Q: I am writing to let you know of something that I consider to be a deceptive listing on Airbnb. This was my first time using Airbnb. Several of my friends had recommended it, so I decided to give it a try when I was looking for an apartment to rent in Paris.
I found a listing for a three-room apartment in the 16th Arrondissement. It looked very nice, had the type of coffee maker I like, and what looked like a comfortable bedroom, updated bathroom and a lovely view. It also had a small balcony with a table and two chairs.
When I finally saw the apartment after meeting the host in a nearby cafe, I was appalled by the condition of the place. Yes, in the website photos it looks a little cluttered with some interesting travel items. Not too bad – gives the place some character. What I did not expect was that almost everything was covered with dirt and dust.
The blinds were shabby; they were crooked and nonfunctioning. The dining room, which looked so inviting in the photos, had half-dead plants in the window. The table was nasty-looking and covered with a piece of clear plastic. Chair cushions were dirty.
The kitchen was horrible. All the windows were dirty and old, left open, one pulled shut with a dirty piece of string. On the counter was a dish drainer covered with crud that I’m sure had never been washed.
Then I went into the bedroom. What was on the floor? Some dirty, old black shag rug, not the plain Berber rug from the photo. Next to a roll-away bed, I saw two mismatched towels on the table. I picked them up, and they were not anything I would put next to my body. Clean? Possibly. Rough? Absolutely – hard as boards. Yuck!
I spent the night, showered in the morning using towels I borrowed from a friend, and packed my belongings. I took photos of everything and left. I did not post a nasty review on any website. The host offered me $30, which I turned down. I have legitimate complaints and would like to be reimbursed for the costs I incurred. Can you help?
Sharon Shaughnessy, Chicago
A: Airbnb should never allow a rental like this in its system. Ever. I reviewed the photos you sent, and I can’t believe you lasted one night in it. Airbnb publishes a set of hospitality standards (www.airbnb.com/hospitality), and even has an app its hosts can download.
The only way to avoid a dump is to read the reviews and description carefully. For example: If an owner responds to reviews in a defensive way, odds are you'll have the same problem. Words like ”quaint” or ”charming” or ”vintage” can be code for ”outdated” or ”obsolete” or ”aging.”
I can see how you tried to handle this quietly. You skipped the negative review online and tried to contact the host and then Airbnb, in writing. That’s exactly how you should do this. Unfortunately, Airbnb deferred to the host, who offered you a small refund, but then responded to your requests for more substantial compensation in an almost hostile way. So much for hospitality.
You could have appealed this to someone higher up at Airbnb. I publish the names on my site at http://www.elliott.org/company-contacts/airbnb – but I think you’ve suffered enough. I contacted Airbnb on your behalf and it refunded $682, your entire stay, which is more than generous. The one night you spent in the apartment from hell is on the house.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the author of ”How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler.” You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org