Airbnb Host Spying On Guests With Audiovisual Equipment?

Tripping

When I made our reservation with Airbnb, I took advantage of their “Pay Less Up Front” program. I paid for only half the reservation at booking, and about two weeks later, I paid the rest. Who would know this would come back to bite me in the end? Let me back up a bit.

My group and I planned to meet at the airport for our flights to Atlanta at 11:00 AM Friday morning. Our flight was from about 1:00-3:00 PM and we were scheduled to check into the house we rented at 5:00 PM that day. At exactly 11:13 PM on the Thursday night before the trip, I received a heart-stopping message from my host:

“Dear Kayla, I am hoping you will get this. Airbnb Customer Service is getting in touch with you, as well. I am having huge septic tank issues and there is sewage in the house. I am not allowed to safely have anyone stay at this home. I have tried to let you know much earlier but Airbnb’s website would not let me cancel or notify you. I had to call Airbnb to cancel and they are now trying to notify you. I am so sorry for the inconvenience to your trip! Thank you for your kind understanding!”

Let me just put this out there: I had been in constant contact with the host, letting her know our arrival and departure times, and just discussing other little things related to the booking. I was just baffled as to how it was that she was unable to contact me until 11:13 PM the night before I was scheduled to stay with her. I thought it best that I not respond to her, as I know my words would not have been kind or understanding.

Instead, I immediately contacted Airbnb who had not even called me yet. The representative had no clue what I was talking about. The reservation was active and there were no notes on the account stating that it should be cancelled. She had to hang up with me and call the host to verify. Meanwhile, she told me to look for other listings and reach out to the hosts of the ones I like to see if they could take me at the last minute. Another blank stare moment.

Once Airbnb spoke to the host, she called me back and asked me if there were any listings that I saw that I liked. I explained to her that since I was looking to book something on what was now the same date I was expecting to arrive, that the prices were much more expensive than what I had paid. The only listing I found with a host that was willing to take my party at such short notice was $400 more expensive than what I had paid. Airbnb only gave me a $200 coupon, leaving me to come up with $200 more than what I had paid, all for something that was not my fault.

What the representative said next is what really blew my mind. I was informed that because I paid for the booking in two installments, instead of them transferring the money I’d already paid onto the new reservation, they had to charge me for the new one and I had to wait for the refund for the cancelled one. After escalating to a supervisor, I was told that the funds would be released to my bank in 1-2 hours and all I had to do was call the bank so they could make it available to me.

While speaking with my bank I learned that was hogwash and poppycock, told to pacify me and get me off the phone. Meanwhile, my account was severely overdrawn and I still had a flight to catch in the morning. To make matters worse, I only got an automated confirmation of a refund about the first half of my payment, which finally posted to my account on Tuesday. I never received an automated confirmation about the second refund. When I inquired via chat about the second portion of the refund, I was told the funds were never received.

Like I said, when I booked the reservation, I paid half upfront. I received several confirmation and reminder emails that the second half would be charged on Thursday, December 18th. Airbnb charged my account for the second payment on Wednesday December 17th, and sent me a confirmation email dated for Thursday, December 18th, thanking me for my payment.

What the heck is going on at Airbnb? Why are they charging folks earlier than they should, and sending confirmations for a later date? The first representative I spoke to that Wednesday night, when I called in irate about being prematurely charged, processed a refund for that payment. I escalated to a supervisor because I did not want to be charged again on the correct date while waiting for a refund, since that would mean double the amount would be taken from my account. The supervisor then cancelled the refund, kept the money and compensated me for my overdraft fees.

Fast forward to 2:00 AM last Friday, the day of my trip, when I was going back and forth with Airbnb. After reading the message that the second payment was never received, I demanded the supervisor I had been speaking with call me back. She called me back and told me the last message was an error; they did receive the second payment and they did process the refund. She typed an email to me confirming the two refunds and their respective amounts. A week later, I have not received the second refund. If they were both processed at the same time, shouldn’t they be in my account by now?

The madness does not stop there. The new host that I booked with was freaking me out from the beginning. She asked me the purpose of my trip, and constantly drilled that she lives in a conservative neighborhood and that her home is not a “party house”. I understood that – no one wants to have problems with their neighbors. However, the first red flag came when she asked me how my guests and I know each other. I let her know we’re coworkers and classmates, but I could not understand what that had to do with anything.

The second red flag came when she called me before we checked in. She let me know that once I got to the house, I would hold my license up to the camera at the doorbell, she’d verify my identity and give me a code to put in the keypad and gain access to the house. No problem. The issue is that she said the latch on her door “sticks”. She said we’d have to hold the latch tightly and push really hard on the door to get in. Every time we went to go inside the house, it literally felt like we were breaking in. I’m so glad we had two strong guys with us, because if not, I doubt us ladies would have been able to get in.

The third issue arose when we returned to the house Saturday night at about 2:00 AM and attempted to turn on the downstairs heater. It was 27 degrees outside. We are South Floridians who are not used to the cold, so we were beyond shocked when we tried to turn the heater on and discovered that the thermostat was now asking for a PIN number. I felt bad about contacting the host at such an hour, but heat in such conditions is like a basic human right. It couldn’t wait.

I practically found myself in an argument with this woman. The most unsettling part about this text exchange was the realization that she was eavesdropping on me and my guests. Notice her comment to me about her power bill. I never mentioned anything to her about it, but one of my guests had just said the reason she blocked us from adjusting the temperature was because she did not want to have to pay a high power bill. It was so scary that she turned around and mentioned it. She claims she was just clarifying, but who clarifies something like that without a question being asked?

We learned that the system she used to identify me at the door and remotely adjust the thermostat is called NEST and it provides clear audio and visual surveillance. I’m still creeped out by this. To make matters worse, the house smelled dank and musty when we first got there. We had to spray everything down with Febreeze. The host only gave us one set of towels each for the weekend. Imagine being a person that is used to changing towels daily, and having to use the same towel all weekend.

She claimed she had a cleaning crew but the house was horribly dusty. There was broken glass on the floor in one of the bedrooms and dog hair everywhere. The pots, pans and dish sponges were filthy. We had to buy dish detergent and new sponges so we could properly clean the dishes and cook our breakfast. I did my very best to overlook this situation, but Airbnb nearly ruined my birthday that I had spent months planning.

I cannot believe that a company that is supposedly the standard in home rentals is so careless and irresponsible with its guests and with who they allow to host. I’ve since learned that Airbnb does not even do background checks on its hosts. What if the lady that hosted us is some kind of sick voyeur and records or watches the people that she rents her home to all the time? I will never, ever, deal with Airbnb again.

Tripping

Attempted Airbnb Bait and Switch in Amsterdam

Tripping

It was supposed to be a dream trip to Europe, then we found ourselves on a one way trip to Airbnb hell. We searched the map of Amsterdam and found a small but suitable room in a location that was close to all of the things we wanted to see and do. The property didn’t have any reviews but the host had dozens and all good. We figured it was a new location for her. We booked, paid, and thought we were done.

Two weeks later we crossed the river Styx. We got a request from the host to change the reservation to another suite, in the same building but smaller. We were told we paid the wrong price, that she had booked it to someone else on another site for the correct price and it wasn’t available for us anymore. We declined to switch and asked her to cancel it so that we would get a full refund. She refused.

Luckily we are eight months from departure so we have a little time to correct. The first thing I did was book a hotel room. Honestly the $300 we were going to save isn’t worth the hassle of dealing with Airbnb. In some locations around the world Airbnb is a great idea but in the busy capitals of first world nations there isn’t much advantage to balance the risk of having your vacation ruined.

The next step was to contact Airbnb. We found the phone number on this site, called, and laid out the scene to a representative who took details and told us we would get a full refund once a manager had taken a look at the file… I’ll believe that when I see it. Has anyone been through this? Did you get a full refund? Should I contact my credit card company and start proceedings there? To be continued…

Tripping

Guests Meet Sketchy Host, Airbnb Refuses Refund

As a single mom traveling with my two children for the first time, I decided to book an Airbnb so that I had a backup if something went wrong. This was a big mistake. A week before my arrival the host was unreachable (for the first time) and after three days was found. A few days before our visit we spoke on the phone and I asked if we could check in earlier, since we were scheduled to land at noon. He said that would be no problem.

The day before we left I contacted him to confirm and he said he would be home, and to call him from the airport. I did so but he didn’t answer. After a few unanswered calls, I decided to take a taxi to the address given on Airbnb, thinking I would just knock on the door and wake him up. We got to the address but there was no entrance to the building. The only entrance was from the side of the building, but it was a different address and his name wasn’t there.

