Guest lied to AirBnb, got refund based on lies, and they blamed me

(Please distribute. If you have any media contacts please give them to me.)

For many years we have personally hosted B and B guests in our lovely historic Brooklyn Heights home. We earned a five star rating and have received unanimous reviews praising our home and hospitality, without one complaint. This week, however, it changed.

A woman whose daughter lives around the corner rented our room for 22 nights to be around for the birth of her grandchild. She arrived on a Monday and spent the next three days and nights without making any complaint. On Thursday morning at breakfast things started to unravel. The following all happened at Thursday breakfast.

1.She said the room lacked the promised wi-fi. It was never promised. We have our upstairs’ tenants wi-fi in our apartment and I told the guest that “it should work” in the guest room.
She said that in case it did not, she would bring some Apple device that could extend the signal. But Thursday morning she said she had not brought it.

2.She said that because of the lack of a wi fi signal, she had to use her monthly iPad contract with a fixed number of calls (which she had been using for over 3 days) and that if she used it for 3 weeks she would have to pay for the extra calls. I told her to find out the cost and we would reimburse her. She never followed through.

3.She said the room was too warm. Because we had just gotten out of a severe cold spell I purchased a second oil-filled radiator for her room and it warmed the room very well. But
Thursday she said the room was too warm, forgetting that on her arrival I had instructed her on how to reduce the heat from the radiators if it was too warm, by turning down the
gauge or turning one radiator off.

4.She said to get some cold air she opened a window but then had to look out on our yard and a neighbor’s house. Our yard is not landscaped. It is mid winter. Shrubs and trees are bare.
Apparently she expected a gorgeous garden view in mid winter.

5.She then announced that she had balance problems and the short five step wide brick stairs leading to the guest room bothered her. (She had used these for the whole time and never mentioned anything. Also her daughter lives above a cafe around the corner in an old walk-up building, where she would have to walk up and down the narrow stairs one or twice a day to see her daughter but she never mentioned this either).

On Thursday evening she phoned to tell us she had cancelled her stay and demanded a refund from AirBnB,which granted it to her without consulting us ahead of time. Since I had
already been paid, AirBnB announced that I would have to repay the $2134. debt to them and that it would be deducted from my future bookings. This meant that I would have to
host guests for six months or more without being paid in order to pay off the debt. I refused and therefore I am no longer able to use AirBnb.

Her complaint (spurious): our AirBnB description misrepresented the apartment as being on the ground floor (which it is),and therefore according to their rules I was to blame.

I sent AirBnB the above report in several emails, and sent photos of the front of our house yesterday, proving that we live on the ground floor. I requested that their director or
resident review the entire file and photos. The lesson not learned here by AirBnB is that you cannot automatically, without evidence, accept the complaint and excuse offered by guests, and that the host, along with evidence, needs to be taken seriously before any hasty judgment is made. The other lesson is that this sets a precedent by which any guest can literally
invent or exaggerate or distort information without being questioned or without providing hard evidence supporting their claim.

Nearly all private homes (brownstones, Federal brick homes) in Brooklyn Heights are either up a short front stoop or a bit lower than the sidewalk. Only a very few are completely
level with the sidewalk, depending on the steepness of the street. In our case our ground floor entrance is 3 steps below the sidewalk…one step inside the gate and then two steps
down to our front door. Yet the guest told AirBnB that our apartment was not on ground level. It most certainly is! We have no basement and our entire floor rests on the soil.
Though I asked AirBnB to give me the exact wording of her complaint they did not. It appears that it was based on a “misrepresentation” of the apartment being on the ground floor, and NOT on the interior brick stairs, but I do not know yet. The AirBnB rep said it was advertised as “a single ground unit” but that phrase is not listed anywhere on the description of our apartment. What is listed is the availability of a six month sublet in “a furnished garden floor-through”, which anyone in NYC knows means GROUND LEVEL. This was explained to AirBnB but to no avail.

Again, this complaint was made on Thursday, three days after the guest’s arrival, during which no complaint was made of any kind. This guest lied with impunity and AirBnB swallowed her story and ignored the above. I am no longer able to use their service, which means a loss of money, but for me principles come before money….though not for them.

Lorna Salzman
29 Middagh St.
Brooklyn NY 11201

I’m sorry to hear about that situation she brought upon you. It sounds like you had an encounter with a “professional traveler”. I do hope they don’t multiply in number as we are in a position of disadvantage in dealing with them.

A few questions come to mind. Did you have any contact with your guest via Air’s messaging system? It’s very helpful to have record there as they review this when you open a case. It can be invaluable to ask the guest on the day of arrival if everything is alright and if they have any questions. That way, if they have a change of heart or their plans change and they just want to leave you in the void, they can’t as easily make false claims.

