On October 14th, 2016 I made a reservation through Airbnb for a two-bedroom apartment for myself, my wife, and our three kids – two boys and one girl. The address featured on the Airbnb website was in Earl’s Court in London. This reservation was between December 24th, 2016 to January 3rd, 2017. I made a payment of 19,596 NOK (Norwegian Kroners). Airbnb then allocated me this booking with a reservation code and the name and contact details of my host. My host was Ulya, and the Airbnb system provided her contact number.
Both myself and my wife started to have a hunch there was something amiss about this host since around November we started to receive both SMS and email correspondence related to this booking. What confounded us was that each time we responded it would transpire that these messages were not from Ulya but from different intermediaries. Since we had already paid, we continued to confirm our date of arrival and departure, grudgingly so.
On December 24th, 2016 we arrived from Norway at Gatwick Airport, London, and proceeded by train to Victoria Station. From the station we took a meter taxi to the address Ulya had given us which was in Earl’s Court. As we were in the taxi we realised that the address Ulya (the Airbnb host) had tendered on the Airbnb website was not valid. Whilst at the the taxi we made numerous calls to Ulya and her numerous intermediaries. Their phones were persistently engaged, so the taxi driver dropped us in the street. We related our plight to a stranger we found at the bus stop; she intervened and called the numbers for Ulya and her various intermediaries to enquire about the correct address for this apartment. This time one of Ulya’s intermediary gave us the correct address for the apartment we had booked, and she further advised that the apartment door was black. However upon our arrival at this address the door was purple and not black as we had been advised. It was at this point that it dawned on me, my wife and kids that we had indeed been swindled.
Realising that it was getting both late, dark and colder we then decided to proceed the Kensington Police Station at Pembroke Mews to report our plight. We received a hostile reception at the police station… perhaps the Kensington police thought we were either refugees or looking for accommodation. In either case, they gave us quite a hostile reception. They didn’t allow us anywhere near the precinct of their office. They ordered us to go and wait across the street. Our five-year-old daughter asked to use the toilet facility, an appeal that was not granted. After some time one police official came to us and harshly engaged us. We appealed to the police to at least assist us by calling the Airbnb host again. During this engagement it transpired that they learned I was a South African diplomat and that together with my family we were travelling on diplomatic passports. After having verified the authenticity of our diplomatic passports the police made numerous calls to both Ulya and her different intermediaries.
After these one of Ulya’s intermediaries gave the Kensington police an address on Ifield Road as the correct one for the apartment we had booked on Airbnb. We then took a taxi to this address. We stood at the street parking near the door of the apartment on Ifield Road for Ulya’s intermediary to give us the keys so that we could enter the apartment. Much to our surprise, the apartment door was not locked since the lady who came to give us keys just pushed it open and gave us a sets of two keys. Upon entering the apartment the first thing that we noted was that the bedrooms downstairs were cold and dirty. We immediately alerted the host intermediary about this. She indicated that she was in a hurry as it was Christmas the following day and that she didn’t know much about the apartment. She further indicated that Ulya had sent her to give us keys for the apartment. We nevertheless further appealed to her to at least turn on the heating mechanism for the two bedrooms, and she declared that these were on and would be warmer with time. She then left the apartment.
On our arrival we were greeted by garbage at the door. On seeing us entering at the apartment the neighbors complained that this pile of garbage had been there for a while. The very entrance to the apartment was visibly dirty. Later on, Airbnb’s partisan Resolution Centre dismissed this garbage as being of no significance. In the kitchen – which is combined with the lounge – the seats were falling apart such that it was not safe to sit on them. The only seat that seemed safe was the sofa couch which could also be converted to a bed. Again, Airbnb’s partisan Resolution Centre dismissed this as being of no significance. When we tried to connect our gadgets to the wifi which we found at the kitchen we discovered that whilst the modem was plugged in, there was no electric current. We tried it on the power outlet where the microwave was plugged in and it worked. To our surprise none of the power outlets in the bedrooms were functioning.
Upon proceeding to the ensuite bathroom we discovered that the light was not working and that the warm water was not functioning. We then tried the other bathroom and discovered that it was visibly dirty, just like the ensuite bathrooms. We alerted Ulya through a WhatsApp message about these problems and she promised to send an electrician to fix them. At around 19:30 Ulya informed us via WhatsApp message that she would be sending an electrician promptly. As we were exhausted both physically and emotionally after the aforementioned debacle of looking for an invalid address, we retired to bed early with our clothes on since the heating mechanism in the bedrooms was not functional. We also couldn’t wash ourselves since the warm water tank was not functional and therefore the water was cold. I took sleeping pills and slept much earlier than my wife and kids.
At around 22:50 I was woken up my wife saying there was someone banging on the main door. Fearful as I was, I climbed the apartment stairs and proceeded to the door to find out what was happening. I enquired who was knocking. The gentleman at the door indicated that he had been sent by the owner to check whether the warm water tank, power plugs, light in the ensuite and the heating mechanism were indeed not working. I opened the door for him to enter the apartment. He consistently purported to be engaged in a telephone conversation. Upon engaging this gentleman he indicated that he was not an electrician and didn’t have a toolbox but would call an electrician once he had confirmed that indeed the electrical problems which we had raised with Ulya were valid.
