Should Airbnb refund the “biggest cockroach I’ve seen in my life”?

Q I recently booked an Airbnb rental in Tallahassee, Florida. A few hours after arriving I was in the kitchen and saw the biggest cockroach I have ever seen in my life.

There was no insecticide and my boyfriend couldn’t kill him. It flowed under the island. I didn’t feel safe and I was afraid that cockroaches would come into my things.

The host offered me a different rental, but I didn’t hear from him for four hours. So we left the rental and settled in a hotel.

I contacted Airbnb, who offered to reimburse the cleaning fee. I asked to speak to a supervisor and filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. A supervisor contacted me four days ago to arrange an appointment and I responded with my availability. No one has contacted me since. It seems almost impossible to talk to someone to solve this problem. I would like to get back the $614 I spent on the rental. Can you help ?

MAULAH HALLEY, Brooklyn Park, Minnesota.

A. Do you deserve a full refund for discovering a cockroach in your Florida rental? I am not sure. But I’m afraid you had trouble getting in touch with someone at Airbnb. And I also wanted to know how big the cockroach was. So I decided to take your case.

You sent me a photo. It was very big.

I remember encountering one of these insects when I stayed at a hostel in New Orleans in the 1980s. I kicked it hard with a shoe, and it ran off, unfazed. Scary.

But as your host noted in email correspondence with you, cockroaches – or saw palmetto bugs – are common in North Florida. This does not necessarily mean that the whole rental is infested or that you will see one again.

You did well to immediately contact the host and Airbnb. You may have given the host the opportunity to treat the living spaces with an insecticide. But Airbnb’s refund policy (available at specifically covers dwellings that present safety or health hazards, or pests. You may have argued that a cockroach—sorry, a saw palmetto insect—was both a health hazard and a pest.

The key to solving this problem was finding Airbnb’s refund policy and compelling the company to do so. Airbnb would then find you another place to stay. Airbnb just referred you to the host instead of allowing you to invoke their refund policy. I think a short, courteous email to one of Airbnb’s executive contacts that I list on my consumer advocacy site ( might have helped move things along.

I contacted Airbnb on your behalf. A representative called you and offered you half your money. You said no. Airbnb then offered a full refund, which you accepted.

Christopher Elliott is the Advocacy Director of Elliott Advocacy, a non-profit organization that helps consumers solve their problems. Elliott’s latest book is “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler” (National Geographic). Contact him at Where [email protected].

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