What Happens if You Have an Issue With Your Airbnb?

It’s something that we all dread. You’re on vacation and something goes wrong. Maybe the shower won’t drain, the Wi-Fi isn’t working, or you’re in Motley Crue and a TV found its way out the window.

If you’re staying at a hotel, the procedure is pretty straight forward. You call the front desk and let them know. If it’s the hotel’s fault, they’re usually pretty quick to rectify it. If it’s your fault, a charge might be added to your bill at check out, but the issue still gets resolved. What happens if you’re staying at an Airbnb though?

Why stay in an Airbnb instead of a hotel?

Recently, I’ve spent a good chunk of my weekends traveling across Europe. For the majority of the cities I’ve stayed in, hotels just haven’t made sense. Whether it’s poor location or prohibitively high rates, I’ve found myself using Airbnb more than ever.

Airbnb has both its positives and negatives. Let’s start out with the positives:

  • It’s usually cheaper than hotels in the area, especially for families.
  • You can rent an entire space. You’ll generally have much more room than a hotel room at a comparable place. In addition, you’ll typically have amenities that can make your trip easier, such as a kitchen and washing machine.
  • The ability to stay in unique properties right in the heart of the action, such as a houseboat in Amsterdam or a cave house in Santorini.

    Hector Cave House, Santorini (courtesy of Airbnb.com)

As for the negatives:

  • You don’t get daily cleaning and turn-down service.
  • Quality and experience can vary from property to property.
  • There’s no loyalty program…yet.

Generally, I’ve had pretty good experiences at Airbnbs and found that the positives outweigh the negatives. Yes, there have been less than ideal experiences, but I’ve found that the good strongly outweigh the bad.

A couple recent incidents

For as long as I’d been using the platform, I hadn’t had any major issues during an Airbnb stay. Until recently, my worst experience at a property was a place that could have had some nicer furnishings or another one that could have used a professional cleaning instead of DIY cleaning. So yeah, pretty positive experiences overall.

With all the recent stays at Airbnb properties, I was probably due for a more…eventful stay.

I just didn’t expect that I’d have three in one month.

An already occupied unit

The problem

After an evening flight into Budapest, we were ready to check into our rental, drop our bags, and grab some food. The host provided impeccable instructions and we had no trouble finding the place thanks to them.

There was only one problem.

When we went to open the door, the handle began to turn and opened from the inside. As the door opened, someone greeted us. I was startled, but figured it must be the host.

It was not.

It turns out that it was an elderly couple who couldn’t open the lockbox for the property across the hall and mistakenly found the spare key to our rental. However, the couple had already slept in the bed and used several of the amenities in the apartment we were supposed to be staying in.

To the credit of the couple in our place, they were very kind and apologetic. They even offered to move across the hall if we could get into the property. We didn’t want to sleep in dirty sheets or use a dirty shower, so we politely declined. The situation could have been much worse, had the couple staying in our unit been much more abrasive or confrontational.

Our trip to Budapest was incredible, but got off to a rocky start

What we did

We immediately contacted the host to notify her of the situation. However, it was already 9pm and it was too late to get a cleaning crew out to the apartment. The host was extremely apologetic and felt terribly about the situation. She offered to let us stay at the property across the hall and promised to have our original rental vacated, cleaned, and bags moved over by the next morning. (The property we originally booked had nicer furnishings and amenities we paid extra for, while the replacement was a basic property.) For our troubles, the host also agreed to waive our fees for the first night. This one was easily the most unexpected, but also the best handled incident. Kudos to our host, Eva.

What you should do

We were extremely fortunate that things didn’t turn out worse. Thankfully, there was a suitable replacement accommodation until the situation could be resolved. However, if you end up in the same situation, that may not be the case.

  • Your first step should be to immediately contact the host.
  • Do not try to come up with an alternative arrangement with the people currently occupying your property. In the end, they’re not on the hook for any decisions you make. Ultimately, any financial resolution will come between you, the host, and Airbnb.
  • Document everything. If the host or Airbnb tries to dispute any claims or charges, having a digital trail will be incredibly helpful for building your case.
  • Seek alternative accommodations. Hopefully, the host is able to find a suitable alternative accommodation. If they are not, make sure you have somewhere reasonable to stay in the interim. Make sure to save any receipts in case you need to file a dispute with Airbnb.
  • Contact Airbnb. If the host is not able to resolve the situation or reimburse you for any reasonable expenses, you’ll need Airbnb to step in. If you’re stuck in a bad situation and the host is unresponsive, give Airbnb a call.

