Stiffed on AirBnB rent?
March 7, 2015 5:20 PM   Subscribe

We've been renting out our house (which we own) as an AirBnB apartment, and for more than a year things have been going really well. Recently, however, a break-in prompted AirBnB to cancel a long-term booking, stiffing us on the last month's rent with no notice.

Unfortunately, while our guests were at work, someone broke into the house and stole a bunch of stuff belonging to the guests. We feel awful for the guests, but it also so happens that the guests left a window wide open and the alarm system turned off, inviting this sort of crime of opportunity to happen. The break-in isn't their fault, of course, but our house is in a big city with a well known crime problem, and we think our guests were behaving carelessly.

After the break-in, AirBnB spoke only to the guests, canceled their reservation (despite our strict cancellation policy), and refunded them more than a month's rent. The company never told us they were doing this until after it happened.

By the way, after the incident, AirBnB has not talked to us at all, save for two boilerplate emails saying that there were extenuating circumstances.

My wife and I feel like we were let down by AirBnB's response to this problem, and that our guests owe us the rent for their last month. (As a victims of a past burglary, ourselves – though not in this house – we don't want to kick the guests while they're down, but their safety was never at issue, the break-in was a chance occurrence, and we rely on their payment to pay our mortgage.)

So my questions:

1. Do you think it's fair for us to ask the guests to pay the amount to us that AirBnB has already refunded?

2. Do you know what AirBnB's policy is regarding us going directly to the guest for payment here? (Of course, I'd prefer to hear from AirBnB about this, but they've been mute on the issue. And you're not our lawyer, either, I know ;)

Thanks so much for your help.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
No, you should not ask the guests to pay you what AirBnB refunded them. You feel Airbnb handled it poorly, so you need to take up the issue with them. (The guests would also have no incentive to give you the money, so asking seems pointless even if you feel it is fair.)
posted by metasarah at 5:28 PM on March 7, 2015 [20 favorites]

I agree with metasarah -- while I don't think you should contact your guests, more importantly I don't see any benefit to it. Why on earth would they ever give you the money?

From their perspective they're already out a lot of money from the theft, which they probably regard as partly your responsibility. I suspect in their eyes the deactivated alarm system is your fault, and ergo you losing the money is fair.

I also suspect AirBNB will not like you going to your guests directly.
posted by crazy with stars at 5:33 PM on March 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Your guests got robbed, literally, and you want to fight with them over money? Be glad they aren't demanding that you pay for the stolen goods or threatening to sue you for failing to warn them about the dangers of the neighborhood. It seems crazy that you are somehow upset that they left, despite your cancellation policy, after the break-in.

If AirBnB already refunded the money, I can't imagine why your guests would listen to you and pay you directly. Their policies also generally prohibit payment outside of their infrastructure.
posted by zachlipton at 5:34 PM on March 7, 2015 [6 favorites]

1. Do you think it's fair for us to ask the guests to pay the amount to us that AirBnB has already refunded?

I don't think it would be fair, no. You were both using Airbnb's service so you were both agreeing to play by their rules. You can't decide after the fact that you don't like their rules. If you don't like how Airbnb handled it and want to establish your own rules, then you shouldn't use Airbnb's services.
posted by bleep at 5:35 PM on March 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

What sort of insurance policy do you have to cover your AirBnb business? I'd think your insurance agent would be helpful.
posted by paulcole at 5:49 PM on March 7, 2015 [26 favorites]

Your guests have no contractual relationship with you, whether written or implied. They deal with AirBNB, not you. As a result, talking to them at all would be entirely unprofessional and inappropriate. You chose to use AirBNB as an intermediary; that means that you do not deal with your guests directly. If I were the guests and I received an email like that from you, I'd promptly forward it to AirBNB, and I suspect AirBNB would be quite displeased. I'd definitely ignore you, which means asking the question can only hurt you, not help you.

In the future, you should realize that you are providing a hotel-like service to your customers, and that means that burglaries are not considered "part of the package". This should be clear to you, and I suspect that because it isn't, you should reconsider what you are trying to do with AirBNB. To be honest, I am somewhat amazed I am having to write this, as I consider it intuitively obvious as part of being an AirBNB host.
posted by saeculorum at 5:59 PM on March 7, 2015 [27 favorites]

I agree that going to the guests is a bad idea.

I took a quick look at AirBnB's terms of service. They are supposed to give you the money within 24 hours of your guest arriving: Airbnb Payments will collect the Total Fees at the time of booking confirmation (i.e. when the Host confirms the booking request) and will initiate payment of the Accommodation Fees (less Airbnb’s Host Fees and any Taxes in respect of the Host Fees, such as VAT in Europe) to the Host within 24 hours of when the Guest arrives at the applicable Accommodation (except to the extent that a refund is due to the Guest).

