Guest Life Ban for Complaining About Racism

I recently learned about Airbnb’s regulatory and reputation risk strategy: make a complaint about racial intolerance, then get banned for life. Forever. Irreversibly. Or, as the Airbnb customer service representative explained to me:

“We are trying to cut down on racial complaints. And you made a racial complaint. I see you received a confirmation of your complaint. So your account was frozen.”

This sorry saga about how Airbnb implements their strategic anti-discrimination policy started over the holidays when we responded to an advert about an apartment in Santo Domingo. It was peak season, and this was the last unit showing any vacancies. You can guess why. It was in German – perhaps the only listing in the Western Hemisphere in German. The nearest German-speaking nation is about a nine-hour away flight away, with a stopover/transfer.

Most potential guests seeking to rent in the Dominican Republic would skip the translator and move on. We do not speak a word of German, but my girlfriend and I know how to use the Google translate function. We did. We booked.

We arrived at the unit and were greeted by the maid. She looked us over and asked where we are from (my girlfriend has a dark complexion). I detected a sneer, but I’m no mind reader. My Spanish is lousy, we were exhausted, and so I just took the key and left it at that.

The following week was a nightmare. The next morning at about 8:00 AM, while still asleep, I heard someone opening the bedroom door. I thought we were getting robbed.

It was not a burglary; it was the maid. She ordered us out of bed as she wanted to clean the room. No discussion would change her mind. We stumbled into the living room, waited for her to make the bed and sweep the floor, and then went back to sleep.

The fun did not end. She made herself at home in in the kitchen, turned on the radio, made coffee, and explained she was “working” until 3:00 PM. She was going nowhere, like it or not.

We explained that it was very kind of her, but we absolutely did not require a maid, thank you very much. My partner speaks fluent Spanish. There was zero miscommunication. We thought the problem was solved. If only. The next morning, yet again, the maid returned, walked in the bedroom, and rousted us out of bed again. It looked like we had a live-in roommate.

I repeatedly contacted the host to request she call off her maid and finally got a reply. The maid, she explained, must visit the apartment every morning to “see if everything is okay”. She explained that the maid told her we were not white Americans; my partner nor I do not exactly “look American”.

The host’s exact words, if memory serve me, were, “I don’t want any Spanish, blacks or anyone from the street in the apartment. It’s a dangerous neighborhood.” My girlfriend, who I met through friends in Boston some years back, “is from the street, may be dangerous and could steal things.” Thus, the host required a security guard/maid to check on us, and see what we were up to in the bedroom at 8:00 AM.

The host explained that her Airbnb listing was in German. I found that odd as this host speaks better English than I do. She preferred only Germanic guests: from Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Northern Italy – and perhaps the Sudetenland, which was German in late 1930s.

The host noted my partner was a dark-skinned Latina and I did not use an accurate profile photo. In my photo, I appeared 100% Caucasian, as did my small cousin sitting next to me.

I explained to the host that if there was a problem, we would move out ASAP. She apologized away adding that it was not her who had issues, but neighbors in the building complaining to the doorman. They did not want Haitians, blacks, or dangerous-looking people (?). The host simply wanted to make sure nothing was stolen. She was expecting a Caucasian American family; the apartment could house four or five people. Instead, she got an Asian guy, and a dark-skinned girl.

Nonetheless, we stayed and a week later even requested several more days from the host.

On the morning of check-out day, sure enough, the maid woke us up in bed. We got up and let her clean the bedroom. Instead of going back to sleep, I went to take a shower. Some minutes later, when I opened the shower door, I saw the maid was now cleaning the bathroom sink. I am not a prudish guy, but when I step out of the shower that means I am not dressed in business casual.

This was just too much. I asked the maid to leave and even offered her $40. Then I realized what I should have figured out from day one. The maid said she cleaned for five days, and wanted to be paid more – not simply $40. Unfortunately, I only had about $80 on hand. That’s why guests use Airbnb: no cash necessary.

This is an old trick often played on tourists by local scammers; offer the tourist something, hope you take it, and then demand as much money as possible afterwards.

This maid was absolutely not going to settle for $80, or $40. Nor, it turned out, was the host going to pay her a penny. I need to hand over some money. Now.

This explanation about paying online though Airbnb, in my limited Spanish, fell on deaf ears. The maid wanted money. I was a foreign tourist. The host declared open season on foreign tourists, and I was it. I fled to the bedroom, shut the door, and rang the host. No answer. I then texted. Now the maid was pushing in the door and having a go at me.

Excuse the typos. I was holding the door closed with one hand and texting with the other:

In the end, I simply emptied my wallet with whatever I could find (“cash only”, no cards accepted).

