Crime and Punishment under Airbnb’s Business Model

This morning I received a threatening robo-email from Airbnb titled “Remember: Cancellations impact your account.” I was charged $16 for speaking to a human at Airbnb, and had a threatening message telling me that “I’m off track” on my Airbnb Dashboard. The email listed the various penalties and punishments imposed upon hosts when they cancel a potential guest. Yesterday morning I cancelled my first guest because I felt that he was beyond creepy. Although I am super explicit about potential guests emailing me prior to booking to inquire about availability, this guest nevertheless used the Instant Book option at 3:00 AM (which I’ve since disconnected) to book a four-night stay, then modified to a three-night stay, two weeks in the future.

When I woke up in the morning, I checked him out and saw that he had only one previous Airbnb stay, which provided me with zero feedback about this person. Then I read his email, which began with “Hello, my lover” and it proceeded to go downhill from there. Needless to say, I was creeped out, so I cancelled the guest. Immediately, those dates were blocked by Airbnb and I was notified that I had been sanctioned.

Since yesterday, I’ve spoken to several customer service reps at Airbnb in an effort to get a resolution. That said, I cannot help feeling that there is a bigger issue at play here and it has to do about whether or not we, the hosts, and Airbnb are equal partners. If we are indeed partners, why then are we treated as adversaries? If we are partners, why does Airbnb threaten and intimidate us when we cancel a potential guest that makes us feel unsafe?

Hosts assume all the risk associated with having strangers in their home. I don’t have a problem with that. I have consented to having guests stay in my house. However, I have not consented to having someone in my house that makes me feel unsafe or uncomfortable. Airbnb demands that I make a quick decision, a judgement call, about whether on not to approve a guest. If I don’t act quickly, I get penalized. How can I do that when I have little to no information on this person? I’m not looking to waste anyone’s time.

As a seasoned traveller, I know that time is of the essence when guests are looking to book their accommodations.. Nevertheless, I also feel that I must be given the freedom to trust my instincts, which have rarely steered me wrong, especially when the site provides little or no data on a potential guest. All I’m saying is that safety must come first. Airbnb must take our safety concerns seriously, and not just pay lip service to the notion of host safety. If Airbnb were truly concerned about hosts’ comfort and safety, they would not punish hosts and make us jump through a million hoops when we dare to cancel a guest who makes us feel uncomfortable.

What would happen If a host gets seriously hurt or killed because Airbnb pressured him/her not to cancel a sketchy guest? I’m certain that Airbnb as a company would face a scandal and huge public backlash. The scandal would be “grist for the mill” for the many municipalities who vociferously object to home sharing. They could shut home sharing down because they would claim that it threatens public safety.

It would also most certainly become a PR nightmare similar to the one faced by Delta Airlines, when they somehow decided that it was a good idea to drag a 60-year-old doctor off an airplane that they themselves had overbooked. Delta had gotten away with treating passengers terribly for years, but that unfortunate incident focused a spotlight on the company’s greed, bad policies, and complete disregard for their guests. In short, it became a disaster of huge proportions. Everything was fine, until one day it wasn’t. If a host gets hurt because of Airbnb’s negligence, the Delta Airlines scandal will pale in comparison.

There are very few reasons that a responsible host would cancel a potential guest and forfeit making money. Most of us would do it only if we had real concerns regarding the guest. Airbnb is capable of tracking our bookings, our responses to guests, and the feedback we receive. The company is able to read guest reviews and determine how a host treats their guests. I am posting this because I am hoping that Airbnb will not be short-sighted, that they will think through their policies, and make host safety a priority and a core company value.

There are no “one size fits all” solutions. Perhaps cancellations ought to be judged on a case-by-case basis. Perhaps there should be a drop-down menu option, that allows hosts to cancel someone they deem unsuitable (even after they’ve booked automatically). Especially if the cancellation done within a reasonable time frame, which would allow the guest can find other accommodations. Please, let’s find a way that works for everyone.

Airbnb is a Useless Service that Holds Money Indefinitely

We booked three weeks’ accommodation in December 2016 for December 2017. At the time of booking there was a large variety of options to book from at varying prices. We needed to book in a particular resort because we were going to be holidaying with friends (they booked with a different agent).

