Strict Cancellation Policy, Dangerous Neighborhoods

I was looking for a property that we could reserve for four nights to take a long awaited family vacation. We are two adults and two younger children, ages 2 and 8. I thought I had found the perfect place; from the pictures it seemed very nice. However, after I booked the reservation and the host confirmed it, she sent me an email and said that she “pre-approved” my request to book and then asked me to review the house rules and let her know if there was anything I was uncomfortable with. So I did. A couple house rules suggested that I should have something to worry about: close the shades at night and don’t bring a gun? That’s fine. I didn’t have a problem doing that… but why was this necessary? So I decided to further research the neighborhood now that I was able to view the address. I was shocked. There were several shootings just around the block within the last couple of weeks, as well as arrests for drugs, car theft, larceny, and so on. Just within a couple of blocks!

To me, this did not seem like a “relaxing” destination for our family of four. I had hoped to push the stroller around town and check out the sights. There was no way I was going to put my family in danger, so I cancelled the reservation within two hours of booking it. Wouldn’t you know… I only received half of my money back, even though the dates were 90 days out and I cancelled less than 12 hours after submitting the request! This host wasn’t losing any money. She has ample time to book those dates. The host uses a strict cancellation policy. I’m okay with this and I understand the reasoning behind it. However, 90 days out and cancelled within 12 hours? That’s just not fair. So the host writes to me and says she will give me a full refund if someone books the dates in the mean time. I told her that is fine with me.

What does she do? She makes those dates unavailable so they cannot be booked. She has a four night minimum and marks one of those days on her calendar as being unavailable, effectively making them all unavailable, and then she reduces the nightly costs by 50%. I have a suspicion that she knows this is a dangerous neighborhood and that this happens all the time. I don’t think I’m the first (nor will I be the last) person who has booked with her, cancelled when we found out where this place is and then lost half of our money. This host is getting paid for doing nothing. She does have several reviews, some mentioning the neighborhood on a negative light, though I wonder how many cancelled and cannot leave feedback. I’d love to see those numbers, because all I keep hearing from Airbnb is that “she has good feedback on the property.”

Yes, I read that feedback and none of the reviewers mention having children. It would be one thing if just my husband and I were staying there. I don’t mind the risk if we are solely responsible for ourselves, but I have two children to be responsible for and I will not put them in harm’s way for the sake of a family vacation. No thanks! Not to mention that dodging bullets and crackheads is not my idea of a “relaxing family vacation”!

At this point I’m beyond frustrated. I’ve reached out to Airbnb customer service several times over the past couple of weeks, spent hours on hold, spoken to several representatives who keep saying that my case is being “escalated.” I talked to someone in the “experience department,” who said he’d call me back after they speak to the host. The host doesn’t have my money. I know it’s in an escrow with Airbnb and they could return it to me at any time. I asked them what sort of liability they would have if someone were murdered at a property they advertise and she expressed concern, then said, “Some people may be comfortable walking around Compton while others would not be.”

I realize this. I totally get it. I grew up outside of Atlanta in an unsavory neighborhood as a child, but I did not have a choice at that time. However, as an adult, I have a choice to not bring my kids to a dangerous neighborhood on vacation. Does anyone choose to vacation in Compton? I doubt it! The next step is filing a claim with my credit card company because I just want to move on with my life! By the way, this is not the first property I’ve booked on Airbnb with a strict cancellation policy. In fact, we just got married at a property less than six months ago and it went flawlessly. However, this individual is hosting a shady rip off while Airbnb idly stands by.

Fake Airbnb Listing: Cliffhanger in Alabama

So, I never used Airbnb before. I was encouraged by my friends to do so despite my misgivings about staying with total strangers or even being alone in someone’s home without them there as really, anyone could have keys. Imagine someone walking in on you as you never know who the owner gives keys to! I booked a place in Birmingham and had never been to Alabama, so I thought it was flat and swampy and that working class people like me live there: only things I had seen in the movies. I did not care as I am not a wealthy person. Mind you, the ad said “Birmingham” but this home is not in the city at all. Beware of people posting ads saying this as it can make all of the difference in your experience.

Well, the obviously fake glowing reviews of the place did not mention this man’s house is on a cliff! The house is IN THE APPALACHIAN MOUNTAINS and he referred to it as a “little hilly.” Literally all the houses in the neighborhood sit on the side of a mountain with million dollar mansions and his house is empty because he is selling it. He says he “travels” but he lives in another state when I actually got him on the phone. He even said we might go for a bike ride… as if he lived in Alabama! He said, “I travel for business,” “I live in Arkansas,” and “I live there full time” all in one day to me! Does this sound normal to you?

Well, imagine not knowing where you are and driving for hundreds of miles through farmland and then BAM! You are not in Birmingham but in a weird place called “Shelby” where for some odd reason millionaires live in the middle of abject poverty; everyone around them is poor as dirt! The entire area is out of place and the hotel in which I ended up had transients and “regulars” living there, as the working class people are poor. It was like a dystopian future in which the feudal lords live on a mountain overlooking the peasants!

Well, I called the police, not believing this man’s ludicrous story anymore for fear I would be breaking and entering into someone else’s home: a bait and switch. Even the local police thought it was odd he was only charging 45 dollars a night for a MILLION DOLLAR HOME IN A MILLIONAIRES CLUB ESTATE ON A SIDE OF THE APPALACHIAN MOUNTAINS! My truck would not charge my phone due to a small electrical problem as it is new and had a quirk, so I had to sit in a local restaurant to charge my phone and when the police came and I showed them the home and the ad he even thought it was fishy and recommended a hotel up the street for my safety.

Can you imagine if I actually went into this empty home IN THE DARK and someone arrested me or something? Beware of a “too good to be true” ad or people claiming to live somewhere they don’t. Unless you look up the owner, how do you know you are not breaking into someone’s home for whom they got a key made? The entire night cost me $175 dollars and I was so scared in the DARK, never having been to Alabama. A house on a cliff in the middle of a neighborhood of rich and powerful people with nobody living there is ridiculous. If you could see the location you would think an eagle lives there.

The final insult was when I called the man who placed the ad, and he asked me if I knew where local roads were and to “pop” up the hill when his home is in the MOUNTAINS and the back of them drop off hundreds of feet to your death! An empty house, non-resident owner, no proof the person actually owns the house, and omitting pertinent details such as HOUSE SITS ON A CLIFF OFF OF A MOUNTAIN equal no more Airbnb for me. BEWARE normal everyday people, because if you end up in a millionaire’s estate, you had best believe rich people can get you arrested or worse. With all the shootings going on too, who knows what could have happened to me? I had no way of verifying this man even owned this home, and when you look at a property, ASK IF IT SITS ON A CLIFF!