[Update 1: Airbnb sent an email requesting more information at 7:12 pm CST.]
[Update 2: Airbnb issued a final resolution at 10:43 am CST, the following morning (03/19/2015). "As we strive to resolve these issues in a positive way for both parties, we're not going to be requesting payment for the damages in question," Airbnb wrote in its decision. "We hope that you move on to have many more positive experiences using Airbnb. These situations are rare and not what our community is about." This blog never entered into the discussion during the resolution process, by any parties involved.]
Much has been made of the risks Airbnb landlords face when using the unregulated short-term rental service.
But until now, the hidden danger to Airbnb renters has not been given nearly enough attention. But it is very real and can cost you anything between several hundred dollars to your very life.
This Financial Post piece from just last week accurately describes the risk Airbnb landlords face as follows:
"Because Airbnb believes it is indemnified, the company does not vet renters or units. This means that strangers who have not been checked or referenced can stay in units without permission of the landlord or neighboring condo owners or renters. These people may be convicted burglars, pedophiles or terrorists and, through Airbnb, they are able to gain access to residents, corridors, stairwells, gyms, pools, locker rooms, lounges and parking garages."
However, my family, as first-time Airbnb renters during the recent Spring break, are nothing like the people described above. We are actually mindful of people’s living space and completely respectful of the terms and conditions laid out by landlords, and Airbnb itself.
Dear renters, Airbnb couldn't care less.
After checking out of the "romantic HILL COUNTY ranch" before 11 a.m. on March 12, we believed all to be well. We heard nothing from the landlord, and left knowing more tenants were coming to rent the place that very day.
Then, more than 48 hours later the hammer dropped.
The landlord requested an additional $250 in damages which she claimed resulted from my stay.
Here is the screenshot of that request, which I denied, and my gut reaction why (click to enlarge, my avatar is the cookie-cutter house):
Here, let me explain the 5 reasons why the request is highly unusual:
1. Floors are normally made to endure more than wear and tear, and since my family didn’t bring additional furniture into the place, or host a part of the National Plowman’s Union, it is unclear how exactly we caused these scratches.
2. Therefore, in my case, the landlord Sonja in her description suggests moving furniture as it suits the tenant, so in the case that offer is accepted, why should renters be penalized for accepting the landlords offer?
3. If this floor is so sensitive, then shouldn’t the landlord be responsible for safeguarding the surface?
4. Other renters occupied the space in the time between my family checking out and the request for resolution being filed, so what assurances are there that we are the responsible party? How can we be sure the landlord isn’t also sending the same resolution request to other tenants during the same timeframe?
5. The $250 figure doesn’t seem fair. But that doesn’t matter, the landlord is free to ask for $500, or even $750. This ability to pluck a number out of the sky is perhaps most concerning, as under the FHA Managing and Marketing Structure program (M&M III), for example, there are published limits to what vendors can charge for asset repairs. Airbnb, on the other hand, offers no such renter protection.
These five reasons were created by me, initially, to be privately delivered to Airbnb, should the resolution request be escalated. Which is exactly what happened three full days later. If you look at the very top of the above screen shot, you can see exactly when Sonja exercised this right.
So, as a responsible renter, I was prepared and ready to fight this injustice of an after charge. After all, Airbnb provides a list of questions in the resolution form to landlords, so the expectation, as a renter, would be a similar discovery process.
But then, this email happened:
No requests for additional information and no chance to expand on my version of events. The final destiny of my Spring Break rental accommodation is now completely and totally out of my hands. Renters have no choice but to sit on their hands and hope Airbnb will send a mercy email. Given my experience and research, though, I'm not going to hold my breath for such correspondence.
There are two reasons why you should think before renting with Airbnb:
1. Do not rent from Airbnb expecting a basic level of statutory rights. You have none.
2. Do not expect protection from landlords passing over their cost of doing business, regardless of any and all ulterior motives. There aren’t any for Airbnb renters.
What seems like a harmless community of well-wishers connecting on perfect holiday travels, in fact hides a dark underbelly of potential raw abuse combined with a lack of total impartiality that benefits the landlord well over the relatively unrepresented tenant.
Renters, be warned.
Bonus! And here’s the real icing on the cake!
In our case, the landlord rented the property knowing the smoke detectors did not work. The two main fire alarms were removed from the casing and absent during our stay. The remaining, third fire alarm, located in the master suite, malfunctioned and began beeping around 3 a.m. during our first night there.
The landlord was quick to respond when notified, and offered the following excuse via text message. She clarified that she was in “the process of replacing” the smoke detectors. Translation: Thank goodness your family didn’t burn to death while they were sleeping.
After receiving Sonja’s resolution request, I then decided to pursue my own, based on the above grievance. After all, not having working smoke detectors is pretty much crammed down everyone’s throat at a young age as being an incredibly, horribly terrible idea.
Come to find out, Airbnb never got that message about this one, simple life-saving tip.
Airbnb does not require smoke detectors in landlord properties, but cheerfully suggests that it might be a good idea:
As this blog is being published, Airbnb is reminding me to leave a review of my stay on its website. What’s more, I need to hurry, as I only have 10 days and anything the landlord writes will be published regardless.
Oh no, a bad review? A ding on my one and only experience?
Will not doing so further hurt my chances of renting again on Airbnb, if I don’t fight back and leave my own review?
If so, then good, it will only be doing me a huge favor.
[Bad experience renting on Airbnb? Please tell me all about it on the message boards below.]