Why won’t Airbnb let me review my ill-fated rental?

Mandy Fleming’s Airbnb rental couldn’t have happened at a worse place — or time.

Thousands of miles from home, on an extended visit to Hong Kong during the Christmas holidays, she showed up at her apartment with her husband and six-year-old son for an 18-night stay, only to discover the place fell dramatically short of its description.

Now, Fleming has a simple request: She wants to warn others about her substandard accommodations. And she wants my help.

I can’t invoke the British sitcom Fawlty Towers, since this happened at an apartment. But I would if I could. She contacted me a few days after trying, but failing, to fix the many problems in her rental.

And there were many.

“The harbour view is blocked out by corrugated opaque plastic which has been taped to the outside of the window,” she said, “so we have very little daylight.”

The building was being renovated, it turns out.

“We have scaffolding and netting blocking sunlight,” she noted. “We also have the pleasure of sharing our downtime with the construction workers who are working right outside our windows, so on the ones that are not sealed off with the plastic you have to pull down the blind so they can’t look in.”

She added, “The noise is so bad the walls shake and we have rubble or debris falling and hitting the windows and exterior walls. My son started to cry today, asking to leave because his ears were hurting from the noise.”

What’s more, the interior of the apartment didn’t match the published description on Airbnb. The large, comfy sofa in the photo? Didn’t exist. Instead, they found a dirty, cheap sofa bed. Also, the shower was broken.

In other words, the apartment wasn’t all what they thought they were going to get.

Negotiations with the owner went nowhere. Fleming rejected a $20-per-day discount offered by the landlord. She also turned down Airbnb’s standard 20 percent “construction” discount.

“This wasn’t a normal case of construction,” she insisted.

Airbnb and the owner sweetened the offer to $300 back and a refund of their unused nights. But that didn’t cut it, either. Fleming felt they had nowhere to go, so the family stayed.

I contacted Airbnb on behalf of the Flemings to see if something could be worked out, and eventually they were given a full refund — an exceedingly generous offer.

So what’s the problem?

Well, Fleming wants to warn other Airbnb users about this apartment, which I can well understand. There’s just one problem: Airbnb won’t let her. She can’t post a review.

“I did send a query asking them why I was unable to leave a review,” she says. The answer? A form letter thanking her for the email. And then, silence.

Airbnb can allow — or disallow — reviews from anyone it wants to, of course. And I should add that I understand why it would stop a guest like Fleming from leaving a review. By now, the construction may have wrapped up. Besides, she received a full refund for her stay, which means that, technically, she didn’t pay for her accommodations.

But I think forbidding any customer from leaving a review also affects the credibility of all site reviews.

Stopping Fleming would also seem to contradict Airbnb’s published policy on reviews:

We believe in free speech, transparency, and clear communication. Our community is built on trust, and trust comes from honest conversation. Therefore, we ask for reviews that are truthful, clear, and helpful to both the review’s recipient and the wider Airbnb community.

Does Fleming deserve a chance to share her misgivings about this rental with Airbnb’s community? Should I encourage Airbnb to unblock her? Or is this one case where she — and I — should just look the other way?

Should I mediate Mandy Fleming's case with Airbnb?

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Update (7 p.m.): Turns out Airbnb does believe in free speech and transparency. Just received the following update from the company.

This was an error and we’re fixing it now. Our customer service team has already been in touch with the guest and she’ll have an opportunity to leave a review. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

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 chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • http://ladylighttravel.com/ LadyLightTravel

    A negative review is fair as long as she included the positive resolution. Give me the good, the bad, the ugly. I’ll decide for myself if I want to risk it.

    I personally boycott vendors that filter reviews.

  • Cybrsk8r

    AirBNB should verfiy the current condition of the property. If the construction is completed, then the review should be dis-allowed because it would not refect the current condition of the unit.

    If the construction is still going on, then allow the review, but include the resolution, and include the projected finish date for the renovation.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I have to respectfully disagree. The review is the personal opinion, impressions, and observations of the guest. Unless the review is an outright slanderous lie it should be allowed. The owner’s remedy is to post a reply and let the reader decide. Whether the construction is complete is neither here nor there.

    The current state of the rental is merely one of the many items which are gleaned from a review. In this case, what I gather from this review is that the owner is a disreputable person, renting out a substandard dwelling and lying about its condition. Even if the owner fixes everything, I don’t want to do business with him/her/it/ as I generally try to avoid doing business with dishonest folks. That just comes back to bite you in the *ss.

    Someone else may have a different take, but unless the OP is permitted to post a review, we lose the ability to make an informed choice, not only about the premises, but the owner as well.


