We didn’t feel safe in our rental. Shouldn’t Airbnb refund our money?

By | June 18th, 2017

When Ericka Wilson and her sister plan a girls’ getaway to San Juan, they aren’t expecting grand luxury at their Airbnb rental — but they do expect to be able to lock the front door. Now they want a refund after their three-hour stay.

Question: My sister and I planned a trip to Puerto Rico. We weren’t expecting The Ritz Carlton, but when we arrived to our Airbnb rental, we were very disappointed. We took an elevator to the 15th floor to a dingy, narrow hallway with locking gates surrounding each apartment door.

The lock on our gate was broken. I contacted the owner. However, he insisted that this was user error and that the cleaning lady would come in the morning to train us on how to operate the door. I reached out to Airbnb and expressed our concern about safety. They continued to refer us back to the owner.

Not feeling safe to spend the night, we packed our things and went to the Marriott where we remained for the rest of our trip. Can you help get our money back? Ericka Wilson, Alexandria, Va.

Answer: What a frustrating experience.

Although a locking front door was not specifically mentioned in this Airbnb listing, you assumed one would be included. This seems like an entirely reasonable expectation.

But when you arrived and found that the door could not be properly locked, you didn’t feel safe at all in an unfamiliar town — in a building where every other door was fortified with a steel gate with a functioning lock.

And on top of this problem, you began to look around the apartment and noted that it did not appear that the aforementioned maid had visited in some time. You snapped some pictures and made a video of the unit.

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The video you sent me showed that the heavy steel door covering the interior door of the apartment could easily be opened from the outside, if the lock was not engaged.

The photos also showed that the interior door appeared to be warped and did not close completely. When you tried to engage the lock on that door you found this impossible, as well, since the door did not line up with the bolt lock.

You continued to try to get some help from the owner, who said he might send a locksmith. Hours later, when that had not happened, you and your sister gave up and went to the Marriott for the rest of your vacation.

It is unclear why Airbnb did not immediately respond to your concerns that you were unsafe at the unit. It would appear that you followed all the steps of the Airbnb resolution process, but you were later told that you did not qualify for a refund.

So what went wrong?

Instead of attempting to reaccommodate you, the Airbnb representative simply reiterated that the owner said that you didn’t know how to use the lock and repeated the offer for the “training” from the maid in the morning.


So, in other words, you received no assistance from this representative.

After your long, frustrating first day of what you had hoped would be a relaxing vacation, you and your sister went to bed. The next morning you awoke to find an email from that same Airbnb representative giving you, inexplicably, just four hours to respond if you wanted to qualify for a refund.

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This four hour window covered midnight to 4 a.m.

For obvious reasons, you missed this strange deadline. And with that, you were told that you wouldn’t be receiving a refund. Then to make matters worse the owner tried to charge you for a locksmith to come out and fix the door.

He told Airbnb that you somehow broke the lock on the steel gate. You were flabbergasted — and vowed never to use Airbnb again.

When I looked over your paper trail it looked like Airbnb had dropped the ball on this one.

You gave the host multiple chances to bring a locksmith or even bother to bring himself to the unit to try to secure it. His continued insistence of waiting for the maid, the next day, was not in the spirit of good host/guest relations.

You also gave Airbnb multiple chances to correct the problem. You even went out to dinner and patiently waited for their resolution before hitting the eject button from this rental.

You were smart to take those pictures and that video — because that evidence is strong in these types of cases. It really is hard to argue when there is photographic proof of your complaints.

I contacted Airbnb on your behalf and sent those photos and described your highly unenjoyable rental experience.

The Airbnb resolution team responded swiftly and granted your full refund. Beyond that, they offered you an apology and agreed that their representative handled your case improperly. Because this problem concerned an immediate safety issue, you should have been offered a new accommodation or a refund. That representative will be receiving retraining.

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And the host will also be made aware of the importance of the safety of Airbnb users. He will be required to make sure that all locks are in place and in working order before renting his apartment again.

You were pleased with this outcome and told us that the Airbnb representative who called you this time, “Seemed very sincere and apologized, spoke about training the other team, and was just wonderful!” Your outlook on Airbnb has greatly improved.

You ended your letter to me by saying, “You may not realize this, but your support did more than earn a refund but also reduced stress in two households – my sister’s and mine.”

And this is most certainly why we are here — facilitating fair and reasonable resolutions that satisfy both sides of the consumer/business equation. In this situation, something went wrong, but Airbnb, with a little nudge, corrected the problem, offered you your money back and has now retained a customer.

And you and your sister can use that refund to give a girls’ getaway another try. This seems like a perfect resolution.



  • cscasi

    Glad they were able to get the refund and that Chris and team wire most likely instrumental in that happening as she got nowhere with Airbnb nor the owner of the property. Too bad these places are not inspected to insure they keep up with things, but that would be a lot more costly, I guess.

  • Patrica

    So frightening. Even with the solution of a refund, I personally feel that Airbnb was irresponsible (o.k. their ‘agent’). I (and my sister) will not use them. The risk factor, for us, is just much too great.

  • PsyGuy

    More and more properties for overseas (yes I know it’s PR), rentals on ABNB are looking more and more like shacks,creating more and more of a gap between high quality places that are pricy and low quality places that just arent habitable.

  • Altosk

    Good job on this one. I wouldn’t want to stay in a place that didn’t lock and it sounded like host was a real “gem” to deal with.

  • greg watson

    In the complaints that I have seen here, many Airbnb properties appear to be unfit for any kind of holiday. Some of the photos & descriptions have been totally disgusting. It seems like a lot of effort has to be put in to get a quick & proper resolution. Airbnb should have a 24 hour hot line & their representatives should learn how to listen to what is being said, & how it is being said. I guess that I am saying that they should do their job MUCH better.

