In October 2017, I got a job offer in Chicago and traveled cross country by car with all my belongings from San Francisco. I reserved a monthly Airbnb rental as I did not know Chicago well and would then have time to research places to live.
I arrived Oct. 15 to a filthy Airbnb apartment. There were dirty dishes, dirty linens, a dirty bathroom, half-eaten food in the fridge, empty wine bottles, grease on the stove, a moldy shower liner, food on the rug and candle wax all over the living room table.
I contacted the host and told her the situation. She told me the cleaning lady had been there.
I contacted Airbnb and told them I would like to leave the lease early. They said I was unable to because it was a monthly contract. They agreed to refund some money given the photo evidence I provided. I agreed to stay.
My mom and I cleaned for six hours.
At 8:30 the next morning, my Airbnb caseworker called to say my host decided to end my contract and I needed to be out in two hours. I had to be at work in two-and-a-half hours. I managed to pack everything into my car and headed to work.
I wrote a review about the host, describing the way the place looked and how she kicked me out. She wrote a review of me in response that contained blatant lies.
I received an email from Airbnb that both my reviews of this host would be taken down from their site. I inquired why the host was allowed to keep up a review that was not factual (about me). Airbnb didn’t respond.
Please help! I don’t want this to happen to other people. That host should not be allowed to rent to people and treat them this way.
– Stefanie, of Chicago
This was a messy one. To gather as many facts as possible, I reached out to Airbnb, the City of Chicago and an attorney specializing in website terms and conditions who defends clients alleging defamation from negative online comments.
Because there are many issues to address in Stefanie’s complaint, this week’s column will begin the process of unpacking them.
I began with Airbnb.
After reviewing Stefanie’s complaint, Ben Breit, a spokesman for Airbnb, emailed me the following statement.
“There have been over 300 million guest arrivals in Airbnb listings to-date. Negative incidents are extremely rare. We apologize to Stefanie that her stay with the host did not live up to her expectations, and we made sure to refund her after the reservation was cancelled,” Breit said in the statement. “(We then) offered to assist her in finding a suitable alternative accommodation (which Stefanie declined). We work hard to help make sure guests have great experiences using Airbnb and want to make it right when things don’t go as expected.”
On this front, Airbnb’s terms of service regarding cancellations and refunds states simply, “If a host cancels a confirmed booking, the guest will receive a full refund of the total fees for such booking within a commercially reasonable time of the cancellation.”
When I asked Breit about the host’s negative review of Stefanie and why it still remained on her public profile, as well as why her initial review of the host was removed (her second review remains), I was pointed to Airbnb’s rating and review terms and content policy.
The rating and review terms state: “Within a certain timeframe after completing a booking, guests and hosts can leave a public review and submit a star rating about each other. Ratings or reviews reflect the opinions of individual members and do not reflect the opinion of Airbnb. Ratings and reviews are not verified by Airbnb for accuracy and may be incorrect or misleading.”
According to Airbnb’s content policy, specific details or outcomes of an Airbnb investigation are never allowed in reviews — a policy that Airbnb determined Stefanie had violated in her first review, which was removed from the site.
Though Stefanie’s rebuttal to the host’s negative critique still appears, she said she is concerned that her profile contains only two host reviews, including one that is negative.
“With only two reviews on my profile, (the recent host’s) review has a lot of significance,” Stefanie told me. “Before allowing a guest to rent their home, hosts read these reviews. … And none of my reviews appear on the host’s page.”
Read next week’s column for a lawyer’s perspective on the above issue, as well as the City of Chicago’s role in regulating the shared housing industry.
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Cathy Cunningham is a freelance columnist.