We declined to take this bedbug case. Here’s why.

When Sandy Sloane planned her 10-night trip to Prague, Berlin and London, she booked her family’s accommodations through Airbnb. After two nights at the first Airbnb in Prague, she was certain she had bedbug bites all over her body. What she did next (and what she didn’t do) made it impossible for us to take her case.

Sloane checked into the Prague apartment she reserved through Airbnb for three nights, and found the place “very nice in every way — great location, nice hosts, decent amenities.” After spending her first night in Prague, she woke up the next morning with a rash. She initially assumed it was from something she ate and thought nothing of it, but she woke up the next morning with the same rash and what looked like hundreds of little bites all over her body. Sloane didn’t notify anyone about any suspected problem in the apartment. She spent her third night in Prague in a different bed — but in the same apartment and with the same bedding.

The next morning, her family left the apartment in Prague, as planned, and traveled to Berlin, where they checked into the Airbnb they had arranged in that city.

To say Sloane was unhappy about the Prague apartment would be an understatement, but she still didn’t notify the owners of the unit, the Airbnb resolution center or the hosts she said were nice. Instead, she carpet-bombed everyone else she could think of with her story, including our advocates and the Airbnb executives, expressed her intense displeasure, and demanded a refund of all her rentals on this vacation.

Yes, you read that right — she demanded a refund of the rentals she reserved in Prague, Berlin and London:

This has ruined our trip and I am very, very upset. I am in the middle of Europe and will not go to a random doctor for treatment. I did get some benadryl which has helped some of the itching but the welts are everywhere and now I am spending time washing my clothes rather than enjoying the trip.

Please let me know when to expect a refund for the nights in Prague as well as for the rest of the trip that has been ruined and how you plan to handle this.

As you already know from reading the headline of this story, we declined to take this case, and there are many reasons for that. I’ll start with the heart of Sloane’s case: the bedbugs.

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Sloane isn’t a physician, and apparently neither is anyone else with whom she was traveling. She also didn’t want to go to “a random doctor” to get a diagnosis. When she posted her case to our forums, a couple of our advocates questioned her refusal to go to a doctor and reassured her that medical care in Europe is quite good. They also asked if she had purchased travel insurance and suggested that she call the insurance company for recommendations on doctors in the area where she was staying in Berlin.

Sloane responded that she didn’t purchase travel insurance and was “sure the medical care is good.” She explained that she didn’t know the doctors, and although the itching was unbearable, she was taking Benadryl which was apparently helping.

So Sloane doesn’t actually have a diagnosis of her rash that indicates she was sleeping in an apartment infested with bedbugs. She also admits to our advocates that no one else in her family was affected.

Our forum advocates referred Sloane to both the CDC and American Academy of Dermatology pages on bedbugs.

In addition to noting that bedbug bites affect people in different ways, leaving some people with severe allergic reactions and others with no reaction at all, both sites note that reactions don’t appear for at least a few days after the bites occurred. Some people don’t show evidence of bites for up to two weeks. Both of these sites also note that many other dermatological issues have the same symptoms as bedbugs.

So it seems unlikely that if Sloane’s rash was caused by bedbugs, the exposure occurred at the Prague apartment. But there’s no way for us to know because Sloane never saw a doctor, documented any evidence from the apartment, or called anyone. Her failure to notify the apartment owners or Airbnb of the problem, which is a clear violation of Airbnb’s rules on resolving problems with the owner of a rental.

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Airbnb requires that guests immediately notify the owner or Airbnb of any problem. The owner is required to address the issue and seek a resolution. Sloane claims one of the reasons she didn’t call is because her family’s possessions were in the apartment and the owner had access to them.

This confuses me. Doesn’t the owner of a property always have access to a unit, and wouldn’t he or she always assume that if you rented the unit your stuff is there? If an owner’s goal was to steal people’s possessions, why would he wait for a report of bedbugs?

If she didn’t want to contact the owner or the hosts she met, she should have reached out to Airbnb through their website or through the Airbnb contacts we list on our website. We always recommend starting with the first person on the list, sending a succinct and politely worded email, waiting a week to see if there is a response, and then working your way up the list.

Again, Sloane didn’t do this. She didn’t give Airbnb or the owner a chance to investigate or resolve the issue — she simply sent a harshly worded email demanding a refund for all her rentals, noting that she copied our own Christopher Elliott and that she owns a public relations firm. And then she checked into and used her next rental. She hasn’t reported any issues with the other rentals, but she is still demanding a refund because the “bedbugs” have ruined her vacation to the point that the only thing her family will remember about this vacation is that she was suffering with bedbug bites.

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The final reason we won’t take this case is that we have heard from Sloane before with a similar complaint against Airbnb — harshly worded, with a veiled threat of bad publicity if she didn’t get the resolution she demanded.

Let me be clear that we don’t doubt that something happened to Sloane. But her claim that it was bedbugs is without evidence, she never gave the owner or Airbnb a chance to resolve the issue, she didn’t follow our advice on self-advocacy or the proper escalation of a case, and she’s asking for too much.

If you ever find yourself in a similar situation as Sloane’s, document everything and try to resolve the issue with the property owner before you leave. And if you think you’ve been exposed to something that affects your health, look for evidence, document it and see a doctor. If you take those steps and don’t get a resolution you’re happy with, then we’ll be happy to help.

Michelle Bell

Michelle worked in the travel and hospitality industry for almost two decades. Born in Germany, she has lived in 15 states and two foreign countries, and traveled to more than 35 countries. After living and working in Southeast Asia for several years, she now resides in New Orleans. Read more of Michelle Bell's articles here.

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