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How to get follow-up/accountability from AirBnb Customer Service? (Questions about non-transparent policies)


#1

For starters, hi. This is my first post on this forum, but I’m a long-time “super-host” (whatever that’s worth these days)… I’m pretty familiar with most AirBnb policies – at least the ones they are “public” about – but lately am concerned that more and more policies are about AirBnb protecting itself, not its hosts/travellers. Please excuse the ranty/detailed nature of this post, but I am looking to see if others have found solutions to/suggestions about the issues I bring up (beyond “just don’t use AirBnb if you don’t like their policies”)!

TLDR (Short version): Wondering if others are having trouble coming across, deciphering, and dealing with non-transparent policies seeming to be set up to get AirBnb off the hook/not to be accountable, especially to hosts (e.g., requiring invoices that only honour cleaning services by big companies rather than individual cleaners; sending “terms of service” instead of answering direct questions they said they would answer; prohibiting callers from recording conversations, even where this right is protected by law; etc.)

Long version:

I recently left a neighbour in charge of my account and listing when I was away. He accepted a 1-room booking for 2 people; but it turns out the person who booked actually had 4 people stay without any notification, and they were not “good” guests. This group broke several explicit house rules and left the place a total mess, after going MIA on responding to any form of communication from the neighbour who was taking care of my place. I only found all this out upon my return, after speaking to the guests who were staying in my other AirBnb room during this time, and in speaking with my neighbour, whom I’d hired to host/clean on my behalf.

I called AirBnb to try to find a resolution with the rule-breaking guests. I especially hoped AirBnb would take responsibility for the extra 2 guests and the mess they left behind. It was a struggle, involving several phone calls and messages, but they eventually paid out the per-night extra guest fee for the 2 extra guests (after initially “generously” offering to pay for just 1 guest). However, they said firmly they would not cover the extra cleaning fee because they could not reach the guests.

I stressed the fact that 4 guests had not been invited into my home, but rather 2. I noted that if AirBnb did not want to charge the guests directly for essentially “stealing” space for 2 guests, they should be accountable for the group members who had violated my rules and left a big mess. The CSR then said they could not charge for cleaning without an invoice, so I said that as a self-employed person, I am familiar with invoicing, and this shouldn’t be an issue.

I asked what was required of this invoice and the rep said “just send the invoice, and I’ll say whether it’s valid or invalid.” So, I had my neighbour send an invoice for the amount I’d paid him to clean my place (which was twice as much as my normal fee, given all the extra clean-up he had to do). Then, after wasting all the time requesting and uploading the invoice, as I was expecting from the tone of the customer service rep, she simply informed me that this invoice was invalid. I asked why it was invalid, and she was “slippery”: she first told me that because the invoice was from me, it wasn’t valid; when I informed her it was sent to me by my neighbour and I uploaded it, and she was welcome to reach out to him (he is also on AirBnb), she insisted it still wasn’t valid. It took some prodding, but she eventually told me that the invoice would only be valid if there was a “company name” rather than “individual name” on it. I asked why she had not told me this before, and she specifically said something like “if I told you what would be needed in the invoice, then you would have made the invoice like that” --> as though it would be wrong of me to target my legal invoice to their arbitrary requirements.

Now, I’m a host who rents 2 rooms in a small apartment. It makes much more sense to the way I host to hire my neighbour, who is also a host, to take care of my place, greet guests, clean up, etc. in my absence than some random cleaning company, who would not be 2 minutes away in case of emergency, able to explain my apartment and the neighbourhood, etc. In the Canadian city where we reside, an individual does not need a company name to invoice if they are self-employed, and the contractual agreements (and invoices) they create totally legally protected and binding.

That AirBnb does not honour either the practical or legal justification for my situation (hiring individuals instead of companis), and insists that invoices I submit on their behalf are invalid because they don’t have a “company name” and web site affixed to it, is pretty ridiculous. Do they only recognises “AirBnb hotels” of a scale big enough to have “maids” hired? When I brought this up, along with the legality of this invoice, they repeated that it’s simply their policy, which has nothing to do with the law, and cannot be refuted.

