False advertising on Airbnb: is a guesthouse really a home?

When an Airbnb.com user books a house, they expect a house. When he gets a guesthouse, he expects a refund. Is he expecting too much?

Q: I am writing to express my frustration and disappointment with Airbnb. My wife and I have been regular Airbnb users, as well as highly valued guests, on stays in Milan. Portland, Oregon; and Santa Monica, California.

We recently booked a rental in Los Angeles. Six months before we arrived, a friend was in the neighborhood of the house, and he called us to let us know that the house was a guest house located in the backyard of a main residence and not in fact a house self contained, as advertised and described in the listing.

This was in no way indicated in the photographs, nor was the property described as being adjacent to another house. I prefer the privacy of our own space. I looked at Airbnb’s refund policy, I thought we wouldn’t lose money by canceling almost six months in advance and I pressed a single button to cancel the reservation before booking another Airbnb property for the duration of our stay.

We were charged $5,283 for our canceled stay. Airbnb’s resolution center was unable to help us. I consider Airbnb’s refusal to refund us as an act of theft. Can you help us get our money back?

—Kevin Calaba Brooklyn, New York

A: You should have received a house, as advertised. But what was announced? You carefully examined the listing and found that indeed, buried deep within the listing of the property, there was an “oh by the way” mention that it was a guest house. For some — including, apparently, Airbnb — that was enough to close your case. But not for me.

In fact, you don’t have as many rights as you might think. See Airbnb’s Terms (airbnb.com/terms/), which state that Airbnb does not control the content of a listing and is not responsible for it. I’m not impressed with this kind of language, and I bet most people who book a home through Airbnb have no idea such fine print exists. Well, I guess they do now.

You followed your resolution steps by filing a complaint through Airbnb’s “help” section on its website. When that failed, you could have appealed your case to one of Airbnb’s executives (elliott.org/company-contacts/airbnb/). I list their contact details on my website. I don’t know how far that would have taken you. Airbnb interpreted its own terms correctly, but came to the wrong conclusion. I think your host intentionally misled you and then pocketed your money six months in advance, even though it’s likely the room would have been resold. It is simply wrong.

I contacted Airbnb and they issued a full refund for your rental.

Christopher Elliott is the author of “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler”. His columns are regularly broadcast on seattletimes.com/travel. Contact him at [email protected]

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