Murphy’s unfortunate stay in an AirBNB apartment

You know Murphy’s Law — “anything that can go wrong, will go wrong”? Well, Eric Schwartzman had one of those experiences when he rented an apartment from AirBNB recently.

Before I get into his story, I should mention that Schwartzman is a fellow journalist who was referred to me by another colleague. I help a lot of journalists off the record, but it rarely gets to this level.

And what level is this? Schwartzman is unhappy with the way AirBNB handled a difficult stay in Paris with his family, and is disappointed by the reaction from the company’s management when he questioned its policies.

Schwartzman and his family had found a “too good to be true” rate of $178 for an apartment that included a kitchen, more space than a hotel room, and a great location. But, he says, he “paid dearly” in other ways.

When he arrived early in the morning, he tried to take a hot shower.

There was no water at all in the apartment. I searched around for a water main but couldn’t find it. I contacted the host, and he responded quickly, saying he’d arrange to have it switched on and did so within the hour.

Next came a problem with the Internet. He just couldn’t connect to the wireless network, which was necessary because he conducted most of his business online.

When [the owner] arrived, he tested the broadband with his PC — he was an antiMac guy — and it worked, so he blamed it on my Mac. He said he didn’t use Macs and said it must an incorrect proxy setting on my computer. He couldn’t resolve the issue. We had to go to Starbucks for the duration of our stay just to get online.

Finally, the lock on the apartment failed. It took six hours for the owner to help him get into the building.

If you get locked out of a hotel room, you go down to the front desk and get a new key. But when a lock to a private residence fails and you’re stuck.

Be prepared to spend the night in a dark hallway with no where to sit, no bathroom and no where to charge your phone while you wait for your host to show up so. And they might even berate you for breaking their lock and charge you for a locksmith to fix it.

All the while, emails requesting help from AirBNB went unanswered.

At one point near the end of the stay, their host asked the family to leave — a demand he quickly withdrew — and eventually, he credited Schwartzman one-night’s stay for all of the inconveniences.

But it’s not enough. He thinks there are bigger problems AirBNB needs to address.

By removing the cost of operating a hotel, AirBNB lowers costs and makes it possible for travelers to rent directly from owners.

But by eliminating those costs, you also forfeit any on-demand customer support you might need. A front-desk clerk, lobby with seating, stable wi-fi and a bathroom are easy to take for granted when you have them. But we found out first hand just how vital they are when you’re locked out.

Another area of concern are AirBNBs cancellation policies. If guests cancels a reservation, they’re out half the booking fee for all of their nights. But if the host asks the guest to leave without cause, the guest is only entitled to a refund for the lost nights, he says.

“Which means if you’re a guest, your vacation is predicated on your host’s goodwill,” he says.

Schwartzman contacted AirBNB, which refunded another $200 of his stay, which was more than enough for him. But it declined his invitation to have a “civil, constructive conversation about my experience” for his social media podcast.

I was disappointed that they weren’t confident enough in their own service to go on the record online about what they do to protect guests. Asking hosts to be transparent about their listing is great, but I’d like to se AirBNB stand by their own business practices as well.

In the end, I think my experience illustrates some serious flaws in AirBNB’s business model. The concept of a community marketplace for rentals seems like a good idea at first, but with no real protection for hosts or guests, and with both sides having such a low tolerance for pain, I’m not sure the business has long term viability.

These are interesting questions. Is AirBNB’s business model flawed? Did the company’s execs owe Schwartzman an answer on the record? And should I get involved, and ask AirBNB to comment on this case and to clarify its policies?

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • properthwacking


  • properthwacking

    oh for Pete’s sake. You blame one bad host on airbnb’s flawed rental model? There is such a thing as due diligence as well, and it applies to any hotels as well as surfing couches to try to save $100 a night. Did you take the cheapest place? Did you book among slim pickens and expect it to work out like everybody else who planned a match better?

  • properthwacking

    Take the $200 and go home.

  • properthwacking

    hosts take risks, too. if you don’t appreciate this business model, go to motel6 or pay up for turndown service like the rest

  • properthwacking

    You’re a bum.

  • properthwacking

    Cheap and simple… That’s the hallmark of AirBNB. That they gave you $200 demonstrates that they’re willing to go over and beyond for difficult people just to make them feel like they were taken care of, since they thrive on word of mouth only and can’t really afford bad PR. So, why don’t you create a competing site since you’re so in tune with what it should take!

  • properthwacking

    Get her refund? Then go home. There is no Round 2 or taking them to task for something they had no control over.

  • properthwacking

    And the airbnb “agency” gave you $200 which you admit was above sufficient. I still don’t understand your gripes!

  • ericschwartzman

    Dear Anonymous Troll who either works for AirBNB or wants to get in on the IPO, you seem pretty angry. Terrible way to go through life.

  • properthwacking

    The things you said about airbnb exude anger and you made some statements that were petty & baseless, such as your accusation that I work for airbnb. It’s not my anonymity that makes me wrong, you see, just like you putting your blog name on something didn’t give it any credibility, with only 5% of the commenters here showing any empathy for your position.

    I would have been satisfied with the $200 if I was in your situation. Or, if I was anal like you, I wouldn’t stay in a place that didn’t have a lobby with coffee, I just might have stayed home. Airbnb is 3 for 3 with me so far this year, which is a lot higher rate of satisfaction than I’ve had with some hotels that cost more. If there was an event where I wasn’t completely satisfied, it was only because the hosts did not update their availability calendar, but this problem was really on me for not doing due diligence on them sooner. I went and stayed in a hotel instead, but I had no loss for trying airbnb and I certainly wouldn’t hold this against them next time, understanding that their business model thrives on the independence and sheer variety of its users. It’s happened to me in hotels as well, being shopped to another location twice due to unforseeable issues at the time of my booking. In those cases, I was taken care of but it is not always as pleasant as you make it sound. It’s not always satisfying to have things go wrong when you’re traveling, whether the host is 4 stars or unreviewed, there are still examples of flaws that may take place in the booking process. (Haven’t you heard about the people that got kicked out of their hotels because of overbooking?) Still, I got $200 from a hotel once, and figure that is enough reason to be satisfied. I didn’t go and write an expose on how important it was that this hotel change their business practices to suit me better.