I eventually asked to have the situation escalated to a manager, and got a call back from someone saying he was a manager; rather than speak to the invoice issue, he said he would require photographic evidence of the cleaning that had needed to happen – which I did not have, as I was away the whole time this happened, and it was only reported after by those in the apartment (both those who were residing there and the person who cleaned it so it would be ready for the next guests). At the beginning of this “manager” call, and after having wasted literally hours corresponding with the previous CSR, I figured I should record the conversation in case I needed to refer back to it. As he had said he would be recording, as usual, I said that since he was recording, I would hope it was okay for me to record as well. He then told me that he would hang up on me if I said I was recording and asked if I was recording. I said no, but I wished to, and he informed me that I could not record.

By this point I was annoyed, and asked him why, and he said it was just a policy. I asked again why AirBnb would have a non-reciprocal recording policy (e.g., we have to consent to being recorded and cannot ourselves record), and he simply repeated that it was their policy and he could send me the terms of service. I said okay, and asked whom I could follow up with if I had any questions about the terms of service. Here, in a dizzying spin, he said I could follow up with him (even though he was refusing to answer any questions in that moment). So I relented and had him send me the TOS. However, after he sent the TOS, and I looked through (searching all mentions of “record”), I saw no mention at all of recordings in a phone call context.

I repeated my question about where I could see this recording policy through their inbox messaging and got a message saying essentially “we aren’t paying for your cleaning fees, deal with it, this case is closed.” When I said this wasn’t what I’d asked, I was told "I won’t tell you where you can find the policy that says why you can’t record calls in the TOS, but trust me, it says so somewhere. Which is total BS, from what I can tell. And then I was told th case will be closed in 24 hours. I’m pretty sure I can keep the case “open” by pinging it within every 24 hours, but I don’t see a point, if nobody will answer me.

Does anybody know how to get real answers about this kind of thing? In AirBnb’s early days, I used to feel like reps really wanted to help me when issues come up (or at least give me a travel credit when things go wrong that they couldn’t solve, to make it seem like they actually cared).

But more recently it’s as though they are not at all able or willing to be accountable to hosts, and are deliberately sending us on wild goose chases (like sending the terms of service when they contain no actual references to anything we’re discussing) so we are essentially SOL when guests are crappy/dishonest/destructive.

I’m wondering if others have similar experiences, or have figured out ways to get better answers and accountability in situations like the one I described above?

Thanks if anyone got through all this!

P.S. I saw that the issue of AirBnb’s non-reciprocal policies about recording calls were brought up by someone in the past, and mainly dismissed as unimportant here: Phone Recordings --> does anyone else think it’s strange/unfair that we would be prohibited from keeping our own audio records if AirBnb is allowed to do so?


#2

Hi @canahost,

I don’t have answers to your questions, but you’ve showed admirable persistence in dealing with these people. I just wanted to say that I think basically nobody likes to be recorded, and I wouldn’t ask for permission in this case - I’d just go ahead and do it. I’d first check the local law about this, just to be sure, though it’s hard to imagine anyone taking legal action if someone is recording them. Also, I’m unclear what use you plan to make of these hypothetical recordings.

I think this is a good idea myself. In fact, I recently purchased a sound recorder, the Zoom H5, for the express purpose of recording people’s conversations. But I haven’t really used it for anything yet. I suppose for a phone conversation, you would just use your phone, though you’d need to figure out where the recording is stored, and copy it to a safe place.

And I see I made similar comments in a post about a year ago…


#3

I think the issue is not so much transparency as Airbnb is just looking for any way to get out of spending money. This is pretty standard practice in the insurance type business. I don’t see the point of recording conversations even if it was allowed. They would still fight you on reimbursement and would probably be even more obtuse in the canned responses they provide.

The only thing that people have reported success with in getting Airbnb to respond to host complaints is to tweet them your complaint.

Supply of hosts now exceeds demand. They no longer need to worry about this. If you leave the platform there is someone else ready to take your spot in the search rankings. They see the guest as the customer, not you.

