mind later in the day (after the Airbnb 24-hour complaint policy would expire) about providing a refund, indicating that she felt we did stay here, which of course was not true. So basically after all of the abuse we suffered by staying here, she conned us. It became clear later that she was just working the Airbnb policy system about guest complaints to her advantage.
For anyone who gets in this situation, be very careful. Make sure you find some way to contact management at Airbnb management immediately instead of trying to work out things with an unprofessional host who can take advantage of you. For this experience from hell we paid over $260 for a one-night booking. This property had a serious environmental problem that effected our health. The host was not forthright and in our opinion was using Airbnb to operate as a slumlord.
My wife took a lot of pictures of the condition of the property and we have our hotel bill to show that we did not spend the night there. We are trying to make an official complaint to Airbnb management to see if they can step in and provide some remedy, but from my quick research this is probably not very likely or will take massive effort on my part. Problems like this hurt the Airbnb experience for all of us. I really believe that Airbnb management needs to screen hosts better. I was always very honest and professional in my communications with this host, who unfortunately did not operate with the same standards.
My best advice after having quite a bit of experience operating as an Airbnb host is that you have to be very careful when you rent a property as a guest. Airbnb seems mainly concerned about protecting hosts and not guests. They seem to make it really difficult for guests to contact Airbnb and make complaints. If an unprofessional host takes advantage of a guest there’s not much a guest can do to get satisfaction, especially if the host is not honest and professional. Evidentially this will come back to haunt Airbnb. Just look at what’s happened to Uber and the company’s CEO.
I have one last point to make, and this is a very important one. In the earlier days of Airbnb many of the rentals listed were made available by actual owners of properties who took some care and pride in what they offered. This is really changing in a big way. Many listings that show up now (especially in competitive larger cities) are by sales people and shady real estate people just trying to make a quick buck by renting inferior properties by the night. They do not offer any kind of hospitality; they just want to make a big profit and exploit the marketplace. My wife calls these new generation of operators “Airbnb Slumlords.”
If you see a host like this offering so many properties with limited photos and generic descriptions, be very careful. After looking closer into the situation we encountered in Boston, I realized that this is what happened to us. The person we dealt with was operating as an agent with a group of others, marking up inferior properties, and trying to take advantage of less experienced guests. So called “hosts” like this know how to work the online sources such as Airbnb to their advantage. As a guest, be really careful as this will likely become a much bigger problem with Airbnb. It could really hold back Airbnb’s growth if they don’t find a good way to deal with this problem. I will certainly spend countless hours contacting Airbnb and trying to inform the public about my experience and knowledge. Maybe something good will come of it. I’d love to hear from others about their stories related to this.