Help! I took a gamble on an Airbnb rental in Las Vegas — and lost

When Mary Gaetz-Scholtz planned a trip to Las Vegas, she was not anticipating that her biggest gamble would be on her booking with Airbnb. Unfortunately, this thoroughly unsatisfactory rental was anything but a winner, and now Scholtz wants a complete refund. Can we help?

Question: I rented a house in Las Vegas and paid $1,464 to Airbnb for a three-day weekend. Upon arrival, I found the property filthy and totally unacceptable. Furniture was heavily stained and beyond normal wear and tear. There was a strong odor of animal urine in the house.

The host indicated that the key to the property had been lost and she was unable to get a new key made so there was no key.

I learned that the owner was in violation of Las Vegas short-term rental codes and had been ordered to cease renting.

I immediately canceled the reservation by a telephone call to the host and leaving a message and by going online and filling out the cancellation form. For some reason, Airbnb has only refunded $1,087. Can you help me get the rest of my money, please? — Mary Gaetz-Scholtz, Davenport, Iowa

Answer: Yes, Mary, I think we can!

You had every right to expect that the home that you rented through Airbnb would be a legally approved, clean rental that would bear some resemblance to the home you viewed on the Airbnb site.

But the residence that you were confronted with was a far cry from the Airbnb photographic representation. Sporting torn upholstery, dirty tables, piles of the owner’s personal belongings and scratches and crayon marks all over the walls and doors, it left you wondering how quickly you could hightail it out of there.

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To add to the disagreeable situation, the smell of the home was equally intolerable.

The fact that the host did not even provide you a key or other means to secure the home during your stay was just an additional absurd aspect of this botched vacation rental.

However, the most compelling reason for your immediate rejection of this “rental” was found taped to the garage door. It was an official cease and desist letter from the City of Las Vegas. This notice indicated that the property was not permitted to be used as a rental.

This should have immediately nullified your contract with the host and Airbnb and qualified you for a full refund.

But for some reason, it didn’t. And that’s when you contacted us.

I was surprised by the paper trail that you provided because it seemed that the Airbnb representative was not fully grasping the situation. You had (awful) pictures that showed the condition of the home and a letter from an officer of the City of Las Vegas stating that this property was not a legal rental.

So what happened?

The initial Airbnb representative was focused on the wrong part of your story. He pointed out that you had not followed the Guest Refunds Policy Terms exactly as is laid out in the Airbnb contract.

Why? Because in the section of this policy called “Conditions to Claim a Travel Issue” it is stated that you must make an effort to let the host remedy the situation before your reject the property.

The representative pointed out that you did not give the host a chance to correct any issues with the home. Clearly the facts of this case show that was not possible. There is no way that the host could have corrected the lack of approval from the City of Las Vegas to rent her property.

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This Airbnb representative put you off for several weeks, telling you that he was attempting to get the other side of the story from the host, who was not answering his inquiries.

Meanwhile, when the host refused your calls as well, you began to seek out further information about her. You discovered that she appeared to be having financial difficulties. You found her GoFundMe page where she was asking for donations to keep her business — a restaurant — afloat.

You suggested to Airbnb that the host was ignoring all attempts to reach her because she did not want to be reached — and did not want to refund the money.

This seemed like a logical conclusion. But the Airbnb representative persisted with his stance that he needed to speak to the host before your money could be refunded.

In light of the letter from Officer McCoy of the City of Las Vegas we wondered why it was necessary to have any input from this host. That letter is quite clear:

This property has a Notice and Order from the City of Las Vegas to cease all short term rental activity.

You may inform Airbnb they may contact me directly as to the status of this property, if further explanation is needed. In the City of Las Vegas, a business license is required for this type of activity.

This should have been all you needed to prove your case. But still unconvinced, the Airbnb representative sent you one last email closing your case. He reiterated that this was the final decision and that he hoped you would continue to use Airbnb in the future.

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If that was the end of this story, I highly doubt that you would ever reuse a company that sent you to an illegal rental and then charged you $400 for your trouble.