The maid finally agreed to wait downstairs for us to pack up and leave. An hour later, we left the apartment with the key under the doormat, as agreed.

The fun did still did not end. While trying to drive out, the doorman refused to open the gate from the parking garage. He asked asking about getting paid a fee for the garage. Yet another tourist scam. The really exciting part was that not only was he keeping us locked inside the garage, but he was backed up by the building security guard who was conveniently armed with a shot gun.

This is an OJ Simpson scenario, and how the Juice ultimately served seven years, i.e. “Give me what I want, my pal here has a gun, and we don’t want anyone hurt.” Hint Hint. Technically speaking, that’s assault with a deadly weapon and unlawful imprisonment.

Fortunately, another car arrived and entered the garage, the gate opened, and off we drove.

While I was at the airport, the host finally called. She said I should have paid the maid a lot more – as she met us to get the key and now was cleaning the unit. And, she added, I damaged the apartment. She sent a dozen photos, one showing stain on a large pillow. The apartment had two bedrooms, many sofas, and zillions of pillows everywhere. The maid did an inventory, found one with a stain, and now I was charged, indicted, tried and found guilty of leaving a stain on her pillow. She argued about the stain with great indignation.

The stain on the$15 IKEA pillowcase was ridiculous. I told it I never saw it, but would simply pay an invoice to drop the matter. I explained, again, we were essentially robbed by the maid, and then held at gunpoint by the guard demanding money for parking. Airbnb must be notified.

Before leaving, I had earlier sent a complaint to Airbnb.

I sought no refund, no discount, no nothing. I naively thought I would be a part of the Airbnb much publicized community.

The host threatened that as I had complained, she would retaliate and complain about me and my girlfriend; we were not white and we were not registered (I am thinking this meant we misrepresented ourselves, as I appear Caucasian on my profile photo, and I am not exactly).

My response to this host at this point was simply: do what you want. I reported the maid, and the attack. If you want to exclude non-Caucasians, Latinos, Haitians, whatever, and have a complaint about me – go right ahead. I suggested we drop the matter, I was about to board my plane, and in the future, she should pay the maid a decent wage.

End of story… or so I hoped.

Two days later, I was contacted by Airbnb customer service in response to my complaint. They said – as expected – the host made a complaint that I damaged the apartment.

I then made a very foolish mistake of addressing each and every photo, in admittedly a smart-alecky manner as the complaints were so trivial, and then pointed out that this host had some hospitality issues. I received a confirmation to my response. In truth, complaining to Airbnb about racism is a very stupid idea.

Later, I got this message that Airbnb was unable to support my account moving forward. They have exercised discretion under Terms and Conditions. They are obligated to provide an explanation.

I am a guest banned for life for making a racial complaint.

I soon learned from Airbnb customer service that my ban resulted from my discrimination complaint. “We automatically block the account after we get that type of complaint – it goes to Trust and Safety,” he proudly chimed, and advised that if I withdrew my complaint, my account would be reactivated.

I also asked if this was about the pillowcase, or any other damages, charges or fees I owe. He assured me repeatedly that nothing was owed, no payment due. Withdrawing the racial complaint should unblock my account, “As we are trying to eliminate these types of complaints.”

Statistically, this makes sense. Out of, say, the last 100 instances of a guest making a complaint, in perhaps 75% of cases, a previous complaint had been earlier sent to “Trust and Safety”. So, if you ban guests upon their first racial complaint, you will likely eliminate most future complaints of racism.

This may have a vague degree of legitimacy from a risk management strategic point, but it is illegal. It is illegal retaliation under the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL). It is illegal to retaliate under the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA). This is not only my opinion, but also the view of the attorneys at the NYC Human Rights Commission.

Nonetheless, I sent in my apology/withdrawal, later checked my account, and it seemed to work, although I did not book anything. Just last week, I discovered that the “unable to support my account moving forward” will not be reversed. That is what the Airbnb Customer Experience Trust and Safety had said, and they are good to their word.

Once you make a racial complaint, they will be unable to support your account going forward as Airbnb does not want you nor your big mouth complaining about racism. Forever. For life. As they are fighting racism.

So now Airbnb will test their “retaliate against loud mouth guests who complain about discrimination by banning them” policy with the NYC Human Rights Commission. We will go to AAA Arbitration, as per the Airbnb terms and conditions. This will be $10-20K for Airbnb in legal fees. But in the run up to their IPO, banning guests who complain about racism has become a top priority.

Airbnb shall fight on the seas and oceans, fight in the air, and fight on the beaches. But Airbnb shall never surrender in their struggle to eliminate racial complaints – by retaliating against and banning guests who complain, and being unable to support my account going forward.

