Using Airbnb During a Natural Disaster

There have been a lot of natural disasters devastating areas across the world, from the recent wildfires in California and Hurricane Maria across the Caribbean. There’s no doubt this won’t be the last of them.

Although Airbnb has infiltrated nearly every corner of the globe, the recent hurricanes have been particularly noteworthy – at least, from a hospitality perspective – because they struck areas popular with vacationers at generally pleasant times of the year. The sudden appearance of storms and earthquakes can make cancelling a trip a necessity for safety or a choice as a matter of comfort.

When you’re using Airbnb during a natural disaster or have a reservation for one when one is predicted, assuming your life isn’t in any immediate danger you probably have some concerns regarding your plans, your money, and your continued safety.

 

Prior to Departure

If you booked an Airbnb in Florida before one of the hurricanes was announced, you technically qualify for a full refund under the Extenuating Circumstances clause of the cancellation policy:

“Significant natural disasters or severe weather incidents impacting the location of destination or location of departure.”

The procedure, however, may not be readily apparent unless you read everything thoroughly. If you made a reservation and then discover a hurricane, earthquake, or other natural disaster is scheduled to hit or has already occurred in the same area (not necessarily the property itself), you’re supposed to cancel immediately, regardless of whether the host has a strict cancellation listed. Inform your host via the Airbnb messaging system that the natural disaster is the sole reason you are cancelling. Then, as long as you file a claim with Airbnb within two weeks, you might be entitled to a full refund.

“Might” is the term Airbnb uses on their own website, and with good reason; even following these exact guidelines, we at Airbnb Hell have heard of Airbnb not honoring a cancellation refund for a Puerto Rico property in Hurricane Irma’s path:

“Both of these reasons [for cancellation] were valid in this case. I was told by Airbnb that this did not meet the definition and they suggested that I rebook with the host or try to work it out with her. It amazes me that this was their response and that they provided no assistance whatsoever. It is disturbing to know that both the host and Airbnb are willing to risk the wellbeing of their guests to make money. The current state of Puerto Rico is still a disaster area and the money I lost is small to what they are suffering. I do wish I could have that money back to spend time with my family but it would have been even better to be able to donate it to my family still in Puerto Rico.”

 

During a Natural Disaster

Everything aforementioned might seem just like small potatoes when you consider guests are safe and sound outside the disaster area – not that hundreds or thousands of dollars should be wasted. However, what should you do if you’re currently staying at an Airbnb and a natural disaster is supposed to strike? This situation may apply to those in Bali facing a volcanic eruption.

The same Extenuating Circumstances should apply whether you’re cancelling prior to a trip or already staying in the Airbnb, though naturally a refund would only be issued for the nights you didn’t stay. However, neither of these situations takes into account whether a host decides to cancel due to the natural disaster.

There could be a variety of reasons for this. Some hosts use their primary residence on Airbnb and may wish to return to remove any valuables and secure windows, etc. Others may take a nobler angle and simply not wish to risk the lives of any guests, regardless of whether they’re willing to complete their scheduled stay.

In any case, this reason for cancellation is just as likely to be honored by Airbnb on the host’s side as it is on the guest’s, particularly because hosts may cancel due to “severe property damage or unforeseen maintenance issues that directly impact the ability to host safely.” If this means kicking out paying guests who want or have no choice but to wait out the storm, so be it.

 

What can you do if things don’t go your way?

If you’re unable to get a refund or find yourself homeless with no chance to escape the upcoming emergency, there is always the option of turning to social media. During deadly hurricanes and earthquakes, so many eyes are on social media, including Airbnb’s PR department; the last story they want spreading like wildfire – hopefully, that’s not the disaster you’re escaping – is one of the company stranded or defrauding guests.

Worst Possible Reaction from Airbnb in Puerto Rico

I spent the last 15 months working with my extended family to arrange a trip to Puerto Rico where my wife’s family is from. If you can imagine the time it takes to get three families, their children ranging from 2-14, and your in-laws to settle on a date that all can miss work, school, sporting event’s, doctor appointments and save you know this is no small task. That being said, we worked hard at it as my in-laws are aging and we felt it was important for our children to experience the island with them and share stories.

Finally the date was set and as we drew nearer to the trip the excitement increased for all involved. Then the hurricane hit and our mood quickly changed. Our thoughts changed to concern over loved ones that we could not contact and overall remorse for those on the island. My attention turned back to our plans and it was evident that we would not be able to make this trip with small children and aging parents that have some medical concerns.

When I reached out to the host about the cancellation I was told that they had strict cancellation policies and I would lose half of what I had paid. this was escalated to Airbnb as a extenuating circumstance. The site states that “valid extenuating circumstances include: significant natural disasters or severe weather incidents impacting the location of destination or location of departure and urgent travel restrictions or severe security advisories issue and reason after the time of booking, by an appropriate national or international authority (such as a government office or department).”

Both of these reasons were valid in this case. I was told by Airbnb that this did not meet the definition and they suggested that I rebook with the host or try to work it out with her. It amazes me that this was their response and that they provided no assistance whatsoever. It is disturbing to know that both the host and Airbnb are will to risk the well being of their guests to make money. The current state of Puerto Rico is still a disaster area and the money I lost is small to what they are suffering. I do wish I could have that money back to spend time with my family but it would have been even better to be able to donate it to my family still in Puerto Rico. Shame on them.

