Here it is: The most excessive cleaning fee ever!

Here's the most excessive cleaning fee ever. Can we clean up this Airbnb mess?

James Parker just got hit with the most excessive cleaning fee I’ve ever seen as a consumer advocate. Soon after checking out of his recent Airbnb rental, the owner sent him a $1,470 bill to clean up the mess she says his family made.

But what mess was she really cleaning up?

Parker’s experience is one that should serve as a warning to anyone considering a vacation rental. Not all Airbnb hosts are created equal. And some might even try to find questionable ways to extract extra fees from their guests after the stay is over. So it’s important to leave that rental in precisely the condition you found it. Otherwise, you might just be leaving the door ajar to this type of outrageous cash grab.

Blindsided by a $1,470 excessive cleaning fee

Parker and his family rented the Airbnb property outside of Washington D.C. for one week in preparation for relocation to India. From the start, the home had problems. First, the dishwasher and the microwave didn’t work. But these were just minor inconveniences to the family.

However, the most significant problem came several days into their stay. The sump pump malfunctioned and flooded the basement of the property. The house was then filled with repairmen and a clean-up crew for most of the rest of their time there.

“The owner came to the home after the basement flooded,” Parker recalled. “She repeatedly told us she was sorry that her basement flooded. She also apologized that the dishwasher and microwave didn’t work.”

Focused on their upcoming move in just days, the family was unfazed by all the disturbances.

“We could tell she was stressed out, and we reassured her repeatedly that it was okay,” Parker explained. The family completed their stay as planned and headed to the airport for their relocation across the world.

And then came the $1,470 blindside from the owner.

“A little while after we left, the owner requested that we pay her $1,470 for having excessive trash in the house,” Parker reported. “She also wanted to clean the upholstery because of cat dander and foodstuff damages.”

After spending a week being inconvenienced by all the problems with her home, this owner’s request shocked Parker.

“We did not have a cat in the house, and do not believe there was any damage to the upholstery,” Parker lamented.

Messy Airbnb guests or an unreasonable owner?

Parker asked the owner to provide a rationale for the $1,470 excessive cleaning fee. She responded with some photos of unopened cat food cans as proof of a cat in the home. She also sent a picture of some rolls of toilet paper in a package. The owner had no photos of the cat dander or the garbage that she claimed to have found.

This request infuriated Parker and his wife. Even with two young children, they say no one would consider them messy Airbnb guests. They tidied the home up before they left and put the garbage out. Since the owner already had taken a $50 cleaning fee, Parker believed that should have covered normal cleanup after a guest leaves.

He explained that the cat food was for their cat, which would be joining the family on the flight to India. She had been staying in their vacant home across town the entire week. At no time did the cat enter the rental.

Still, trying to be reasonable and hoping to avoid further problems, Parker answered the request with a counteroffer of $80. And to his utter surprise, he immediately received confirmation that Airbnb charged his credit card the full $1,470 for the excessive cleaning fee.

The Airbnb resolution center

Bewildered, Parker then called Airbnb to report this fiasco. He assumed that the company would quickly put the kibosh on this owner’s attempts at squeezing $1,470 from his family.

The representative instructed him to file a complaint in the Airbnb resolution center.

If you use Airbnb, it’s critical to familiarize yourself with the Airbnb resolution center. The resolution center is the place where you must file all of your Airbnb rental complaints. It’s also a great way to develop a paper trail detailing your problem and your efforts to resolve it. Should you ever need to ask the Elliott Advocacy team for help, that paper trail is the first thing we will request from you.

Unfortunately, we often receive pleas for help from Airbnb users who want us to advocate a case, but who have neglected to use the resolution center. That’s a big mistake since part of the terms, and conditions of Airbnb require its users to first try to resolve cases this way. And if you don’t have a paper trail, it’s impossible for our team to see an overview of the situation. The Airbnb resolution center displays all three sides of every case: Airbnb, the owner, and the renter.

Luckily, Parker had used the resolution center, so the evolution of his battle with this host was clear.

Following the recommendations from our publisher, Christopher Elliott, in his article on self-advocacy, Parker tried to resolve the problem. That is to say, he was polite and kept his emails calm and factual.

But the owner dug in her heels and stopped responding to him.

Asking Airbnb to straighten out this mess

Parker and his family flew to India with this problem weighing heavily on their minds and still unresolved. Once settled in, he escalated the complaint to a variety of Airbnb representatives. He requested a detailed invoice for this excessive cleaning fee.

“We aren’t messy Airbnb guests. Any mess we left is nothing more than would have been left by anyone with children who stayed in a hotel,” Parker pointed out. “That does NOT warrant a $1,400 excessive cleaning fee.”

The family began to suspect that the owner was using this as an opportunity to clean up the basement and other problems in the home. Finally, after a month of battling for a fair resolution, an Airbnb representative gave Parker an answer.

In regard to the payment we have spoken with the host about the refund. She did inform us that she wants to have the cleaning service done first and the money not used she will send back to you. I have spoken to a few people in my department to see if we will be able to cover the cost; however, I was not able to get the approval. I do want to greatly apologize.