    Airbnb should allow the review. The fact that she received a full refund has nothing to do with the condition of the rental. The construction was a major part of the problem, but certainly not all of it. The OP did mention a non-working shower as well as the discrepancy between the quality of furnishings in the photos and what she got when she arrived. This was a very poorly represented rental and the OP should be allowed to post a review of her experience as well as the resolution to the problem. The fact that construction might be finished has nothing to do with her experience and according to the site rules, she should be allowed to post her review.

  • backprop

    Christopher, you mention a refund of the ‘unused’ nights as an earlier offer from Airbnb. How far into the stay did she try to get a refund? How long did he eventually stay and get comped?

    I vote for mediation if she tried to get it fixed or refunded within the first, say, three days of the 18-day stay. On the other hand, if she stayed two weeks or more, then got a full refund, THEN wants to treat it like just another stay, then I take issue.

  • John Baker

    Sorry but I’m with the owner and AirBNB on this one. The OP stayed 18 nights (when she had the opportunity to leave and receive a refund for the rest of the nights) and then had a member of the media extract a full refund for her. But that isn’t good enough for the OP. Nope… She wants to leave a negative review too.

    At the point she accepted a comped 2.5 week stay, in my mind she ethically lost the right to complain and write the review. I also wonder if they made not reviewing a condition of the refund.

  • RetiredNavyphotog

    If the owner had a shred of honesty, he would advised the OP about the construction…asked them if they still wanted to rent…then offered a discount for the inconvenience.

  • Stereoknob

    It makes sense to let her make the review as long as the whole story is in there. But, from AirBnB’s side, I’m sure it doesn’t want people knowing it gave them a full refund. Then other people will want full refunds… a bad precedent.

    If anything, I’d just like to see AirBnB clarify their policy and stop hiding.

  • RetiredNavyphotog

    She may not have had the option to leave.
    Think about it…you have paid probably a lot of money…you have your family with you including a small child…you are far away from home – not in New York or Florida…sounds to me like she did not have a lot of options.
    She entered the agreement in good faith and that is a two-way street.

  • John Baker

    Great but leaving was an option… An option she declined to take. If she was comfortable enough renting an apartment of the internet equivalent of a classified ad, she should be comfortable finding a new place if it truly was as bad as she’s making it out to be. If it’s really that bad, I’m finding a new place for my family. Yes, you are a long way from home. Every reason NOT to use airbnb or VBRO or any of the other places and use a hotel. She can’t have it both ways … She’s either comfortable enough with those websites to rent a place or not.

    Beyond that, she accepted a complete refund but no that isn’t good enough. Now she wants to get another dig in on the property too by giving them a bad review… Sorry but her ethics are as bad, if not worse, than the owners.

  • http://www.carolcassara.com ccassara

    Something similar happened to me 10 yrs ago in Rome and I kept at it till I got a refund equivalent to 1 of my 3 weeks. But it ruined my vacation. Most travelers understand that renovations will eventually end but should know enough to be able to ask if they were still going on. I hate when rentals do not do this full disclosure in advance. More problematic were the dirty sofa bed and broken shower. I think this owner has “transparency” issues and, apparently, so does AirBB. Shame on them. I thought they’d be different. A site like this should let all reviews stand unless clearly abusive. An owner’s reply can also be posted. This will make ME think twice about using AirBB again. For anything. Frankly, I worry about using these services for rentals outside the US because a lot of times, owners are ….overly positive….about their rentals and once there it’s a pain to fix what’s gone wrong.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    What was the total cost? It’s tough to know if the earlier offers were fair without having that info. The $300 plus the unused nights might have been very generous or a complete joke. And how far into the stay was that offer made? A couple days into the stay and that is a far better deal than if they only had a couple days left, at which point it would have been almost meaningless.

    And if it was that horrible, I’m rather surprised she didn’t move. She was web-savvy…surely she could have found a new place and potentially could have gotten a great last-minute deal on a place that didn’t make her kids cry. Instead she stuck it out and had a very bad stay for free. Not sure that is a trade I would make for myself.

  • Mikael Mik

    Tripadvisor is notorious for “Removing” unfavorable reviews. I reviewed a hotel and it got removed a dozen times. Nothing derogatory, just the facts in a professional manner. Somehow, the hotel manages to get it taken down each and every time. I ended up saying forget it.

    Moral here… reviews only go so far, since it appears hotels have control over the content. Still, if the OP can give a positive, why not a negative?

    Is she bound contractually to remain silent? Did OP sign paperwork? If not, then I ay tough luck to the rental place. She didn’t pay BUT she was still legally an occupant and can state the truth.

