Airbnb has helped more than 15 million people find accommodations when they travel and most of the time they have a great experience. In fact, many Business Insider employees use the service and like it.
So when Business Insider salesperson Joseph Velardo and his girlfriend Robyn Finker booked a weekend away in the Hamptons last weekend, they chose Airbnb and expected to have a wonderful time.
Finker had actually been an Airbnb host before, renting her New York apartment a few times. It was a good experience.
But what happened to them the first time she used Airbnb as a guest was “terrifying,” she tells us.
The couple rented a private house in Hampton Bays for two nights. It was nice place. They paid about $US900.
Finker sent a few texts to the host, “Tom”, asking basic questions: is there a hair dryer? Where can we pick up the keys? Tom was friendly, responsive, and all looked well.
On Friday night, the couple met up with Tom, got the keys, checked in.
The house was in good repair, except for a missing railing on the stairs, Velardo describes.
But trouble started a few hours later.
At 2:45 a.m., Finker got a weird text from Tom’s phone: “Do you want to try”.
It seemed like Tom sent a text to the wrong number. She ignored it and went back to sleep.
About 45 minutes later, Finker and Velardo heard noises downstairs.
Velardo got up and peered down the stairs.
It was Tom. He had let himself into the locked house with his own keys.
“He was drunk and or high and mumbling incoherently,” Velardo describes. “He asked me to come downstairs. I cautiously went down the railing-less staircase to confront him.”
Finker stayed upstairs afraid. She overhead a strange conversation with Tom mumbling things like, “The girlfriend, she’s cool, right?” And “We do the best we can here.”
Velardo calmly talked to Tom for 20 minutes trying to get him to leave and he finally agreed. As he moved toward the door, he picked up Velardo’s keys and wallet. Velardo gently explained that these items weren’t his, and Tom put them back down, leaving his own car keys on the counter, too.
It was 4 a.m. The couple grabbed their stuff and got out of there.
“It was a terrifying experience,” Finker tells us.
But they had no place to stay. It’s not easy, or cheap, to find a hotel room in the Hamptons at 4 a.m. on a summer’s weekend.
Airbnb has a refund policy. If a guest reports a problem within 24-hours, “Airbnb will (at our discretion) either provide the Guest with a refund or use reasonable efforts to find and book the Guest at another comparable Accommodation.”
In the car, Finker called Airbnb’s 24-hour emergency line. But she couldn’t get through. After waiting on hold for 45 minutes, she gave up, filing an emergency report via Airbnb’s mobile app.
The two drove back toward Manhattan until they found a hotel with a vacancy. That cost them $US350. The next day, they located a bed-and-breakfast in the Hamptons for Saturday night and drove back. It cost $US500.
Airbnb contacted her a few hours after getting her complaint from the app. But it wasn’t in time to help them find a new place. The company also didn’t commit to a refund in that first message.
The email said:
“Thank you for contacting Airbnb, my name is Dan and I am so sorry that your host broke into the house. This is definitely not acceptable behaviour. I want to assure you your case is in good hands and has been forwarded to the Trip Experience team.
A member of the Trip Experience team will reach out to you upon receiving your case. In order to provide our community with personal support, each case is reviewed individually, so it may take some time for it to be processed.”
Finker received no follow-up during the weekend. On Monday, Finker contacted the company by phone twice. No one returned her call.
“I didn’t expect them to have a lot of customer service agents at 4 a.m. I understood they might not get back to me on Sunday,” she tells us. “But by Monday, end of day, on a message listed as urgent? I’m not freaking out about the money. I wanted to know, are they taking down the listing?”
She didn’t want anyone else to rent that place, concerned for people’s safety.
Short answer: Yes.
Shortly after being contacted by Business Insider for this story, Airbnb took down the listing and banned the host permanently. They are also refunding Finker for the house and for the hotel costs for rest of the weekend. Airbnb also gave her a $US500 credit to try Airbnb again. A spokesperson told us:
“We deeply regret that this matter was not handled properly and our response fell well short of the standards we set for ourselves. This behaviour is totally unacceptable and the host has been permanently removed from Airbnb. Our Trust and Safety team has reached out to these guests to apologise for the delay, issue them a full refund and cover the cost of their alternative accommodations.”
If there’s an upside to this story, it’s that Finker and Velardo found “an amazing” B&B in the Hamptons, Velardo told us. But neither one of them is eager to try Airbnb again, they said.
We reached out to Tom for comment and will update if we hear back.