Why did an Airbnb host encourage this renter to sneak into the property?

Alex Tarce has successfully used Airbnb in the past, so he isn’t expecting any problems when he walks into the lobby of his most recent rental in Tokyo. But then the host tells 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 and showed us a posted notification that short-stay rentals are prohibited.

We took photos of the signage and property as proof. We immediately contacted the Airbnb host. The host suggested that we “trespass” or 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 this accommodation.

After several hours of waiting for the Airbnb 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 hotel property, Intercontinental, that would accept three persons in a room. We ended having to pay hotel rack rates of $672 for the two nights. 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.

Ever since we returned to the U.S., we’ve been passed on to several Airbnb 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.

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We are seeking a fair resolution by asking Airbnb to pay for the unexpected hotel expense of $672. This expense was caused by Airbnb offering an illegal Tokyo rental property that they did not inspect or vet out before renting 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 you should never be asked to sneak into a rental property. And you were correct to reject the host’s 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.

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

While the host was incorrect to ask you to try to dodge the security guard, 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 intended to spend on accommodations in Tokyo.

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

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I reviewed your paper trail and could see that the host had indeed told you that you should try to covertly enter the property during the security guards’ shift change at 5 p.m.

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’s illegitimate listing.

There is little chance that this 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 our advocacy team, 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

I contacted the resolution team at Airbnb and described your ordeal. 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 property will no longer be offered on the Airbnb website.

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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. You are now completely satisfied with the outcome, and I am pleased to have helped. Happy Birthday!

Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is a consumer advocate, writer and licensed clinical social worker who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. As the managing director of Elliott.org, she leads the advocacy, editorial and production departments. Read more of Michelle's articles here.

  • Annie M

    You keep uncovering more and more little known issues with Airbnb. If their offices aren’t open where ever you are in the world – what is one to do? Glad you got them satisfaction but this is a big problem with Airbnb. NYC short term rentals are illegal and other municipalities are going that way too. So why doesn’t Airbnb half any rentals from these areas they know are illegal rentals?

  • Kevin Nash

    AirBNB does not care about these illegal rentals so long as the customers are willing to sneak past security and AirBNB gets their cut.

  • cscasi

    Do you really have any proof of what you just stated? Failing that, it is just conjecture. It seems to me it was the landlord that caused this issue and there is nowhere I can see that AirBNB knew about it beforehand, much less condones such activity.

  • Lloyd Johnston

    Which is why we’ve chosen here, NOT to do AirBnB and stick to traditional hotels when we travel (even if it costs more). When I arrive in a strange city is not the time for me to determine if I can actually get into the building I’m actually planning on sleeping in.

    If I arrive at a hotel, and the room is not ready/disgusting, or I see bedbugs, etc, then I’m having a conversation with the manager on duty, and it is going to be their problem to fix, and fix quickly. I also book direct so there isn’t an OTA issue getting in the way of the solution.

  • MF

    So much for Hot-AirB&B actually vetting a property or owner it lists?

  • Kevin Nash

    AirBNB knows exactly where short term rentals are legal or illegal because they spend a fortune suing and lobbying local and state governmental authorities on this very issue.

    For example, New York state in October 2016 passed some of the toughest restrictions on short-term rentals in the country. In most of New York City, it’s now illegal to advertise or rent an entire apartment on a platform like AirBNB for less than 30 days unless the host is present and there are only one or two guests. See https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/buildings/pdf/MultipleDwellingLaw.pdf

    AirBNB clearly knew about this law because it sued the state when the law was passed (https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/22/technology/new-york-passes-law-airbnb.html).

    AirBNB could modify its listing systems to prohibit these rentals in New York, but if you go to their website, there are THOUSANDS of listings. Thus, my statement that AirBNB does not care if the host violates laws as long as it gets its cut.

  • John McDonald

    Illegal is a bit strong. Also can municipalities stop me doing what I want with my “castle”.

    Also there are obvious was around such stupid things that local govts try.

    This sort of thing will come to a head soon & it might not be pretty.

  • Alan Gore

    AirBNB should never require you as a renter to be a squatter or put you in the middle of a city’s fight between hotels and short-term rental regulations.

  • bayareascott

    WOW…..that’s way more than entitled. What happened was HORRIBLE, no question. But checking into an InterContinental, one of the most expensive hotels around, is certainly NOT the “only” alternative. I’m certain that there were many more hotel options. Refund, absolutely. Credit, sure. But the expensive hotel refunded plus credit? Way more than necessary.

  • pauletteb

    We don’t know what else was available at the time the OP needed a room. Although pricey, the InterComtinental might have been the only decent place close by.

  • kanehi

    Sometimes you don’t have time to find another hotel and compare rates when it’s night and out in the cold and hauling luggages. AirBNB dropped the ball and have to pay the consequence.

  • Bill

    I agree that the InterContinental seems like quite a step up, but without knowing where in Tokyo he was, I was actually surprised the cost (for two nights, plus taxes), was that low. Regardless, dusk on a sidewalk in a foreign city is not a great time or place to comparison shop. If he tried 3, 4, or 5 places than found one that was available, may be the smartest thing to grab it (if he could stomach the price, in case he didn’t get reimbursed).

  • Steve Rabin

    I live near AirBnB’s HQ in San Francisco, and even though they are a significant employer in the city, SF is constantly fighting them too, enacting laws to prevent the use of apartments as short term hotels.

    I understand your thinking that cities can’t tell you what do do with your “castle”. There’s a big difference between you renting out your house/apartment while you’re away vs. entrepreneurs snapping up as many rental properties as possible to use as AirBnB bait. The latter is exactly what most of these laws are designed to go after. This effectively removes the property from the market and drives up the price for everyone else who just want a place to live and work.

  • Annie M

    In NYC it IS illegal- it’s against the law. And Airbnb fully knows it as they are actively campaigning to get the law changed. So by allowing these rentals on their sites- they are knowingly allowing illegal rentals.

  • Annie M

    I agree. Tokyo is very expensive – I also thought the price was reasonable for Tokyo.

  • Kerr

    Agreed, that’s why they compensated the renter in the manner that they did.

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