Shh You'll Wake the Neighbors

Even Improved Customer Service Can’t Solve All Airbnb’s Problems

Misleading listings and French hookers, oh dear.
screen shot 2011 08 30 at 2 37 53 pm e1314967369188 Even Improved Customer Service Cant Solve All Airbnbs Problems

Caveat renter.

Airbnb has come a long way since last August’s PR disaster, when a blogger returned home to find her apartment trashed and unleashed a flood of horror stories. But there’s very little they can do to head off the occasional nightmare, as evidenced by a Quora thread that hit Hacker News this morning.

In town for Internet Week, The Next Web reporter Anna Heim booked what she thought was an apartment with high-speed Internet. She arrived to discover the location wasn’t as-advertised, and the Internet wasn’t even remotely high-speed. Nor could that be fixed, since the service provider was, in fact, the next door neighbor’s unsecured wireless network.

Faced with an unhelpful host, she decided to cut her losses, cancel the reservation, and find a hotel the next day. Oh, but wait: “seconds after clicking the button, I received a message from the host saying that she was on her way to ‘retrieve the keys.'” After a heated argument, the story culminates in a 2a.m. search for a cab in East Harlem. What’s more, the host did have a reason for the abrupt ouster: “Airbnb had told her that ‘cancellations were effective immediately’ – even if it was past midnight and I had actually paid for two nights as part of the cancellation’s process.” A support supervisor later confirmed this with Ms. Heims.

It does sound like, in contrast to last summer’s snafu, Airbnb is scrambling the jets a lot faster. Ms. Heims updated her post to add that Airbnb issued her a full refund, reimbursed her hotel costs, and banned the host from the site. (A rep also jumped into the Quora thread to make sure everyone knew it.) But the post is a pretty good illustration of the fact that there’ll always be those less-than-stellar experiences, whether due to shady neighborhoods, litterbox reek, or loony hosts.

Nor are renters the only ones taking a chance, if one comment on the post is any indication: “Recently I had prostitutes renting on Airbnb my parisian apartment in Paris and working there … that’s when I stopped using Airbnb and started renting my apartment through more regular means with people I can trust more …”

We can’t imagine the neighbors would take kindly to your apartment doing double duty as makeshift brothel.

Follow Kelly Faircloth on Twitter or via RSS. kfaircloth@observer.com