If you’re thinking of using Airbnb as an alternative to a hotel, bed and breakfast, or other type of accommodation, I urge you to read this first.
Our Airbnb nightmare lasted four days and ruined my daughter’s college graduation weekend, as well as my mother’s 70th birthday celebration. Know the risks you’re taking before you use Airbnb.
I have been wrestling with my thoughts for the past year. Given some factors, including a recent, poignant conversation with a stranger, and some current articles I’ve read about Airbnb, I’ve decided to publish my story. This is bad news:
“When it comes to lodging, Waliszewski said that short-term rentals such as Airbnb and VRBO could outperform hotels in the near-term as travelers attempt to avoid interactions with strangers.” –Travel and Leisure
I try my best to keep my website a positive place, however, it’s simply unbalanced and unjust for experiences like this to be dismissed and ignored for the sake of positivity. Just as I feel strongly when I enjoy a fabulous hotel, or restaurant, and want to share my experience with you, I feel compelled to tell you about this terrible experience in order to help you avoid a similar situation.
My family’s Airbnb encounter last year was hellish: a Hotel California-esque ordeal which no one should ever have to experience. Airbnb not only mistreated us during the time we were there, but afterwards, too. They firmly refused to provide a full refund. This should have been the least they could have offered as a gesture of apology.
I realize that this year’s college (and high school) seniors won’t have a graduation weekend at all, however, I want to make sure that if Airbnb stays in business, that as many people as possible are better informed about their ethics and protocol as a multi-billion dollar company.
What my family experienced during my daughter’s university graduation weekend was nothing short of reprehensible. I hope that telling you our story may help increase the probability that it never happens to anyone else in future.
NB: I am sure that many Airbnb hosts are honest, reliable, communicative, have clean rentals and take pride in being welcoming and helpful. However, given my experience last year, clearly there are some hosts that are the antithesis of these hosts. I feel that I need to highlight how disgracefully, and unfairly Airbnb handled our situation, during, and after our stay.
When we can Safely Travel Again~
Think of how clean you want your future accommodations to be: will you trust a company like Airbnb that has no oversight on how clean or safe their rentals are? Or will you stick with hotels that have certain procedures and protocol with which they must comply?
There is literally NO ACCOUNTABILITY with Airbnb. After reading my experience, I think you’ll be opting for hotels, too.
Thinking of Using Airbnb? Think Again.
How a Horrible Host and Airbnb Ruined a Very SpecialWeekend for my Family
A weekend we’d looked forward to for four years–my daughter’s graduation from Villanova University last May–was nothing like we’d imagined. Instead of the joyous weekend, family reunion and serendipitous celebration of my mother’s 70th birthday, we found ourselves in a filthy, and disgusting situation with no other place to go. It appeared that we had arrived at our accommodation unannounced, despite the fact that I’d booked over two months in advance, and had already paid in full.
Background on the Booking.
Exactly one year prior to the date of needing accommodation in the Villanova area, I attempted to book at minimum, two consecutive nights in the same hotel. This was the first available date to do so, and I managed to secure two rooms, however, when I tried to book the second night the next day, the hotels were already full.
If you’ve had a child graduate from university, I probably need not explain anything to you. However, given that there are over 60 universities and colleges in the Philadephia area, booking hotel rooms during graduation season is a major challenge. I never did manage to secure consecutive rooms in the same hotel, despite consistently checking, and waiting for cancellations.
In early March, someone had mentioned Airbnb to me so I checked the listings and found an entire house for rent not too far from Villanova University. The reviews looked good, one even commenting on the cleanliness of the property.
Edit (June 1, 2020): due to many commenters stating that this must simply be my fault for not checking the reviews, maybe these visuals will help. The 14 reviews includes my 1 star review, so the ratings would have been even higher when I checked them.
These are two of the reviews I read. So for those of you saying I didn’t check the reviews, I guess I should also have known these were fake?
I booked the house on March 10th, and cancelled the two separate hotel reservations. I felt so relieved that we wouldn’t have to change locations, and I also extended our stay for two more days. This way we could have a mini family reunion/vacation. I was excited!
Communication with the host didn’t start out on too well. As per Airbnb’s suggested protocol, I messaged her immediately after I had booked, just to say hello, who was coming to her rental, that I was looking forward to the stay, and asked details about our arrival. I texted again 12 days later, to no avail. She responded another 12 days later, which was over three weeks after my first message. However, she still never answered my question about how to check in. Her response also goes against Airbnb recommendations to always message through Airbnb (which I had done.)