I don’t want to be a pessimist, but it sounds like this could have been a case of the person deciding or being prompted once the new child was born to move locations to stay with her daughter to be available for care at all hours. “Hey mom, why don’t you just stay here. I need your help and you can save the money on the hotel.”

Did you have your property listed as “accessible”?

I guess how this plays out depends on how vigorously you would like to pursue it. There are probably a few legal remedies if you wish to dedicate the time in a small claims arena.

She was a seemingly normal woman from Iowa, not overfriendly but initially not hostile. We exchanged emails since she did ask me about several things (internet, making oatmeal). She never mentioned any special needs or balance problems.Her daughter and son in law live around the corner in a small one bedroom walk-up apartment with no extra room for her. Apparently she had no problem clinging THOSE dark narrow stairs! She previously rented a whole apartment with kitchen a block or two away but it was not available. I hardly saw her for the 3 days and nights she was here; we retire early so I only saw her at breakfast. Though the interior stairs to the room seemed to be her main complaint, it appears that her complaint to AirBnB was that my description of the apartment was misleading and she told them it was not on the ground floor. They would not accept my word that it was indeed…in fact it is three steps DOWN from the street, and no stairs to climb when entering. If someone has a problem with accessibility, I would expect them to inquire about it themselves. What does one do if a prospective guest DOES have something serious? Another guest cancelled for her mother by saying her mother’s needs “changed”. I asked her just why she wasn’t being specific. She then said her mother had epilepsy and brain surgery! Had I know that, I would never have accepted the reservation. If guests don’t disclose health problems, imagine how things could go wrong.

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Do you have a copy of the notice they sent to you? Maybe you could send it via private message? I would be curious to see it.

One thing I wondered about is that the guest waited three days to complain. I ought they had to make their case within 24 hours?

If you don’t get a refund from this, use it as a lesson learned. In the future describe the place exactly. Show a photo of the step. And don’t promise Internet if it is Internet not in your control. Telling guests they might be able to grab a signal from random neighbors isn’t Internet.

Now, this is a good point. How do you access the internet to post? You can pick up a router for almost nothing these days. I saw an 802.11n box for $19 not long ago.

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And another good point. You really can’t share too much in these situations. It seems that the full descriptions aren’t read anyway, so you have something to fall back on if they show up later saying something isn’t as expected.

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I’m sure she didn’t think she would have to describe the step but some guests force you into disclosing all the possible cons. I have had to add a host of things to my listing based on what guests have said or done. Just so there are no misunderstandings. Describe all the cons as well as the pros.

What seems unfair here is that the guest relatives live right around the corner and she had to be familiar with the way brownstones are so claiming it was not on the first level seemed like a reach to me to get them to refund.

Has the OP tried contacting air for a possible reversal on this? Sometimes these decisions are entirely arbitrary. Just walking away from Air doesn’t seem like a good solution to me.

Some info: I never promised internet; I said guest room “should” be able to access our tenants’wifi. She said she’d bring an Apple router to enhance signal but never brought it. I cant imagine all the things I’d have to list, not just a few stairs.Complaints could be made about anything…temperature, shower, light, bed, blankets, sheets, etc. We never had any complaint about anything, including the brick stairs. We have unanimous raves from ALL our guests for years now.
Read my original memo about her other complaints…room too warm, view out window not agreeable, etc. And we said we would pay for her extra calls on her contract. She had internet access for 3 days before raising the topic. She even had he chutzpah to ask if we could do her new grandchild’s laundry! And never mentioned her balance problems in her inquiries about the room before she confirmed. The worst is AirBnB taking her word for it and ignoring my side of the
story. This means it could happen again, with me or other hosts. I have de-listed my listings because I refuse to host guests for months and months without getting income (they said they would deduct the $2134. from future bookingsk which would mean hosting guests for months to pay off the debt). So I am no longer hosting for them…cant afford it and can’t risk it happening again in any case.

Is your tenant content having other guests use their bandwidth?

There are four tenants and yes, they allow us and our guests to use it.

It’s unfortunate that the communication was so bad between you and the guest. I can not know what was said back and forth before the booking was made, and I do appreciate that the Airbnb messaging system can be cumbersome, but it seems things were not well communicated from the start. It does sound like this woman was not happy, but why she couldn’t explain everything to you so the two of you could work things out is the mystery.