Never complain about racism to Airbnb. You will be banned for life.

PS: The host was able to list her apartment on Airbnb a few days later.

Incompetent Search Engine for Five Guests

I decided to take a trip back to my hometown and unfortunately my family had an emergency and could not accommodate the five of us. The day before our departure I used different search engine for accommodation and a friend recommended I use Airbnb.

My criteria was four nights for five guests. Airbnb returned with a quote of R1900 and showed pictures of the rooms indicating one for two people and other one for three. We left early in the morning and were basically on the road the whole time. I was driving.

When we finally arrived at the destination, first they were looking for my booking and then the manager had to come assist. I, in the meantime, went through my emails to show them the reservation when I saw that at only 18:00 in the evening the guesthouse had sent me an email at 14:30 to say that we must book additional two rooms to accommodate us.

The purpose of using a site like Airbnb is to find the cheapest accommodation and/or a place with proper and suitable accommodation but it still remained my decision. The pictures of accommodation looked good because I showed it to two of my companions to get their approval before booking and they agreed it looked acceptable.

At the end of the day, we did not take the room and luckily my friend could accommodate us for the night. I had to find accommodations for the following three nights. I paid much more but at the end of the day I had quality for my money.

The guesthouse manager or owner said he would also find out from Airbnb about what went wrong but I think it did not really matter to him; I already paid Airbnb for accommodation, thus he will get his money irrespective if we used the place. Now I am trying to recover my money from Airbnb.

Guests can Extort because Airbnb doesn’t Enforce its Policies

The Airbnb Extortion Policy prohibits “guests threatening to use reviews or ratings in an attempt to force a host to provide refunds.” However, Airbnb doesn’t appear serious about enforcing this policy, so guests can happily extort hosts to provide refunds for any frivolous concocted reason. Hosts have little recourse because the guest can always state their frivolous reason as their “personal experience” in their review and leave a one-star review in retaliation if their unreasonable demands are not met.

Here is what happened in my case. The guest knew at check-in that there was another concurrent guest’s dog on the property in the shared apartment listing but she claims she did not know that at the time of booking and that my not telling her that explicitly was unacceptable. She knew within moments of check-in that there was a dog locked in the other guest’s private space.

I offered to have the dog moved to a downstairs room on a different floor and she simply said “It’s fine. I just feel bad for the [locked up] dog.” It remained locked on a room on her floor. At nearly midnight of her last night’s stay, she messaged saying she was unhappy because of the dog’s crying (probably wanting to be taken out) and that she was allergic to dogs (surprise).

I immediately apologized and sought to address the situation but within moments of my response, she sent me another message saying she moved to a hotel and asked me to refund that last night’s stay with what was clearly a veiled threat, “I am keenly aware of review issues and I have no intention of leaving a bad review… I have left and moved to a hotel. I realize it is late and you cannot book someone for this night. However, I would appreciate a refund of tonight’s fee.”

I politely reminded her that her booking was on a strict cancellation policy, so I could not refund her. She went to write several long messages about why she deserved to be refunded, threatened escalating it to Airbnb or a credit card chargeback, tried all the escalations, and lost because her case had no merit. She retaliated by leaving a one-star review as was clearly implicit in her earlier threatening message (quoted above).

Airbnb seemingly considers her review to not violate its Content Policy because it allows a guest to state whatever they want as their “personal experience” and doesn’t seem to care to stand by its extortion policy. A guest can simply blackmail hosts by asking them for refunds on frivolous grounds, and even if they don’t explicitly threaten a bad review like in my case, the host knows the implicit threat exists.

There is little the host can do about a bad review. A guest could literally say, “I felt cheated because the place’s location felt like it was on the moon, so the listed location felt inaccurate” and leave a one-star review and Airbnb won’t do anything about it.

A reasonable customer service rep might help get it removed but that is rare and their policy is such that it explicitly allows guests to report obviously verifiable lies as their personal experience (as long as it doesn’t violate other parts of the Content Policy, like no discrimination, hate speech, etc.). Seems like a poorly worded Content Policy or at least a poorly enforced one.

Sorry we had to break up like this Airbnb…

I was just reading the sad reviews from the property owners. Can I tell you that the same thing happens to renters? I will spare you the details (trust me, you don’t want to hear them), but suffice it to say we had 13 excellent stays on Airbnb before we met the first property owner extortion machine.

We’ve always been model guests, and have always cleaned the premises before leaving – to the point my girlfriend makes fun of me about it. It turns out that in cleaning the kitchen, we “scratched” the stainless steel backsplash. The host demanded (not making this up) $900 for a full replacement of an item that was likely made out of too soft an alloy for the purpose. Go figure.

