Travel Troubleshooter

My Airbnb home is a guesthouse — how about a refund?

Q: I am writing to express my frustration and disappointment with Airbnb. My wife and I have been loyal Airbnb users, as well as highly reviewed guests, during stays in Milan; Portland, Oregon; and Santa Monica, California.

We recently booked a rental in Los Angeles. Six months before we were supposed to arrive, a friend was in the area of the home, and he called us to let us know that the house was a guesthouse located in the backyard of a primary residence and not in fact a standalone home, as advertised and described in the listing.

This in no way was indicated in any photographs, nor was the property described as being adjacent to another home. I prefer the privacy of our own space. I reviewed Airbnb’s refund policy, believed that we would lose no money by canceling nearly half a year in advance, and pressed a single button to cancel the reservation before booking another Airbnb property for the duration of our stay.

We’ve been debited $5,283 for our canceled stay. Airbnb’s resolutions center hasn’t been able to help us. I view Airbnb’s refusal to provide us with a refund as an act of theft. Can you help us get our money back?

Kevin Calaba, Brooklyn, New York

A: You should have received a home, as advertised. But what was advertised? You carefully reviewed the listing and found that indeed, buried deep within the property listing, was an “oh-by-the-way” mention that it was a guesthouse. To some — including, apparently, Airbnb — that was enough to close your case. But not for me.

You actually don’t have as many rights as you’d think. Check out Airbnb’s terms (https://www.airbnb.com/terms/), which state that Airbnb doesn’t control the content in a listing and that it’s not responsible for it. I’m not impressed by that kind of language, and I’ll bet most people booking a home through Airbnb have no idea that such fine print exists. Well, I guess they do now.

You followed your steps to resolution, filing a complaint through the Airbnb “help” section on its website. When that failed, you could have appealed your case to one of Airbnb’s executives (http://elliott.org/company-contacts/airbnb/). I list their contact information on my site. I’m not sure how far it would have gotten you. Airbnb was interpreting its own terms correctly yet arriving at the wrong conclusion. I believe your host intentionally misled you and then pocketed your money six months in advance, even though it’s likely the room would have been resold. That’s just wrong.

I contacted Airbnb, and it processed a full refund for your rental.

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