Clearly according to the Airbnb host our views were are not worth of respect. In the first place she didn’t do a basic quality assurance test to ensure that everything was in order in her apartment prior to us occupying the apartment. Even after registering our concerns inter alia about electrical problems in her apartment she elected to send her contact person who is not an electrician to ascertain the validity of the problems we had raised with her. What further astounded us was that even this gentleman kept on telling us us that he had been sent by a “he” not a “she”. When we enquired from him as to how come he is not an electrician since Ulya had made a promise that she would send the electrician straight away. This gentleman’s assertion confounded us even more since Ulya had told us that she was the owner of the apartment. Ulya later claimed that we refused her electrician entry into the apartment. Fortunately I had a gut feeling that something was amiss with this gentlemen and I took a picture of him inside the apartment.
Later on after cancelling the booking, a faceless member of Airbnb’s partisan Resolution Centre dismissed this picture of Ulya’s electrician inside the apartment as being of no significance and deemed not to give an idea of what transpired in the conversation between me and this gentleman in spite of me having indicated quite clearly that I had relayed this picture to refute Ulya’s false claim that we did not allow the electrician whom she had paid £100 to enter the apartment to fix the electrical problems we had raised with her. There was also insufficient linens on the bed; my two young kids coughed and cried bitterly the whole night complaining about the cold. With the bedroom’s heating mechanism not working, the bed linen provided by the Airbnb host was not sufficient. I again alerted the host about this fact and she maintained that there were was enough linen in the apartment. We live in Oslo, Norway, which is much colder than London, however we have never felt as cold as we did in Ulya’s apartment. Again, the Airbnb Resolution Centre deemed this fact did not warrant the cancellation of the reservation and a full refund.
Earlier on, immediately after assuming occupancy of the apartment and after realising that the electrical outlets in the bedrooms and some in the kitchen were not functioning my wife and kids went to a nearby shop and purchased an extension cord to charge our gadgets and continue to keep the wifi connected. I remained inside the apartment as I was exhausted, physically and emotionally. Upon their return we discovered that the main door keys were not compatible the door lock and therefore not opening. Fortunately I had remained inside the apartment and I opened it for them. Otherwise we were going to be literally stuck on the streets in a foreign country on Christmas eve.
Again the partisan Airbnb Resolution Centre deemed this fact did not warrant the cancellation of the reservation and a full refund. On the morning of December 25th, 2016 I awoke with my family hopeful that perhaps the the Airbnb host will send the electrician to fix the problems cited above which we had duly reported to her. As the day progressed without the electrician showing up, we washed ourselves by pouring water in the black bucket we found behind the apartment’s kitchen door. This bucket contained detergents and a mop for cleaning the floor. At around 12:15 PM on Christmas Day, and after it became clear that was going to be no substantive intervention by the Airbnb host to our plight, my wife and I agreed that we should cancel the reservation. Immediately after cancelling the reservation, the Airbnb host promptly sent me a message informing me that since I had cancelled the reservation our continued presence inside her apartment amounted to trespassing. She further threatened that she was sending her team to deal with us. We left the apartment.
On December 26th, 2016, the Airbnb host sent me a WhatsApp message claiming that we had damaged her apartment and therefore she had taken our fingerprints and would send us claim forms. At first after the cancellation I got a message from Airbnb confirming the cancellation of my reservation and informing me that my reservation was not eligible for a refund. This message further indicated that if there was an extenuating circumstance I should click on the link for the resolution center. Upon clicking this link I discovered that I qualified for a refund 17,650 NOK from the 19,596 NOK that I had originally paid. I accordingly filled in the message box included in the link. I got a prompt response from the host stating I would not get a refund because I had refused her electrician entry into the apartment and called her people names.
Since I had cancelled my reservation with the Airbnb host I had to endure further costs for an alternative accommodation and for changing the date of return for our flight. Given the Airbnb host’s refusal to refund me I escalated the matter to Airbnb’s resolution centre and I was given a reference number for my case. On December 29th, 2016 I got correspondence from someone at Airbnb’s Resolution Centre asking me to send him any pictures related to this matter. I immediately sent him pictures I had managed to take. Initially my correspondence with pictures did not go through. I kept on trying and then ultimately they went through. He responded that they were not convincing. I asked – among other things – if he thought I would leave the comfort of my place and subject myself and my family to cancelling a long arranged festive holiday accommodation for no valid reason. I further asked him how is he going to prove from the pictures that the electrical outlets and the warm water tank are not working.
In the first place, both Airbnb and their hosts have a responsibility. Ultimately the faceless member of the Airbnb partisan Resolution Centre gave me a meager refund of 5,000 Norwegian Kroner which did not cover the additional 10,000 Norwegian Kroner for changing the departure date for the family flight ticket due to the problems we had experienced with the apartment I had booked on Airbnb. Ulya’s Facebook profile picture was the same as her WhatsApp profile picture. The only difference was that on Facebook she used the name Elly. Her Facebook profile also indicated that she lives in London. Upon looking at her pictures on her Facebook timeline I recognised the area around the apartment we had booked. A dew days thereafter, with the intention to alert Airbnb and my bank about this, I searched for her on Facebook and couldn’t find her.
I’m just wondering if there is anything that can be done to assist me in this matter. It pains me quite profoundly because I lost a lot of money from this debacle and subjected my family to an infelicitous drama. I also believe that other people need to know about the shady side of Airbnb. I’m also wondering if anyone can kindly assist me to get a physical address of Airbnb’s offices either in South Africa or Europe.