An illegal Airbnb? Something tells us this might be one

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. And he gets the feeling he may have just paid for an illegal Airbnb. 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. This is an illegal Airbnb rental.

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.

Refusing to sneak into this illegal Airbnb

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.

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

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.

Did the host know that this is an illegal Airbnb rental? 

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 in Tokyo. The team quickly offered you a resolution that went above and beyond your expectations (and mine).

A fabulous Airbnb resolution for your birthday

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 illegal Airbnb property will be removed from the Airbnb site.

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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 the executive director of Elliott.org. She is a consumer advocate, SEO-lady, writer and licensed clinical social worker who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Friedman Read more of Michelle's articles here.

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