A group of friends and I were delighted to find a listing that had private rooms and bathrooms for each of us in Hong Kong. We booked way in advance before the protests started, and the entire listing was over $1300. Later, as the protests got more intense, that particular area became quite the hotspot. I saw videos online of bricks being torn up to create roadblocks, of police tear gassing protesters – all within a block of the Airbnb.
I contacted the host to see if we could cancel and got our first lie in response – that the Airbnb was ‘far from the protests.’ She said we could cancel but we’d lose half of what we’d paid. $600+ is nothing to sneeze at, so we reluctantly decided to risk it. Luckily, the situation calmed down.
Upon arrival, it was clear she was lying. The sidewalk in front of the Airbnb was cemented over because, though it wasn’t featured in the videos, it had been torn up during protests. That was no big deal compared to the actual Airbnb itself and her later behavior.
We checked in, and all the rooms except one (the one heavily featured on the listing) were much smaller. The photos, on closer inspection, had been taken with a fisheye lens to make them look bigger. The size we could live with. The smell and grime we could not. The place smelled of musty mildew and that smell never went away.
The bathrooms were also tiny, having the shower placed pretty much above the toilet. Again – this wouldn’t be that bad if it weren’t dirty. One toilet was so close to the wall you couldn’t sit without your knees touching the wall. The person in that room gave up after a night and got a hotel room for the rest of his stay. The rest of us endured but also got hotel rooms for two nights.
We were not aware that we could have complained to Airbnb and gotten alternative lodgings. I had never encountered such a situation before, having had positive experiences, so we assumed that if we were to back out we would be out of $1300. Now I know better.
After the stay, I submitted my review, and after discussing it with my fellow travelers, got over my dislike of confrontation to ask the host for a refund. She offered to refund just the cleaning fee of $60. I then submitted a formal request for a refund via the resolution center, and this is where it gets crazy.
She claimed the place had been professionally cleaned (please look at the photos and tell me if you think that counts as professional cleaning) and threatened to report me to the police and said she would be charging me for damage. What damage? She sent me a request for an additional $1500 for stained white sheets, complete with photos. The photos were fake. We had taken a video before we left that clearly showed the sheets provided to us in completely different colors and patterns.
I refused to pay this, of course, and this was the final straw that made me escalate to Airbnb support, who – to their credit – gave me a 50% refund. The host sent me one last message before I blocked her, saying she’d reported me to police for refusing to pay. Needless to say I will never use Airbnb again if I can help it.