Airbnb Chile: Freak Forest Fire and Ash Everywhere

Our flight was delayed putting us in our Airbnb apartment over 24 hours late. There was a devastating forest fire that broke in Chile the night before we were to arrive. Our penthouse apartment had glass walls on two sides for air circulation; there was no air conditioning. I texted the host expressing concern about the smoke and ash. His response was that it wasn’t bad at all.

We arrived to a city filled with smoke and ash. We had to have the windows/walls open because it was over 90 degrees Fahrenheit each day. In the morning, we had to wipe off our cell phones and wash the ash off our faces. It was very bad. We wore our sandals around the apartment because the ash would turn our feet black instantly. Every time we wanted to sit down we had to wipe down the chair or leather couch off.

I contacted the host our second day and told him that the ash was pretty bad and also to ask for additional towels. We had reserved the apartment for 11 days and he only provided two towels. Guess what? He couldn’t help me because he left town the day I arrived; the ash was so bad from the forest fires. He was not willing to release us from our contract so we spent as much time as possible away from the apartment and pretty much only slept and showered there (which was bad enough).

Our last day, I hung the towels over the tub (no towel racks) and took out the little bag of trash that we had accumulated. We were frustrated that he had not let us out of the contract due to the extenuating circumstances, but we made the most of our trip. Then I got home and discovered the man had said hateful things in his review of me. His review stated that I am a filthy person and no one should rent to me. I was shocked and devastated. I have never had anyone speak so horribly of me and now the lies are out there. There is nothing I can do to get them retracted. It wasn’t filth; it was ash and he knows it was ash all over his apartment through no fault of mine.

Can’t Contact Airbnb About My Extenuating Circumstances

I had my first Airbnb trip planned for this week. I was very excited about the trip, but Sunday evening I had a head injury that required ten stitches. Thus, I couldn’t travel this week. I contacted my host and she has been wonderful, however, Airbnb will charge her a fee if I don’t report my “extenuating circumstances” directly to them. According to the policy on their website, I am eligible to cancel my trip and get a full refund. The problem is that they don’t tell me how to contact them with documentation. When I search “contact Airbnb” I’m routed to their list of help questions. Of course, the answers to these questions don’t help. I have responded to their help page feedback, but I’m not getting any answers.

I finally did a Google search and found the Airbnb phone number on Airbnb Hell – thank you for that. I called and talked to a representative who was very nice, but he had to put me on hold twice to get the answers to my questions (improper training). He told me to email my documentation, but I said the email isn’t on the site so I needed to know the email address… he actually had to put me on hold for this. He came back and said that he would have to email me and that I could answer the email and attach my documentation. He did send the email right away (from response@airbnb.com). If this does not resolve the problem, I’ll be back on this site to write a follow-up.

Serious Injury and Unable to Travel, Ignored by Airbnb

I had an accident and was seriously injured in February. On March 11th I advised a host  that we would need to cancel our trip planned for April 29th. I provided a medical note supporting our claim. I also asked for a full refund as I qualified for a refund under extenuating circumstances. The host ignored my emails and refunded only 50% of my payment; he didn’t even bother to respond. I asked Airbnb to get involved and support my request. I have heard nothing so far. As a result of my injury I will be operated upon soon and my recovery may take up to eight months. I gather Airbnb doesn’t care to comply with their own policies. I am still hoping to get a refund. This is one disappointed client.

Nor’easter Doesn’t Count as Extenuating Circumstances

My flight got cancelled to Boston due to the Nor’easter that hit the city on March 14th. Thinking I could beat the storm, I booked an Airbnb for the night before the storm. That night my flight got cancelled and I tried to cancel my Airbnb post. The hosts had a strict cancellation policy and I am trying to get it waived because it was out of my hands on why I could not get to Boston. This is the email that Airbnb sent to me saying that I’m not eligible to apply for a refund under extenuating circumstances, because my flight was not affected by the storm. Are you kidding me? This is how it all started: my flight to Boston got cancelled because of the big snowstorm.

Careful Not to Book with Strict Cancellation Policies

I had reserved an apartment and then the airlines canceled our flight. When I requested a refund, I only received 50% of the paid amount. I gave the host four months’ advance notice. She claimed she had already blocked the dates and would not refund us in full. She could easily unblock the calendar and rebook the place. If I had canceled a reservation four months in advance at any normal hotel or business I would be refunded with no questions asked. This is what makes Airbnb a grind: greedy hosts and company. Be very careful about booking outside of the country these days. There are way too many scams happening abroad. And you really do not want to be stuck in a foreign country in a hellish situation. Stick with reputable hotels and inns. Go to Tripadvisor and get the latest reviews on an accommodation before booking. The reviews on Airbnb are often unreliable. I’m tired of dishonest hosts and listings. It’s not worth the time or money (not to mention frustration) anymore. Guests are not respected. The Airbnb model is currently dysfunctional. Trust and honesty issues are rampant when there is money involved. Don’t shell out your money in advance on often broken promises.