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Trouble brews after a five-star Airbnb doesn’t meet expectations

A property failed to live up to the guest's expectations.
A property didn’t live up to the guest’s expectations.
(Loris Lora / For The Times)

Marc Branson of Anaheim is a seasoned traveler who doesn’t always go for high-end accommodations, but he made an exception on a recent trip to Buenos Aires. Three couples would share the space, so when he came upon a five-star accommodation, he decided to book the Airbnb. He soon would regret his decision.

Stunning Duplex in Recoleta,” the headline on the listing read, and indeed, the photos depict a striking, sunny, cheery space with modern furnishings and gleaming wood floors.

Branson said he was a little let down when he saw the place, which sleeps six. The couch sagged, requiring books to prop it up, and fabric on one chair was ripped, he said. Several light bulbs were burned out, and the kitchen provisions were skimpy. But, Branson said, these weren’t deal breakers.

Then the water went off in one of the bathrooms. He made his concerns known to the “superhost,” which Airbnb describes in its help center as “experienced hosts who provide a shining example for other hosts and extraordinary experiences for their guests.”

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Airbnb also notes on its terms and conditions page that it selects the hosts if they “meet the qualifications.” It also says on its superhost terms and conditions page that the company “does not endorse any superhost, nor guarantee or control the quality, safety, suitability or conduct of any host.”

When Branson had the water problem, he communicated with the superhost, who acknowledged he was the property manager for dozens of units and that he couldn’t know the condition of all of them, according to screen shots of the correspondence provided by Branson. The host promised he would do better and offered to refund one day’s rent, or $250.

In another message, the host said he was happy to give the 25% discount but wanted a good review in exchange. Branson agreed to write a four-star (not a five-star) review, did so and the host responded that there would be no discount and that “considering you had late check out and you have [sic] me only 4 stars I think we are eaven [sic].”

Airbnb policies

The company has an “extortion policy” that includes as unacceptable “hosts asking a guest to take specific actions related to a review in exchange for a resolution to a dispute between the parties” and “hosts requiring a guest to leave a positive review or rating, or to revise a review in exchange for a partial or full refund or reciprocal review.”

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The last line in this area of the website says, “If you think you’ve experienced extortion, please contact us.”

The host of the duplex in question, Airbnb said, received “education” about this transaction. Branson received a discount coupon for his next stay after The Times contacted Airbnb about the issue.

Airbnb also urges customers to let hosts know immediately about a problem (“within 24 hours of check-in”) and to document with photos if the host can’t or won’t respond.

Branson, who has rented numerous times with Airbnb, said he understands that standards for high-end properties can vary and that he’s willing to cut a property owner or manager some slack. In a later email, he called Airbnb’s suggestion to contact within 24 hours “a bit unrealistic.”

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“It’s hard enough to find a satisfactory property rental let alone make a switch while you’re on-site,” Branson said.

Brian Chesky, chief executive and cofounder of Airbnb, said on Twitter on Nov. 6 that a guest guarantee, which goes into effect Dec. 15, will “rebook them [guests] into a listing that is just as nice and if we can’t, they will get 100% of their money back.”

In a Nov. 21 letter to Chesky, Democratic Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman of New Jersey, Barbara Lee of California, Robin L. Kelly of Illinois, G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina, Emanuel Cleaver II of Missouri and Yvette D. Clarke of New York asked questions about various Airbnb policies, including how the company evaluates its hosts, how many listings did not meet the company’s policies and how often the company “check(s) existing rental listings to ensure compliance with Airbnb’s stated policies.”

The group has requested a briefing with Chesky. Airbnb said it had reached out to the representatives.

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