Who’s really responsible for this crazy Airbnb theft?

This Airbnb theft charge is odd.

Did Renata Lambert steal a TV from her rental apartment in Warsaw, Poland? Lambert says she didn’t, but her host insists she did. Now the two parties are locked in a dispute over an Airbnb theft that she thinks I can settle.

Lambert’s case raises questions that have no easy answer. How do you prove a guest took something from your rental? If you’re a guest, how do you prove it wasn’t you? And what’s Airbnb’s role in mediating these conflicts?

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“I was wrongly accused by my host of taking a TV set from his rental,” she explains. “Airbnb took the host’s accusation at face value and passed judgment without hearing my side of the story. Airbnb has charged my card on file for damages. How can I prove my innocence?”

How do you prove an Airbnb theft happened?

You’re probably wondering — how, exactly, does a host prove that a guest stole from them?

If an item goes missing, a host can file a claim against the security deposit. Airbnb will ask the host to communicate directly with the guest. If the guest accepts responsibility, then the deposit goes to the host to cover the missing item. If not, then Airbnb makes the call.

Filing a claim on a deposit is easy. If you’re a host, just go to the Resolution Center.

  • Choose the relevant reservation.
  • Under “select a reason,” select “request compensation for damages.”
  • Click “continue” to submit details about the damages and associated costs on the next page.

Which is exactly what Andrzej, her host in Warsaw, did when he says he discovered a missing TV — specifically, a three-year-old LG 42-inch TV “in perfect condition.” He’d paid about $400, and he had the documentation to prove it, he said.

Not getting a clear picture of this Airbnb theft

And here’s where things went sideways. Lambert, who was still traveling in Europe, began receiving accusatory messages from the host and Airbnb’s trust and safety team.

“I was getting emails and phone calls and app messages — all about something I did not do,” she says. “I felt helpless. Airbnb was not willing to help me and rushed to judgment against me.”

She maintains her innocence.

“I did not take the host’s TV set,” she says. “Why would I?”

Why, indeed — why would a tax preparer from Livermore, Calif., want to steal from an Airbnb in Poland? Can she even use a TV set from Poland, which runs off 220 volts and would require a transformer?

Lambert was also having some trouble communicating since she didn’t always have access to the internet. She couldn’t respond to every Airbnb message.

Her Airbnb theft trial was over before she knew it. Airbnb allowed the host to take $333 from her deposit — presumably, they factored in some depreciation — and closed her case.

“We do our best to fairly and reasonably mediate these cases,” an Airbnb representative told her in an email. “In our efforts to be objective, keeping in mind that we were not present during the reservation, we must consider all available documentation and communication when coming to a decision which aligns with our policies and procedures. We regret that this decision has negatively affected you, but we believe this to be a fair resolution, all things considered.”

She is not ready to let go yet.

“How can I prove that I did not do something like that?” she asks.

It happened to me. Here’s what I did.

I was once accused of stealing from a vacation rental. In my case, it was a lovely Vrbo condominium in Oahu. Two elegant peacock statues decorated the master bedroom. One of them went missing during our stay, according to the owner.

When she confronted me about the lost art, I told her the truth: I didn’t take them. How the heck would we bring a large peacock statue on a plane back to Phoenix? But I also admitted that I had houseguests — my parents and a friend (with the owner’s permission).

Not all travelers are honorable tenants. Take the guests who checked into this Airbnb in Georgia and then proceeded to plunder the home. They removed a 60-inch TV, sheet sets, large bottles of body wash and other toiletries and cleaning supplies that the host kept in a locked master closet to turn the house over quickly between guests.

A quick online search for “stolen TV from an Airbnb” suggests it’s disturbingly common. Thieves check into a rental for a weekend and then check out with anything that isn’t nailed down.

But Lambert didn’t fit the profile. It seems highly unlikely that an accountant from Northern California who was traveling though Europe would remove aging electronics from an apartment in Warsaw. Not impossible, but highly, highly unlikely.

Maybe Airbnb should have been a little more skeptical.

If you’re a guest, how do you prove you didn’t steal from an Airbnb?

How do you prove you weren’t responsible for an Airbnb theft? There are only a few ways.

  • Take “before” and “after” pictures of the rental.
    I know, it’s ridiculous. But I already advise that for rental cars. Why not vacation rentals? I have started doing this. If you don’t take a “before” image, at least take an “after” shot that shows you properly cleaned the place. Like a rental car, you never know what will happen to the rental between the time you check out and the time the owner arrives to inspect the work the cleaning crew has done.
  • Ask the owner to review surveillance footage.
    Many Vrbo and Airbnb units have exterior cameras that monitor who comes and goes. You can ask the owner to check the footage to see if you left the home with a TV or any other property. (On a related note, don’t steal from an Airbnb. It’s an incredibly stupid way to enrich yourself. You will eventually get caught.)
  • Have a watertight alibi.
    Certainly, having a witness who can place you at the airport without the peacock statue or the 60-inch TV would be helpful. But more to the point, an appeal to common sense might count for something. How on earth would you bring an enormous decorative bird on a flight? And more to the point, why would you?

I should add that some of these strategies may work, but they might also fail spectacularly. When I told the owner of my Hawaii Vrbo that if she needed to deduct the cost of the peacock from my deposit, I was fine with it, she declined.

Had the owner decided differently — and had I resisted — then the outcome might have been different. After all, these platforms are created for the host, not for the guest. The site is far likelier to side with the owner.

If you didn’t steal from an Airbnb, here’s how to beat a false charge

What’s Airbnb’s role in mediating these conflicts? Well, for Lambert, it was apparently to side with the host quickly and credit him $333. It’s supposed to give all parties a fair hearing and then decide what to do with a deposit.

Reading between the lines, it looked as if Lambert felt overwhelmed by the charges and maybe didn’t respond to all the messages promptly. Airbnb quickly closed the case in favor of the host.

Two takeaways from this case: Take a charge like this seriously and respond promptly. If things don’t go your way, appeal to one of the Airbnb executives whose names, numbers, and emails are posted on this site.

And that’s assuming it’s a false charge.

If you or one of your kids swiped something from a vacation rental, please own up to it and make it right.

So did she steal from an Airbnb or not?

During my correspondence with Lambert, I came to believe she did not take anything from her Airbnb. I understood why Airbnb would have sided with the host, and that its actions were an honest mistake. I asked Airbnb to review her case again and supplied it with the paper trail between her, the host, and Airbnb.

Airbnb reviewed the case and refunded her entire deposit. That’s a terrific outcome for an innocent customer, but a valuable lesson for the rest of us. Don’t ignore messages from Airbnb’s trust and safety team and always — always! — take photos of your vacation rental.

Should Airbnb have refunded Lambert's deposit?

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