The satellite image of my Airbnb rental is shocking. I demand a refund!


Some of our cases are relegated to the Case Dismissed file simply because of the attitude of the consumer. Bonnie Lym’s story was almost one of them.

Question: I reserved an Airbnb listing for one month in Chile. After I made the reservation, the owner of the rental revealed to me that her house was next to a fuel tank storage area and an industrial sand extraction site.

I immediately contacted Airbnb customer service to cancel the reservation based on safety concerns. They told me that their website gives the general location of the house and that I should have known.

I don’t have the computer knowledge to take a map from Airbnb and then search for a satellite image of the location. Airbnb has refused to refund my money citing its policy of long-term cancellation no refunds.

Their long-term cancellation policy has been described to me as anti-consumer and illegal. Will you help me? — Bonnie Lym, International Falls, Minn.

Answer: There is nothing illegal in Airbnb’s long-term rental cancellation policy. It has a team of lawyers to make sure. So I had to look for another route to your refund. And I asked you for a paper trail.

In your initial inquiry, you disagreed with me, so you ended our time together and told me that you would be seeking an attorney to go after Airbnb in a “big way.”

Two months later when these efforts did not produce your desired outcome. You sent another request to our helpline and appeared willing to do it our way.

But not really.

I asked you again for the paper trail and you told me, “You need all the conversations with Airbnb? They don’t put anything in writing and will only talk to me if I call them. Then they tell me they will get back to me and they don’t. How am I supposed to document that?”

Having advocated many cases with Airbnb, this sounded highly unusual to me.

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I explained the Airbnb resolution center and how complaints are handled with the company. This resolution center provides a great way to document all of the interactions between host, renter and the Airbnb staff — it creates a perfect paper trail.

But you had not utilized the resolution center and from what I could gather you had entrusted your nephew to handle many of your resolution attempts — and this was a bad idea. He ignored the instructions in the Airbnb Resolution center and approached the company and the owner in such a way that the results were entirely predictable.

When I asked you for the listing, you seemed to be reluctant to give me the link. But when you finally did, I saw “your” review about this property. It was completely ill-advised and bordered on slander. Worse, it didn’t help your case at all:

After I made the reservation, the owner told me that the house is located next to four fuel tanks and that the water in the house is unsafe to drink. We told her to cancel. She refused and is trying to steal our money.

We never stayed at the house — not even one night — because of contaminated water — and Airbnb will not talk to us about a refund. We will never use Airbnb again for not providing any customer service and trying to take our money.

We will never stay with Airbnb again. This is illegal. The owner is going to be sued for all her money if she does not refund our money. We have already hired a lawyer.

The owner responded that she had never told you anything about contaminated water and that this review was completely false.

You admitted that your nephew had written and posted this review — with your permission.

Yikes!


Threatening a lawsuit, accusing Airbnb of illegal activity, and claiming that an owner told you that her own home was contaminated, was an extremely poor way to try to force a refund from Airbnb or the owner.

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Why? Because the contract was on their side; you had no facts to support your claims. Any cancellation and refund that you would be asking for would be a goodwill gesture. The general location of the house is visible on the Airbnb listing. You were free to check out the entire surrounding area before you agreed to a long term rental at this property.

It wasn’t clear to me how “two fuel tanks” on an adjacent property, across the street could cause you to cancel the entire reservation without any further investigation. And you admitted that the owner did not tell you that her water was contaminated.

When I wasn’t quite seeing things your way, you then turned your anger at me and accused me of not being an honest advocate and that I must use Airbnb myself. You pondered how you could have gotten such an advocate.

As I explained to you, when I approach companies, I need facts, not conjecture. The opinion and review of your nephew was not evidence that I could present to Airbnb as a reason for your cancellation.

But not deterred by your insults, I continued on with your case. And I was curious about those two “fuel tanks.”

Your satellite image provided just a small sliver of what appeared to be one, possibly two tanks of something across the street. You really weren’t sure what they were, but it was enough for you to abort your plans for your stay at this home.

I took the GPS coordinates of this home and zoomed out on Google Maps. And what I discovered shocked even you and fueled your feelings (and ignited mine) that you were due a full refund of this reservation — despite your unpleasant tactics and insults.

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When I zoomed out, I discovered that this home is directly across the street from one of the largest petroleum companies in Chile. Those two fuel tanks that you detected on your small satellite image are just part of a giant operation.

And when I did a Google search, I discovered many articles about this plant. The news wasn’t good. It appears that the locals have been complaining for some time about this operation contaminating the local water and shellfish farms.

Although, your nephew knew nothing about this, his suggestions about the water may have been accurate. But, of course, we have no proof.

With this information in hand, I contacted Airbnb on your behalf. I pointed out that you are a senior citizen who had allowed your nephew to make a misguided attempt at helping you and that you had not followed any of the steps to resolution as noted on the Airbnb website. I asked our contacts to overlook all of that, because I thought you had a valid complaint.

I included the screenshot of the satellite image of the home and the petroleum plant. I also linked our Airbnb contacts to one of the articles about the complaints from local people about the plant.