May 16th arrived and I messaged the host in the morning, but didn’t hear back, so I called later. I finally spoke to her and she said her parents would be at the home to let us in.
Her parents were there, all right. Her mother was hanging drapes (and we wondered why the last minute drape-hanging was happening.)
And her father was laying sod in the backyard. We felt like we were intruding, arriving while they were working in and out of the home. We didn’t say anything, hoping they would leave since most of us had arrived (my daughter had come with us, but she wasn’t staying there.)
Upon our arrival, we immediately noticed how dirty the floors were and smelled a very strong dog odor. All of us noticed; it wasn’t just my mother who is usually the first to see anything that isn’t immaculately clean, or smell something bad.
It was also hard to miss a huge flat screen TV on the couch (see photo above.) I felt a knot in the pit of my stomach, and it kept tightening in response to everything that I was seeing. In the back of my mind, I knew if this wasn’t going to work out, we had no other place to go. I spoke to the host’s mother about the dirty floor and the TV and she said that we could help put the TV back up. I just looked at my family in disbelief: was this really happening?
At this point, another person was in the house. A young teenager appeared, seemingly coming home from school. He didn’t acknowledge us, but walked through the house as if everything was normal (he seemed not to notice strangers were in the house.)
At this point, my whole body was starting to react to this bizarre situation as we started seeing more and more dirt, fur, hair and dust everywhere we looked. The windows looked as though they hadn’t been cleaned in years, and it became clear that we could not stay in these filthy conditions, especially since we had wanted to cook here.
I called the host since I couldn’t communicate with the host’s mother. Several times, she said things that made absolutely no sense. For example, “the food on the floor is from the comforter” and she brought a TV remote in from another room, and called it “the internet.”
I told the host over the phone that the house had not been cleaned, the floors were filthy, there was a TV on the couch, and many other issues. She sounded shocked, and said she was on her way.
At one point, the doorbell rang and my father opened it as we were all standing by the front door (we didn’t even want to sit anywhere.) I have no idea who it was, but he asked for the the host, and then said, “Oh never mind, I’ll come back another time”, and left. If you’ve ever seen The Twilight Zone, this could easily have been an episode.
Before the host arrived, we had done a quick inspection of the main floor and upstairs. Both floors were disgustingly unclean.
Even some sheets and mattresses were stained. There are simply too many photos and videos to upload all of them. Every room smelled, too, it wasn’t just the downstairs.
The Host Arrives
Without making assumptions about why the host wasn’t there to begin with, and why she said and did all the things she did, let me just say, she was not based in reality. She was absolutely taken aback about the fact that I said her house was filthy. She said she’d had a cleaning crew come in and clean it top to bottom! Clearly, the evidence all over the house showed that it couldn’t have been in the last six months or more! It was obvious that we weren’t going to get anywhere when I tried to show her how dirty the floor was, but she refused to look (I’m serious.)
She started to tell me a sob story about how Airbnb hadn’t reimbursed her for damage to her house from some past guests, and how she works hard and didn’t like how I was speaking to her. I told her that she just didn’t like what I was telling her, and tried to speak to her rationally. I attempted to make her understand that these things had nothing to do with me; the point was that her entire house was filthy, and not in any condition to be occupied. She was in denial, and seemed as though she honestly didn’t understand anything that I had said (no, there was no language barrier). It was as though she was not present, mentally.
There was no other choice but to get Airbnb involved. My mind was blown by this woman who was telling me to my face that her house was clean. In fact, she went so far as to say the “upstairs is immaculate.” You’ve seen a few of the photos from upstairs, but here are a few more.
NB: I commend you if you’ve made it this far without getting physically ill from these photos, but I’m going to warn you, the worst is yet to come. So don’t go any further if you’ve just eaten a meal. I love sharing beautiful pictures, but seeing and uploading all these are making me feel sick all over again. This is so not me, it’s difficult to share these. Just THINK: Airbnb saw all of these photos and deemed that nothing was wrong: now that’s SCARY. In the end, after I fought and fought with them, they still made us pay 50%!
I barely had any battery left on my phone when I contacted Airbnb, so I asked them to call me back on another number, which they failed to do. Luckily, my phone had not yet died, and I started to explain my situation. I went outside the front door for privacy as I didn’t want the host to hear me tell the rep that her house stunk of dog in addition to the filth inside.