It sounds like in this case they didn't do that? So that may be a violation of their terms.

But then the AirBnB terms also say: Each Host agrees that Airbnb may, in accordance with the cancellation policy selected by the Host and reflected in the relevant Listing, (i) permit the Guest to cancel the booking and (ii) refund (via Airbnb Payments) to the Guest that portion of the Accommodation Fees specified in the applicable cancellation policy.

Later they say: If, as a Guest, you wish to cancel a confirmed booking made via the Site, Application and Services, either prior to or after arriving at the Accommodation, the cancellation policy of the Host contained in the applicable Listing will apply to such cancellation. Our ability to refund the Accommodation Fees and other amounts charged to you will depend upon the terms of the applicable cancellation policy.

So -- what is the "cancellation policy selected by the Host?" That's the next place I would look to see if you have any recourse here.

I'd recommend getting a lawyer to write a letter to AirBnB.

posted by chickenmagazine at 6:02 PM on March 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

In the future, you should realize that you are providing a hotel-like service to your customers, and that means that burglaries are not considered "part of the package".

Yes. Ultimately, the burglary is not directly your fault, and you're not quite as responsible for security as a hotel would be, but you're in a service industry. Service industries are about delivering positive experiences to guests. Your guests, on the other hand, had a very bad bad experience at your property. That's not entirely your fault, but it still winds up being your problem, fairly or not. It's not remotely unreasonable, at a minimum, that they would want to leave early without paying a cancellation fee. That's what guests often do when bad things happen to them; they leave.

The rent refund may or may not be slightly more unreasonable. You haven't told us the exact circumstances there. If you mean they paid rent for February, got robbed on February 3rd, moved out soon thereafter, and got their February rent refunded, then a refund makes perfect sense. If you mean they paid rent for January, got robbed January 31, and got all of January refunded, that might be a little more questionable. Ultimately, giving people a refund, full or partial, when they have a bad experience, is how things generally work in the hospitality industry.
posted by zachlipton at 6:09 PM on March 7, 2015 [5 favorites]

I would accuse you of harassment and threaten you with legal remedies if you contacted me in this situation.
posted by jbenben at 6:24 PM on March 7, 2015 [7 favorites]

If you wish to continue your relationship with AirBnb absolutely do not contact the guests directly; airbnb will kick you to the curb and you will then have to do the more formal/legal leasing renting that commonly happens with landlords and property.
posted by smoke at 6:46 PM on March 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

our guests owe us the rent for their last month.

My understanding of AirBnB (as a host and a traveler) is

1. They are the intermediary between you and the guest, period. If you have issues, you need to take it up with AirBnB and not the guests.
2. They view their services as more of a hotel escrow service, not a tenant/landlord thing, so it may just be convenience that you are using the word "rent" but you are not in a similar situation to someone renting an apartment. Different rules and legalities apply.

AirBnB should get back to you and allow you an opportunity to offer your side of the matter. However your cancellation policy is for before the arrangement starts, by and large, and not if there are extenuating circumstances. I know that for me, when I was in an AirBnB situation that I thought was problematic (place not as advertised, I was stuck in a foreign city) I had a lot of communication with AirBnB telling me to try to work stuff out with my hosts before they'd intervene. This may be different if there are safety issues involved. I know you do not feel that there was a safety issue involved, but that's not really your decision to make. Someone taking their things while they weren't there can be construed as a safety issue.

I am sorry this went poorly for you, no matter the circumstances, but I do not think there is any justification for you going after the tenants in this situation. I would press on AirBnB however. They have the ability, if they choose, to both pay you and the people who left and there may be a compromise position that you can reach with them.
posted by jessamyn at 7:28 PM on March 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

I would reach out to Airbnb and explain to them that your guests acted negligently in leaving the window open and not using the alarm system. The guests are not going to give you money that Airbnb refunded to them after they got burglarized. I sure wouldn't, even if I was the dumbass who left the window open.

I understand that Airbnb is the intermediary for you letting people rent your home and they set the rules, but I would be telling guests up front from now on that they need to lock the doors and windows when they leave the unit and use the alarm system. You can claim you won't be held liable (but of course, Airbnb may still refund the money anyway). I have seen some listings say in the description that tenants are required to lock the doors. Not sure if Airbnb would let you reinforce it, but you should ask them about it.
posted by AppleTurnover at 8:36 PM on March 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Hi! Very experienced Host here (over 150 5* reviews, run one the largest Scandinavian host groups and been to Airbnb´s Global Host Covention in SF last November).

