Is Airbnb safe? This guest found the truth — the hard way

How safe is your Airbnb rental's neighborhood?

How safe is Airbnb? Before you answer, consider what happened to Krystal Scott, who rented what she thought was a charming three-bedroom home in Lafayette, La.– until she moved in and discovered some Airbnb safety problems.

“The neighborhood was awful,” she says. “Rundown houses, prostitutes walking the streets, a homeless man sleeping on people’s porches. Obviously, none of this was described in the listing, just beautiful pictures of the house.”

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She moved out. Now wants her money back from Airbnb.

Her case raises a lot of important questions. Is Airbnb safe? How can you determine if your rental is safe? And what do you do if you’ve checked into a home and found some Airbnb safety problems? Since we get our fair share of Airbnb cases, I thought Scott’s query would resonate with a lot of this site’s readers.

Is this Airbnb safe?

Scott, an occupational therapy student from Shreveport, La., last December booked an Airbnb rental for an internship in Lafayette. She’d carefully reviewed the listing before booking. From all outward appearances, it looked tidy and safe for a single woman.

The Airbnb rental, located just two blocks from downtown, looked immaculate: shiny new appliances, upgraded linens — very Restoration Hardware chic.

The property description makes me want to check in:

This fabulous completely updated cottage might keep you from heading out as it’s so comfortable and well appointed. The neighborhood is blended and safe. The bedding is 800 thread count with fluffy down comforters and pillows. This home is decorated to impress, and sure to please. It’s 2 blocks from downtown, Mardi Gras parade route and festivals. Come sit on the front porch and swing while sipping on coffee or your fav cold beverage. Many restaurants and entertainment are walking distance away.

And look at these reviews. Almost no sign of an Airbnb safety problem. Five stars!

Is this Airbnb safe? The reviews are in.
The reviews from former guests of this Airbnb rental

Scott thought she had the wrong impression and wanted to give the house a chance.

“I contacted Airbnb the next day to let them know my trepidation, even though the host promised me she had never had any problems and that it was a safe area,” she says. “So I told Airbnb that I would give it some time and get a better feel for it. I didn’t want to seem like I was overreacting.”

How safe is Airbnb? Here’s the incident that changed everything

Three weeks later, an unfortunate incident happened that convinced her she was in the wrong rental.

“I had a man banging and yelling at my back door to get me to open up,” she recalls. “I called the host and she called the police. Three officers came out and spoke with me and told me that the area was not an area I should be staying in unless I had a gun on me.”

Whoah. Let’s hit rewind. Did she say “gun”?

“Three officers came out and spoke with me and told me that the area was not an area I should be staying in unless I had a gun on me.”

Yes, I heard correctly.

“They said the area was known as ‘the block’ for a reason. Then they asked me how much I was paying, and I told them $2,000 a month. They were very shocked because they said the average house in that area is $300 to $500 a month. So I knew I needed to find another place to live after listening to them and my gut about the safety, despite the host’s claim,” she says.

She decided the Airbnb safety problems were too much. She moved out and requested a refund.

“The host was mad and refused to give me a refund for my deposit,” she says. “So I explained and sent all proper documentation to Airbnb — photos, police report, and a crime map of the area. Airbnb keeps passing me around to different case managers. It appears no one cares or has even read through any of the documentation.”

Scott says Airbnb is giving her the runaround.

“Any time I’m supposed to hear back from a case manager I don’t,” she says. “If I call, they end up having to assign me a new one. I just want Airbnb to understand where I’m coming from being in an area as a single female and have legitimate concerns.”

Was this Airbnb safe?

Of course, the time to figure out if a rental is safe is before you book it and discover an Airbnb safety problem.

Could Scott have done that? This unit doesn’t give an exact location when you see the listing online.

The general vicinity of this rental.
The general vicinity of this rental

The city’s official crime statistics don’t paint a pretty picture.

The crime rates around this Airbnb rental don't paint a great picture.

The Lafayette crime map confirms her suspicions. (These are overlays from Jan 1 to May 14 — just 4 ½ months of crime data):

Was she right to be frightened of this Airbnb rental's neighborhood.

Oh boy.

I think it all comes down to the guest. Some travelers don’t mind staying in a “blended and safe” neighborhood, and maybe they don’t hesitate to exercise their rights under the Second Amendment; others would prefer the safety of a suburb. Scott was clearly in the latter group.

What Airbnb does to help keep you safe

Some readers may see this case as yet more proof that Airbnb is dangerous. Behind the scenes, Airbnb is doing a lot to keep its rentals safe. That includes:

  • “Scoring” the rental before it’s confirmed. Airbnb uses predictive analytics and machine learning to instantly evaluate hundreds of signals that help it flag and investigate suspicious activity.
  • Checking watchlists. Airbnb runs hosts against regulatory, terrorist, and sanctions watchlists. In the United States, it also conducts background checks.
  • Safety training. Airbnb runs safety workshops with hosts and local experts and encourages hosts to provide guests with important local information. It also provides free smoke and carbon monoxide detectors to its hosts.

Then again, if you read sites like Airbnbwatch.org, the nonprofit watchdog group, you might be forgiven for asking: How safe is Airbnb?

Remember this infographic?

Could your overnight stay become a nightmare?

And then there are the media reports of Airbnb guests being murdered, robbed, and assaulted. Doesn’t exactly make you feel safe about the platform, does it?

So how safe is Airbnb? Truth is, you can’t rely on Airbnb’s safety measures. You have to do your homework — in Airbnb’s case, a lot of homework. Had Scott done her due diligence, she wouldn’t have booked that Lafayette property. It wasn’t right for her.

What to do if you encounter an Airbnb safety problem

Scott’s case brings up an interesting question: What happens if you find yourself in an unsafe rental?

You have to say something immediately — not wait three weeks. I’ve handled similar cases in the past, and speaking up quickly, which allows Airbnb to address the problem, is really important.

Airbnb doesn’t explicitly guarantee the safety of its rentals. But it does leave a door open for a refund.

Situations that may be eligible for a refund under this policy generally fall into one of three categories, according to Airbnb.

  • The host fails to provide reasonable access to the booked listing.
  • The listing is misrepresented (number of bedrooms, location, lacks promised amenities).
  • The listing isn’t generally clean, is unsafe, or there’s an animal in the listing that wasn’t disclosed prior to booking.

Airbnb promises it will either provide you with a refund or “use reasonable efforts to find and book another comparable accommodation” for any unused nights left on your reservation. But the amount of any refund will depend on the nature of the travel issue.

Reality check: How you define “unsafe” or unclean might depend on your location, cultural norms, and other factors. What’s more, your host may not agree with you, and Airbnb might not, either. (Although I would say a crime map like Lafayette’s is pretty convincing.)

If Airbnb — or your host — doesn’t refund the stay, you can also contact Airbnb’s executives. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of Airbnb’s executives on this site.

How to get a refund for your unsafe Airbnb

I reviewed the paper trail between Scott and Airbnb. It shows the likely cause of the delay. Scott complained not only about safety, but also an insect infestation. That complicated her request for a refund because it looked as if she was compiling a laundry list of complaints to substantiate a case for a full refund.

If you find yourself asking “How safe is Airbnb?” maybe you need to build an airtight case about your accommodations. Don’t allow other service issues to distract you. Laundry lists can kill the best cases. I’ve seen it time and again.

But perhaps the best way to avoid having to get a refund is to avoid an unsafe Airbnb in the first place. Scott should have done a little research on Lafayette before she booked her vacation rental.

I contacted Airbnb on Scott’s behalf, and it offered her a full refund.

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