I've stayed in a lot of Airbnbs over the years and had never encountered any real Airbnb problems… until that one trip to Berlin. This is the story of my bad Airbnb experience and how you can solve issues with Airbnb when you're a guest.
Airbnb problems: my bad Airbnb experience
Initially, I would be spending my month in Berlin at a friend's place but that got canceled only two weeks beforehand as she fell ill while traveling and needed her flat back. I turned to Airbnb and did what I always do: apply a whole bunch of filters and thoroughly checked the reviews before settling on what seemed to be a very cool penthouse.
When I got there, it was close to 9 p.m. The host was waiting for me and led me into the building. He was unaware that the elevator was broken – it can happen. Airbnb hosts don't always have a handle on general building things.
We went up all seven floors and he opened the door to let me in. I instantly spotted the two grocery bags full of empty beer bottles… and the big room literally full of dirty laundry and stuff. I can't describe it differently, there were just heaps of stuff. Heaps as in actual piles.
He told me I shouldn't mind that room as it was where he stored his things when he had guests. Fair enough. We proceeded to the kitchen.
It was dirty. There was garbage from the previous guests as well as food left in the fridge. A quick look around the rest of the apartment taught me that it hadn't been cleaned at all and there were not even any sheets available for the bed.
The host didn't seem too surprised by the situation and figured the cleaning lady hadn't done her job. He'd drop off some sheets in the morning. How I was supposed to sleep that night, he failed to mention.
Him being a tall guy and me being the not-skilled-in-martial-arts rather small lady that I am, I decided it was better not to get into an argument right then and there. I told him the situation wasn't acceptable but that I'd have another look around once he'd left.
He didn't seem too worried and took off.
A bit more at ease now that I was alone, I decided to do a proper check. The place was a mess.
For starters, nothing had been cleaned. The bathroom had hairs from the previous guests and used soap. The oven was disgusting. The fridge had food leftovers from the last guests. Several cooking utensils were dirty. There were absolutely no curtains or blinds anywhere in the whole flat. Electricity chords came dangling down from the ceiling with only some paint covering them up – unsuccessfully.
There was no light in the bedroom, which consisted of just a mattress on the ground. There were blood spatters of defeated mosquitoes on the walls and ceiling. The button to control the heating was lying on top of the radiator instead of being attached to it. Nearby, a water bottle had been cut through the middle and filled with something that resembled paint – the brush still defiantly sticking out of it.
I took photos of those and many more things and then filmed a whole walk-through of the apartment and what was wrong with it.
I then looked up a hotel walking distance from the flat, grabbed my things, and left. Unfortunately, that wasn't the end of my issues with Airbnb.
Contacting Airbnb customer support
Checked in at the hotel, I messaged my Airbnb host to tell him the state of the flat was unacceptable, I had left, and I'd be filing a claim with Airbnb. Luckily for me, he quite quickly admitted that he was in the wrong. Weirdly enough, he didn't seem too bothered to try and convince me that he could clean up so I could stay – I had booked for a whole month, after all.
It was good to have his “declaration of fault” in the Airbnb messaging system but now it was up to me to get a refund and find a new place. It took me over 24 hours to get everything sorted and this was because of several reasons:
I first tried emailing and tweeting Airbnb as I always prefer to have a reply in writing that I can refer back to. On both channels, however, they were unresponsive and as it was rather late already at this point and I was exhausted, I called their customer support the next day.
It took their customer support several hours to look at the photos I sent them, get in touch with my host, and approve the refund.
Because I needed to find an apartment instantly, for a whole month, in a city as popular as Berlin, and this during a period where there would be several big conferences and the world's largest tourism travel trade fair, there weren't any apartments available that both fitted my criteria and the price I'd paid for my original Airbnb. I thus asked Airbnb for some credits so that I could book a new place through them.
Getting the approval for this took over 12 hours and this was largely due to the fact that my case manager forgot to hand over my case when her shift ended as well as that they had to ask a senior manager for approval and apparently, it was hard to get a hold of one.
I ended up staying at the hotel another night because it took so long to solve my problems with Airbnb but finally, at 2 a.m. the next day, I was able to book another apartment.
Bless the people of Berlin for being up at all times of the day/night.
My next host was lovely and the weeks I ended up staying at their Airbnb went without any issues.
What to do when you have a bad Airbnb experience
So what did I learn from this experience and, more importantly, what can you do when you have problems renting from Airbnb?
1. No matter how well you do your research, it's still possible to get unlucky.
I had followed the same process I always follow to book an airbnb, had read all the reviews, and had messaged the host to see how responsive he was. There were no red flags and still the rental was a dump.
It can happen. If it happens only once in more than five years of using the platform, as in my case, I'd say that's pretty okay.
2. Always contact your host
Whether you've lost your key, locked yourself out, something breaks, don't get along with another guest (in the case of a shared Airbnb) or your host is late to let you check in – these are all minor problems you best try to resolve with your host directly.