Oops, we broke something

Contrary to popular belief, that is not what a window should look like

The problem

A few days later, we were staying at an Airbnb in Vienna. Check-in was easy and the apartment was spacious and absolutely gorgeous. To help cool down the apartment, we opened a window. What we didn’t realize was that there was decorative art between the two window panels. Fast forward an hour and when I went to close the window, a glass pane broke. Naturally, I was pretty frustrated with myself and expected a pretty decent charge coming my way at the end of our stay.

What we did

The first and most obvious step was cleaning up the glass and making sure there weren’t any pieces we could step on. Right after that, we took multiple pictures and contacted the host. The host was incredibly understanding and sent out a crew to begin fixing it the next day.

To our surprise, the host didn’t even charge us for the accident! She appreciated our honesty and chalked it up as “accidents happen”.

What you should do

In this case, I wouldn’t change anything about the way we handled the situation (aside from my self-directed frustration). You’ll probably notice a theme here, but contact the host as soon as possible and be honest. You’d be surprised how understanding they can be. After all, they’re people just like us and understand that mistakes happen. In the worst case, your host will find out anyway and charge you the full amount to fix/replace the item. In this case (and life in general) it’s best to get out in front of things and be open and transparent.

A dirty apartment

The problem

I’m not sure what we did to have three major issues in a month, but here we are. Two weeks later, we were staying at an Airbnb in Oslo. Another stay, another late night arrival. This time, we arrived in Oslo around 11pm. Upon checking in, there were towels on the floor and the bed was unmade. Clearly, the cleaning crew never came by. It’s not just that there was some dust or a few dirty plates in the sink. There were no clean towels or linens. Have you tried showering without a towel? I wouldn’t recommend it.

Sheets on the floor is less ideal than sheets on a bed

What we did

Again, we contacted the host immediately. Only this time, there was no response. Several attempts went by and still, no response. Thankfully, we found some spare sheets, but the rest of the place was dirty. There were no clean towels, so showering the next few days was out of the question. We tried to make the best of the situation and spent as little time at the property as possible. Despite numerous attempts to contact the host during the stay, he was unresponsive.

We took pictures of the property and contacted Airbnb after moving on to our next destination. Airbnb was very slow to respond. After several follow-up calls, we finally got the majority of our expenses refunded. However, it took several attempts to get them to finally agree to a full refund. They were very resistant to refund the It took nearly two weeks for Airbnb to resolve the situation and getting them to refund service fees was the equivalent of pulling teeth.

What you should do

Looking back, we probably could have handled this a little differently. Contacting the host initially is definitely the correct first step. It’s what Airbnb suggests in their customer guidelines. However, we should have contacted Airbnb immediately after receiving no response from the host. We settled because it was late at night and just wanted to get some sleep.

If faced with a similar situation though, you should have push Airbnb to provide alternative accommodations that night and for the duration of our trip. Don’t accept less than what you were promised. After all, you pay those Airbnb fees for a reason. That said, be reasonable. A little dust is one thing, but used sheets and towels is another.

  • Again, make sure you document everything. Having as many photographs and a digital trail will help when it comes to getting refunded.
  • If you’re not comfortable or unable to stay at your property, seek alternative accommodations. If the host is unresponsive, take it upon yourself to make sure you have somewhere reasonable to stay in the interim. Again, remember to save any receipts in case you need to file a dispute with Airbnb.
  • Contact Airbnb. If the host is not able to resolve the situation or reimburse you for any reasonable expenses, you’ll need Airbnb to step in. If you’re stuck in a bad situation and the host is unresponsive like in this case, give Airbnb a call.

Final Thoughts

Airbnb has really revolutionized the way we spend our vacations. It’s allowed us to stay in incredible locations with kitchens and washing machines for a fraction of the price of hotels. However, the platform relies on individuals to maintain reasonable service standards. While the overwhelming majority are good, there will still be poor hosts on occasion.

If travel has taught us one thing, it’s to expect the unexpected. Regardless of how much you plan, things are bound to go wrong eventually. It’s how you handle the situation and how you respond to it that makes a difference. Hopefully you never have any issues with your Airbnb stay. If you do though, I hope this guide is helpful.

What has your experience been like with Airbnb? Have you ever had any issues?