I was alone in Barcelona with two kids and three big suitcases, and it was raining. We waited for him in a cafe nearby; after half an hour he responded on the phone. He came to the cafe and had a strong smell of alcohol on his mouth, so I felt completely insecure. I asked him what was wrong with the address and he said “Oh, the flat is somewhere else. didn’t I send you the address?”

Would you go with a man like that, as a woman traveling alone with two kids?  I contacted Airbnb immediately and they sweet talked me back and forth, suggesting I could solve any problems with the host, implying something about the cancellation policy. To this day I have not received a serious answer, and there is no number to reach customer service. I paid 3000 IS and have nobody to turn to. I contacted the Israeli press and they are now checking what can be done. What a huge disappointment. I will never recommend traveling with Airbnb.

Cold Showers, Rude Host, and Ultimately a Terrible Experience

My husband and I recently travelled to Portugal. We had been visiting different cities in Portugal and staying in multiple Airbnb homes. We came across a listing for an entire house to rent for one month in Alentejo, Portugal. I talked to the host who was listed as a woman and had over 100+ four-star reviews for multiple properties and rooms across Portugal. The place we were interested in was a new listing with no reviews. Looking back, this should have been an obvious red flag.

I spent two days talking to the host on the Airbnb messenger and confirming that the entire place had hot water, a washing machine and a router that had wifi. I informed the host numerous times that I work from home; therefore, I would be relying on wifi. They informed me on the Airbnb messenger that they had all these amenities. The host also stated that the city had a taxi rank and close amenities but no local transport. The host volunteered to pick us up from our current Airbnb listing for a small fee and take us to their home by car.

In the morning a man arrived and claimed that he was working on behalf of the host and would be handling all our needs. He admitted that he had been pretending to be the host I was talking to, and that he was close friends with the host and used her account to list his house. This was odd but at this point, I had already made payment for one month through Airbnb and I thought as long as the place was as advertised it would be fine.

It turned out that there was no wifi in the house; there was not even a router. It was a 3G mobile hotspot that would jump between one or two bars and sometimes not work at all. There was no hot water whatsoever. The man had no clue how to operate the washing machine after he claimed that the house was his. He brought out a manual for the washing machine in Portuguese which we translated and used to operate the washing machine. It was clear that he did not own the house.

As it was within the 24 hours of us checking in to the listing, I contacted Airbnb and informed them of what was going on. Luckily, Airbnb refunded me 20% of the listing and gave me back 50% of my first night. I was also given the option to get a full refund and 20% discount on a new listing if I wanted to leave that night. Unfortunately, the small village we were in did not have a taxi rank that was in use; there was no means of us leaving the village. As it was during the popular summer season, a lot of the listings available on Airbnb were either too far away or unavailable.

We spent one month with no hot water and limited internet. Airbnb insisted that the host should try to rectify the issue and tried to reach out to the woman that owned the host Airbnb account. Her boyfriend called me and said that he was away at sea and could not drive down to fix the internet issues or the lack of hot water. He proceeded to try to speak broken English with me and tell me that there was hot water and that he had driven from Porto to Alentejo four days before our booking to ensure that everything was fine. As his English was bad, I spoke Portuguese to him so he could clearly understand everything I was saying. However, he insisted on speaking English and would not listen at all to anything we were saying, insisting that everything was fine.

Eventually, it was futile talking to him so I hung up and informed Airbnb of what he had told us. When the man that pretended to be the original host returned on the day we checked out, he stated that there was hot water. He proceeded to change the gas tank quietly while we were in the bedroom tidying up and thought that I was not watching him. He then declared that there was hot water and that we were not using the boiler properly. I informed him that I saw him changing the gas tank. He had absolutely nothing to say. Why lie? Why not just admit that the gas tank had run out before our booking?

I asked him why he lied about having a router and wifi, and he said that it was a small village and worked well for him. That was not what I asked him on the Airbnb messenger or in person. During our stay, we had to boil water with pots to take “showers” because he and the original host could not be bothered to ensure that there was a filled gas tank.

I left a negative review on the listing and Airbnb deleted it; the listing is still up. I wonder if this is why the place has no reviews – because Airbnb is deleting them. The moral of this experience is if you want to try and get some sort of refund or assistance from Airbnb, communicate in detail with prospective and current hosts on the messaging app. Airbnb can see everything that is said. Avoid phone calls if possible that discuss important issues. Avoid emails too. Communicate via the app so that all cards are on the table; I cannot stress this enough.

