My Airbnb rental is infested with fleas! What should I do?

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By Christopher Elliott

Sophia Konewko’s Airbnb rental in Siesta Key, Fla., is infested with fleas. The tiny insects have peppered her arms and legs with deep red blisters that don’t stop itching. 

But that isn’t the worst of it.

Konewko had checked into the Airbnb from hell. It looked like it was halfway through a major renovation. There were missing appliances, unfinished walls, no heat and no air conditioning.

“It was a construction zone,” she says.

She negotiated with the owner for days, hoping to leave and spend the rest of her Florida vacation in a functional rental. But the owner only offered empty promises. And Airbnb dragged its feet when she asked if she could move.

And that’s how she ended up on our doorstep. (Related: I’ve been banned by Airbnb, but no one will tell me why.)

Of course, we could not turn someone like Konewko away. Her case, while extreme, is not uncommon. Let’s find out:

  • If there’s construction in my vacation rental, do I have to stay?
  • What does Airbnb have to say about construction in a rental?
  • Can I get a refund from Airbnb if my rental has fleas?

But first things first. Let’s take a look at this horrific case involving fleas and a home remodeling gone awry.

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The downstairs bedroom in Sophie Konewko’s vacation rental. I’m not even sure what this is.

“We were absolutely shocked”

I’ve gotta admit, this case is almost too bad to be true. 

Konewko and her father had been saving their pennies for a special family vacation — a rental in Siesta Key in January and February. Siesta Key is near Sarasota, on Florida’s West Coast — famous for its white sand beaches and laid-back vibe. It was the perfect place to escape the Minnesota winter.

“After my dad and I drove 27 hours from Minnesota to Siesta Key and checked into our Airbnb, we were absolutely shocked.”

She says the house was a construction zone. There were no kitchen counters and no sink. There was no water in the kitchen and no working microwave. The refrigerator short-circuited during the day, heating and cooling intermittently. (Related: The secret of disabled Airbnb accounts: Is it sabotage?)

“There were wires everywhere from the walls, electrical issues, and no lightswitch plates on any of the switches,” she says. “The house was covered with drywall dust. There was no heat or air conditioning. There were two dogs and a bird in the house.” (Here’s our guide to renting a vacation home.)

Worse, Konewko and her father had paid $6,428 to stay in the property for two months.

Like I said, too bad to be true. 

Get me out of here!

Konewko appealed to the owner, who was there and continuously assured her and her family that “things would be fixed.” But they weren’t. 

“We stayed while searching for other housing options, which was quite difficult because of the number of bedrooms we needed,” she says. It was also high season in Florida, and most vacation rentals were booked. (Related: My home is a guesthouse – how about a refund?)

“Eventually, without any air or heat for 20 days, I got Airbnb to move my checkout date and found another property,” she says.

Problem solved? Oh no. Konewko’s problems were just beginning.

What to do about these severe flea bites?

When she checked out of the rental from hell, she felt an itching sensation. And then more itching. And more.

“I then realized that the house was flea-infested,” she says. “My guests and I were suffering from severe flea bites.”

Konewko contacted Airbnb immediately. She sent them pictures and asked for help.

“I have been passed around between over 15 Airbnb reps about the flea infestation, and they

say that it isn’t covered under the AirCover guarantee because I didn’t report it

within 72 hours,” she says. “However, I did report it the moment I realized it was fleas.”

She wants a refund for all 20 days she had to stay in the vacation rental from hell.

But can she get it?

Let’s find out.

If there’s construction in my vacation rental, do I have to stay?

First, let’s answer this question: Do you have to stay in a vacation rental when there’s construction?

The answer: probably not.

I say “probably” because there are different types of construction.

An unfinished deck may be a minor inconvenience for a tenant. And a vacation rental platform like Airbnb and Vrbo would politely decline to offer you a full refund, or any refund, for a minor issue.

But appliances that don’t work, unfinished counters, sinks without water — that’s serious. You don’t need to read the terms and conditions of your platform or your rental contract to know that you don’t have to stay.

Konewko should have checked out of this vacation rental immediately.

And Airbnb should have helped her.

What does Airbnb have to say about construction in a rental? 

The major vacation rental platforms address these serious shortcomings in their guarantees. 

  • Airbnb’s AirCover guarantee protects guests against “significant issues.” It says if the listing is different than advertised and your host can’t resolve the issue, it will help you find a similar place, depending on availability at comparable pricing. Alternatively, it will offer a full or partial refund. It does not specify if the refund is only for unused nights. 
  • Vrbo’s Book With Confidence guarantee offers a similar promise. It says if the property is “materially misrepresented” in the listing when you booked — for example, it’s missing a bed or bedroom — or if the property needs major repair and you’re unable to stay, Vrbo will help you book a new reservation. Like Airbnb, it will refund you if it can’t find a replacement rental, although it doesn’t say anything about refunding nights for which you already stayed.

Both guarantees require that you notify the platform within a day or two of seeing the problem. And that was Konewko’s problem. She had waited 20 days to resolve this and was long past the notification period for issues.

The more of these cases my team and I handle, the more we are convinced that hosts intentionally drag out the process so that AirCover and Book With Confidence are moot. I suspect that’s what happened to Konewko.

But what about the fleas?

Can I get a refund from Airbnb if my rental has fleas?

Yes, Airbnb should offer a full refund if you stay in a rental that has fleas.

Airbnb’s AirCover guarantee does not specifically address fleas. But it says If you ever feel unsafe, AirCover would apply. And painful welts from a flea infestation would definitely qualify.

Same thing with Vrbo — if you find fleas, you have a solid case for a refund.

But how do you get a refund? Unfortunately, neither platform offers a roadmap for refund. Nor do they address the often difficult circumstances that don’t neatly fit into a category. For example, Konewko negotiated with the owner and Airbnb for 20 days before moving to a new rental, and she didn’t recognize the fleas until after she left her first rental.

We see so many cases like this, where platforms like Airbnb and Vrbo create arbitrary rules that exclude worthy cases from consideration. 

But to the point: Konewko should have received some kind of refund for staying in a construction zone infested with fleas. 

A confusing conclusion to a messy case

Fortunately, Konewko kept a paper trail of her correspondence between her and Airbnb. Unfortunately, that paper trail showed some serious oversights that vastly complicated her case.

The messages between Konewko and Airbnb suggested she had not contacted the platform after she checked in, and instead negotiated directly with the owner (she disputes that).

After requesting a refund, here’s what Airbnb said:

We apologize about this experience and thank you for reaching out to us! We are generally in a much stronger position to assist any of our community members when we’re contacted over the course of a stay; this affords us the opportunity to remediate any problems with the other party directly. Rest assured, I am here to help.

Whenever a situation like this arises, we advocate for an amicable solution. As a neutral third-party not present during the reservation, we must make a fair decision based on documentation and communication from both Host and guest.

Correction: Airbnb is not a neutral third party. It represents the host, not the guest.

I contacted Airbnb on her behalf. It took several weeks, but the company finally responded directly to her.

“I was contacted by Airbnb today, and I received 100 percent of my money back — $6,428,” she told me. “Your advocacy efforts are incredible and I am so appreciative. Thank you so much for taking the time to help.”

I’m happy she received a refund. But next time, when she loops Airbnb into a problem, my recommendation would be to do it immediately and in writing. That way, there’s written proof that you’ve followed the AirCover requirements.

But something tells me there won’t be a next time. I don’t think we’ll see Konewko renting from Airbnb anymore. 

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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