It does seem like the guest was so unhappy that she was looking for excuses and faults with your place so she could leave and get her money back. You say that her daughter had no room for her, as felixcat suggested. But how do you know about her daughter’s situation and her daughter’s stairs? Did you visit the daughter’s place? Did the daughter look at your place in advance of the guest staying with you? I have done this for grandparents visiting their children/grandchildren and it saves a lot of worry. The child checks out the place and the parent/grandparent knows that they will be happy.

I host in three rooms in the home where I live. I am always asking guests if everything meets their needs – temperature, bed, food, etc… I’ve been hosting for two years and have been a Superhost for most of that time (from when I could qualify until present), so I do understand that guests can have high expectations. I find the biggest challenges are meeting guests needs with a smile! I admit that with some, I grumble a lot after they leave, but that is rare because I do have a good messaging conversation with all my guests before they book – and particularly any staying more than a week. I want to be as sure as I can that the guest will be a good fit before I’m stuck with them. Maybe you did not ask this lady enough questions before accepting what looked like an attractive long booking? To me long bookings need more pre-screening because the guest will be in my home all that time.

However, there seem to be a few confusing issues on your part:

Absolutely, any Airbnb in the USA needs to have it’s own reliable internet, especially if you are charging $100 or more per night – which it seems you are, LornaS, if you say you’re loosing more than $2100. Even if the people upstairs are your tenants, they can’t be expected to be the WiFi provider for your Airbnb room guests.

If stairs are an issue, going down in one direction equals going up in the other direction – so as others have suggested, you can’t infer that there are no stairs by insisting you are at ground level. My home is at ground level, but there are three stairs to get in or out (up going in), and I have installed a wrought iron railing for safety.

I am also confused by your statement that: [quote=“LornaS, post:1, topic:3526”]
What is listed is the availability of a six month sublet

Yet, you only rented to her for 22 days? Is this a room rental, a flat rental or a sublet of another apartment in your building? It is hard to tell what you are listing … How does it read on your Airbnb listing? Again, your communication is not so clear to anyone.

If it will take you more than 6 months to pay off the $2100 debt, I can tell you are not a very frequent or active host on Airbnb, so you probably won’t miss it by quitting.

If you have four other tenants, than I’m guessing that you own the brownstone and it is converted into flats and you are the landlord of the building. So maybe having guests in our own space isn’t something that is suitable for you.

All of us hosts, in my opinion, need to remember that we represent Airbnb, but they do not always represent us – they represent the corporate entity of Airbnb. I do find the corporate culture of Airbnb to be very positive, but their customers are the guests – not us hosts. And their first priority is to keep customers happy… and, of course, our first priority as hosts is also to keep our guests happy. When all that is in balance it is great.

– Lia

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I agree your guest seemed to go over the top with her other complaints and demands but I guess I still find myself wondering why you are asking your tenants who pay for their own internet to allow strangers to connect to it for your benefit.

My sister had this issue for a while. She lives under a vacation rental and for years the owners asked her to let the renters use her Internet My sis felt pressured to share and didn’t want to say no to the landlord, so she felt resentful about this for years. That is really not fair for a number of reasons that should be too obvious to enumerate.

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I guess New Yorkers aren’t so uptight about letting people join their wi fi network. Our tenants were quite willing to let us join it as well as our guests…who are only temporary and use it for short periods when they are staying here. As for the other commenter, no, the guest’s daughter, who lives right around the corner, did not call to ask to see the room or house, probably because her mother had already stayed elsewhere in the Heights and knew our block (or maybe even our house), and of course there are many photos of our entire interior which one assumes people would look at first. She asked me some questions via the AirBnB email site and I was completely honest in answering. However, I admit that it was careless of me not to mention the stairs to the room. Since we have had only rave reviews from all previous guests, my feeling is that she was not used to our particular living style or premises: a 200 year old house with great charm, modern conveniences, but not a modern sterile completely organized type of place. Europeans, of whom we have made many, absolutely adore our house. But then there are those who want something that looks like the fashion magazines with everything new and in perfect order. Our house is spotlessly clean in terms of sanitation but if you look closely you will see that there are some cracks or tiny areas that need paint. In other words it is a real home with charm that we are proud of. Anyone who has travelled in Europe would immediately fall in love with it themselves. It’s not your suburban tract home; it is like a country house in the city but with all the necessary conveniences. This woman had no
feeling for this obviously. She wanted a full apartment with kitchen and her previous visits provided this, but it was not available. And you are right: she should have asked her daughter to look at the room, as many of our guests have done, and she should have informed us IMMEDIATELY after moving about the stairs. The other issues (warm room,
unattractive view of yard) were easily remedied had she tried. And if she had brought her router she would have been able access the wifi…absent that, she could have accepted our offer to pay for her extra calls on her contract.