Last week, nine months after booking, we received an email from Airbnb saying our host had cancelled our booking. For nine months, Airbnb held our money interest free. They appeared to think I should be grateful that they returned our money. At this point there is only one house available in this resort for five times the price. Everything else has been booked long ago. Airbnb just couldn’t care. I emailed them and spoke to them but they were not prepared to listen or help. They claim the host can cancel whenever they want with no compensation offered. Had we decided to cancel as guests we would have had to forfeit 50% of our money. I will never ever use Airbnb again.

Airbnb Unable to Handle Clients When a Host Double Books

The following is a letter that was sent to Airbnb:

Thank you for sending this email last Saturday. As per your request, we are am responding with receipts for our unnecessary lodging accommodations in Vancouver BC. Please find the following:

– Receipt from Poco Inn and Suites for the night of Sept 2nd, 2017

– Receipt from Expedia.com for the Budget Inn Patricia Hotel for the night of Sept 3rd, 2017

– Receipt for food is attached, though we are a little confused by this as you did not ask for food receipts over the phone.

Based on our phone conversation, it was our understanding that the $50 towards food was extended as a courtesy. We do not see the need to verify that we ate while on vacation. Nevertheless, a receipt from Sept 3rd is attached. We are aware that the amount on the food receipt exceeds the $50 you had extended to us. We do not expect a full reimbursement on this receipt. We expect Airbnb to uphold its obligations laid out in your email: $500 reimbursement for lodging and $50 toward food. We expect this to occur in an expedited manner. We expect an immediate reply to this email as well as same-day confirmation when the funds will be processed. We expect that the funds transfer will be completed by EOD Friday, September 8th, 2017.

Regarding our receipts, please note the following:

As you were equally aware during our phone conversation, finding lodging in Vancouver on such late notice was difficult. Our budget did not allow for high-priced rooms and I’m sure you will agree that hotel room prices tend to be higher when booking the same day, let alone in the early evening. Poco Inn and Suites was one of the only hotels in that area that had a room for under $300. Please be aware that this hotel was 30 miles away from our originally planned location. Also, once we completed our phone call with you (which lasted nearly 1.5 hours), it took us another hour on the phone to find a this room. The additional travel time to this hotel was also unwelcome. From a financial point of view, it is lucky we were able to use a credit card, but also unfortunate. I would hope that others who have experienced a similar dilemma were able to find cash on hand to cover Airbnb’s inability to find other lodgings.

The Budget Inn Patricia Hotel was cheap and available, but a quick look on Tripadvisor.com will inform you that the hotel is less than safe. Again, the travel time had been added to find this hotel but is disappointing to be confronted with safety concerns. We await your prompt reply to the above.

We are greatly disappointed in Airbnb and its apparent lack of preparedness to take care of situations such as this. In our case, a host reneged on her obligation and we were unnecessarily thrust in to a situation that cost us more money out of pocket as well as cost us a great deal of wasted time – time that was intended for vacation, not for talking to customer service and looking for last-minute lodging on a very busy weekend. This loss of funds and time were completely unnecessary had Airbnb a stronger vetting process to avoid hosts who are uncommunicative and irresponsible. Airbnb’s options, as you described them over the phone, are weak strategies to protect users of your service.

Option 1: We, the clients could find new lodging using the Airbnb app. But as you were quickly able to understand by your own searches, this was simply next to impossible. On that day there were no Airbnb listings available within our budget.

Option 2: “Instant Book”. This seems like a good solution on the surface, but as we understood from your description of this option, we were expected to accept a new booking sight unseen. This is unreasonable. We asked for more details on the location, room size etc. and in the time it took you to look up this basic information, the room was booked. We are surprised that your customer service team is not better equipped to find listings more quickly and with greater detail.

Once Airbnb’s first two options were quickly exhausted, you offered to reimburse us for our hotel costs. However, you were clear that Airbnb has no way of booking a hotel for its displaced clients. This left us to find last-minute lodging, thereby defeating the entire purpose of using Airbnb in the first place. It also seems clear that Airbnb is incapable of vetting their hosts. As you’ll recall, when we arrived at our host’s location, we followed her instructions very carefully. Her instructions were sent out automatically and, ironically, mentioned she required clients to be in contact with her prior to arrival as she “had been burned in the past”. We can verify that we attempted to contact her several times.