And soon Airbnb also saw the light about your case.

Airbnb agreed to return your money and confirmed that the owner will now be required to include information about the proximity of this petroleum plant to her home on her listing.

You are quite pleased with this outcome and have apologized for any lack of etiquette on the part of your nephew. He will no longer be handling your Airbnb account — you told me that you will learn how to use the app yourself.

And even though we had our tough moments, I am happy to have helped — teaching consumers how to make concise, fact-based complaints and getting positive resolutions is why we are here.


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 Elliott.org.

  • SirWIred

    I was not aware that “near a factory” was a valid reason to receive a refund. (Certainly water contamination would be.)

  • tio2girl

    Wow. While I understand the anger of this consumer, given her propensity to outright lie (doesn’t matter if the lies were eventually maybe coincidentally true), I’m not sure that she deserved help here. I wouldn’t want to rent that house either, but fraudulent revenge reviews aren’t a way to resolve anything.

  • Annie M

    Wow, you went out of your way to help a nasty consumer. You are far better than me.

    And good for Airbnb to tell this woman she needs to give all the details about this property. She should be kicked off the site for not properly disclosing this.

  • finance_tony

    “But not deterred by your insults, I continued on with your case.”

    OMG – why? This really devalues the brand of your advocacy, IMO.

  • BubbaJoe123

    If I were AirBnB management, I would have given her a refund, given the petroleum plant issue, and then told her that, in the future, she should find another travel provider, as she was no longer welcome on AirBnB.

  • Kairho

    You’ve apparently never lived near a petroleum plant.

  • SirWIred

    I’m sure it can be quite unpleasant, but it’s the renter’s job to do their research ahead of time. If their research skills are insufficient to properly evaluate properties, they shouldn’t be using a DIY booking method.

  • Fishplate

    “After I made the reservation, the owner of the rental revealed to me that her house was next to a fuel tank storage area and an industrial sand extraction site.”

    If the homeowner discloses a material fact like that, which they obviously thought the renter needed to know, only after the transaction is completed, then isn’t that a sort of fraud?

  • AAGK

    I agree. An abusive guest, pre-stay will be an ongoing headache. Airbnb would be best served to cut its losses and dispose of this toxic person. I am surprised more companies do not use this strategy.

  • Lindabator

    given this particular client – I would go so far as to say sh was tole beforehand, and THEN had buyer’s remorse – I just never trust proven liars

  • The Original Joe S

    not if there was no contact before this.

  • The Original Joe S

    I don’t agree. Doing your job in spite of personal dislikes is a sign of integrity.

  • Extramail

    But, it is also the responsibility of the person listing the property to include relevant facts about the property. I fully understand wanting to omit that the property is located next to a petroleum facility but you can’t be surprised that a renter would be upset about that omission. I never considered that I should do a satellite search of a property but I will now include that in the list of things to check before renting.

  • cscasi

    It also shows how much being a good advocate and trying to help those who are in need means to Chris and company!

  • Fishplate

    There was contact, in the form of the original advertisement.

  • Travelnut

    (slow clap…..) Kudos for handling this prickly lady (who had the audacity to blame it all on her nephew when she was clearly just as rude). And kudos for masterful writing and subtle but pointed shade thrown at the OP. “In your initial inquiry, you disagreed with me, so you ended our time together…” Meaning, it sounds like she hung up on you. Yikes. Well done.

  • LeeAnneClark

    ^^^THIS!

    You had me at “slow clap”. ;)

  • Travelnut

    :-)

  • finance_tony

    Supporting scammers and liars is their job? Putting a company name in the headline and tarnishing its image when it was not at fault is their job?

  • joycexyz

    This was not just a factory, but the largest petroleum plant in Chile.
    And the locals believe it has been contaminating their water. The nephew
    may have gone off the rails in his rants, but apparently he wasn’t too
    far wrong. Michelle is to be commended for her patience and perseverance in handling both sides of this argument and getting a satisfactory solution. And the OP learned some valuable lessons.

  • The Original Joe S

    Apparently the advocate didn’t think the person was a scammer. Why do YOU think that?

    Company’s good name? The property is next to a chemical wasteland. When informed of this and refusing to assist, then their name should be trashed.

    Try reading all the information pertinent to this one. You might learn something.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    Really? The article states ” the owner will now be required to include information about the proximity of this petroleum plant to her home on her listing.” That seems to clearly state that the proximity was not disclosed previously. Sometimes, even clients like this are right.

  • finance_tony

    “And you admitted that the owner did not tell you that her water was contaminated.”

    She literally made up words and attributed them to the owner. This is libel. If you want to be made whole, you must come to the table with clean hands. Hers were filthy.

  • finance_tony

    I can’t imagine renting a property without automatically doing a street or satellite view. I assume the property’s address was listed?

  • SierraRose 49

    And she has LOTS more patience with people and their not-so-nice comments than I ever would. The letter writer and her nephew should not have made repeated baseless allegations, assumptions or whatever from an advocate who is truly trying to help her at NO charge.

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