Airbnb created an innovative way to match guests with private rental properties and the company’s app has won rave reviews from many satisfied users. It provides a way for renters and hosts to connect and in most cases, the transactions—from the initial contact to the payment—are simple and painless.
However, it turns out that not everyone’s experiences with the service have been positive. A website called Airbnb Hell allows users—both hosts and guests—to document their horror stories. Many of them involve simple miscommunications or misunderstandings about the terms of the rental, but others are much more serious, requiring the involvement of law enforcement. Here are a few examples.
A host who claims to have over 180 “glowing reviews” on Airbnb, with listings in Quito, Aruba, and Miami, says she is being extorted by a past guest:
Last month I received a request from a group of first timers: no reviews; two women, one man. The interaction during the booking process was strange but I figured someone has to give people their first chance. They requested one night. They arrived at 6:00 AM when check in is 3:00 PM, spent all day out, and left early the next morning. The following week one of the women wrote to me: “Hi, your father touched me inappropriately. I am offended. Refund me.” Mind you, my mom and dad are in their 70s, married for 50 years, and there is a full-time maid at the house. I contacted Airbnb customer support to ask them to handle the extortionist and I did not engage with her anymore. The guest kept asking for money several times.
Airbnb assigned a “neutral third party” to investigate the matter, but they cancelled all of the host’s bookings during the investigation. After not receiving a satisfactory answer from the company, she finally called and demanded that the issue be addressed immediately:
I asked to what degree the extortionists were being investigated. The next day I received an email saying: “We are now canceling all your future bookings, removing the listings of your properties, and preventing you from contacting guests.”
Fortunately, the host had printed out hard copies of the bookings and was able to contact and rebook many of them—$12,000 worth to date, with plans to permanently take her $50,000 in bookings elsewhere.
“My advice to people after this glorious experience is to list your properties on sites other than Airbnb in case you host an extortionist or any other vindictive person,” she wrote.
These unfortunate hosts rented their home to a man and his girlfriend who said they were planning to stay one night while they were in town for a wedding. Their house rules clearly stated that the maximum number of guests was eight and that they do not allow parties or gatherings in their home. The trouble started when they received a midnight call from a neighbor notifying them that there was a huge party at their home with cars all over the lawn and even in the creek.
We called the police and arrived with them. There really were hundreds of people at our house. The guest was charging “admission” to attend this raging party. There were over 300 people crammed into our home. Music, marijuana, and alcohol was present, along with who knows what else. Our furniture was all over the yard. Over an inch of liquid and mud was on our hardwood floors. There was a billowing mass of marijuana smoke and cigarettes, alcohol, and tobacco all over our furniture. The floors, counters, bathrooms, toilets, and tubs were stuffed with paper and clogged; water was everywhere. Cars were stuck all over our lawn that made huge muddy track marks and destroyed our lawn. The result of this was horrific. There was tons of damage to our home.
Shockingly, Airbnb has offered no help. Three weeks after the incident, the hosts are still waiting for someone from the “imaginary resolution center” to respond to their complaints.
“I supplied photos, invoices, videos, a police report, and statements and cannot get a response from Airbnb,” the owner said. “The people who deceived us and had a raging party for profit at our home made more money than we did and Airbnb won’t even release our security deposit to us.”
They warned other potential hosts, “The damage is clear yet Airbnb stands in the way of collecting the deposit that was put in place to protect us. There is no protection for Airbnb hosts.”
From a host with a flat in Paris:
An American female traveler stayed in my studio, located in Paris, France. After three days the complaints from neighbors multiplied and one called the police in the early morning. They discovered my guest and a gentleman who admits to having “paid [for] sexual services” having a heated argument. The traveler denies and demands a refund “because of some renovation that disrupted her stay.” In fact, it concerned a facelift of a nearby building.
Airbnb’s response? To deduct money from the host’s account in order to issue a refund to the prostitute/guest because of the noise complaint.
The host concluded, “Airbnb doesn’t care about hosts. According to my calculations, I’ve made the equivalent of $20,000 in the past five years for this Mickey Mouse company. The style and spelling of their replies clearly demonstrate that Airbnb representatives have zero legal expertise, and are mere puppets of the corporate philosophy of maximizing revenues at any cost.”
This host relayed a terrifying story about a group of three young men who stayed in her home. She originally thought there would be a female staying with the group and said she wouldn’t have accepted the booking had she known three men would be staying with her. She wrote:
At about 3:30 am, I saw the bathroom light come on, heard someone use the bathroom, and saw the bathroom light go off. Then I saw the person who had used the bathroom coming towards the living room where I was lying on the couch for bed. As he got nearer, I was surprised that he was approaching me and asked, in a normal speaking voice, “What do you want?”
That’s when I realized it was Sean and he was either nude or wearing “barely there” underpants. I couldn’t tell which it was in the room, which was only illuminated by streetlight and the light from my computer and other electronics. In response to my question, Sean said something like, “My bad. I sleepwalk,” and returned to his private room near the back of the house. Alone, with three men in the house – one of them just having gotten very close to me while naked, or nearly so, and while I was lying in bed – I was too afraid to go back to sleep. So I called Airbnb and they gave me $100 to book a hotel, which I did. I spent the rest of the night there.
She says she’s not convinced that he was sleepwalking, first because he sounded completely coherent when he responded to her, and second, because she doubts that someone who knows he sleepwalks would sleep naked in a strange place.
