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.

Problems at Rental: Private Communication Possible?

Our experiences with Airbnb have been excellent overall. However, the time and effort to get help with problems is a real concern. I believe guests used to get a post-visit email from Airbnb allowing the sharing of problems privately. This no longer appears to be the case. Here is a note I wrote which I could find no way to deliver. Moreover, I waited 25 minutes on the phone waiting to speak with someone.

Dear Airbnb Staff,

A question I have is how to contact you if a problem arises and neither a computer nor cell phone is at hand? We had need of this on our last trip to Pasadena, California. We arrived at 12:00 PM (3:00 AM New York time), in the heavy rain. Fortunately, our taxi driver was able to spot the entrance to the building and call box in the damp and poorly lit area. Our directions had told us to type in the owner’s name and call them to be buzzed in. The directions at the top of the call box sent a fleeting and almost unreadable message regarding entry. It said to type in a number and name. There were no symbols nor letters on the buttons in the call box, making it impossible to do this. I tried many times. Eventually I pushed something on the box and by translating the letters from our TracFone buttons was able to type in the names. The box said access denied.

To continue the saga, by accident I found a way to scroll for names and did manage to call the owner who said she would buzz us in. We lugged all our bags and suitcases through the gate only to find we were trapped between the outer and inner gate! No one had told us to go and open the second gate quickly. This could have meant we had to go in and out again, but my husband rang the door bell of a very helpful neighbor who came to let us in and show us where the elevator was. On getting to the correct floor in the dark – the lights apparently go off at a certain hour – it took another long time and required us to turn a large bench over in order to access the lock box. When we eventually got into the apartment all the clothes in one suitcase were soaked through.

In the apartment, there were no directions regarding the wifi or television use. My husband was able to get the wifi information from a call to the owner, as well as an explanation as to why the bathroom sink was sprinkled with mud… or worse. The owner informed us that sometimes the plumbing backed up. The apartment had no dining room, nor did it have a table or shelf high enough to use for writing or placing a computer. We did not plan to do cooking except for breakfast. Neither the electric oven nor the oven broiler worked. It was not made clear how to lock the doors on departure. Apparently you have to lift up the handle while turning the key, another item that should be in a manual.

I had intended to write this in a private communication to Airbnb. In the past there has been an option to write to Airbnb with suggestions for improvement that you do not want to communicate directly to the owner. No such email came from you. I have mentioned several problems above but want to reiterate: there was no instruction manual, let alone welcome manual in the house. There were no clear directions about getting into the house. There was no mention of the possibility of plumbing problems. There was neither a working electric oven nor a stove broiler oven. It was not clear how to lock the doors correctly on departure. This is the only time in many years of enjoying Airbnb homes that we have experienced any difficulty. Overall our stay was alright, with a comfortable bed and quiet space. However, I cannot say strongly enough that these problems should be addressed before the apartment is rented again. Thank you for taking the time to read this.