Can I get my Airbnb cleaning fees refunded for this dirty rental?

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By Christopher Elliott

Tyson Love’s Airbnb is a mess. Worse, the company will only refund $14 of his rental fee, even though he bought cleaning supplies and cleaned the rental himself. Is that fair compensation for a dirty rental?

Question

I recently rented a home for three nights through Airbnb in Jacksonville, Fla. The pictures posted by the host did not match the property. The home was damaged and dirty. The sofa in the living room was peeling and dilapidated. One of the exterior doors had mold growing on it and would not close all the way. And the toilets were filthy.

I filed a complaint with Airbnb, and a representative told me that they contacted the host about a refund, and the host told refused. Airbnb offered me a $14 credit. I paid $694 for the rental!

I had to buy candles to kill the horrible odor and a Swiffer mop to clean the floor and wash the dishes. After Airbnb didn’t solve this matter, I spoke with Discover about a credit card dispute, but Discover recommended that I try to resolve this with Airbnb. Can you help? — Tyson Love, Jacksonville, Fla.

Answer

No question about it, your Airbnb rental was not fit for habitation. I reviewed the photos you took of the kitchen, living room and bathroom, and I came to the same conclusion you did — this shouldn’t have been an approved Airbnb rental.

Airbnb has a five-step cleaning process that hosts must follow. It includes cleaning, sanitizing and checking each room in the house. If hosts don’t agree to these practices, Airbnb will remove their listing.

When I looked at the images you sent, it was obvious the host hadn’t even bothered to clean your rental. So I was surprised when you said Airbnb had offered a $14 refund and left you with no choice but to stay in the trashy rental. Airbnb should have found you alternative accommodations.

What to do if you check into a dirty rental on Airbnb

Airbnb offers some guidance for guests who check into an unclean rental. The big takeaway: Work it out with your host, and if you can’t, we might be able to help. 

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“If an issue comes up that you’re not able to resolve with your host — or your host declines or doesn’t respond to your refund request — let us know and someone from our team will step in to help,” it says.

It looks like you handled this one by the book. You took images of the dirty rental — the toilets, the mold, the peeling sofa. You also put everything in writing with Airbnb, asking it to return your cleaning fee. Remarkably, Airbnb said it could not return your fee because the host refused. 

I’m not sure if that’s a good enough reason. After all, you have a host obviously disregarding Airbnb’s rules here. What more evidence do you need?

You could have appealed this to one of the Airbnb company executives whose names I list on my consumer advocacy site, Elliott.org. A brief, polite email to one of them might have given your case the attention it deserved.

I asked Airbnb about your case. A representative told me it does not have a record of your contacting the company until after you checked out of the property. “He was not eligible for any additional refund outside of that partial refund he had been issued,” the Airbnb representative told me. “We have refunded the cleaning fee.” (Related: It was the “biggest roach I’ve seen in my life” Should Airbnb refund her stay?)

About this story

Our advocacy team receives a steady flow of complaints about unclean vacation rentals, but this one rose to the top of my list because of the circumstances. The home was a catastrophic mess and Airbnb did almost nothing to address the situation. I researched, fact-checked and wrote this story. Mel Smith and Dwayne Coward helped in the advocacy department, Andy Smith and his team edited the story and Dustin Elliott provided the illustration.

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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 São Paulo.

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