  • Rebecca

    It really does make a difference when a company owns their mistake. I have worked with several other supervisors and employees that took the ill-advised approach of never admitting a wrong. As with many issues, this is a huge problem with overseas agents because they don’t have a script for being wrong, other than “our system is currently updating”. Seriously. They’re discouraged from getting help, especially from a supervisor, and will tell the customer that the system is updating so they can’t help them, while refusing to transfer. I saw that happen all the time – the notes would always say that the “customer disconnected”. The recording said otherwise.

    This is the stupidest possible thing you can do, and it only further infuriates the already irate customer. I can’t tell you how many times I spoke to a customer that had spoken to a dozen people before me without being once told the company was wrong, when the company was indeed in the wrong. At that point, often the customer is just looking for validation. It only took a few sentences to calm them down, then we could fix it.

    Part of the problem is stupid customer service reps, part of the problem is overseas agents with zero ability to do anything unless it follows a prescribed “workflow”. You see this in action if you call your cable/internet provider due to an outage and they just keep repeating that you need to restart and/or unplug and plug back in. Everyone has already tried that, but try to tell them that you’ve tried that. They won’t accept that answer because when you say your tv/internet is out, they have to follow to the letter a very specific process and accompanying script. There’s no option for “customer already tried these steps”, so they just insist you do it all over again. They’re stuck if you don’t.

  • Maria K. Telegdy

    My question really is WHY ARE THIS BOZOS like airbnb and other online money grabbers not under obligation to verify the properties they advertise for, in person? If I was a business owner, I would not sacrifice my reputation to advertise for properties that does not meet the minimum standard of safety and cleanliness….But that’s just me.

  • Rebecca

    Their business is classified ads, not renting the properties. While we hear the horror stories on this site, to be fair to airbnb, the vast majority of the rentals are successful. They do guarantee the property will be as advertised and will refund so long as you use their payment system (which is reasonable – they have no control over people wiring money, for example). They also remove these listings.

  • Annie M

    The more I read about AirBnB the less I want to use them. Thank goodness you are here to help these people.

  • michael anthony

    I almost laughed that AIRBNB will make sure the host is made aware of the importance of personal safety. One would think that would be ingrained in everyone’s mind, whether they rent out a property or not. This host and his myriad of excuses should have been enough to delist him.

  • Lee

    Read their onerous terms and conditions on their website. They have thrown the kitchen sink in to protect themselves and the amount of information (including copies of people’s passports, etc) they require from “guests” is far beyond anything you ever need to provide to a hotel or other legit rental companies. All of which came about after the numerous cities, not just in the states but other parts of the world, passed legislation to restrict/eliminate these sorts of rentals (i.e., New York, San Francisco, some others) –

  • whatup12

    odd experience, as I seriously LOVE airbnb. In dozens and dozens of rentals (US, Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Australia, etc) with only two issues. And when we did, I have also never had an inkling of an issue with customer service when we did contact them.

  • Maria K. Telegdy

    Thanks for the info Lee, I’m not interested a bit to read on anything, I have no need to rent from them I was just questioning the legitimacy of this Airbnb business. I do well with http://www.homestay.com or booking.com, when I’m in need of lodging. So far this both worked for me. Especially for the reason when I’m in a foreign country I might pick up a little of the local language while staying with residents. Thanks for taking your time and reply. I personally could not be in a business where I would make rules that are against the customers.

  • Noah Kimmel

    yea, but that’s just cause you see the bad stories. It’s no different than reading here and thinking all airlines staff mean insensitive liars who intentionally make flights late or cancel, and every car rental ends in a damage bill.

    There are good and bad stories everywhere. But advocacy has the same underlying steps for any industry

  • Noah Kimmel

    plenty of good experiences. But as others have mentioned, it is more like a classified ad than a full service hotel website. If you want the $20 per night room, expect an experience that lines up. Also, dealing with small businesses for renting homes, means less savvy people who care about every rental and dollar and don’t have the processes and funds to give refunds for expectation mismatches. Not saying they are right, certainly this story is concerning, but I would encourage you to cut through the hype on both sides and see that many people have very positive experiences.

    Craigslist has some sketchy people on it, but it also has tons of legitimate, positive uses

  • greg watson

    I couldn’t agree less…………….some of these places are apparently fraudulently advertised…………………fraud ……….although that may not be too far fetched from what some others in the service industry claim (car rental more than airlines methinks)

  • TobySparky

    You can also look to see who took the photos. Some listings have photos taken by photographers sent out by Airbnb. Others are taken by the owners. The former are more reliable photographs and tend to be more reputable listings.

  • joycexyz

    And is it my imagination, or do you always seem to get the employee who “needs retraining” when you call about an issue?

  • greg watson

    it is your imagination !

  • Annie M

    There may be plenty of good experiences, but all it takes is one like this to forget about the good ones.

  • Noah Kimmel

    that’s why sites like this exist. To help troubleshoot when things go really wrong. That context is important. If we collectively decide not to do business with anyone mentioned on this site, we would never leave home or buy anything again! We have had trouble here with every travel provider, a bunch of retailers, local service professionals, etc.

  • Shirley G

    They should have given her something for the Marriott stay. This is why I would never use Airbnb. #1 I like to be pampered and taken care of on vacation and that’s not going to happen if you’re renting a room or house from someone. #2 And, like in this situation, you never really know what you are going to get. You really do get what you pay for. Spend a few $ and stay at nice, safe, clean resort.

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