No Hell until you’ve Dealt with Airbnb Customer Service

You have not been to hell until you’ve dealt with Airbnb customer service. My ongoing nightmare began on November 18th, 2019. It was a dark and stormy night. In a brick brownstone in Portsmouth, I started my fight with Airbnb over the new Massachusetts short-term rental law.

Under the new law there are a few exemptions, one being about bed ‘n breakfast and timeshares. Bonus, right? Well, what I thought would be easy became very stressful in nature. I contacted their wonderful support team, mentioning that I am tax exempt under the short-term rental law and asking them to please make all of my timeshare listings a zero exemption.

Thinking the elves in the Airbnb workshop would work some magic on my behalf, I waited patiently for a response. Airbnb sent an email stating every rental owner is required to sign up. The next morning I called the government to verify, that I am indeed, tax exempt. “Yes, you’re tax exempt and just a heads up – we had many meetings with Airbnb and they’re required to have a drop down menu for tax exemptions on the site.”

Great news. I called Airbnb back to see what the customer service elves could do. The next email I got from Airbnb stated this was a voluntary law and you will see below, the actual response from the Regulations Department at Airbnb.

I work on a specialized team here at Airbnb. Thanks for reaching out about our collection and remittance of local transient taxes in Massachusetts. I understand you would like your listing to be exempt from taxes during reservations on our platform, because it is a timeshare.

As you are aware, Airbnb entered into a voluntary collection agreement with the local tax collector. We will be filing one tax return per jurisdiction, with the total combined reservation revenue. This means that all hosts located in your area will be represented by one remitted amount, and we will not be providing your personal information on the return. Regrettably, hosts at this time are unable to opt-out of automatic tax collection (collection & remittance feature).

For more information, please review our Help Center article. Your local tax office can share more information about the Voluntary Collection Agreement with Airbnb and how this process may affect your tax reporting and/or collection. For example, some areas request that hosts fill out worksheets indicating the amount that has been paid on their behalf. If you have additional questions regarding policies in your area, we recommend reaching out to a local tax professional or your local tax authority.

In short, I will say, to this day, I continue to fight for myself and the others out there who are suffering from Airbnb Hell.

Trying to Get Around Local Airbnb Laws

I just got back from a trip to Barcelona, where I rented an Airbnb apartment. Check-in was a nightmare, but that was the least of it. My first morning there, I was woken by a touristic inspector who wanted to enter the apartment and take a photo of my reservation. Apparently, some hosts in the building (including my own) were breaking Barcelona city law by renting for less than 30 days without a license to do so.

Two days later, my host started pestering me with mysterious WhatsApp messages asking me to meet him. I was like, “What the heck for?”

After much back and forth, he finally admitted that he would like me to do him a “favor” by signing a fake contract extending my lease to 30 days. I several times indicated my discomfort with this situation, but he kept pushing. Eventually I said, “NO! I just don’t feel comfortable being dishonest.”

The host then showed up at my place while I was getting ready to leave and came in without knocking. I said “Please leave!!! I’m packing!”

When I left the apartment, the host was waiting for me outside – supposedly to help me carry my luggage, but it seemed that really he was still hoping to get me to sign a fake contract. I texted him subsequently telling him I had not been pleased with his behavior, and posted a negative review on Airbnb. The host texted me back calling me a “crushed whore.”

I also complained to Airbnb. They nicely refunded my money for the stay, calling and texting me with many consolations for how badly I’d been treated by this guy, and promising they would look into it. However, I just checked this guy’s listing on Airbnb. Not only is Airbnb still allowing him to advertise on their site, despite the fact that he’d tried to pressure me into to criminal fraud, they erased my negative review.

Airbnb Still Doesn’t Understand Local Tax

I collect hotel occupancy tax for the City of Galveston, Texas. We have a state tax rate of 6% and a local rate of 9% for a total of 15%. Without notice, in May of 2017, Airbnb began collecting and remitting only the state tax (6%). Additionally, Airbnb did not give owners a way to collect the local tax as part of the guest’s transaction. Owners would contact the guests and explain they would be charged an additional 9% upon arrival. Not only did the Airbnb reps lie to owners that Airbnb was collecting and remitting all taxes, but their reps lied to guests that there was no local tax to be paid. VRBO did the same thing in April 2019. We need to make this nightmare go away.

Airbnb Illegally Charges Taxes in Some Areas

I was notified by Airbnb that they would begin collecting GST (goods and services tax) on my behalf, charging my customers when they booked. They also stated the taxes I owed from their rentals would be paid quarterly. The trouble is, I live in an unincorporated, remote area, where I am not required to have a business licence, and according to the tax laws, for my particular rental, do not require me to pay taxes based on the rental property tax requirements.

I contacted Airbnb about this and they said they were basing their tax collections on a province-wide average, which includes several major cities, all that do have to pay the taxes they are saving, to pay on the hosts’ behalf. In essence, Airbnb was charging taxes to my customers, and pocketing it for themselves, in an account, probably worth millions, for three months, (earning interest, no doubt), and then using it to pay others’ taxes, that my customers would not have to pay if Airbnb had not started this procedure.

I did try to resolve this with Airbnb and was never allowed to speak to an actual person, just prefab replies. I cancelled my account with them. Beware. People cannot book your home without paying the taxes Airbnb charges, even if they are not owed.

