AirBnB remains wildly popular among travelers, but it’s steadily gaining a reputation for a lack of accountability. The company has faced scandals over hosts more than once and has also dealt with some pretty serious discrimination issues. Each time, the question is the same: “How much oversight does the company owe its users?”
The latest story, courtesy of journalist Nathaniel Friedman, adds to the pantheon of “Eek, you guys handled this sorta weird” tales. The crux of the matter? Once again, corporate accountability. Friedman’s full fourteen-tweet story is worth a read, but the gist is simple: Three friends in dire straits needed to book a room for the night. All that was available was an AirBnB listing for a trailer on a secure property. Instead, it turned out to be a garbage strewn trailer with no running water, covered in grafitti, and had to be locked with a wrench. Which didn’t stop the host appearing promptly at 8am, screaming for a positive review.
Amid all this, and the flagrant violations of AirBnB’s policy, they didn’t want to cough up a refund. Which is why Friedman — who has a large social following — went on Twitter in the first place: To force AirBnB to actually cough up the refund his friends were clearly owed.
If you go into the Twitter thread and scroll down, you’ll find AirBnB all over Freedman’s mentions, trying to address the customer complaints people are offering.
How did it even get this far? Inc., following up on the tweetstorm, notes that part of the trouble is that AirBnB’s structure is good for the company, not its hosts or its guests. Everyone is pressured to leave a positive review, but guests in particular are at a disadvantage. An AirBnB “superhost” explains the problem:
“Sure, the reviews left for guests by past hosts are important, but the dirty little secret is that they aren’t nearly as important as the reviews you yourself have left on hosts you’ve stayed with. Hosts live in constant fear of the dreaded Bad Review. So you better believe we check what reviews a guest has left for previous hosts they’ve stayed with.”
As we’ve noted elsewhere, Silicon Valley has a problem with accepting responsibility, both because it means they might get sued and because there’s a remove created when your app is simply a broker for a service. But AirBnB and companies like them don’t have much choice but to take some role in managing their users. Otherwise, it’s a free for all. Inc.’s own article features two horror stories from staffers about dead animals dripping maggots from the ceiling, and an abusive, paranoid host who ultimately drove them out of the rental.
This “sharing economy” is a two way street and the abuses go both ways too: Hosts have come home to destroyed houses, and far worse. Remember Ari Teman, the comedian whose apartment was rented by people staging an orgy? He was evicted, and by his own report, got “blacklisted” from leasing an apartment because of the debacle.
Through it all, AirBnB steadfastly refuses to issue refunds. One notorious story found AirBnB refusing to pay back more than half of a woman’s reservation fee even though AirBnB themselves uncovered that the host was fraudulent and attempting to steal credit card numbers. No matter how extreme the circumstances, travelers often learn the hard way that AirBnB doesn’t like giving refunds and will fight it tooth and nail.
AirBnB argues, strenously, that the vast majority of the transactions it brokers go off without a hitch, or at least well enough that the horror stories are the statistical exception, not the rule. That’s true, but it’s probably cold comfort to travelers who find themselves with no option other than a roll of the dice. There is, clearly, a problem, and just as clearly AirBnB would rather ignore it than solve it.