The long and short of this situation is that Airbnb has a horrible track record when it comes to treating hosts fairly, especially in cases of problems with guests, damages or in your case robbery. You have to remember the golden rule of Airbnb as a host - you are PRODUCT and the guest is the true CUSTOMER. Shitty as that may seem it is the truth.

What you should do immediately is to document the circumstances clearly and concisely. What you are really asking for is that Airbnb adheres to the strict cancellation policy put in place and that they should cover the cost (to you) for circumventing it. This is really your only recourse as from your question you haven´t lost anything personally, i.e. no property or damage to property.

I would send the documentation and request for payment via the contact scheme on the webpage. I would also follow up with a telephone call directly to the San Francisco ahirbnb support number - (415) 800-5959. State the case and be prepared to stand your ground. Ask for the contact name and email address of your local Airbnb community manager - if you can get that, you will be able to expedite your case a lot quicker.

Be prepared to keep getting worthless repsonses and call every day if necessary. Always respond to the emails - if you don´t they will stop responding to the case. Also post it to their Facebook page, tweet it out etc. The more noise you make the quicker they cave.

It is ashame that Airbnb makes it so difficult to get help as a host. From our hosting group and others only those that have persisted ever get anything back from Airbnb.
posted by Funmonkey1 at 8:39 PM on March 7, 2015 [31 favorites]

I'm with fun monkey and jess. One of the conditions of hiring your property is that they take care of it - don't leave the taps running and follow security protocols! If you have these in writing for your advert and in your instructions to guests you might have a better case when you press the issue with airbnb.
posted by Mistress at 1:50 AM on March 8, 2015 [4 favorites]

This is why commercial hotels have expensive insurance, and how AirBnB can compete with them by making you assume the liability as an independent contractor. You got robbed twice. Try buying hotel grade insurance for your unlicensed bed and breakfast.
posted by spitbull at 6:15 AM on March 8, 2015 [22 favorites]

I'm kinda fascinated that people think they shouldn't have to pay rent because they were robbed. I wonder if their answer would be the same if this weren't airbnb?

In a regular rental situation, if you get burgled, it sucks but doesn't mean you don't have to pay your rent. Especially if you failed to set the provided alarm and left a window open. If it had been you that had been robbed in those circumstances, I can guess what your insurance company would have said and it's something along the lines of "tough shit".

However, the guests are not who you should be going after. It sounds like AirBnB breached their contract with you and it is them who should be reimbursing you. Burglary is not an "extenuating circumstance", its a fairly common occurrence. Over 5,000 home a day are burgled in the US. That's why we have insurance and your guests should have insurance to cover the loss of their belongings. (whether or not the insurance company would cover them given the circumstances described is not your problem)
posted by missmagenta at 7:14 AM on March 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm kinda fascinated that people think they shouldn't have to pay rent because they were robbed. I wonder if their answer would be the same if this weren't airbnb?

The answer would be different because a landlord/tenant relationship is different than the Airbnb one. Although, if the guests were there for many days, then some cities DO treat it as a regular landlord/tenant deal. So, OP, you might want to check what your local laws are. Airbnb is always running afoul of those.

As people have said above, Airbnb bills itself as more of a hospitality company, so they take this "the customer is always right" stance. The relationship the hosts have is not between them and the renters, since Airbnb is in the middle. They can't negotiate with the renters; that's part of the service Airbnb is supposed to provide - relieving each party from having to deal with the other, and instead using the veneer of security and safety of Airbnb. Airbnb is not Craigslist. But, since they inhabit a grey area, they also are not up to the real standards of the hotel/long-term-stay industry which may have better (and more expensive) procedures in place to handle this (requiring hosts to have liability insurance, conducting an investigation including both parties, etc). This is why the hotel industry doesn't like Airbnb and why cities want to regulate vacation rentals.

Jessamyn and Funmonkey1 have good answers, but, OP, have you contacted your homeowner's insurance?
posted by bluefly at 8:13 AM on March 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

I guess my last answer didn't answer the question so: no, it's not fair to ask the guests to pay. No, I don't know the Air BnB policies. For the future, it's not anyone else's job to cover your mortgage and if you can't make the payment without guests maybe being a regular ol' landlord is the way to go, because then you'd be in charge. I'm sorry this happened, I know it sucks big time.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 10:14 AM on March 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

I agree. You cannot ask those guests to pay the amount they owe you. I am a frequent user of AirBnB and while I would pride myself on being mindful of the host's rules, if something similar happened, I would feel horrible but also feel like the company's policies would have my back. If you tried to contact me in any way, I would ignore you. I am so sorry this happened to you but I agree with a lot of posters in that shaming or hounding the company is your best bet in receiving compensation.

I hope you will continue to be an AirBnB host, but will advise you to get the proper insurance for this.
posted by Kitteh at 10:18 AM on March 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

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