  • Daddydo

    What are you going to try to accomplish? It’s another “I got ripped by an internet scam”. Mandy bit and she had a horrible experience. People are always trying to get a bargain. I look everyday. Airbnb wants constructive info. They are in control and they only print the positives. It is their site. It’s a loser.

  • shannonfla

    She stayed there and has first-hand knowledge of the listing! She should and must be allowed to leave a review.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I understand what you are saying, but consider: Whether the OP deserved a refund of her stay is based upon whether she received what she was promised. The right to leave a review is completely separate. That’s about warning others about the condition of the place.

    I would opine that reason to prevent the OP from writing a negative review is to permit the owner to continue in his underhanded and deceptive tactics. Basically hush money.

    Plus the fact that she had to get Chris’ help to secure the refund also speaks volumes.

  • Dutchess

    I disagree, I believe on AirBnb there’s an opportunity for owners to respond to reviews as well as they can update their listing in response to the complaints as well. So, if the problem is fixed the owner has ways to communicate that with potential renters.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    2 concerns: There may or may not have been any availability that could accommodate the OP, depending on the size of the family, and the time of year. Also, the OP may or may not have had the additional funds.

  • bodega3

    I recently found out my last review on TA has been remove. It wasn’t a totally negative review, so I was surprised. I won’t participate again. The bottom line, is that any site can manipulate their site to their advantage.

  • bodega3

    There are no laws about this, so any musts don’t apply here. Yes, not to allow good and bad sends up a red flag when you read only highly good reviews.

  • John Baker

    Carver … Here’s where I think you and I differ… If she had paid anything at all for here stay, I think she has every right to write a review but at the point the stay was free, I think that changes.

    This is kind of like a bad meal at a restaurant that you complain to the manager the whole way through. Half way through he gives you the out to leave and only pay a portion of your bill. You decline. At the end of the meal, the manager still decides to pick up your check for you.

    Where I’m from, you don’t allow the manager to pick up the check for you and then take to YELP bashing his restaurant. If you allow him to pick up the check, you leave because ultimately it cost you nothing and you did receive something of value. To publish a Yelp review in my mind is classless.

    That’s how I see this situation. Ultimately, the owner of the property gave the OP a free stay which is about all he could do to appease her. Even Chris admits it was very generous. It didn’t cost her a dime to stay for over 2 weeks. To write a negative review at this point lacks class and is just spiteful.

  • Fifty Years

    “Far away from home-not in NY or Fla…….sounds to me like she did not have a lot of options”

    She was in HONG KONG for Pete’s sake, she had hundreds, nay, thousands of “options” if it was really that bad.

  • bodega3

    She has a right to write a review, but the website doesn’t have to put it up.

  • bodega3

    That is why I never bother to look at Yelp.

  • sunshipballoons

    I voted “no” because I don’t think there’s any chance of AirBnB changing its mind on this one.

  • ag4square

    I always read the reviews on TA and take them with a grain of salt. I’m sorry to read here that people’s reviews get removed but I find there are plenty of negative ones to balance the positive. I’ve never used ABNB but what i really find helpful on TA are the user photos. They tell the real story. If ABNB doesn’t have those then the only way to know if the units are accurately represented are reviews of people who have stayed there. On TA I always notice when a manager responds to a review. At least it shows they are reading them. If ABNB let’s their owners respond then this owner has the chance to tell his/her side of the story and let future renters decide for themselves!

  • jennj99738

    I do look at Yelp but I always read the filtered reviews as well. It appears that Yelp filters reviews from people who have never reviewed before and the review is so far out of line with the other reviews of the business. To me, it looks like the filtered reviews are posted by either owners of the business, friends of the owners, or in the case of the extremely bad reviews, from competitors.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    I totally get where you are coming from. Let me offer a slightly different perspective.

    There is a difference between whether she should be allowed to write a review and whether she ought to. I agree with your example that if the manager picks up the check, writing a bad review might or might not be tactless. It really depends on the circumstances. For example, my friend ordered a vegetarian meal and midway through discovered that there was meat in it. She shouldn’t have to pay for that meal even though she ate half of it and she should be entitled to write a review about it. My reasoning is that objectively, she didn’t receive what she was entitled to and therefore the manager didn’t do her any favors by not charging her.

    In this case, I think writing a review is appropriate. Its fair game that other potential renters know that if they rent this property, they will be met with certain surprises, such as an interior that is not accurately represented.

    My big problem with not permitting her to write a review is that effectively the owners of the property are being allowed to con future renters. I can’t accept that that’s a morally acceptable outcome.

  • Poley King

    That’s what I like about Air BNB. You cant just post a review unless you stayed there. Keeps them more accurate. Sure theres a few cases like this but they are few and far between.