You don’t want to hear this but, you are on your own. Raise your price a couple of dollars a night, buy your own insurance and take control of your rental and you will feel much better.


#4

Welcome to the forum @canahost.

Yes, your experience is similar to many other hosts. It seems a bit ironic that ABB won’t accept a cleaning invoice from an individual, yet they created their “Living Wage Pledge” which addresses how much they suggest to pay company cleaners versus self-employed cleaners.

And yes, sending the terms of service without answering questions is common also. When they started collecting the taxes in my area, I had several questions because the wording was ambiguous as to which date the collection would begin, versus me continuing to collect from guests. In the end, more than one rep. had given me incorrect info. And I had some kind of other tax question and they refused to answer and told me to visit a tax individual. I kept explaining that I understood the law already, it was their policy that I had questions about.

Same issue with asking about guest chargebacks. They used to claim that they would eat the chargeback and fight it themselves. Then when an updated TOS came out, the wording was ambiguous again. I kept asking for clarification and the rep. just kept going in circles, never answering the questions in email, and just being vague. Ultimately, he claimed that ABB would eat it, but he may have just said that to appease me.

Yes, you are not alone…


#5

Hi - Nice to have another Canadian join this great forum. I really admire your dogmatic approach to trying to get it resolved with CS. You make me feel very grateful that I have never had to contact customer service in the past 3 years for any issue with guests. Now that I typed this, you know something is going to happen and the dreaded call will need to be made by me - what a fatalist statement and so not like me!!


#6

Did you mean to write “citing the terms of service”? That seems more likely. If not, a clarification would be appreciated.

Yes, sometimes it’s like they don’t even understand the question.

I’ve had enough experience with Airbnb customer service to stay away from them unless the situation is really dire or really simple. And even then they cannot be relied upon to help.


#7

No, I meant them just sending a link to the TOS and saying to read it, but not actually citing any specific section.


#8

Hey, thanks to everyone for the warm welcome and for your thoughtful responses - it’s validating at least to hear that others have had similar experiences/noticed similar trends!

@burmapark, definitely consider yourself lucky if you don’t have any issues that require AirBnb intervention :slight_smile:

@cabinhost, thanks for telling me that i’m not the only one with the weird dismissive TOS-sending experience – what an annoying practice to just send the terms of service when it says nothing about the thing being discussed, but i guess it really shows they will say whatever they want just to get you off the phone. and where did they post the info about paying individual self-employed vs company cleaners?

And @faheem, your points about recording are on point! usually it would make a difference if you could “prove” that a CSR promised you something that wasn’t delivered, but i guess if they can just deny it and then hang up if you have proof, it’s us who are SOL.

I am increasingly annoyed to see AirBnb heavily publicising the “small host” image while doing little to support us in practice (e.g., forcing Instant Book, cleaning invoice policies, etc.). Reminds me of the “mama and papa” farmer image used to sell products from industrial factory farms…

I wonder if there were a way to “expose” these issues to hold them accountable – which I guess is where @k9karmacasa 's point about tweeting comes in… (except I am not a big social media user – don’t have a twitter account as yet) .

Anyone know any writers/filmmakers/image-makers out there who would want to collaborate on an “adbusters” type expose? I think their corporate strategy relies on us hosts not talking to one another/the public or organising a critical mass they can’t just hang up on… But if they were forced to admit their hypcritical and unfair practices in a way people noticed, they might not act so unaccountably?


#9

Here you go:

https://www.airbnb.com/help/article/1975/what-s-airbnb-s-living-wage-pledge


#10

Oh, I still think it’s worth doing. But you do need to have the recording equipment and know how to use it. And effective management of audio recording requires a certain amount of technical skill. And a learning curve if you don’t have those skills already.

That’s standard corporate practice. For big corporations, anyway. It’s so standard it might as well be in some manual.


#11

I know someone who works for an internet media company that is pretty well known. I asked once about an airbnb related story and she said she would get back to me if there was any interest…meaning no, they aren’t interested. Of course that doesn’t mean it will never be of interest.


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