Do I deserve a refund for the apartment rental from hell?

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By Christopher Elliott

Maybe Patsy Chan should have known better than to rent a room using AirBnB. After all, she works for a hotel, and in a high-profile position at that. It’s no secret that a reservation on this startup site is a hit-or-miss-proposition.

Then again, the apartment she rented for herself and her family in Beijing for 10 days in March looked just fine. It was in a good part of town and had all the amenities she expected.

Until she checked in.

“When we arrived, there were no fresh bed linens,” she says. “The apartment had no TV, which was one of the amenities it promised. The place was filthy and the shower box drainage was blocked.”

The apartment owner was out of the country, but a local contact was of little use. He told Chan there were no spare linens, so they’d have to wash the old sheets themselves and place them on the bed, which they did.

Bad enough? Oh, it was just getting started, says Chan.

That night, a toilet bowl clogged, flooding the bathroom. Chan and her mother had to clean up the mess.

In the morning, the shower ran cold. They had no one to call, and so they had to make the best of it.

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Could it get any worse? Why, yes.

Soon after that, the bathroom had a minor flood unrelated to the ill-fated shower.

I found puddles of water all over the floor. My mother told me she slipped on the water when she went to the bathroom in the early morning hours and hit her head.

When my sister and I were busy mopping the floor, my dad knelt down right in front of our eyes and hit his kneecap because of the slippery floor.

My sister and I also slipped but luckily we could maintain our balance.

Chan reported the problems to her host, who sent a plumber over.

“The plumber found the root cause: a leaking pipe and water valve hidden inside a kitchen cabinet. He even showed us a small silver tray underneath collecting the seepage, so obviously someone was aware of this leakage problem,” she says. (Related: Vacation rental warning words: don’t book if you see this!)

That was the end of it. The Chans checked out of their AirBnB rental and found another place for the remaining nine nights. They asked AirBnB for a refund.

It responded by refunding two out of the ten nights, or about $144.

“That means I paid $560 for one night in that sh****y and dangerous place,” she says.

Chan wants me to push for a full refund.

I suggested she wait for her appeal to AirBnB, which is often reviewed at a higher level. But it only offered to refund a $58 agency fee on the property. The rest, the owner apparently gets to keep.

Should my advocacy team and I help her? Well, Chan’s room was pre-paid and nonrefundable, and although it comes with certain warranties, they are sufficiently vague that the apartment owner could make a case that her expectations were too high.

Chan sent me pictures of the wet tiles, and I didn’t think they helped her case. Let’s just say water doesn’t photograph well on a white tile floor.

Anyway, of all people in the world, Chan should have known about AirBnB’s inconsistent product. (Here’s our guide to renting a vacation home.)

Do I think she deserves a full refund? Sure, if for no other reason than good customer service, she should get more than two nights and a reservation fee back. Not everything (her family stayed one night) but more than she did.

But she signed a contract and pre-paid for the room, knowing the terms. I’m far more concerned that this apartment might remain in AirBnB’s inventory, and that more people will fall for it (figuratively and literally).

I don’t know if Chan needs my help. But other guests might.

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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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