“The Airbnb representative told me she had ‘educated’ Sean about the fact that he should let hosts know he sleepwalks,” she wrote. “In my review, I informed Airbnb that, in my opinion, Sean should be barred from being a guest before he rapes somebody. As an Airbnb host, this was the first time I felt like my safety was threatened. This experience has made me rethink how I will proceed as a host going forward.”
This host booked a New Year’s Eve rental for guests who said they were planning a ski trip. Instead, they stayed in to cook “pot butter.”
They invited 6 other guest who joined in the partying and at 3 AM we had several strangers smoking a huge bong, noisy, stinky mess! They left without one word. My beautiful guest house was trashed. Food, garbage, wet towels, pillows, blankets and 3 day old dirty dishes left for me to clean up. I was horrified by the level of mess left behind, but the worst part is the stench of the marijuana butter/oils they made and used to make brownies and cookies.
Even after four days with the windows open and several of bottles of Febreze later, the home is still “beyond stinky” and uninhabitable. She’s wondering why the guests couldn’t just go to some cheap hotel instead of trashing their beautiful guest house. “I’m kicking myself for signing up for this airbnb…so NOT worth this heartache,” she wrote.
This host wrote about a horrible experience with a married couple that was staying at his rental property. He had been trying to contact Airbnb because the guests were violating a lot of his house rules, when the problems suddenly began to escalate early one morning.
The next morning, the guests arrived home screaming and shout profanity from outside the window (i didn’t know they were out all night long), the door was open but the husband was too hysterical to try opening the door. So stupid me, i let him in so he could collect their things and instead he punched me, then kicked me, then grabbed my throat… i had just woken up in PJ’s and did all i could to retreat to my room and fight him off to lock my bedroom door. They eventually left after causing much damage. What was I to do at such an unexpected human behavior? What happened to them during the entire evening out in the city?
He went to the hospital and contacted police as well as Airbnb. Like most of the hosts on this site who have contacted Airbnb when they’ve had problems, he’s still waiting for a response.
This guest booked a 5-week rental in what he thought was a safe, family-oriented home. Even though the bathroom in the “deceptively nice” looking home was advertised as “shared,” he was assured by host Carissa that she could work around his schedule.
Unfortunately, Carissa didn’t tell me the bathroom would also be shared with any transient she could shove into any space she had. She tried to make it out to be some hippie idea of communal living, but her real colours showed when it came time for money. She is very much in this to try to squeeze as much out of unsuspecting renters as she can. I’m not exaggerating when I say she rents out every place she can: all the bedrooms, the basement, the shed in the backyard (for real), and a grungy algae-covered camping trailer in the driveway. And all these people use the same bathroom. The biggest problem was that despite the numerous unknown characters lingering about, she left the doors unlocked to the house at all times and didn’t have a door that locked on the room I rented for me to secure my things while I was out.
He was only able to get a partial refund for the 5-week booking and ended up paying $700 for the one night he stayed there.
A female guest who was renting a place from a harmless looking “older lady” in Ukiah, California, received more than the key and a warm welcome from her host:
The nightmare started shortly after I got there. After I arrived, I introduced myself to her, and she happened to be home with her friend. Then, after getting ready for my friend’s event, I went to go ask her directions to the winery where it was being held. While I was getting directions from her, she said that I looked very nice and told me to have fun. As I walked away, she grabbed my butt with a full hand and I was wearing a thin dress so it was very direct contact. I was in utter shock when it happened and didn’t know how to react.
She hurried out, and after discussing what had happened with some friends, called Airbnb’s emergency line. Their response was to suggest that she post a negative review on the host’s profile, which she promptly did. The review has since disappeared and Airbnb has taken no action against the host.
One guest, a frequent Airbnb user, was shocked at the conditions of an apartment in Nashville. In addition to the apartment not having WiFi as promised in the ad, the place was filthy.
A thick layer of dust covered every surface, the oven and hob (editor’s note: stovetop) clearly hadn’t been cleaned for quite some time and the bathroom…This shower was revolting. Neither of us even wanted to set foot in the bath tub for fear of needing another shower on exit. Not only were there hairs in the bath (a common occurrence and, admittedly, difficult to get up every single one) but the mat inside the bath which, in a past life had started out as white, was pink with grime and dirt.
[T]he toilet, when sat on, came away from the wall. If the fear of catching a disease wasn’t enough to turn the most avid sitters into stoopers, the fear of potential drowning certainly was. The sink was covered in a thick layer of dust and grime. The bathroom floor hadn’t been cleaned for a considerably long time. The only thing that we could say, with some degree of certainty, had been ‘cleaned’ prior to our arrival were the bedsheets. Bravo, Blake, you changed the bed. Although the bed cover had a giant grease stain on the top, so maybe my praise was premature.
As with all the other complaints on the site, Airbnb was unresponsive.
The moral of this story? Let the buyer and the host beware. A lot of users report having great experiences with Airbnb and many, if not most, on both sides of the transactions are happy with the arrangements. But keep in mind that these are private deals between two individuals and Airbnb’s involvement is limited. If you’re the renter, make sure you thoroughly research the neighborhood and read all of the reviews on the listing. If you’re the host, get as much information as you can from the renter ahead of time in order to minimize surprises when guests arrive and only rent to individuals with a documented history on Airbnb. And whether you’re a renter or a host, make sure you know Airbnb’s policies inside and out and understand what you’re agreeing to before you sign on the dotted line.