When you make your booking, you'll get their number and you can always contact them through the Airbnb messaging system as well. Most hosts are still regular people for whom renting out their place is one of many things they do, so be a little patient if they don't get back to you instantly.
If you really can't get your problem resolved by talking to your host, you can always turn to customer support.
If your Airbnb problems are of the kind that you can't stay in your place or you don't feel safe confronting your host directly, as was my case, I recommend going somewhere else to deal with things but make sure you always let your host know what's up. This gives them the chance to reply (or acknowledge they are in the wrong, as my host did) plus, Airbnb expects you to always contact your host as well.
3. Contact Airbnb within 24 hours after checking in for a full refund
If you don't want to stay at your Airbnb, it's important to contact their customer support within 24 hours of checking in to be able to be rebooked or get a full refund. If Airbnb problems come up during your stay, you can still reach out for a partial refund.
In any case, check the Airbnb Guest Refund Policy to know your rights.
4. Take photos of everything
When you report to Airbnb that something is wrong with your place, they're going to want to see proof so take photos. It's not necessary to also make a video like I did because the messaging system I had to use to send over my photos didn't allow for a video to be uploaded.
5. If something goes wrong, call customer support.
I've learned Airbnb customer support is much more responsive on the phone than through any other channel. And if you can, I highly recommend calling when you're most likely to be forwarded to their US department because I found them to be way more helpful.
When I was in Berlin and called during the day, my call was clearly forwarded to a customer support office offshore somewhere and they were much slower to act in every way than when I called after midnight and somehow ended up with US customer support.
6. Stay on their case
As I've mentioned, it took over 24 hours for me to get my refund and extra credits sorted. In some cases, you may have that time but when you don't want or can't stay in your Airbnb, you'll need to be able to get to a nice place as quickly as possible.
I could have booked a new flat while I was in the process of getting my refund from Airbnb but I wanted to make sure that I would get the credits I needed to book it and so I held off until everything was settled.
Looking back at it now, I probably would've called them more often to speed things up. So: stay on their case.
7. Dare to ask
Airbnb didn't need to give me some extra credits to book a new place but they did because they knew what I was asking for was reasonable. Because my original Airbnb was a mess, I needed to
- book a new place within 24 hours – that's fast
- that fit the filters I'd used to book my original place
- for a whole month – that's not easy to find
- in a popular city where lots of big events were taking place during my stay – there wouldn't be many options
- at around the same price – that turned out to be impossible
Obviously, I didn't take advantage of this. I did my best to find a decent place that wasn't hundreds of euros more expensive than the one I'd originally booked and when I ended up needing around €250 in credits, I got them. I'm very grateful for that.
I also asked if they could refund the hotel I had to book and they agreed to refund the equivalent of one night at my original Airbnb which ended up being a little less than one night at the hotel.
All in all, it was a very stressful experience but I'm happy with the way it turned out and hope that it may help you should you ever find yourself in the same situation.
8. Leave a review and respond to the one the host leaves you
I was actually surprised that I still got an email from Airbnb to review my stay at the gross rental while I hadn't even spent one night there. In hindsight, I should have left a review explaining my experience but at the time I was finally getting settled in and in all honesty, I let it pass.
I've personally never received a negative review as a guest but in case that should happen, there's always the option for you to respond to the review your host left you publicly and share your side of the story. You have 30 days to do so.
9. Always put your safety first
When I had my Airbnb problems, the host in question seemed like a friendly enough guy and I never felt threatened by him at any point but the fact remained that if we'd gotten into an argument and things had gotten ugly, I would have been as good as physically defenseless.
If at any moment you feel unsafe – especially as a woman – go elsewhere and deal with the rest from there. When I explained to customer support that I had left because I didn't feel entirely safe, they were very understanding.
How to contact Airbnb support
Go to the Airbnb homepage and scroll all the way down. In the footer (the bottom part of the website) on the right, you'll see a little heading “Support” with a link to “Help”. Click that.
Scroll all the way down the page again and at the bottom right, click the button “Contact us”. You'll be taken to a page where you need to select what you're contacting them about and will then be given different ways to contact them. I highly recommend you call unless you really can't as in my experience, that will get you helped fastest.
Will I still use Airbnb?
Absolutely. Like I said, This was the first time I had problems with Airbnb in more than five years and in the end, Airbnb's customer support did sort me out.
While I do think the platform is getting a bit too expensive because of all the fees and some hosts truly overpricing their places, there is also no other platform right now where you can find that many short-term rental accommodations with such ease of use.
Don't forget travel insurance
Plan for the best, prepare for the worst. Travel insurance has you covered in case (part of) your trip gets canceled, you get sick or hurt abroad, and sometimes even when your electronics break or get stolen. I always make sure I'm covered every trip I go on.
Don't have travel insurance yet? Check out SafetyWing. They offer super flexible plans that you can even sign up for while you're already on your trip. On top of that, they were the first travel insurance to cover COVID, and when I got COVID, they reimbursed all of my expenses without making a fuss. Their customer support team is great and I can personally recommend them.
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