Hello fellow Airbnbers. I’m a superhost with more than 100 five-star reviews, and although I’m new to this forum, I’ve certainly had plenty of experience with Airbnb bookings. I just had the most obvious scam pulled by a guest on MLK weekend (I’ve experienced this sort of fraud only once before, and Airbnb mediated, agreed, and ruled in my favor) and amazingly, Airbnb refused to pay me out for the booking (about $950). Things have really changed in Airbnb customer service. I’m an attorney and pride myself on being reasonable, but they totally denied me the opportunity to inspect my property, respond in full, and go after the $300 damage deposit when the scammers left the place trashed.
To make a long story short: I had guests who wanted to stay only one night, when my minimum is two (and on holiday weekends it is a three-day minimum). I had several requests for two-day stays, which I turned down when this scammer changed her mind and agreed to the three-day stay. She asked tons of questions which were fully addressed in the house manual I had sent her in advance. I have an old stone lake house – very charming but quirky in terms of small details – so my house manual is very thorough. The scammer kept trying to book it for one person so I pressed her for an exact number (I charge for extra guests after four since it involves a lot more cleaning). She finally told me it was going to be four.
I approved her request for three days; she then asked if she could arrive early on Friday since they needed to get ready for an event (her son’s concert at West Point). I agreed to let them arrive early since the house was empty. I also told her that I was in Australia that weekend and on long flights, and reiterated many times that if she had any questions or problems she should try me first, and if she couldn’t reach me, she should contact my professional cleaner/Airbnb manager or my handyman. Take note: she knew I was overseas and on my way back to the US that weekend and would be hard to reach. She counted on this.
The scammer and her family arrived (yes, more than four people as confirmed by my CCTV system) and fully used the house: all four beds were slept in, every towel was used and soiled, the entire kitchen was used for cooking a big greasy meal, my cast iron cookware was burned black beyond salvage and hidden away in a different place, glasses were broken, and the toilet was clogged and overflowing. They obviously went to their event Friday night, enjoyed the house until Saturday morning (which was all they had originally wanted) and then called Airbnb just shy of the 24-hour mark required before the payment is released, and filed a 100% premeditated and fraudulent claim that the place was dirty. To be clear, I have a consistent 4.9-star cleanliness rating with more than 100 reviews, and the house is always professionally cleaned before every guest.
Airbnb stopped the payout and sent me an email asking me to contact them. They included some photos in huge files (so big I couldn’t open them on my smart phone at all) of a cobweb in the skylight and some dust in a corner behind a big speaker. They even pulled up an area rug and took a photo of dust in a nonworking heating vent and some 20-year old microscopic paint splatter under the rug. They included a photo of water splatter on the bathroom mirror which was obviously caused by them. She also threw in non-verifiable (non-photographable) complaints about no hot water and no wifi. Both the hot water tank and wifi were working perfectly when inspected by my cleaner/manager an hour after they departed. This email arrived at 1:00 AM Australia time, so I was asleep. A full warning came through at 4:00 AM (three hours later) telling me that I had one hour to respond, and luckily I was awake to see it and call Airbnb (long distance, from Australia) to see what was going on. Airbnb could see I was in Australia because I had booked all of my stays there through them so it was obvious I wasn’t anywhere near my home in the US.
I was so freaked out to hear that the guest had abandoned the house that I thought something awful must have happened (like my cleaner forgot to prepare the house). I couldn’t see the photos on my phone, and the representative I spoke to, “Colleen”, chastised me and said that spiders don’t spin webs overnight (actually, yes they do) so the house clearly was filthy enough to give her a refund. I asked why she didn’t just turn around and leave upon arrival the day before if the place was so filthy, and Colleen had no answer for me. Colleen was so adamantly pro-guest and anti-host that if you told me that the scammer was her mother, that would be the only explanation for her bias that would make sense. Mind you, the scammer never called me, texted, or emailed me, my cleaner (who lives nearby), or my handyman at any time. This is how you know she is a scammer; she had no legitimate complaint and she didn’t want to give anyone a chance to inspect or remedy anything that might be a genuine complaint.
The scammer simply got online with her huge photo files and just lodged her complaint with Airbnb knowing they would not be able to reach me, and then left after that since they were obviously done with their one-day stay. I had my cleaner run over to the house to see if she could be of help. She was freaked out, obviously – she had to rouse her sick son from bed and bring him with her to run there. We really thought something horrible had happened. There was nothing wrong at all except the mess they had made and the destruction they had caused. The cleaner was so upset she didn’t want to work for me anymore because she’s afraid she will be blamed when scammers succeed with their false cleaning complaints. By the time my plane landed, before I had a chance to even get home and inspect my house myself for any damage and investigate fully their complaints (again, I couldn’t open the photos until I got to a computer), Colleen had issued the scammer a full refund and removed the listing completely from my roster. Not canceled. It has fully disappeared from my Airbnb history.
This is infuriating because I don’t even know the amount that I was supposed to receive, I have no way of asking for verification information on the scammer, and I have no ability to file a counter-complaint for all the cleaning and damages left behind. It’s now been more than two weeks. I have called and left multiple messages for Colleen, or preferably a supervisor, to review the case and get back to me about their frustration of my contract and denial of my due process rights to go after a guest for the damage deposit. Each time I call, the “system is down” so they can only send Colleen a message. They reassure me she will get back to me. The new representative I get each time puts notes on my ticket, and that’s all they can do. Colleen never has called me back even though I’m told the “ticket is still open.” This is baffling and infuriating – every time I have dealt with the customer service team in the past they have been thoughtful, thorough, reasonable, and communicative; it’s all in my history. I’m the sort who always pays people partial refunds if they have even a minor complaint, and Airbnb knows that.
I have sent at least five detailed emails, including photos of the damage and filth left behind in my house. I have received no response. Their method is clear: they hope they will just wear me down by frustration and attrition, never responding to my very reasonable observations supporting my claim that my guest was a premeditated scammer. For what it is worth, last year I brought in more than $100K in Airbnb bookings, and Airbnb happily kept 15% of that ($15K) plus all the interest on the credit card pre-booking payments they sit on. I cannot believe they would treat a three-year proven superhost this way. They just refuse to respond. Isn’t it reasonable that they at least explain how they came to their decision, even if they refuse to modify it? On principle, I’m ready to go to arbitration because my only other choice if I’m able to sleep at night is to completely divest myself of my Airbnb listings and go to Homeaway. Obviously, I want to do this as a last resort, so I’ll take all the advice you other hosts can offer.