We are now staying in our last listing with another host who lied about having wifi with an ethernet port. Airbnb has offered me a partial refund if the mobile hotspot continues to give us issues. Why? Because I communicated everything through the app.

Airbnb Doesn’t Care About Burglary in Richmond, Virginia

A couple of days ago during Hurricane Irma my boyfriend, his mom, and I rented a two bedroom apartment in the center of Richmond, Virginia to escape the storm. The listing looked extremely decent and the host had over 100 positive reviews. The flat was located on the first floor of a two-story building in the historic center of Richmond.

After arriving at the place around 10-11 PM we went to sleep and left the apartment early the next day to explore the city. We arrived back to the flat for the first time at 11:00 PM and that’s when we noticed we had been burgled. The host had two entrance doors at his apartment: one was a code door and the other door was a back door that could be opened only from the inside.

My boyfriend’s mom and I entered the house using the front door, while my boyfriend went to park the car and was waiting for us to open the back door for him. Upon reaching the back door, I discovered that it was unlocked. I asked my boyfriend if he left the door opened but he assured me that when we were leaving he checked that everything had been locked.

We started searching the rooms and noticed that my backpack with all my valuables was missing, that my boyfriend’s mom’s stuff was upside down and all of my boyfriend’s bags had been opened. Then we saw that the window of one of the rooms in the apartment was open, meaning that the burglars had entered the flat through the window and left using the back door.

We immediately called the police and wrote a report about it. It was interesting that the host had three TVs in the apartment as well as other electronics, but none of his things were missing, only my own valuables. Upon reaching out to the host, he of course said that he was not responsible for the robbery, even when he was negligent and did not provide any security for his apartment. Living on the ground floor, the host did not have any protection on his windows and not a single camera.

When speaking to me, the host said that the neighborhood where we were staying was very safe and nothing had ever happened to guests before. However, after the incident, he decided to put cameras about his house. I wish he would have done this before renting us his place. Airbnb has not taken any responsibility for what has happened to us and has completely ignored our requests. They did not even refund us the night that we had to spend in a hotel after the robbery because we were scared to stay at that apartment one more night. To sum it up, this stay with Airbnb cost us over a $3,000 in valuables and no one wanted to find a resolution to this incident.

Who’s Worse, Shonky Hosts or Shonky Airbnb?

I booked a villa in Greece on Airbnb, got confirmation, and soon received a request for my private email address from my host so he could send me directions. Two minutes later he emailed me to say my villa was not available but he had another selection of wonderful choices; however, I shouldn’t tell Airbnb about this. What he is doing is using their site to rent but avoiding the fee. I called Airbnb, who could not care less. They sent me an email so I could forward the dodgy offer to them from the host but guess what? The Airbnb email comes from a “No Reply” sender. Airbnb and their hosts are in this for the money and the renters are the mugs. The company simply will not help you.

Am I Being Fooled? Long-term Airbnb in Iceland

I was planing to rent an apartment in Reykjavik, Iceland. The price looked a little cheap. I wanted to ask if it was the real deal; the landlord said he lives abroad and he is offering to pay one month’s rent and one month’s deposit through Airbnb, that he will keep the money until I get the keys and agree to rent the apartment, and only then will the rent be deposited in his bank account. Here are his messages:

Hello, I just read your email regarding my apartment located in Reykjavik. It has two bedrooms, a living room, bathroom, and kitchen. I bought this apartment for my daughter while she was studying in Iceland. She’s back home permanently, so I’m renting the place for an indefinite time. Before we go any further I would like to know a little something about you: how many people intend to live in the apartment, and for how long? The flat looks exactly like the pictures, fully furnished and renovated. Also – very important – the utilities (cold/hot water, electricity, wireless broadband Internet, digital TV, parking spot, dishwasher, garbage disposal, microwave, refrigerator, washing machine, etc.) are included in the price of 125.000ISK/month. As for me, you can rest assured that I will never ask you to leave the apartment.