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Out of curiosity, did that other place she had stayed before become available during her stay?

She said that she had stayed in an entire apartment previously and had inquired for this trip but that the host’s work had schedule changed and it was not available at this time. So she looked for another nearby place and found us (even closer to her daughter). It is entirely possible that the man phoned her and said that the apartment was now available so she decided to move. But there is no way to know if this is true or not. It was a full apartment rental, furnished, with kitchen, etc. As with other BandB rentals, it is illegal in NYC to rent out an apartment for less than one month UNLESS the host is residing on the premises during that period. So this was an illegal rental but it is almost impossible to enforce. Some hosts who own several apartments around the city rent them at a nightly rate of one or two hundred dollars per night and some make nearly half a million dollars a year this way. By renting as a B and B, they avoid the hotel tax. This is why the hotels are complaining. AirBnB has offered to collect this tax from its hosts and pay the city and state tax directly but this hasn’t happened yet. I dont have much sympathy for the hotel industry per se, but I think it is outrageous that people who own several apartments can escape paying the hotel tax.

I was speaking of the balance between Airbnb, the guests’ satisfaction, and the hosts happiness … not physical balance issues :wink: – Lia

I know you are off AirBnB now, but this is exactly HOW you should describe your place. I’ve done this after hosting hundreds of guests. Adjusted my listing so there are no surprises! I tell them they ARE NOT getting granite and travertine, so if they are looking for that kind of splash and sparkle they need to move along. I tell them if they are fussy and fancy, they won’t be a fit here and need to look elsewhere. But if they DO want premier snorkeling near a secluded bay filled with whales and dolphins and sealife beyond belief, and to experience country cool in a super dark, quiet area, that’s more like us.

You really MUST provide your own Internet for guests. I think it’s ridiculous to expect guests to bring their own routers. (And you have to plug routers into a modem?) so if you have a modem, why not spend $45 and get the router.

You can’t expect Air to collect your tax for you. And you do need to collect accommodations tax. I tell every guest I will have to collect tax from them in cash and they readily comply. Collecting tax is not a big deal, and it helps your community. Why should guests get to skip on that? In my case, they come to Hawaii, use our roads, airports, parks, beaches and state and county services. Why should they not have to pay tax like any other visitor?

If I were in your position, I would not have wanted the woman to stay in my place for another 19 days if she was really unhappy (no matter how unreasonable her reasons might be). Unhappy guests and unreasonable guests are not worth the hassle and drain on my psychic energy and I can barely deal with these types when they stay for a weekend, much less for 3 weeks. I understand that psychic energy doesn’t pay your bills, however.

Did you immediately spend the balance of $2134? Is this a period of time when you would have expected to rent out the 19 days if she hadn’t reserved them? Is there any chance you might get some of those dates re-booked? How long in advance did she book your room and tie up your dates?

If they refunded her the entire stay of 21 days, I’d be really pissed off, though. She owes you at the VERY least, to pay for the nights that she stayed at your home.


That is a very good suggestion for the future, if not with AirBnB then elsewhere. Verizon is installing DSL internet this Friday. She booked around Feb 4th I believe. Since I have unlisted my BnB I wont get a replacement. I cant accept more bookings because AirBnB refunded her the money and said they would deduct it from my future bookings until it is fully paid of. At my normal rate and length of stay that would take me months, during which time I would be hosting people without getting paid. I refuse to do that on principle. I have no idea whether someone wanted to book the room for that 22 day period and saw that it was already booked and went elsewhere. AirBnB offered to pay me for the three nights. The $2134 was deposited into my bank the day after she arrived and then was used to pay off bills. It appears that guests can cancel anytime if their complaint meets their condition. In this case she claimed that my description misrepresented the premises. I requested the exact working of her complaint but never got it. It wasnt clear whether it was the interior stairs or that she told them the house wasn’t on the ground floor as advertised. If the latter, then that was a big lie on her part; we are three steps down from the sidewalk and there is no basement under us. The guest room is up a short very wide deep stairs because the guest room is actually on the SAME level as the garden, i.e.
ground level. I argued frantically with them but they just took her word for it and ignored me. Some suggest that I was wrong not to include mention of the stairs but I didnt see it was needed since not one guest in the five years we have
used AirBnB has ever mentioned them or complained. In fact we have NO complaints on our record until now, only
rave reviews. So basically, if she distorted or lied, she effectively ended my B and B business, at a time when we have large medical bills for my husband and need the income. She turned out to be a professional grouser, as I learned
at THursday breakfast…piddling little things in addition to the internet and stairs (garden view, heat, etc.) And she was not a very cordial person to begin with but this didnt matter since I barely saw her until the last day.

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