As soon as I divulged this to the Airbnb rep, the door flew open and the host reprimanded me, saying loudly, “My house does not smell of dog!” I told her that it was not okay to eavesdrop on my conversation, but clearly things were heading south.
Yes, I had tried to see if any hotel rooms were available, but it was a joke: everything had been booked for a year in advance. Note the time: we arrived at 3 pm.
I cannot write every single thing that transpired because it was incredibly drawn out. In a nutshell:
- I continued my communication with Airbnb over text as the call kept dropping. They said there was nothing else available and I needed to work with the host and allow her to have cleaners come in.
- I said there was no way they could clean the house in a few hours, due to how much needed to be done, but I finally agreed, given there were no other options.
- The host said her cleaner was in the driveway, but she was sending him away because she didn’t want him in the house with me since I wasn’t nice (!!!)
- Her father pulled out of the driveway right after this (her father was “her cleaner.”)
- She had someone else come over, saying he was her attorney. He stayed in the kitchen with her while she mopped one floor for over 30 minutes. At this rate it would take her over a year to clean the house.
- The rep at Airbnb said it was time for his break and left. I honestly couldn’t believe he just left.
- My entire family: mother, father, husband, and son left in my son’s car to go for a tour of Villanova University with my daughter while I stayed behind and tried to deal with Airbnb and the host from hell. I felt even more sick knowing I was missing out on this special time with my family that I would never be able to get back.
No Choice but to Stay
- I finally couldn’t take being in the house with them any longer as they were talking about the situation and how the house was clean, they had done nothing wrong, and talking about me, etc. The agent came back after more than an hour break.
At this point, I asked the host and her “attorney” to leave. All she had cleaned was one floor, which was probably the cleanest floor in the house. Now it was up to me to clean what we had to use, such as the bathrooms, kitchen sink, beds, etc. However, no matter what I cleaned, it wasn’t going to help the dog odor!
No one in my family was happy about the situation, but we all knew we had no other alternative. I felt the worst for my mother who is so meticulously clean, more than any of us. I felt like a failure, although I’d done nothing wrong.
I had to call the host as the backyard had a sprinkler going and was flooding a small area. The host’s father came back and turned it off. However, as my son was sitting out back reading on another day, he returned, just showed up in the backyard without any notification whatsoever.
Who knows how many times he came over as we tried to stay out as long, and as much as we possibly could. I was not happy that he felt he could just wander in whenever he wanted while we were there.
DiscoveringThe Degree of Filth in the House Using Airbnb
I am not exaggerating when I say the house was FILTHY. Just look. Can you imagine being told this is “immaculate?”
Cleaning the toilet literally made me gag. The only reason I did it was because I had to for my family. My mother would never have been able to manage the feat, and I was the only one left at the house at this point. I truly wanted to run away from this disgusting hell-hole and the entire situation, but where could we go with every hotel booked for miles around?
Absolutely nowhere. My daughter’s graduation ceremonies were being held the next two days and my husband and parents’ flights weren’t until Monday (and this was Thursday!) We were stuck here.
I would have considered sleeping in a car over this house, but we didn’t rent a car and my son just had a Honda Civic. Then where would we shower and dress? It was an impossibility.
Allow me to Show you the Kitchen
For those of you who don’t know, this is mouse poop. And it happens to be in a frying pan. How does that strike you? Can you believe that all these photos and documentation meant nothing to Airbnb? Let me show you more and we’ll get to that in a bit.
The back of the drawer. No clue what this is, but it shouldn’t be here. Everything was reprehensible.
See the photo below? That’s the inside of the freezer door. See the dog fur/hair? Yep, that’s in the freezer; not kidding. Remember, I can only show you some of the kitchen, and the house. There was so much more!
Want to see the dishwasher? Probably not, right?
Looked like these had not been used or cleaned in YEARS.
The microwave was revolting. Who am I kidding, everything was revolting.
Downstairs/Basement Using Airbnb
And finally, let’s take a walk downstairs to the basement. This is just a little part of the disgustingly dirty floor.
This wall is disgraceful.
Thank goodness we didn’t do laundry here. I’m adding a video clip below that I took downstairs.