But that isn’t the end of the story.

I contacted Airbnb on your behalf, and they corrected your situation almost immediately. The executive to whom I spoke reviewed the case and noted that the representative who had been handling your case made an error. Because you discovered upon arrival that there was no legal way for you to stay at the property, even if you had wanted to, you were owed a complete refund.

Airbnb has now refunded all your payments and offered you a $50 voucher for a future rental. You are satisfied with this outcome, and so are we.

In the future, if you are faced with a company representative who seems unable to understand your situation completely, ask to speak to a supervisor. Your story is an example of how useful a fresh set of eyes can be in resolving conflicts.

As a result of this case, this illegitimate listing has been removed from Airbnb. So we can be sure that no other unsuspecting traveler will be lured in by this “host” — and that’s a good thing.

Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, consumer advocate, writer and photographer who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. She is Advocacy & Editorial Director at

  • sirwired

    I wonder what this useless “customer service” rep would have done if presented with a photograph of the property burnt to the ground? Because that might was well have been the situation here, for how usable it was.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    It seems like AirBnB needs staff training. While sometimes there are legitimate disputes, this case is so over the top, it is amazing that it took Chris to resolve it. I also wonder where the OP stayed, and how much it cost, instead of staying at the terrible condo.

  • Jeff W.

    Glad to hear that there was a successful resolution, I really think the resolution should have been more that an extra $50 voucher.

    No mention of what alternate lodging arrangements were required because of the uninhabitable home. Hopefully, the costs were less than what she initially paid. Otherwise I would expect to be reimbursed for the difference as well.

    If the city of Las Vegas requires a business license to rent a home via AirBnB, then AirBnB should ensure that the renter has such a license before accepting any postings.

  • Joe Blasi

    bill you like the rent a car places. You own us $600K with the cost of a new house + lose of use + admin fees.

  • yellowbird73

    This is so strange. I’ve never had this issue with Airbnb. In fact, I had a problem just a couple of nights ago with a place being horrible when I showed up. Not only did they get me my money back immediately, the rep worked with me to find a replacement property that night and they even covered the (slight) cost difference.

    However, you do need to at least say you’ve contacted the host and then call the right number. You can’t just jump to asking for your money back. I know it seems patently clear in this case (and it is), but they deal with tens of thousands of calls a day and they need to have a procedure to make sure people aren’t calling in for a refund because they don’t like the color of the bathroom tile. People who are unfamiliar with how Airbnb works (or who don’t take the time to find out) or who make knee-jerk assumptions will, I suspect, have many unfair and negative things to say about this company… but it’s at least a little bit a breakdown of procedure on her part as anything else.

    (For example, they would have found a replacement property for her asap—and probably one that was up to $50 a night more expensive at no extra cost—if she’d followed the right steps.)

  • yellowbird73

    I wonder if they will be implementing that. They already are in some cities, like Chicago.

  • Rebecca

    She’d tell the OP she needed to ask the owner how it burnt down, apparently.

  • AJPeabody

    AirBnB has a long history of ignoring and fighting local regulations. It is part of their business model.

  • Rebecca

    That is just plain ridiculous. I’m glad the OP took photos, because it helps give a frame of reference. But the cease and desist order should be the end of the story. She’s due an immediate refund right there.

    I’m glad they replied once this site got involved. But my speculation is that the reps have some sort of quota in terms of refunds, and that’s what led to this fiasco. It’s so cut and dry I have a really hard time believing the rep ignored the officers letter. I think they have a quota for how much they can refund each month/quarter, and the rep was stringing along the OP to stay within their quota.

    Often, we see what appear to be incompetent reps. While that is sometimes the case, I think more often than not, it has to do with quotas and metrics. These are implemented with zero thought given to situations like these, where a customer is obviously due a full refund. If that same rep had several similar cases that month, they could be worried about going over the metric for amount of refund. I personally saw this happen at a large company. The metrics are unfairly determined, and the reps are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

  • Bob Davis

    You can get a fairly nice hotel room on the strip for that much money. I wonder why they rented a house?

