Opinion

Cawley: A cautionary Airbnb tale

You never quite know what you’re going to get when you book an Airbnb when traveling. 

I have limited experience using the service and have had mixed results. 

When traveling with friends to Los Angeles a few years ago, I stayed in a great apartment — it was clean, had comfortable beds and was within walking distance to Hollywood attractions such as the Walk of Fame and TCL Chinese Theatre. 

For a trip to Myrtle Beach, my friends and I booked what we thought was an apartment or condo in a complex overlooking the beach, but when we arrived, we found out that we were staying in a hotel room, and paying our Airbnb host more than it cost to stay in the hotel as a regular guest.  

But it was a trip last month to Atlantic City that will give me pause before choosing Airbnb for lodging next time I travel.

The trip was a bachelorette party for one of my best friends. It was up to me and one of her friends, who are her maids of honor, to organize the trip, lodging included. So with an eye toward trying to keep costs down for everyone going, we decided to stay in an Airbnb rather than pay twice the price for a resort and casino. 

The place still wasn’t cheap for a two-night stay, but I guess the age-old expression is right: you get what you pay for. In our defense, as the organizers, the apartment was described a lot differently on the site than the nightmare we encountered. 

Online, the host described the place as a great location, minutes away from the boardwalk and beach. It was supposed to be able to sleep six people and the pictures of the inside looked nice. 

But lo and behold, a friend and I drove up first to set up the place with decorations before the bride-to-be arrived and became the first of the group to see our less-than-ideal temporary living arrangements. 

Sketchy is a word that immediately came to mind. 

We were promised off-street parking, but it took a couple of times circling around the block looking for a driveway to learn that we were required to drive down a narrow alleyway and park in an empty lot with signs that said unauthorized vehicles would be towed. 

So, a quick text to the host revealed that he supposedly owned the parking lot and that we should send him a picture of the car’s license plate to ensure that my friend’s car would not be towed. 

Taking in our surroundings revealed that we were probably not in the safest neighborhood — my dad later joked there’s a reason you shouldn’t go off the boardwalk in Atlantic City. 

After figuring out parking, the next struggle was getting into the apartment. On the directions, the host provided the wrong code for the lockbox. So, I texted him again, and suddenly an unknown man pops his head out of the window of the unit next door, reveals himself as our host and tells us the right combination. 

Inside, we found some undesirable conditions, including dirty towels in the bathroom and rock-hard beds. I don’t expect luxury accommodations when I travel, but I’d at least like the place I’m paying for to be clean. 

It had some things going for it. There was a Dunkin’ Donuts across the street and it was a short walk to the beach and boardwalk. 

A couple of days later and we’re about to head out — the trip was fun but we were all less than thrilled with the accommodations. 

So, as we paid a cleaning fee and saw the place was not cleaned once during our stay, we didn’t thoroughly clean up when we left. Some of the tape was left on the wall from the decorations we put up and only one garbage bag was provided so the trash was overflowing a bit. 

As part of the Airbnb experience, guests are asked to leave a review. Ours wasn’t the most positive. 

Turns out, the host didn’t like that too much and informs my co-organizer, who booked the place, that we left the place a mess on top of leaving a negative review and that we should have shared our concerns directly with him. So, he was going to charge us an additional $400 because that was supposedly how much it was going to take to repaint the place since he claimed removing the tape peeled the paint off the walls. 

It was clearly retaliation since he mentioned the review. A couple of cans of paint and some brushes is a lot less than $400. It also seemed unlikely that a host could just charge one of his former guests a random amount whenever he felt like it. 

Some online searching showed that if a host claims damage from guests, he or she has to file a report with Airbnb and then the guest has at least a week to appeal it. 

Well, thankfully Airbnb sided with us. It turns out our host had left us a positive review before being notified that we had left a negative one and that’s when he reached out to us demanding additional money and claiming there was damage. 

Although not surprising, it was a relief because for an extra $400, we might as well have just paid to stay in a casino. Needless to say, the experience will definitely serve as a cautionary tale for using the service in the future.

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