Yes, you read that correctly. The paper trail shows that one month after the owner had extracted $1,470 from Parker for an excessive cleaning fee, she had not yet cleaned the home. And she had no estimate to show anyone either.

This Airbnb representative’s highly consumer-unfriendly resolution was of no help to the family. The likelihood that this owner would ever voluntarily return any of that money is apparent.

Frustrated but not defeated

Frustrated and almost defeated, Parker wrote a final email to the Airbnb representative:

Now, you write that she is going to have a cleaning company come out to clean the house one month after we stayed there. How can we be responsible for whatever mess is in the home one month after we stayed there? We are clearly being taken advantage of and are at a loss to work on resolving it due to the fact that we are living in India. I’m so disappointed Airbnb is set up to give a renter the ability to abuse her power like this.

Case closed? Not so fast.

Parker’s next stop: Elliott Advocacy.

Asking the Elliott Advocacy to clean up this Airbnb mess

Of course, as a consumer advocate, I’m determined to resolve all the cases that I take. In many of these situations, though, it’s easy to see a little of both sides of the story. Typically, neither side is 100 percent wrong or 100 percent right.

But then a case like this comes along. And it highlights why Elliott Advocacy is necessary.

Parker’s plight made me angry. This young family didn’t need this additional stress in the middle of an international move.

That “host” provided zero evidence to Airbnb or to Parker as to why she took a $1,470 excessive cleaning fee from this family. And then to make matters worse, instead of looking at the facts and reversing this charge, Airbnb allowed her to decide if she should return it.

The failure in the logic was glaring.

I looked at the few photos that the owner had sent in a feeble attempt to justify her cash grab. The resolution was poor, but in no way did they illustrate or justify a $1,470 excessive cleaning fee.

And as I read through the entire paper trail, I couldn’t help but see the similarities of Parker’s experience to the many cases we’ve had of travelers being hit with wild and surprising fees in franchised hotels recently. ( Pillow thievery accusations at a two-star hotel, Here it is: The most ridiculous hotel damage fee ever) These stories are all cautionary tales — when your credit card is provided to strangers of undetermined moral character the results can be disturbing.

Airbnb resolves this mess

Knowing that the executive Airbnb resolution team is highly skilled and motivated at fixing things that go wrong in its customer service department, I sent the case over for a review.

And suddenly that questionable $1,470 excessive cleaning fee vanished. Parker received an apology from a senior Airbnb representative and confirmation of the return of the entire amount.

Upon reviewing your correspondence with the host via our Resolution Center, I can confirm that you wished to place a counteroffer for the amount of $80 USD in response to her request for the amount of $1,470 USD for extra cleaning fees.

I am terribly sorry to see that the full amount was charged by our system. I sincerely apologize for the inconveniences posited by this action as well. Please rest assured that our Resolution Center allows both hosts and guests to offer counter offers—if they cannot reach an agreement, they can ask Airbnb to mediate at any time. Though we do not know what led to this system mishap at this time, I want to kindly thank you for bringing this to our attention, as my Team and I will be taking a look into these matters promptly.

This being said, please note that Airbnb has personally issued a refund for the entire charged amount.

Parker is pleased to have this ordeal over. But unfortunately, it’s another one for our file of outrageous tales of credit card misuse by a host or hotel after checkout.

Stay tuned — unfortunately, there are more on the way.

When requesting an "excessive cleaning fee" should Airbnb hosts be required to provide an official itemized invoice to guests?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...
Share this story
Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share on Facebook

Underwritten by

This site is underwritten by Cavalry Travel Insurance

Cavalry takes the worry of out travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at Cavalrytravelinsurance.com.

This site is underwritten by Sodexo North America

Sodexo North America Sodexo North America is part of a global, Fortune 500 company with a presence in 80 countries. Sodexo is a leading provider of integrated food, facilities management and other services that enhance organizational performance, contribute to local communities and improve quality of life for millions of customers in corporate, education, healthcare, senior living, sports and leisure, government and other environments daily. Learn more at Sodexoinsights.com.

This site is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services

Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

This site is underwritten by AirHelp

AirHelp is the world’s leading flight delays compensation company, helping passengers apply for compensation following a delayed or canceled flight or when boarding has been denied. It is AirHelp’s mission to fight for passenger rights by holding airlines accountable for flights disruptions that are out of passengers’ control. AirHelp has already helped 5 million people, taking the stress out of applying for compensation and making it as hassle-free as possible for travelers around the world.

This site is underwritten by Allianz Travel Insurance

The Allianz Travel Insurance company has built its reputation on partnering with agents all around the world to provide comprehensive travel insurance for their clients. Contact Allianz Travel Insurance for a comprehensive list of coverage.

This site is underwritten by Chubb

Chubb is the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company, and recognized as the premier provider of insurance for successful individuals and families in the U.S. and selected international markets, offering coverage for high-value automobile, homeowners, recreational marine/aviation, valuables and umbrella liability coverage. As an underwriting company, Chubb assesses, assumes and manages risk with insight and discipline, and combines the precision of craftsmanship with decades of experience to conceive, craft and deliver the best insurance coverage and services to individuals, families and business of all size.