Owner Rented Airbnb Against HOA Rules

I rented a condo in Miami for a few days. After coming back from dinner one night, security asked us if we were residents. We explained that we had rented a unit through Airbnb. Security then explained to us that it was against HOA rules to rent for anything less than 90 days and all tenants needed a full background screening.

Security then told us we could not go back in at all. Even after we explained that our luggage and dog were in the unit, they refused. Eventually they did let us through just to grab everything and leave. After talking with the owner, he promised us a full refund. The next day he reneged on the offer.

I then called Airbnb, explained the story, and provided them a copy of the HOA bylaws. The best they would offer was a refund for the booking fees and nothing else. The owner kept listing that same unit immediately afterwards. I really thought Airbnb would be a company that does legitimate business. Not only are they enabling scams but they are ruining residential communities throughout the world.

Airbnb Policy Violations by Hosts in Russia

Those who expect scary stories will be disappointed. My Airbnb experience is generaly good. No one has scammed me or robbed me, but still, there are some issues on Airbnb that are intolerable and must be addresed. Just please excuse me for my English. I would like to report serious policy violations by some Airbnb hosts in Russia, where I often travel for business or tourism (don’t get me wrong; there are also good hosts there – I don’t want to paint them all with the same brush).

According to the Russian Laws, if you are hosting a foreign guest, you’re obliged to register him/her, i.e. to notify the authorities about his/her arrival (by going to a governmental office, filling a certain form, showing some documents, etc.), but many hosts do not want to “waste time” with this bureaucratic procedure and they put their foreign guests in trouble. Airbnb rules say hosts must review the local laws before listing his/her space. By accepting the Terms of Service and activating a listing, they certify that they will follow their local laws and regulations. This procedure is informally known as “Registration of Foreigners”, but the correct term is Notification of Arrival of Foreign Citizen (Russian: Уведомление о прибытии иностранного гражданина).

Some foreigners may be lucky to get away without this paper, but still, the host must follow the laws and play on the safe side. Random police checks are common in Russia and if the foreigner fails to produce the registration slip, (s)he may be in trouble. Not all foreigners know the laws and their rights, so this allows some corrupt police officers to threat them with fines or detention, or even to demand a bribe. Once I was even taken to a police station because I couldn’t find this paper in my pockets.

Just don’t confuse this paper with the migration card, which is given to the foreigner at the border crossing. The host must register the guest either through the Migration Service offices (GUVM MVD, formerly FMS), or Russian Post offices (this is simpler). I understand that many hosts do not want to deal with bureaucracy, but this is not a complicated and lengthy procedure as some may fear. It is an annoyance, but it’s not mission impossible.

If your host is really the owner of the property and if his/her papers are in order, (s)he has nothing to worry about. This is mandatory; this is not a “special service” or a “favour” that a host may provide or not provide at will. I’m facing this registration problem everytime I go to Russia and this situation has repeated itself for years. I’m so tired. When I ask the hosts on Airbnb whether they can register me, I’m sometimes rudely turned down or ignored, or they find various “excuses” not to do it. Some hosts even suggest I go to a murky law firm, where I can be registered at a fake adress for like 20-50 USD or EUR. Basically, I can’t choose a property by its quality, but I must choose the one where the owner is willing to register me.

I see other guests complaining about this issue in their reviews on Airbnb, but no one seems to care. As one Italian girl says in her review, she asked her Russian host for registration and the reply was rude: “It’s your problem!”

Are the hosts afraid of taxes? Or are their papers not in order? Or are they just lazy? I don’t know, but this behaviour cannot be tolerated anymore. In normal circumstances, every foreign guest must be registered by the host within seven business days after arrival. If the guest stays at the property less than seven business days, registration is not needed. If the foreigner changes several properties, (s)he must be registered in each of them.

Note that this summer there will be special regulations. There will be temporary tightening of the rules due to the World Cup in 2018 in certain cities and the registration must be done within one day of arrival. Other details may temporarily change as well, so please educate yourself if you plan to go to Russia.

I noticed that many Russian Airbnb hosts did not even bother to educate themselves about these temporary changes. If I asked them about it, they were confused or didn’t care. These temporary changes have been published in the Decree no. 202 by the President of Russia: “On the specifics of the use of enhanced security measures during the FIFA World Cup 2018”.

Many Russian hosts do not really understand the concept of Airbnb. They violate its rules and their local laws, they accept only Russian guests, and they post ads only in Russian, etc. Airbnb is an international website and some of its principles are hospitability, inclusivity and respect for the local regulations. Some Russians are not so politically correct and they even write ads like: “I offer a flat for rent to Russians only / Slavs only” (Russian: Только русским / Только славянам).

I’m Slavic myself, but still, this is not right. I also see hosts who demand cash for an Internet connection, a security deposit or even bedsheets. How come the admins don’t see this? Note that Russia is not a 3rd-world country. Things there have improved in the last 10-15 years (at least in Moscow and other major cities). There’s a middle class that can afford decent cars, apartments, gadgets and holidays abroad, so there’s no excuse for violating the laws, committing tax evasion, and such. It’s not the “Wild East” anymore.

In the past, especially in the 1990s, many Russians suffered in poverty, so I could forgive them, but not anymore. It’s time to grow up, to file your paperwork, to pay your taxes and to stop playing games with guests. Right now I’m unable to find a good alternative to Airbnb and I’m sort of “forced” to use it. I can only hope that there are reasonable people who can clean up this mess or that a good competitor will show up someday.