  • Chris Johnson

    Exactly! There are more hotel rooms per square foot in Las Vegas, I’m surprised AirBnB does much business there at all. $ 1464 for three days can get you a suite at a lot of properties in Las Vegas (some more amazing than others, some on the strip, some just off it), even on the weekends. Here’s my question though – while I don’t doubt the OP’s story, if there was no key to the property in the first place, how did she get into it and take all those pictures as well as smell the animal urine?

  • Rinacres

    It was most likely just left unlocked, which was another reason why the OP didn’t want to stay there. As for why rent a home rather than a hotel room, a home is much more convenient. No people in the room next door, no hallway traffic, your own kitchen for meals on your own time.

  • sirwired

    If there’s a note on the door prohibiting the (nasty, uninhabitable) property from being rented, I think the OP can be forgiven for skipping the step of contacting the owner, and going directly to wanting a refund.

  • Fishplate

    And clearly, no resort fee!

  • jim6555

    Also add, no need to pay for parking. All of the major resort properties in Las Vegas now charge $10 or more per night for the privilege.

  • BubbaJoe123

    Not surprising the AirBnB rep didn’t want to acknowledge the illegal rental issue – the company has generally been passionately opposed to the idea that any license is or should be required to rent property out on their platform.

  • Altosk

    GoFundMe = Pay for my bad life decisions while a company takes 5% or more of my donations.

  • cscasi

    Or, taking a few at about the same rate minutes more, have followed the rule that states contact the owner first. Having failed in that attempt, then call Airbnb, explain being able to contact the property owner, explain the condition of the property (and state you have pictures to back up your concerns). Then, ask if they can help you find another property in the local area at about the same price and see what happens. If none or you can’t be helped, then go through the procedures for a full refund. Sometimes, following the steps does bear fruit in the shortest amount of time.Or, at least you can honestly say that you tried.

  • I’m pretty horrified with ABB’s rep and the way this was handled. Just bad all around and something that makes me think twice. I have used VRBO and Homeaway, as well as reputable rental real estate agents for our rentals and have been mostly satisfied. The romance with AirBnB puzzles me–these rentals have been available through VRBO and Homeaway for a long time. They aren’t the only game in town. Oh yes, there’s FlipKey, too. That $50 is insufficient in my view. The renter went above and beyond and it was a no-brainer. Shame on AirBnB.

  • Travelnut

    Even without the cease & desist notice from the City of Las Vegas, how could Airbnb possibly expect the OP to wait for the host to correct this laundry list of pretty egregious defects, and check in anywhere close to when they needed to? The smell alone probably cannot be remediated. To clean that hole would probably take at least a day. And $50 is really cheap of them.

  • Bill___A

    I think that the customer service from Air BNB was beyond horrible. Good job elliott team but shame on Air BNB for remaining clueless for so long. I think $500 is more in line than $50. And the rep needs “retraining”

  • Patrica

    place was unlocked, wide open

  • Lee

    Airbnb flouts laws in cities around the world. Why anyone would use them or believe they will do the right thing immediately is beyond me.

  • Chris Johnson

    I suppose but $1464 for three days in Las Vegas seems awfully expensive. If she wanted a kitchen so badly, I’m sure she could have gotten something along the lines of a Homewood Suites/Residence Inn type property.

  • Noah Kimmel

    when companies, particularly in customer service, focus on process over outcomes, they usually have unhappy customers

  • joycexyz

    Retraining? He’d be welcomed at Comcast!

  • yellowbird73

    Why wouldn’t you go through the one easy step that gets you the assistance you need, though? Contacting the owner to find out what the heck happened and to make sure I was at the right place would actually be my first thought. Then I’d contact Airbnb to get into a new place on their dime. Why *would* you want to be stuck finding your own place at the last minute when someone else can do it for you and throw extra money at you for your troubles as well?

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