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The Sequel: How to Sue AirBNB in Small Claims Court

OKAY kids, I’m back from Small Claims court, and very much buoyed by everyone’s support and personal messages.

SUMMARY: I was denied damages of $5K, based on the judge’s view that I had voluntary signed the Terms of Service waiving a right to damages. BUT the judge tore UP the AirBNB attorney for “making money off this host, but not providing her due process or any real investigation.”

The judge ordered AirBNB to do something to write a note on my listing to state (trying to remember exact wording …) something to the effect of, “This review is false and the host has been reinstated.”

She said to come to her if this did not happen and she would issue a contempt of court ruling.

Some takeaways:

  • The other defendants and plaintiffs in the courtroom were nodding and meeting my eyes and going “Umm hmm” as the judge made it clear there had been NO investigation of my case whatsoever.

  • Air’s attorney was a total rookie – this was his first District Court or any court appearance perhaps since graduating from law school 2 yrs ago. He did well! We are near-neighbors and both walk our dogs in the big nearby park, so we will greet each other going forward. No hard feelings, none of this stuff is personal.

  • I have ordered and paid for the audio recording of this trial as well, and will obtain and edit it in time … might take 7 to 10 days. (And upload it and post it here, God willing.)

  • Did an indirect shoutout to @Brian_R170 noting “there are a lot of eyes on this hearing” and “other hosts* have been very kind in offering support, and one fellow host found this posting.” *This forum and one other

  • The audiotape will be entertaining, I promise, it was all very Judge Judy (U.S. reality court show).

Some BIGGER takeaways:

  • You will hear on the audiotape that the judge raises the COMPLETE lack of due process and fairness in AirBNB’s dealing with hosts. (But her hands were tied by my agreement to the ToS.) I am frantically trying to look up the state of Maryland’s laws on contract waivers to see if I can appeal … I think this kind of case is VERY juicy to run up the chain of appeals, because the ToS anymore are getting crazy.
  • I’m not sure about folks overseas or in other U.S. states, but my experience to date (if it can be generalized to others, who knows) is:
    • A) AirBNB can win against you in this kind of lawsuit because of the waivers in the contracts we more or less sign via the ToS
    • B) you CAN sue the guest for defamatory reviews and get damages; that is not covered by the ToS
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Added stuffs:

Link to original thread:

> How to Sue AirBNB in Small Claims Court

Shoutout to @rossh in that earlier thread, who noted (presciently) that in Australia a company or contract cannot override your constitutional rights. If I appeal, it will be a doozy that looks at the fundamental constitutional question at the heart of the ToS of a company like AirBNB.

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This is fantastic!! I am so proud of you and this has been fascinating.

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Thanks so much!!

I’m furiously brainstorming whether I can appeal, on the big-picture question of “the AirBNB ToS go wAY too far against hosts who make them money,” to really spotlight this problem.

You’ll see the judge’s forceful speeches on this point … she’s given me a little idea now.

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I hope we can spread this through every social media site.
The arbitrary actions of Airbnb to simply close down an account on the unverified claims of a guest, there needs to be some sort of natural justice.

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Thanks for the update - please keep us informed of your progress or any further advice you get. Many hosts will continue to watch with much interest!

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I wonder if the judge you had in the case against your guest also knew that the TOS would not permit you to get anything out of AirBnB, and therefor decided to put the “blame” on your guest.

I hope you have the courage, time, energy and money to continue the fight against AirBnB. Maybe you can organize a crowdfund. I’m sure lots of hosts would be willing to help.

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Thanks so much @GutHend

The judge in the case against the guest I don’t think knew anything re: the ToS. He was more of the mind, I think, that unless the guest knew for certain that I had an undeclared gun, she was WAY out of line to suggest that I did, and you simply are not free to “double down” on your evidence-free suppositions when asked to correct them.

I am meeting this afternoon with a local law student to start exploring an appeal. His professor at a local law school has facilitated our meeting.

The crowdfund idea is intriguing … HMMMM.

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UPDATE:

Defamatory review is REMOVED as of THIS MORNING.

Me to the attny for Air:

Hi Mr. Attny,

I appreciate how swiftly you / AirBNB moved to remove the review following the judge’s order yesterday. Noticed this a.m. the review is DOWN.

I am hopeful that prospective guests will now not be deterred by seeing a defamatory review highly prominent on my listings and that I will now not be vulnerable to a home invader looking for a “9mm in a basket by the front door” !!!

All best, Jb

Copper also says thanks.

Mr. Attny’s reply said, paraphrase, I’m glad you noticed this, we will fully comply with any addl aspects of the court’s order when we receive them, my dog (name) also says hello.

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That isn’t good enough- where is the groveling apology?

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@Debthecat I like how you think!

hmmm let’s see, the appeal will read:

Your Honor,
Plaintiff seeks $75,000 in damages, striking of unconstitutional aspects of AirBNB Terms of Service, and Brian Chesky personally bringing tasty bonbons, a bottle of Chardonnay and Mylar balloons reading, “I’m Sorry! Can We Be Friends Again,” to plaintiff’s front door.

Then I’ll riff in court on how I also want a search-ranking boost, only interesting guests with cool work assignments who are ace conversationalists, and no one who opens an inquiry with “I’ll be checking in at noon.”

:speaking_head: AirBNB: “Objection!”

:thinking: Judge: “Overruled!”

