This Airbnb complaint has a big, unexpected problem

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By Christopher Elliott

Jonathan Cordone wants a $6,711 refund from Airbnb. But his request has a big, unexpected problem — so big that our advocates can’t help.

Cordone’s story is a textbook case of how not to handle an Airbnb complaint. If you’re thinking of participating in the sharing economy this summer, it’s worth a read. Otherwise, this could happen to you.

Nuclear option failed

Cordone contacted me after a chargeback with American Express failed. Chargebacks are known as the “nuclear option” because they’re typically a last resort of consumers with a problem, just before heading to court.

That’s when Cordone told us a remarkable story — a story, it turns out, that wasn’t even his.

His parents, both in their 70s, had checked into a Florida vacation rental. It was messy, and his mother began having an allergic reaction for unknown reasons.

“Instead of contacting me about the condition of the property right away, my parents set about trying to fix it,” he says. “They cleaned the house from top to bottom and tried to find and remove all of the air fresheners. When I finally called them on day two and could tell something was wrong, I pressed them for more information. That’s when I learned of the cleaning, sleepless night, and my mother’s allergic reaction.”

Cordone immediately called the host on behalf of his parents. The host cheerfully informed him that “they feed the four or five feral cats inside the house on a daily basis,” he says.

That explains Mom’s allergic reaction.

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Concerned with his parents’ health and well-being, Cordone sent them to a hotel. He told the host.

“I tried to work directly with the host to come up with an equitable resolution, and the host promised to call me back,” he says. “Instead, the host canceled the reservation on me and then refused any refund whatsoever.”

His parents stayed in the rental one night. Airbnb billed them $6,711.

The opposite of the resolution process

Cordone did almost the exact opposite of what he should have. He failed to contact Airbnb and follow its steps to resolving the dispute. Instead, he told his parents to leave, contacted the owner and then filed a credit card chargeback. (Related: Want to avoid vacation rental surprises? Read this.)

People! If you’re ever in a similar situation, please do yourself a favor and follow the preferred steps to a resolution. And I don’t just mean their steps, but ours too. Here they are.

Further complicating the issue is the fact that it wasn’t even his stay. He was trying to help his parents. That’s a laudable thing, but it confused my advocacy team and probably threw the Amex dispute department for a loop, too. Also, we have a policy about dealing with third-party complaints.

No way out

Because of the confusion and crossed wires, there wasn’t much my team could do with Cordone’s complaint. That doesn’t mean he or his parents are wrong. In fact, I think Airbnb should take a hard look at any property that feeds feral cats in the house. (Here’s everything that you need to know before planning your next trip.)

Cordone’s story reminds me of my last Airbnb rental. And by “last” I mean I will never rent another home from Airbnb again. When I arrived, the owner pushed a bag of cat food in my hands and ordered me to feed her feline twice a day. She also announced that because I’d rented her house, she now had no place to live and would have to stay with a friend.

Like I said, never again.

I wish my team could help, but right now Cordone’s best option — his only option — is to take the owners and Airbnb to court.

Should we have taken Jonathan Cordone's case?

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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. He is based in Panamá City.

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