We didn’t feel safe in our rental. Shouldn’t Airbnb refund our money?

When Ericka Wilson and her sister plan a girls’ getaway to San Juan, they aren’t expecting grand luxury at their Airbnb rental — but they do expect to be able to lock the front door. Now they want a refund after their three-hour stay.

Question: My sister and I planned a trip to Puerto Rico. We weren’t expecting The Ritz Carlton, but when we arrived to our Airbnb rental, we were very disappointed. We took an elevator to the 15th floor to a dingy, narrow hallway with locking gates surrounding each apartment door.

The lock on our gate was broken. I contacted the owner. However, he insisted that this was user error and that the cleaning lady would come in the morning to train us on how to operate the door. I reached out to Airbnb and expressed our concern about safety. They continued to refer us back to the owner.

Not feeling safe to spend the night, we packed our things and went to the Marriott where we remained for the rest of our trip. Can you help get our money back? Ericka Wilson, Alexandria, Va.

Answer: What a frustrating experience.

Although a locking front door was not specifically mentioned in this Airbnb listing, you assumed one would be included. This seems like an entirely reasonable expectation.

But when you arrived and found that the door could not be properly locked, you didn’t feel safe at all in an unfamiliar town — in a building where every other door was fortified with a steel gate with a functioning lock.

And on top of this problem, you began to look around the apartment and noted that it did not appear that the aforementioned maid had visited in some time. You snapped some pictures and made a video of the unit.

The video you sent me showed that the heavy steel door covering the interior door of the apartment could easily be opened from the outside, if the lock was not engaged.

The photos also showed that the interior door appeared to be warped and did not close completely. When you tried to engage the lock on that door you found this impossible, as well, since the door did not line up with the bolt lock.

You continued to try to get some help from the owner, who said he might send a locksmith. Hours later, when that had not happened, you and your sister gave up and went to the Marriott for the rest of your vacation.

It is unclear why Airbnb did not immediately respond to your concerns that you were unsafe at the unit. It would appear that you followed all the steps of the Airbnb resolution process, but you were later told that you did not qualify for a refund.

So what went wrong?

Instead of attempting to reaccommodate you, the Airbnb representative simply reiterated that the owner said that you didn’t know how to use the lock and repeated the offer for the “training” from the maid in the morning.

So, in other words, you received no assistance from this representative.

After your long, frustrating first day of what you had hoped would be a relaxing vacation, you and your sister went to bed. The next morning you awoke to find an email from that same Airbnb representative giving you, inexplicably, just four hours to respond if you wanted to qualify for a refund.

This four-hour window covered midnight to 4 a.m.

For obvious reasons, you missed this strange deadline. And with that, you were told that you wouldn’t be receiving a refund. Then to make matters worse the owner tried to charge you for a locksmith to come out and fix the door.

He told Airbnb that you somehow broke the lock on the steel gate. You were flabbergasted — and vowed never to use Airbnb again.

When I looked over your paper trail it looked like Airbnb had dropped the ball on this one.

You gave the host multiple chances to bring a locksmith or even bother to bring himself to the unit to try to secure it. His continued insistence of waiting for the maid, the next day, was not in the spirit of good host/guest relations.

You also gave Airbnb multiple chances to correct the problem. You even went out to dinner and patiently waited for their resolution before hitting the eject button from this rental.

You were smart to take those pictures and that video — because that evidence is strong in these types of cases. It really is hard to argue when there is photographic proof of your complaints.

I contacted Airbnb on your behalf and sent those photos and described your highly unenjoyable rental experience.

The Airbnb resolution team responded swiftly and granted your full refund. Beyond that, they offered you an apology and agreed that their representative handled your case improperly. Because this problem concerned an immediate safety issue, you should have been offered a new accommodation or a refund. That representative will be receiving retraining.

And the host will also be made aware of the importance of the safety of Airbnb users. He will be required to make sure that all locks are in place and in working order before renting his apartment again.

You were pleased with this outcome and told us that the Airbnb representative who called you this time, “Seemed very sincere and apologized, spoke about training the other team, and was just wonderful!” Your outlook on Airbnb has greatly improved.

You ended your letter to me by saying, “You may not realize this, but your support did more than earn a refund but also reduced stress in two households – my sister’s and mine.”

And this is most certainly why we are here — facilitating fair and reasonable resolutions that satisfy both sides of the consumer/business equation. In this situation, something went wrong, but Airbnb, with a little nudge, corrected the problem, offered you your money back and has now retained a customer.

And you and your sister can use that refund to give a girls’ getaway another try. This seems like a perfect resolution.

This story is a re-run :)

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