Author: Stephen Hoechst

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11 Comments

  1. Recently was electrocuted by turning on a light switch and subsequently had my MacBook fried (smoke was literally coming out of the USB port) by the outlet the switch turned on. Over a month out and Airbnb has still done nothing – it took 3 weeks of tweeting at them to get an email response. They’ve now referred me to their insurance provider, who has sent one correspondence over a week ago asking why I they should believe it wasn’t me who was at fault. I sent a detailed email (proofread by my lawyer) over a week ago – no response. Be wary of all outlets, I suppose.

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    • I’ve found Airbnb’s digital support to be less than stellar. With the dirty apartment, our email went unanswered for almost two weeks. It took several calls and twisted wrists before Airbnb actually did something. Good luck getting your issue resolved!

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  2. Suprising when I read stories like this. But I expect this sort of thing to happen more in western countries. For the past few months I’ve stayed in over 40 air bnb properties. In eastern Europe and Asia. And no problem what so ever with the units. The one problem I would say that plagues me. Is I will book the stay one day before. On instant book listings of coarse. And sometimes the host won’t respond back to me before I have to get in contact with air bnb. But other then that. The stays have been better then hotels. And cheaper.

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    • The majority of my Airbnb stays have been in Europe, so I can’t speak for Asia. It could be a cultural difference but, our experiences have been overwhelmingly positive. Airbnb has really become my preferred option when traveling as well. I think we just ran into a streak of bad luck 🙂

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  3. I own several Airbnb properties. I’m a Super Host. Everyone should keep in mind that Airbnb does NOT pay the owners until 24 hours AFTER the check-in so if you have an issue at the check-in, you should immediately notify not only the owner but also contact Airbnb. They have a phone number for guest issues and I believe you can Google to find the local phone number in any county. But there is someone at the USA phone # 24/7.

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      • What happened to VRBO?

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        • VRBO is still around. There’s nothing wrong with it. Airbnb is just a much more popular and widely available booking platform – despite its occasional warts.

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  4. My scorecard for Airbnb is a B- or C+. In Europe, I had no issues. However, in Singapore (the cleanest country in Asia, after Japan), I encountered BED BUGS! It took me days to get Airbnb’s attention and in the interim, the host just said that I had an allergic reaction due to the humid weather. Calling Airbnb’s 1-800 was useless. I had to call their Singapore office and took another two days to get it resolved, after showing them a doctor’s note. They did waive the fees but what about my time??? No compensation for that.

    Another issue was in Bangkok. I thought the host was new, but later I discovered that he relisted the property. The cleaning was not satisfactory. Very dusty in places and several lights didn’t work. I communicated to the host, and he sent a “cleaning” lady to sweep the floor for five seconds. Complained to Airbnb…never heard back.

    In the US, it was mostly ok. However, in my last US Airbnb stay, the host entered my unit without knocking early in the morning while I was changing. Disgusting.

    After these events, I am staying at hotels more and more often. Surely, it’s more expensive, but life is too short to take jit like the above. I will stay at Airbnbs, but only if the host is a Superhost and has a ton of well-rounded good reviews.

    I am a guest with only stellar reviews from my hosts, but I wish I could say the same about them and Airbnb.

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  5. My daughter-in-law and sister were visiting from out of state; party on the town for her sisters 21st birthday. Obviously they didn’t want to stay with us, plus we live further out of the town. They rented an Airbnb in the city, months out. Three days before their arrival, the rental was canceled by the owner and subsequently listed for a higher price. Airbnb did nothing except excuses (repeated phone calls and emails before during and after). Fortunately, a cousin had a vacant condo in the area which we thru some stuff in for them to get by. Then the kicker, she was not allowed to leave feedback on the owner because she technically did not rent the space. She did get her deposit back, but it took sometime.
    That’s I/we stay at hotels (at discounts). Don’t feel like ruining a vacation/trip trying to resolve lodging issues.
    As a note, there’s a pretty famous vlog, Louis Rossman (in the Apple repair world), on YouTube that recently documented a substandard Airbnb visit (https://youtu.be/8aX_MXhlgvc).

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  6. After my brother died in Seattle I went to an Airbnb to help out his wife. It had snowed and the owner of the unit had not cleared out the snow. It was very slippery and dangerous. She also had a tall wooden gate and I’m short and could not unlock it. My nephew unlocked it so we could find it, but I could not stay there because of the ice. I was already walking with the cane. Airbnb was fine but the hostess charged $100 Greedy woman!

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