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Why is this Airbnb host asking me to sneak into the property?

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Consumer reporter and ombudsman

What if you traveled halfway around the world only to find the vacation rental you booked on Airbnb is likely illegal? That’s the situation that confronted Alex Tarce when he tried to check into his Tokyo rental, and the host asked him to sneak in behind the doorman’s back.

What’s going on here?

Question 

When I arrived at our Airbnb rental in Tokyo, the security staff stopped us from entering the property. He showed us a posted notification that the building management prohibits short-stay rentals. Obviously, this is an illegal Airbnb rental.

I took photos of the signage at the property as proof. We immediately contacted the Airbnb host and he suggested that we sneak into the building after the security staff leaves at 5 p.m. We informed them that we will not conduct a criminal act of trespassing just so we can get into his Airbnb rental.

After several hours of waiting for the host or Airbnb customer service to provide us some direction, it was getting dark and cold out on the streets. So we opted to book a room that would accept three people at The Intercontinental. We ended up having to pay rack rates of $672 for the two nights. This was three times as much as we intended to pay for the Airbnb which turned out to be illegal.

We had limited Wi-Fi access in Japan, so we informed the Airbnb case manager(s) that we will call them as soon as we get back to Los Angeles about our refund.

Ever since we returned to the U.S., Airbnb has passed us to various case managers. We have received no fair resolution except a refund of the original booking of $188 for this illegal rental. This is unacceptable to us.

We are seeking a fair resolution by asking Airbnb to pay for the unexpected hotel expense of $672. Airbnb caused us to incur this extra expense because it offered an illegal rental property on its website. The company did not inspect or vet it before listing it to unsuspecting guests. Can you get Airbnb to take a closer look at my complaint? — Alex Tarce, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.

Answer

It goes without saying that an Airbnb host should never ask a guest to sneak into a vacation rental. You were correct in rejecting his recommendation to circumvent the security guard. The suggestion that you could surreptitiously access the unit was a bit preposterous.

Even if you could successfully get into the apartment, you would then have no ability to come and go as you please.

Refusing to sneak into this Airbnb rental

Who wants to be a squatter on their paid-for vacation? Not you.

But, unfortunately, you aren’t the first traveler to contact our advocacy team after finding themselves in this type of unpleasant situation. Not by a long shot. 

In your case, the host was wrong to ask you to try to dodge the security guard,  but he already knew that. And Airbnb didn’t do much better. You needed a place to stay — ASAP. But as the sun went down, you were left shivering on the streets of Tokyo.

Perhaps because of the time zone differential, there was a long lag between when you first let Airbnb know of your predicament and when a representative began to try to find you an alternative place to stay.

It’s no wonder you finally gave up and went to a local InterContinental. However, the rate that you were offered as a walkup was almost four times what you had budgeted for your accommodations in Tokyo.

That’s not a fair resolution

Understandably, you wanted Airbnb to cover the difference between the two rates.

I reviewed your paper trail and could see that the host had indeed told you that you should try to sneak into the Airbnb during the security guards’ shift change.

You weren’t interested in participating in such shenanigans and told the host so. He apologized and immediately approved a refund within the Airbnb resolution center.

You appreciated the quick return of your funds, but it was not an acceptable resolution to the problem that this host had created.

What you wanted was a refund of the $672 that you would not have been forced to pay, if not for this host illegally listing his property on Airbnb.

Was the host aware that this was an illegal Airbnb rental? 

There is little chance that the host was unaware of the prohibition on short-term rentals in that building. The signs, evidenced by the photographs that you forwarded to Airbnb and to me, show the property management’s firm stance against “foreigners” using the property as a hotel. The signs, posted in multiple locations and in multiple languages, read:

The use of the building as a similar accommodation is forbidden.

ATTENTION: This apartment is prohibited to use as a hotel for the short stay foreigner. Union Organization banned.

Warning signs at this illegal Airbnb
These notices make it clear that the host knew he was listing an illegal Airbnb rental.

Airbnb: “We’re sorry. Happy Birthday!”

I contacted the resolution team at Airbnb and described your ordeal in Tokyo. The team quickly offered you a resolution that went above and beyond your expectations (and mine).

Not only is Airbnb covering the full cost of the InterContinental, but it is also providing you with a $200 future stay voucher, and you get to keep the refund from the host to boot. Lastly, you received an apology and an assurance that this illegal Airbnb property has been removed from the listing site.

So why were you gifted with such a fabulous outcome? Our Airbnb executive contact told me that his team had discovered that this trip was meant to celebrate your birthday and they felt that Airbnb had really let you down on your special day.

This resolution has taken the sting out of your unpleasant experience in Tokyo. Happy Birthday!

The bottom Line

It’s important for Airbnb users to understand that the properties that are listed on the site are not vetted. This is a common misperception about travelers who contact my team and have experienced problems during an Airbnb stay. If you find yourself in an Airbnb that seems unsafe or illegal, here’s what to do to protect yourself.

  • Contact the Airbnb resolution Center immediately: It’s imperative that you promptly involve the Airbnb resolution center as soon as you’ve detected a problem with your rental. This protocol is part of your contract with Airbnb. Downloading the Airbnb app to your phone will make this step simple.
  • Take photos of any irregularity: Remember, a picture speaks a thousand words. Photograph any problems with your rental before you leave the property.
  • Keep all receipts: Should it be necessary to find alternative accommodations, make sure to keep your itemized receipts. You’ll need that detailed invoice to support your case later.

And if, despite your best efforts, you’re unable to resolve the situation on your own, you know where to find our consumer advocacy team — always ready to help. (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Consumer Rescue)

Consumer Rescue

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle Couch-Friedman is the founder and CEO of Consumer Rescue. She is a consumer advocate, ombudsman columnist, mediator, writer, and licensed psychotherapist. Michelle is a public speaker, and her expert guidance has been cited in MarketWatch, Consumer Reports, Travel & Leisure, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Popular Science, CNN, CNBC, Boston Globe, CBS News, National Geographic, Travel Weekly, Reader's Digest and more. You might even catch Michelle on TV reporting on a situation. :) Michelle is also the travel ombudsman columnist for The Points Guy and is the former executive director of the nonprofit Elliott Advocacy. During her six years in that position, she resolved thousands of cases for troubled travelers and other consumers. You can read hundreds of 5-star reviews Michelle earned during her service to the nonprofit since 2016 here on Great Nonprofits. She is also a member of the Society of American Travel Writers. Today, she continues to spend as much time as possible fiercely defending consumers and traveling the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Couch-Friedman or on Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook.