Airbnb hosts bash refund policy they say opens door to scams

Bloomberg | | Updated on: Apr 09, 2022

Under new rules, a guest will have up to 72 hours to report a “travel issue”

Hosts of rental properties on Airbnb Inc. are criticizing an updated company policy that gives guests more time to report issues with their stay and claim a refund, a revision hosts say leaves them vulnerable to scammers seeking a free vacation. 

Under new rules that go into effect at the end of April, a guest will have up to 72 hours to report a “travel issue,” which could involve anything from pests on the premises to a broken hot tub. If Airbnb determines that the incident was significant enough to disrupt the stay, guests are eligible for a full or partial refund from the host. Previous rules only gave guests 24 hours to report an issue.

Comments from hundreds of hosts on Airbnb’s community forum highlight the challenge the company faces in the delicate balancing act of satisfying both guests and the hosts who open their homes. Some hosts have said they’d rather de-list their property than face potentially ruinous refunds.

High stakes

The stakes are high for keeping a robust supply of homes on the rental platform this year as pent-up demand after two summers of Covid-19 restrictions has people poised to travel more. Airbnb, Booking Holdings Inc. and Expedia Group Inc. have all said they are anticipating one of the best summer seasons yet. 

But for hosts like Dustin Switzer, who rents a vacation home in Cape May, New Jersey, to about 250 guests a year, the prospect of a three-day reporting window is discouraging. 

“If people complain about something really small just to look for a small refund, usually I’ll give it to them,” Switzer said. “Now I have a feeling I’ll have people looking for any possible thing and they’ll try to have me put them up at a hotel for $1,000 a night.”

Switzer has been using Airbnb exclusively to list the property for the last three years as it brings in more traffic than his local realty office. He’s booked for the summer and the month of September. Now, he says the new policy is “close to being the straw that breaks the camel’s back” and he’s strongly considering creating his own booking website. 

More benefits for guests?

Chief Executive Officer Brian Chesky has described Airbnb’s more than 4 million hosts as the “core” of the company, but for years some have have complained it favours guests. Many hosts found themselves out of a paycheck when the company announced a global refund policy in the early days of the pandemic.

Since then, Airbnb has rolled out a variety of features to protect hosts and their homes, including $1 million liability insurance, $1 million in damage protection and quicker reimbursements for damages.

Airbnb announced the updated policy earlier this year after guests said that 24 hours wasn’t enough time in some instances. Airbnb said it’s scrapping a line that would require hosts to pay for a guest’s new accommodation if they had to leave their property, saying that it hadn’t ever been used.

“We hope a longer reporting window will provide more time for the host to work with guests to address any issues before we get involved,” an Airbnb spokesperson said. 

Defiant hosts

But many hosts don’t see it that way. In an act of disapproval, some hosts are “snoozing” their listings, effectively taking them offline for a while, when the policy takes effect. Others are taking extra precautions to make sure they are fully protected from guests who try to take advantage of the policy.

Cayleigh W, who owns a rental property in upstate New York, is asking her crew of cleaners to take time-stamped photographs and videos when they finish cleaning the home as a precaution in case guests raise a complaint. She’s also making her listing description as specific as possible, to avoid any confusion guests may have. 

“That’s going to be our only way to fight it,” she said in an interview, asking not to give her last name for fear her listing could be removed. “Do I think it’s fair, reasonable or realistic? Not really.”  

Published on April 09, 2022
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