In true Airbnb fashion, they charged my credit card against my wishes ($500). Let me tell you – I had called my bank a few days before to block Airbnb from doing this because they are notorious for charging renters without consent. My bank (Chase) screwed up and did not block the charges as promised.

Take my advice: if you anticipate a dispute with Airbnb and you don’t want to go chasing your own money, cancel your card after your stay. We will not be returning to Airbnb as we do not feel like we were treated fairly on this one. Sad, because we had such a good run for a while.

Did I mention the undisclosed spy camera at the last place we rented? Apparently Airbnb doesn’t really care about that. If you take your chances, good luck.

Screwed Over and Stranded After Host Cancelled

I booked a place in New Orleans a month ahead of a music festival we were going to attend. The night before our reservation, the host cancelled our reservation without any explanation. We needed to search for a new place, and during the search, I saw our original rental available for the very same dates, but for 2.5 times the rate we had originally booked a month prior. The host must have not have known that the festival was occurring, but upon realizing it, decided to callously screw over three people by stranding us with less than 24 hours before our flight to New Orleans.

Throughout the ensuing discussion with Airbnb customer service and our frantic search for lodging, Airbnb handled this situation incredibly poorly. I was repeatedly promised call backs within timeframes that were not met, and I waited well into the wee hours of the night trying to resolve our lodging situation for the flight the next morning. Airbnb admitted as much as this sort of practice by hosts is not tolerated, and yet they allowed the host to get away with this scot-free.

The major reasons we booked the original space was due to its cheap price (as the entire trip was already stretching our budgets) and its close proximity to the festival venue. When trying to book places with similar proximity, Airbnb refused, stating that the prices were not comparable. Well of course they weren’t; we were now forced to make a last-minute booking during a very busy weekend. Airbnb refused to take responsibility in this case and provide us with an equivalent replacement without tripling our original booking rate. At one point, they even suggested we rebook our original place at the surged rate. They encouraged this extortion that they attempted to claim was not tolerable.

In the end, after hours of countless messages and calls well into the night and the next morning right up until we had to leave for the airport, we were left with a house miles farther than our original place (which ruined many of the plans we had made, including being able to walk to the venue, causing transportation costs to further inflate the trip’s budget) at hundreds of dollars more. I understand that cancellations will happen, but if the risk exists that these cancellations can occur so last minute and solely due to the greed of the host, and that Airbnb will refuse to take responsibility and even encourage hosts from extorting guests, than I must refuse to use this service ever again. An example of the utterly callous communication with Airbnb customer service is attached. They could not care less about unsatisfied and frustrated customers. If you are visiting New Orleans in the future, do not book here.

Last minute demand for more cash or we cancel your reservation

I reserved a two bedroom condo in the Grand Venetian in Puerto Vallarta. The “Superhosts” were based out of Oregon. I booked the condo in January 2018 for a stay in December, nearly one year in advance. I left a deposit of $1600. This holiday was planned with other families who were staying in the same complex.

On September 29th, I was contacted by the hosts and was told that I would need to pay an additional $2500 if I wanted to keep the reservation. They confirmed that they quoted me the wrong price in January – they made a mistake – and the owner of the condo was requesting more money. I naturally told them that they needed to eat this cost because it was their mistake.

I advised the hosts that I could not find similar accommodations so close to Christmas. The hosts did not care and advised they had the right to cancel pursuant to Airbnb rules. After lengthy discussions with Airbnb, Airbnb cancelled the reservation. Read the fine print: if an owner wishes to act dishonorably they can simply wait until the 11th hour to threaten cancellation of your reservation by demanding more money. During Christmas this could be ruinous.

Because of these hosts and Airbnb, I had to reserve another condo at a higher rate for from the original resort and away from our friends. You are better off booking through HomeAway or with a hotel. Do not book any accommodation managed by these hosts. Their word and agreement is worthless.

Poorly Designed Policies Allow Airbnb Extortion

I recently had an unpleasant experience while traveling in Cannes, France with my wife, baby, and a friend. I explained the situation to Airbnb’s support team, but they sided with the host due to Airbnb policies. I’ve come to realize that the policies are flawed and the only way to fix it is to bring it to the attention to someone with the ability to amend the policies.

I live in the United States and work in residential real estate development. When listing the number of bathrooms in the U.S., “2.5 bathrooms” would mean two full bathrooms with a shower and toilet and a second half-bath with just a toilet. Evidently, in France 2.5 bathrooms means two bathrooms with only a shower and a third bathroom with only a toilet. Thus, there is only one toilet in a three-bedroom apartment.

We were shocked and felt somewhat duped especially since the host knew better. He was a residential real estate broker in the U.S. for four years. You would think that this would be cause for cancellation, but it was not according to Airbnb support. This was unfortunate, but not the end of the world.

Upon nightfall the unit was overrun with mosquitos – dozens of them. We killed a couple on a dish towel (a photo was taken and sent to Airbnb). My wife and I had our five-month old baby with us. We could not allow him to get eaten alive while he slept. The only responsible thing to do was to leave and check into a hotel.

Evidently, according to Airbnb policy, mosquitoes are not a viable reason to cancel a reservation. I’m still shocked that this does not qualify as uninhabitable. Airbnb is competing against hotels. If I were to check into a hotel room with dozens of mosquitoes, they would have refunded my money. Why wouldn’t Airbnb?

After contacting the host that evening and not receiving a response, I sent him a nice message saying that my experience was clearly unpleasant, but since I didn’t stay there overnight and he would not need to clean the premises, I stated the obvious by saying that if he would just refund my money, I wouldn’t leave a review. What a mistake. He was a pro and knew that according to Airbnb policy, he got me.

He accused me of extortion which I thought this was crazy since extortion clearly implies a falsehood. The intent of an extortion policy is to protect hosts from guests who had a pleasant experience and then demand a refund in return for a positive review. Airbnb’s policy doesn’t read that way and thus provides a loophole to unscrupulous hosts. Since it’s “policy” there was nothing Customer Support could do.

I lost $1,037. I thought to myself that this was unfortunate but at least I can warn other travelers of the two issues mentioned above. After leaving my review, Airbnb then informed me that it was being removed due to the extortion policy despite the fact was that it was completely honest. Not only do I feel like $1,000 was stolen from me, I am now not even allowed to warn other travelers. I know Airbnb is a young company so there will be holes in the system, but I just thought I’d bring this one to their attention.

Host Tries to Change Rates After Confirmation

We were first time Airbnbers wanting to spend Christmas in Switzerland. We found a property in St. Moritz, booked it, got confirmation back on the same day, and then booked flights. We sent a message to the host saying we were looking forward to the holiday. A couple of weeks later, I got an “accept new booking” request from the host. I did wonder what that was all about, so I read the email and realised that he was trying to get me to accept the change of booking to increase the price by 270%. I obviously declined this, but then received messages from him saying that this was not his fault and it was all Airbnb’s fault for accepting the booking. His justification was that he just wanted to make more money, then called me dishonest for not cancelling after he admitted that all he wanted was more cash.

After a brief exchange of messages, he asked me to cancel so that he could rebook at a higher price, even though most other accommodation in the area was a similar price to what he originally requested. To make matters worse, he cancelled yesterday and today I saw that he had reposted the flat and not as you might have thought at the extortionate rate he tried getting off me after booking, but at half that cost, and only a few hundred Euro more than we originally booked at. I didn’t think you could rebook a property if you cancelled the booking. I can’t get a hold of anyone in Airbnb. I know that I wouldn’t go there now but his actions were absolutely dishonest. I just wanted to warn people that this host is a bit untrustworthy and I would steer very clear of any “cozy and modern apartment in the center of St Moritz” in the future.

Host Demanded More Money Less Than a Week Before Arrival

I booked a home in April 2017 near Ole Miss to visit my daughter at school that October. The price was really reasonable, so upon the host accepting the reservation, I messaged him to double check that all was well. There was no response. I messaged him again in May to double check – no response. I messaged him again in June. There was no immediate response so I reported him to Airbnb. He then responded with: “Yes, it is confirmed.”

Less than a week before arrival, the host messaged me to say Airbnb made a mistake and the price should have been a lot higher; apparently I owed him more money. We argued back in forth. I said I asked several times for him to confirm the reservation to no avail, and that he had plenty of time to get this sorted out. He argued it was all Airbnb’s fault and that he wouldn’t be making any money with the lower price I was set to pay.

This went back and forth the next couple of days. I couldn’t find alternate housing at the last minute and Airbnb customer service was no help, telling me it’s for the host and I to figure out. I ended up paying an extra $325 to the host (which he said was such a bargain) as I had family depending on housing to visit my daughter.

When we arrived there were dirty dishes in the dishwasher, and hairs in the freezer. It was dirty all around. He blamed it on the cleaning crew and still wanted his $325. I’m so disappointed in this listing, the host, and most of all, that Airbnb allowed this to happen to a customer, especially when I had given the host plenty of time to confirm prior to arrival.