    Did she first complain to AirBNB in the first 24 hours? Seems odd that it was 18 days before she left

  • bodega3

    They move the negative reviews to the bottom if the business pays a fee.

  • Poley King

    Theres always a ton of option on AirBNB in Hong Kong

  • John Baker

    Carver … I would agree with your example; however, if your friend continued to eat the meal after she found the piece of meat, I would really question her ethics. She consumed the entire meal (or stayed for the entire time) and then allowed it to be comped. I have an issue with someone then writing a negative review.

    I guess we’ll agree to disagree.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    That’s a good point. My friend had the option of stopped immediately. Suppose she found out after she had eaten the meal? Of course, in her case, there are other restaurants and she hadn’t paid for the meal.

    If the OP had real choices in leaving (I don’t know if she did or not) and stayed, I would agree that her ethics were suspect. That brings an interesting question. If there were no other options, say the OP had no additional funds to secure alternative lodging because she prepaid the owner who refused to return any money. How should she proceed?

    For me, it also depends on the duplicity of the owner. If this were a good faith error on his part, I’m a lot less forgiving than if the owner acting willfully or fraudulently.

  • y_p_w

    I voted no because I think it’s a losing proposition.

  • AP

    I detest airbnb. The single biggest problem is that after you leave a review of an apartment, the apartment owner is able to review you. This discourages fair negative reviews, because retaliation is prevalent. When viewing apartment reviews, individual star ratings and “recommends” are not visible. Also, after you are reviewed, you are able to respond to it, but owners can edit their original reviews of you, and you aren’t able to edit your response. It’s a crappy system.

  • Annie M

    ABNB should allow the review. Was she finally able to post it, Chris? She is doing a service to anyone else who may want to rent that apartment – telling the truth about the condition. If ABNB won’t allow her to post a review then perhaps they should no longer allow the landlord to list the apartment – it gives THEM a black eye when the apartment is dirty and not as described.

  • Bill___A

    Suddenly, they found and fixed a problem huh? Fancy that.

  • emanon256

    I gave a two star review to a restaurant where I had a bad experience, I also included the positive, it was quite balanced, but I criticized the quality of the food. I have posted quite a few reviews on yelp. My review for this particular restaurant always shows on the filtered list. Makes me question their validity.

  • jennj99738

    I don’t blame you. Yours is why I always read the filtered list. I also throw out the most glowing reviews (particularly the reviews from their so-called experts who receive free food or stuff) and the most negative and look at the ones in the middle. I do that with TripAdvisor, too.

  • Ian Parrish

    I had this exact same issue. I will say I’ve had a number of great AirBnB experiences, but I had one atrocious one (I’ll give the details at the end). It was so bad, I left and went to a hotel and AirBnB refunded me my money as well as gave me a credit (after some prompting). Because the stay had vanished from my account, I wasn’t allowed to leave a review either. So if it’s so bad you have to leave or get a complete refund, you can’t leave a negative review. Crazy!

    In my specific case I booked what AirBnB categorizes as an “Entire Home/Apartment” in Munich. Upon arrival, I discovered that the host as well as her creepy boyfriend would be occupying the bedroom, and they had made up the sofa bed for me in the kitchen. I called AirBnB, they asked me to have a conversation with the host…super awkward as you can imagine asking them to vacate their own place. They told me in a rather hostile way that I should not have expected an entire apartment for that price. After calling AirBnB back, they told me I could leave and be refunded, but here’s where it really comes short. I had to find a hotel immediately with a lot of luggage (I’d been mountaineering in the alps and wasn’t traveling light as I usually do). The hotel cost substantially more, which thankfully I got AirBnB to make up mostly with a credit.

    Alas, there’s no way for me to warn others of this owner’s deceptions…some just rolled with the punches. Anyone else who’s vacated it, can’t leave a review. You can see that it still is listed as a whole apartment right here:

  • pauletteb

    A friend of mine has had very good experiences with Airbnb, but from the number of complaints I’ve ready recently, she’s definitely in the minority. Personally, I refuse to do business with any company/organization whose contract prohibits negative reviews. Airbnb should published the OP’s review and then provided a rebuttal, as I’ve seen many properties do on TripAdvisor.

  • pauletteb

    I’ve never had one of my negative reviews removed from TripAdvisor . . . just saying.

  • Mikael Mik

    Never been profane, but pragmatic. I stated the truth without personal attacks. Apparently, hotels have control enough to get negative reviews taken down.
    My review dealt with being walked to another inferior hotel, where the inferior hotel was a huge downgrade. I reviewed BOTH hotels. Only my review of the first hotel and it’s behavior has stuck. The second Hotel’s has seemingly gotten my opinion stripped each and very time.