Can’t get into my Airbnb rental — why won’t they give me a refund?

The New York City Marathon draws visitors from all over the world to run through the five boroughs of the city. Among those who competed last year was Milton Lorig, who reserved lodgings through Airbnb for his stay. At least, that’s what he thought.

Sadly for Lorig, his rental quarters turned out to be unavailable. He requested a refund from Airbnb for expenses he incurred with his alternative accommodations — not an easy feat while the marathon was taking place. But Airbnb reimbursed Lorig for only a small portion of his expenses.

Did Airbnb owe Lorig a full refund of the expenses? Or in pursuing Airbnb reimbursement for the remainder of his costs, was he chasing an unattainable goal?

Lorig’s problems with Airbnb began when his original rental was canceled one week before his scheduled arrival in New York. He then reserved another Airbnb rental for a nine-day stay.

At that time, the host instructed him to pick up the key to his rental at a nearby market. But when Lorig arrived in New York, nobody at the market could find the key. He then spent more than two hours attempting to contact the host and an emergency contact without success.

Then Lorig called Airbnb to ask for help. An Airbnb agent agreed to cover the cost for Lorig for one night at the Night Hotel near Times Square, as well as at least $100 in cash plus the costs of transportation and dinner. But Lorig found the room at the Night Hotel to be too small. Unable to find a similarly priced and conveniently located place to stay through Airbnb, Lorig rented a room from the Fairfield Inn & Suites for the remainder of his stay in New York.

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Lorig emailed Airbnb to request reimbursement of the rental he was not able to use, as well as the hotel costs and the expenses Airbnb’s agent had previously promised to cover. Although Airbnb agreed to reimburse the cost of the unused rental, the agent who responded to Lorig’s email told him that the only other amount Airbnb could issue was the $100 cash payment. Although she apologized for Lorig’s inconvenience, she told him that Airbnb was not responsible for any other costs he had incurred.

Airbnb issued Lorig two payments totaling $35, labeled “Resolution Payments” on his credit card. But as far as Lorig was concerned, this was grossly inadequate. Although he might have utilized our contact information for Airbnb to escalate his complaint, he emailed the following to the agent who had denied payment of his expenses:

I find this payout to be a gross insult. I am owed another $618.02 after this $35.00 per my earlier correspondence with you. Airbnb will start receiving flak and negative publicity from Christopher Elliott.

Airbnb does not need that type of publicity, given how cities such as San Francisco and New York are curbing your business model. You should know once I feel aggrieved like I now feel I become relentless and will not stop pursuing your company. Please pay up now!

When this email did not result in any additional reimbursement to Lorig, he contacted our advocates for assistance.

Airbnb’s terms of service contain the following provisions with regard to liability for canceled bookings and related expenses:

The Hosts, not Airbnb, are solely responsible for honoring any confirmed bookings and making available any Accommodations reserved through the Site, Application and Services. If you, as a Guest, choose to enter into a transaction with a Host for the booking of an Accommodation, you agree and understand that you will be required to enter into an agreement with the Host and you agree to accept any terms, conditions, rules and restrictions associated with such Accommodation imposed by the Host. You acknowledge and agree … that Airbnb is not a party to such agreements, and that, with the exception of Airbnb Payments’ obligations pursuant to the Payments Terms, Airbnb (inclusive of all subsidiaries) disclaims all liability arising from or related to any such agreements.

If a Host cancels a confirmed Booking made via the Site, Services, and Application, (i) Airbnb Payments will refund the Total Fees for such Booking to the applicable Guest pursuant to the Payments Terms and (ii) the Guest will receive a Communication from Airbnb containing alternative Listings and other related information.

But the terms do not explicitly authorize payment of incidental expenses incurred as a result of accommodations being unavailable. And while Lorig’s anger over his experiences with Airbnb is understandable, threatening Airbnb with negative publicity, even from us, was not an appropriate response and was unlikely to move Airbnb’s agents to agree to refund his expenses.

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Although we were not happy to be involved in Lorig’s threats of bad publicity, our advocacy team reached out to Airbnb on Lorig’s behalf.

Airbnb notified us that it would reimburse the transportation and meal costs up to a limit of $25 “which is being processed.” But it will not reimburse the remainder of Lorig’s expenses.

Did Airbnb offer Milton Lorig enough compensation?

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Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for

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