This site is underwritten by Enterprise Holdings

A family-owned, world-class portfolio of brands. A global network that spans across more than 85 countries. Some 97,000 dedicated team members sharing common values. And more than 1.9 million vehicles taking our customers wherever they need to go.

This site is underwritten by Fareportal

Fareportal’s portfolio of brands, which include  CheapOair and  OneTravel, are dedicated to helping customers enjoy their trip. Whether you want to call, click, or use one of our travel apps, one thing is clear: We make it easy to take it easy.

This site is underwritten by Insuremyrentalcar.com

An independent provider of low cost CDW/LDW insurance for use with rental cars. Up to $100,000 cover with no deductible. Policies available on a per day, per trip or per year basis. Also works with overseas rentals. Try  Insuremyrentalcar.comnow.

This site is underwritten by InsureMyTrip

It’s simple. InsureMyTrip finds you the right travel insurance plan, every time. InsureMyTrip is the authority on travel insurance. Rated A+ for travel insurance by the Better Business Bureau. All travelers that purchase a policy through  InsureMyTrip have access to Anytime Advocates® for claims assistance.

This site is underwritten by Mediacom Communications

The nation’s fifth-largest cable operator, serving the smaller cities and towns in the Midwest and Southern regions of the United States. We are a high-performance broadband, entertainment, and communications company that brings the power of modern technology and quality customer experience to life inside the connected home by combining ultra-fast gigabit speeds with personalized local and over-the-top entertainment choices that fit your lifestyle. Details at  Mediacomcable.com.

This site is underwritten by SCOTTeVEST

An innovative apparel brand for people who want easy access to everything they need. For those who live for every second, SCOTTeVEST lets you maximize your life. Ditch the carry-on bag and pick up a  SCOTTeVEST.

This site is underwritten by Virtuoso

The leading global network for luxury and experiential travel. This invitation-only organization comprises over 1,000 travel agency locations with 17,500 advisors in over 45 countries, and holds preferred relationships with 1,700 of the world’s finest travel companies. Virtuoso advisors collaborate with their clients to create personalized itineraries featuring exclusive perks, while also providing advice, access, advocacy, and accountability. For more information, visit  Virtuoso.com.

This site is underwritten by VisitorsCoverage

As a company that is constantly striving to simplify travel insurance, VisitorsCoverage, is on a mission to help travelers make the better decisions about purchasing travel insurance, quickly. VisitorsCoverage has helped millions of travelers globally to buy the suitable travel insurance and explore the world with confidence. Get insurance for your next trip at  VisitorsCoverage. Lowest Price Guaranteed.

This site is underwritten by MedjetAssist

Medjet is the premier global air-medical transport, travel security and crisis response membership program for travelers. With a MedjetAssist membership, if you become hospitalized more than 150 miles from home, we will get you from that unfamiliar hospital all the way home to the hospital you trust. All you ever pay is your membership fee. MedjetHorizon members add 24/7 personal security and crisis response benefits. Elliott.org readers enjoy discounted rates. Travel safer with  MedjetAssist.

This site is underwritten by Southwest Airlines

The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

This site is underwritten by Sungard Availability Services

Leveraging more than 35 years of experience, Sungard AS designs, builds and runs critical IT services that help businesses manage complex IT, adapt quickly and build resiliency and availability. A leading provider of critical production and recovery services, Sungard AS partners with customers across the globe, delivering resilient IT systems, infrastructure and recovery services tailored to achieving desired business outcomes.

This site is underwritten by TravelInsurance.com

TravelInsurance.com makes it fast and easy to compare and buy travel insurance online from top rated providers. Our unbiased comparison engine allows travelers to read reviews, compare pricing and benefits and buy the right policy with a price guarantee, every time. Compare and buy travel insurance now at  TravelInsurance.com.

This site is underwritten by Squaremouth

Squaremouth helps travelers easily and instantly compare travel insurance policies from all major providers. Only companies that meet the strict requirements of Squaremouth’s Zero Complaint Guarantee are available on the website. Compare policies on  Squaremouth.com to save over 70 percent on your next purchase.

This site is underwritten by Travel Leaders Group

Travel Leaders Group is transforming travel through its progressive approach toward each unique travel experience. Travel Leaders Group assists millions of travelers through its leisure, business and network travel operations under a variety of diversified divisions and brands including All Aboard Travel, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Corporate Travel Services, CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise Specialists, Nexion, Protravel International, SinglesCruise.com, Travel Leaders Corporate, Travel Leaders Network and Tzell Travel Group, and its merger with ALTOUR. With more than 7,000 agency locations and 52,000 travel advisors, Travel Leaders Group ranks as one of the industry’s largest retail travel agency companies.

This site is underwritten by Travelers United

If you’ve been mistreated by the airlines, Travelers United is your voice in Washington. Join the #1 travel advocacy organization working with Congress to improve and protect travelers. Plus, get $400 of annual benefits you can use for travel for only $29/year. Add your voice to ours. Make travel better.  Join today.