My Mother’s 70th Birthday Celebration that Didn’t Happen
I already had a huge bottle of bubbly and planned on making Mum a nice dinner, buying a cake, and celebrating her 70th birthday with our family since her birthday was a week later. My family lives all over the US, so this was the perfect time to celebrate my mother’s special birthday.
Alas, there was no special dinner being made in that kitchen. No cake was going in that fridge. Proper restaurants were slammed with existing reservations due to the graduations, so we just popped the bubbly at my daughter’s house where everyone didn’t even have a seat, and that was it. The most pathetic 70th “birthday party”, ever.
Airbnb’s Lack of Successful Resolution and Pathetic Customer Service
I called Airbnb upon my return to Los Angeles, but even though they had all the documentation and photos (more than I’ve shared here), they refused to take into account the fact that we COULD NOT LEAVE. They stated that if we complained about the condition of the house, we should have left in order to receive a full refund! It was a vicious circle of me telling them there was no place to go, and Airbnb saying, if it was so bad, you should have left.
After weeks of spending valuable time on the phone and waiting for them to make a decision, they refunded 50% of my payment and offered a $100 towards a future stay! What a joke–after this experience? At minimum, a full refund should have been given, and that still isn’t even close to making up for our ruined weekend! No amount of money can fix lost and ruined time with family.
Also, I discovered that although the listing says the home sleeps 8 (with 4 beds), there are only 3 beds and one is a twin, so it only sleeps 5. It still has not been corrected. How does Airbnb monitor these listings? There is simply no accountability.
Here’s why Airbnb Failed Miserably~
- The fact that Airbnb absolutely refused to look at the facts and realize that there was literally nowhere for my family to go during those four days says a lot about the company. They are focused on making and keeping money, not doing the right thing, and providing good customer service.
- Airbnb didn’t take into account that we left the premises CLEANER than when we arrived. When has that ever happened? They also didn’t take into account our wasted time, and the time we spent cleaning.
- Airbnb also blamed the victim by saying that I should have allowed the host to have someone come to clean WHILE WE WERE THERE. When this woman had over two months to prepare for our arrival, it’s okay to have hours and hours of our time taken away when we should have come to a clean house in the first place? Why is the responsibility never laid on the correct shoulders anymore?
Given that this year no one will be able to graduate in the manner shown in the photo above, I’m grateful that my daughter was able to participate in her ceremony. However, our weekend hardly went as planned, all due to some bizarre lack of planning on our host’s part. Had she hired a cleaning crew to do a major (and I mean, MAJOR) cleaning inside her house before our arrival, things would have turned out much differently.
Is my story not enough to dissuade you from using Airbnb?
Then maybe the thousands of other submissions on this site will be.
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. Please share the word about my experience. Have you had a nightmare experience with Airbnb? Would you have done anything differently than me if you would have been in this situation? Let me know.
Two Final Notes
- I never took one photo of my daughter alone in her cap and gown that weekend. I honestly think that the chaos, anxiety, and stress from staying in that horrible filth was the reason I just wasn’t thinking clearly. I’ve been a professional wedding photographer, and I shoot photos all the time. This is just not like me, and it breaks my heart that I didn’t get just one of her alone. This is a shot from the week before with her friends; Denisa is in the center.
2. On Monday, after leaving “Hotel California” (I cannot tell you just how wonderful it felt leaving that place), Denisa and I took my parents into Philadelphia. After having Philly cheesesteaks for lunch at Reading Terminal Market, I witnessed a pedestrian being hit in a crosswalk by an SUV. I got the license plate and gave it to the victim (luckily he wasn’t badly hurt.)
Within 5 minutes, I had my new iPhone (with graduation photos) stolen right out of my hand as we were walking down the street! My 83 year old dad started chasing the thief, and fell on the sidewalk, injuring his chin, chest and later his legs would become completely bruised!
I yelled, “Stop him, he stole my phone!” and someone actually did! I got my phone back, but not after the man who had been hit by the SUV tried to subdue the thief and also fell, injuring his hand quite badly. He had been waiting for the police to arrive. Meanwhile, my daughter took my dad inside a Dunkin’ Donuts as he thought he was going to pass out. I also got two photos of the thief right after getting my phone back! Sounds like a movie, no? This photo says it all: the aftermath.
Let’s just say, it wasn’t the best weekend we’ve ever had. Bottom line: avoid Airbnb, and be super vigilant in Philadelphia.
Stay tuned for a lemon granita recipe next time!
I promise it won’t have any horrible photos.