However, we never heard back from her on Sept 2nd, nor have we received any communication since. As you will also recall, on Sept 2nd you made two unsuccessful attempts to contact her. When we arrived at the host’s location we followed the host’s instructions and went to the rented room. As per her instructions, the door was open. However, upon entering we found the room was unready and still contained the luggage and personal affects of another client. There was another resident at the house. He informed us that the other guests were out of the city but had no intention of leaving as they were under the impression that they were allowed to stay.

We would prefer to leave a review on this host’s profile – but this situation does not feel safe. To write a review, a user must allow a host to write a review of the user. However, we are hesitant to write a review (and thereby warn other Airbnb clients) that this host was negligent. Why should a client who was stood up by a host be required to allow the host to submit any review at all? I hope that customers can expect Airbnb to address these problems. Indeed, you mentioned over the phone that we were not the first to experience difficulties on that day and in that location.

This was our second experience with irresponsible hosts. Our first was a host who cancelled our reservation 12 hours before check-in, also for the same weekend and in Vancouver BC. We booked another location on Sept 2nd and received confirmation as well. If Airbnb is unable to process same-day reservations, or if Airbnb is unable to provided hosts the proper support they need, then Airbnb needs to step up.

The bottom line is this: Airbnb allowed a host to double book a room; Airbnb allowed a host to remain out of contact with a client; Airbnb allowed a client to become displaced because the client trusted the integrity of the services that Airbnb offers. By not vetting your hosts and by leaving clients for fend for themselves when stood up or double booked, it is clear that Airbnb is more interested in making a profit in the easiest and cheapest way possible than looking after its clients and therefore Airbnb’s own reputation.

Your services cannot be trusted and this is too bad. Your business concept is a good one. Perhaps you should do more to make it function well. It is clear from a quick Google search that Airbnb has many problems protecting clients from unethical behavior by hosts: Airbnb Hell came up quite quickly. I’m sure a more thorough search would reveal much more. We will be posting our experience to social media in hopes of adding our voices to a growing chorus of dissatisfaction with Airbnb’s sloppy business practices. In the mean time, we truly hope that Airbnb can become a better business, or that some other entity can step in where you left off.

Evicted by Owners Illegally Converting to Airbnb Hotel

In June 2017, my apartment building was sold to new owners. Within two weeks, the new owners converted one full apartment in the building into an Airbnb, which is illegal if the host is not present in NYC. Day and night, guests cycled in and out of the building. They were loud, rude, and unneighborly. By the first week of July, the owners served my family, who have lived in the building for seven years, with an eviction notice, as well as the other long-time tenants of the building. It is September and our former apartment is now listed on Airbnb. Rather than being a year-round apartment for a family, it allows visitors to treat a place where people live and work as a playground. Airbnb has allowed building owners to turn apartments into hotels, destroying neighborhoods, communities, and worsening housing availability and affordability in a city with a 2% vacancy rate.

Sweet Dreams in the Dungeon, Hope There’s no Fire

A while ago, I stayed in an Airbnb in Southern France, in a very charming little village. It was big, it was cheap, and there was a nice roof terrace, but the host wasn’t entirely straightforward about a major issue: two of the bedrooms were in a damp, dark basement, only accessible via steep and rickety stairs and without any fire escape. One of the bedrooms did not have any windows at all. It was basically a cellar with two beds in it. The walls weren’t even plastered. The other room only had a tiny opening near the ceiling, which was out of reach, impossible to open, and of no use as an emergency exit.

If this had been a properly regulated holiday rental, these rooms would have never been allowed to be classified as bedrooms. The basement bathroom did not have door handles and my partner managed to lock himself in for a good half hour until we rescued him.

For the first couple nights I refused to sleep in the basement, instead hunkering down in the extremely dusty living room with my kids. However, when my son, who has a dust allergy, started coughing, we had no choice but to sleep in the basement. All our clothes ended up smelling damp. Every night I had problems falling asleep because I was worried. If there had been any kind of issue, an electrical fire (the wiring also looked dubious) for instance, this could have been very dangerous for us.