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Moving a discussion in another thread here for @FunWithJim and others.

he wrote:

I am making a logical point. If Airbnb takes whatever any guest says at face value, not bothering to investigate, then what advice does @TheInsider for hosts, to protect themselves from losing their livelihood over any random accusation by some randomly upset guest? Is there anything that a host can do to protect themselves – such as declaring they have surveillance cameras, when they dont’ – just so they are protected in case guest tells a lie – or declaring they have a gun, when they don’t – for similar protection. Is it better to lie and say they have certain things at their house that they dont’ have, just to reduce the risk of the fallout from lies of a disgruntled guest?

I mean, if there is no way for a host to protect themselves from a false accusation, then I’d like to see someone from Airbnb such as @TheInsider just come out and say that .

And if and when that is said I hope the media are listening. The Judge in @PuppyLover case certainly was upset. Maybe someone would call the judge’s response to this case in the courtroom, a “rant.”

This is EXACTLY the heart of the problem. For a LONG time I wondered if this fake review as a “hit” on me by some undetermined enemy. I don’t think it was, but this case PERFECTLY illustrates that –

  • If you want to take down a business competitor
  • If you want to harm a neighbor host
  • If you want to create mischief for any reason against for ex. a political opponent in the short-term rental legislative wars

… Just pick up the phone and call AirBNB and say they have an undisclosed weapon!!!

It’s sayonara for them.

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This is exactly the problem. I have suspected for a while, and now am convinced, that the AirBNB model is doomed to spectacular failure. The company CANNOT police / referee all the who-shot-John stories that roll in constantly from aggrieved guests and hosts. That is why hotels have security, cameras, legal departments, locks, credit card screening, and so on and so forth. Which costs money. The reason an AirBNB listing is 40-80% cheaper than a hotel is because the company is just a LARP (“pretend”) hotel, with none of the safety features and buffers essential to handle normal human conflict.

Someone in AirBNB legal/financial/trust and safety has just decided, “We CANNOT afford to investigate squat without a 20% host fee and a 20% guest fee, so we will just ditch ppl the second there is a complaint.”

Which means, EVERY host barring a few with more or less airtight setups like @KKC will eventually be kicked off the platform, after guest 100, 200, 500 or 642 … whoever it is, who will be the flaky liar that brings you down.

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For those keeping score, TWO SEPARATE judges are very upset with this guest and with AirBNB itself. I hope to have the audio to upload from the 2nd upset judge in a few more days. Short version: She told Air’s attny that its ToS stink to high heaven.

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So the judge was repeating the “folk wisdom” of the host community, by and large, which has been saying this same thing for a while. TOS stink to high heaven, AND …these same TOS have been ruled illegal in the EU. Airbnb isn’t permitted to just terminate hosts without an appeal process, in the EU, as they do in the good ole USofA.

So I surely wish you the best in appealing this case straight up the ladder as far as it will go. And then some. ANd that chardonnay!

Throwing people under the bus the second there is a complaint is one way of putting into action a sort of metaphorical spin on the words of Ghandi, who said “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”

Well, a platform that is eager to throw people under the bus at the first complaint, is a platform with no one left standing.

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I couldn’t agree more. AirBNB will gradually mow down each and every host, either by delisting or, more commonly, demoralizing them.

The company relies on “churn” (new host signups to replace the old). Which is fine, except for the gratuitously cruel way they let folks go (in my case … my links stopped working … texts flew in to me from all my upcoming guests asking why I had canceled them … (I was at a dolphin evening at our National Aquarium,* sitting on the bench while Maya, Spirit and Bayley loll in the tank … and pretty much dying of sorrow and alarm) … My reply texts & messages didn’t work bec. of how Air timed my demise … THEN I learn from good ole Melody of Trust and Safety I am delisted … THE NEXT DAY I see the review in question.

so … when they kill you off, it ain’t a pretty sight, and events are in random order.

You raise a good point about the EU … while I’m not sure I can cite this in my appeal, I may well try. And you raise a good point re: the “folk wisdom,” … one of the legal aspects that can get a ToS thrown out (even here in Md., apparently) is simple unfairness on the face of it.

  • paradoxically, WITH AN AIR GUEST who was enthralled, and who the staff had kindly let in to Member Night for free. I guess that was about the only thing that went right that night!
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As soon as a reservation come through you need make a record of all the info so you can contact the guest via text. I started doing that after having the site go down and not being able to send messages to the guest. It might not have helped you much but maybe you could have booked some of those folks direct.

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I just detest the suffering they inflict on kind and generous people with these heartless terminations. I know it’s been said many times before …but the juxtaposition of “belonging”…and this host “dumping”…NO ma’am!

I would like to see a “host union” or national host organization, which financed attorney support for terminated hosts or others who experienced some significant issue and did not get a satisfying response. Corporations do get sued…it does happen…and sometimes they get called on the carpet in Congress. Look what happened to Mark Zuckerberg. There’s no reason to think that Airbnb is beyond the reach of justice.

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Excellent advice. In fact, I was able to resuscitate two of the guests – one arriving from France who I had already contacted via Google Hangouts, and another from Texas who I had her full name and found her company bio & contact page.

It took a bit of tap-dancing to say “there’s a glitch in my listing, um er do you still want to stay here?”

That’s another thing the guest who “reported” me didn’t think through, the amount of chaos she created for subsequent guests.

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As soon as i get the actual booking, I request and get the full contact info for guest, including mailing addr, actual email addr, typically primary and backup phone nbrs, and often make them FB ‘friends’ if possible. So I’m not relying on ABB for anything other than documenting communication if i think it’s needed after that point.

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