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.

Host in Tallahassee Needs to Grow Up and Accept Hurricane

We booked a townhouse in Tallahassee, Florida necessary for evacuation from Hurricane Irma. The host was to contact us one day prior to provide the lock box code for the key. He never fulfilled that promise. Rather than drive five hours hoping he would come through, we canceled the reservation at 6:30 AM and emailed the host. Note that the hurricane had shifted west and Tallahassee was now in the path of the storm. Being in an evacuation zone, we scrambled to find a safe place and inquired about a refund. The host responded a day later at 5:45 PM stating his no refund policy. After some back and forth after the fact, he had the audacity to blame the hurricane for the reason he hadn’t responded. The reason we canceled (besides never getting the lock box code) was the same reason he said he couldn’t communicate and he still denies us a refund? I’m not sure how many properties this host has on various sites but stay far far away from him. Perhaps he can grow into a real man but for now he is an immature child who can’t take responsibility for his own failings.

Airbnb is Soulless Organization During Hurricanes

During Hurricane Irma, I wanted a nearby safe house to go to if needed. I found one within three miles and was willing to pay for three nights whether I used it or not. The owner wanted to rent it to me. Airbnb has a credit card verification process that was not working. They charged two different cards six minimal charges, under $2, to verify the card worked. All six charges hit my cards but Airbnb said they could not verify them for 24 hours. They then asked for a copy of my credit card Statement. After uploading the first one, they asked me to upload a second statement. This took over seven hours. After this I told them what they could do with their verification process. This was all for a $174 charge. I talked to three people at Airbnb in California and they were worthless. Please let this company die with their greedy hearts in place.

Is Hurricane Harvey a Sufficient Reason to Cancel?

I’m supposed to go to Austin tomorrow for a work event but unfortunately my flight and several others have been canceled. I informed my host of this and she (after speaking with her husband) said that they won’t be refunding me my $600+ because they already paid for cleaning and lawn services and that I really need to ” understand where we are coming from.”

I’m sitting here trying to contact Airbnb which is a nightmare as many of you know. I talked to a woman who was obviously from a call center overseas and she was next to useless. I’m super pissed. I feel like this is a friggin’ fraud. I made every attempt to keep my reservation, but there is a literal hurricane barreling down on Texas and this woman has the nerve to say to me “I spoke with Airbnb and they said that since the severe weather isn’t in Austin itself then our original cancellation policy is still in effect, so unfortunately I can’t offer you a refund. ”

Hmmm… okay… here is a quote from the latest news article I read on this storm…

“In all, the storm could dump at least 15 trillion gallons of water on Texas, WeatherBell meteorologist Ryan Maue said. In addition to the Corpus Christi area, near where the storm should make landfall, Harvey ‘has the potential to cause very serious flooding in such highly populated, flood-prone regions as the Austin-San Antonio corridor and the Houston metro area,’ Weather Underground meteorologist Jeff Masters said. Harvey may be the strongest landfall in this area known as the Texas Coastal Bend since infamous Category 3 Hurricane Celia hammered the Corpus Christi area in August 1970 with wind gusts up to 161 mph, the Weather Channel said.”

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.