I did not complain as I did not make the booking myself but I will not use Airbnb again. There is no guarantee that what you get will be fit for human habitation or safe in the event of an emergency. That’s why hotels charge more: because they have to comply with regulations and the taxes they pay fund health and safety inspections by local municipalities. You may save money on Airbnb but you might die. Sorry to put it in such stark terms, but it’s as bad as that and I’ve learnt my lesson.

Never Again: Airbnb Holds Payment for Thirty Days?

Airbnb is a joke. They got their money. My guests came and stayed at my house. I chose PayPal as to how I wanted to receive my money; the system told me I would have to wait 3 to 5 business days, which was cool with me. I called today to check on the money and talked to a non-native English speaker. I couldn’t understand everything he was saying but he told me that they were sending my money to my Paypal account today. Then he put me on hold for about 40 minutes and never returned. I hung up, called back, and talked to an American English speaker. She informed me that since this was my first time using Airbnb without a certain number of guests, hosts have to wait 30 days to get their payout. Are you serious? What’s the reason I have to wait if all my credentials check out? I’ll never use Airbnb again. I will be taking down my profile and anything I have on this website. There’s no reason for me to wait 30 days for a payout; it’s ridiculous.

Multiple Infestations of Bugs and Mice at Airbnb

The first (and last) time I traveled using Airbnb I got to my first cabin and it looked beautiful. However, when I went to have a shower, the water smelled so bad of rotten eggs (hydrogen sulfide) that I couldn’t put my head under the water in the shower. For two days I avoided showering because of the nausea the smell caused. The next morning there were mouse feces all over the buns in the cupboard, the dishes, and the outside of the fridge… hello Hantavirus. That same night mosquitoes snuck in through the cracks at the top of the door.

On to the next Airbnb. On the second day of our stay, I was sweeping and found what looked like live and dead cockroaches, some larva, and many many spiders (both dead and alive in five different places in the rental unit). When I contacted Airbnb they asked for pictures, which I sent. They claimed the pictures were not enough evidence and refused to help me. I then called a health inspector who wrote a report which included building deficiencies. Airbnb does not require inspections to ensure building codes are safe or health inspections. This is the first and last Airbnb experience for me.

Airbnb Only Bothers to Protect Hosts and their Reviews

Do not use Airbnb. They only protect their hosts and not the guests. Our Miami condo was cancelled by the hosts one hour before check-in (literally as our plane landed I received a notice, and not even an apology). I’ve been trying to work with Airbnb the past three weeks and they even removed my bad review of their host, wiping their record “clean” on a technicality that I shared information about the case. When I said I’d rewrite it to omit what was not allowed, they refused and still removed my review, so consumers would never know the hosts or Airbnb did this. I can’t believe how their support is very one sided and favors the hosts. Trying to get their call number to report the issue as the issue is happening is like finding a needle in a haystack. Their call number is nowhere to be found on their site unless you click on at least six different links and you have to read everything to just figure out what to do. During the entire complaint, case managers that handled your issue refuse to talk live to you on the phone; they handle everything by email. If you must use Airbnb, do not use this host. They have four properties: I think two in Miami and two in other countries. They are based in Croatia and use some property managers in their Miami condos.

Did the Full Eclipse Motivate this Cancellation?

Our cancellation by a host in Portland, Oregon was issued about a week before the arrival date. The excuse given was pipe repair and the apartment was to be closed from August 18th. This booking was made well ahead of August 21st so that we could see the full solar eclipse. At the time of the cancellation all reasonable Airbnb accommodation was gone; most hotels were fully booked and those that were not were asking astronomical rates. We could not find anything and have changed our itinerary and have to forgo seeing the full eclipse (a once in a lifetime experience). When asked for proof of the pipe issue, none was offered by the host or Airbnb. Did the host cancel on us for a much better offer? We will never know. Did Airbnb offer appropriate remorse and compensation? That we do know; they did not. They offered a full refund or if we booked another Airbnb property we could use the refund plus 10%. What a joke when demand for that night was through the roof and at a massively increased cost. So… highlight of vacation ruined, extra cost incurred, and the host and Airbnb carry on regardless. Preplanning a stay is fraught with risk under these circumstances. We will never use Airbnb again and will revert to less expensive hotels of good quality where a bed for the night is guaranteed. Airbnb should be held liable.