My daughter is building her life here, and I am too old to move to Iceland, so we won’t disturb you. You can use my furniture, or you can also use your own if you prefer. If you decide to use yours, you will have access to a very large and well-ventilated cellar, where you can store my furniture. Now, a little bit about myself so we can get to know each other better. My name is Thomas Nordanger and I’m a 58-year-old structural engineer. I work for MWH Global Engineering. I worked hard to have a good career and I really respect hard-earned money. The company I work for has projects all around the world so most of my time I’m traveling. I have a lovely wife, Sarah, and a 25-year-old daughter, Maria. I am very proud to say that soon I’m going to be a grandfather. Another member of our family is an 8-year-old Labrador which we all love, so, I have no problem if you will keep pets. I’m in Rome now working on a new project. The only inconvenience is that my job doesn’t allow me to leave Rome even for a single day. We just hired some new staff and I’m in charge of their training. However, this won’t affect you at all. I can make arrangements to rent the apartment from Rome (on my expense of course). Looking forward to hear from you soon. All the best from Italy!

After I expressed some concern about the situation, he wrote this:

Thank you for your reply but the problem is that I’m in Rome already. Like I have informed you, the price you shall pay for one month’s rent will be 125.000ISK, with no extra taxes to pay. The security deposit is 125.000ISK. I want to retrieve the money from my bank account on a monthly basis, so I hope it will be no problem for you to wire the money to my bank account. The apartment is ready for you; you will need only to receive the keys and the contract to check in, and see if you like it. Obviously we need a way to complete this deal, that will allow us to make sure we receive what we are after. Along those lines, I have found a way for us to complete the deal safely and fast, and in this way you will receive the keys in less than three days, if you move quickly as well.

The solution is a worldwide third party company called Airbnb (www.airbnb.com). They will provide assistance in handling the payment and delivery of the rental package. We use this company to see that you are a trusting and serious person. With this procedure you will be able to check the apartment before I receive the payment. Please be aware that it is not necessary for you to register with Airbnb given that I’ve been a registered user for four years and I’ve made over five transactions with them so far. They are really professional and they have great services. Let me know if you are interested so I can provide you with all the steps of this transaction. You need to know everything about this process before we get this started. I think is right for both of us.

I replied again asking for more information, and he wrote back:

This transaction cannot be made face-to-face. This is the whole reason for using Airbnb – for both of us to be 100% protected. Regarding the process, you will only have to deposit the first month’s rent with Airbnb for the contract and security deposit 125.000ISK + 125.000ISK = 250.000ISK and they can proceed with shipping the rental package (keys and documents). I will pay for three-day delivery so you will receive the keys and the contract signed by me right away. I will explain you step by step how this process will work:

To start the process all I need is your information (full name and address). I will go online at Airbnb to deposit the keys and the contract with your name as the intended receiver. Airbnb will check the package to see if everything is in order and also the legal papers that will come along with the keys and proof of ownership with their Real Estate Professional Department. Airbnb will send you a delivery notification to let you know they have the keys and the papers in their custody. They will also send you all the payment instructions to complete the rental transaction.

At this point you will have to go to your bank and make a money transfer to the bank account of an Airbnb representative for the amount we agreed upon; the total amount you shall deposit is 250.000ISK. After you make the deposit you will have to send the payment details to Airbnb. Airbnb will verify the transfer and if everything is in order they will start the shipping procedures using UPS or TNT Next Day Shipping Service. After you receive the package, you will go and check the apartment and in three days (inspection time) you must contact Airbnb to inform them if you want to keep the apartment or not. If everything is in order you will instruct Airbnb to send me the information about the money deposit and I will be able to receive the funds.

If you don’t like the apartment they will be sending the money back to you and you will send back the keys and contract. Airbnb can’t release the funds without your approval. Now I must know for sure if you agree because there are a lot of people interested in renting this apartment and I want to know for sure if I can tell them it’s unavailable. If you agree to what I suggested I will tell them that my apartment is already rented and I will keep it for you. If you agree then I must have all the shipping details so I will be able to make all the arrangements for the Airbnb delivery. Thank you for your interest and I await news from you.

What do you think?

Airbnb Changed my Review to Favor Host

Unless I have very bad recall of what I submitted, Airbnb edited my review to eliminate part of my comment about the “value” being over priced for what turned out to be the conditions of the lodging, and Airbnb upgraded the rating I provided in response to their question about “value”. Airbnb also upgraded my “cleanliness” rating from 4 to 4.5 stars. I have been unable to discover any method to communicate with Airbnb about this concern. Ten minutes after I submitted my review, I thought of something that would be a useful addition to my review for future customers, but there is no way to amend or augment the review after it is posted.