Q: I rented a house through Airbnb for two months for a summer internship. The house was in a bad neighborhood, and both my roommate’s and my roommate’s boyfriend’s cars were broken into. When a neighbor’s car was also broken into, and we saw the culprits flee the scene to a nearby housing project, my roommate and I decided to leave. That weekend, we canceled our reservation and found a new apartment. We’ve been trying to get a refund from Airbnb since then. I have sent the company photographs and police reports. An Airbnb representative finally agreed to refund me $2,004. Airbnb argued that this was because the situation was not completely the owner’s fault. I understand that, but as a multimillion-dollar company, Airbnb should protect its customers from bad experiences. My roommate and I spent a total of $5,438 to rent this house. We’re asking for $2,719, the second month’s rent. I have attempted to call Airbnb to negotiate further, but I am repeatedly put on hold or hung up on. I don’t know where to go from here.
Madeline Gaffney, Austin, Texas
A: Airbnb shouldn’t have rented a home in an unsafe neighborhood. Period. Of course, there’s no way of guaranteeing that your rental will be crime-free, so you need to vet your rental before you push the “buy” button.
How do you do that? User reviews and online crime maps can help you figure out whether a rental is potentially unsafe. For example, the city of New York publishes a crime map (maps.nyc.gov/crime). It suggests that my old neighborhood in Staten Island is a safe place to live.
Even if you do your homework, you can’t know everything. For example, my old neighborhood in Annapolis, Md., is in a relatively safe area. But every now and then, people who lived in the housing projects a few blocks away would break into our cars and steal electronics. Taught me to keep my electronics in the safety of my rental home.
Airbnb also offers some safety tips for would-be guests on its site. They’re worth checking out before your next rental: airbnb.com/help/article/241/i-m-a-guest_what-are-some-safety-tips-i-can-follow.
As far as I can tell, Airbnb doesn’t explicitly guarantee the safety of its rentals. I don’t think it could. But there’s an implicit warranty that the rentals will be habitable – safely habitable. In light of that, I think your request for the second month’s refund was not unreasonable.
You could have escalated this to someone higher up at Airbnb. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of Airbnb’s executives on my consumer-advocacy website: http://elliott.org/company-contacts/airbnb.
I contacted Airbnb on your behalf. A representative said the company had made a “mistake” and refunded the $2,719 you’d originally asked for.
Email Christopher Elliott at firstname.lastname@example.org.