Help! I took a gamble on an Airbnb rental in Las Vegas — and lost

An illegal Airbnb rental in Las Vegas

When Mary Gaetz-Scholtz planned a trip to Las Vegas, she was not anticipating that her biggest gamble would be on her booking with Airbnb. Unfortunately, this thoroughly unsatisfactory illegal Airbnb rental was anything but a winner, and now Scholtz wants a complete refund. Can we help?


I rented a house in Las Vegas and paid $1,464 to Airbnb for a three-day weekend. Upon arrival, I found the property filthy and totally unacceptable. The furniture was heavily stained and beyond normal wear and tear. There was a strong odor of animal urine in the house.

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Cavalry Elite Travel Insurance -- Cavalry Travel Insurance takes the worry out of travel by providing 24/7 access to medical and security professionals combined with the best medical evacuation and security extraction services. Cavalry gets you home safely when you need it most. Learn more at

The host indicated that the key to the property had been lost and she was unable to get a new key made so there was no key.

I soon learned that the owner is violating Las Vegas short-term rental codes and has been ordered to cease renting. This home is an illegal rental.

I immediately canceled the reservation by a telephone call to the host and leaving a message and by going online and filling out the cancellation form. For some reason, Airbnb has only refunded $1,087. Can you help me get the rest of my money, please? — Mary Gaetz-Scholtz, Davenport, Iowa


Yes, Mary, I think I can!

You had every right to expect that your Airbnb rental would be a legally approved, clean home that would bear some resemblance to the property you viewed on the Airbnb site.

But you were confronted by a residence that was a far cry from the Airbnb photographic representation. This place was sporting torn upholstery, dirty tables, piles of the owner’s personal belongings and scratches and crayon marks all over the walls and doors. One quick look around left you wondering how fast you could hightail it out of there.

To add to the disagreeable situation, the smell of the home was equally intolerable.

The fact that the host did not even provide you a key or other means to secure the home during your stay was just an additional absurd aspect of this botched vacation rental.

However, you found the most compelling reason for your immediate rejection of this “rental” taped to the garage door. It was an official cease and desist letter from the City of Las Vegas. The notice announced that the property is an illegal rental unit.

This should have immediately nullified your contract with the host and Airbnb and qualified you for a full refund.

But for some reason, it didn’t. And that’s when you contacted our advocacy team.

In the paper trail that you provided, it seemed that the Airbnb representative did not fully grasp the situation. You had (awful) pictures that showed the condition of the home and a letter from an officer of the City of Las Vegas stating that this property is an illegal rental unit.

How did you book an illegal Airbnb rental in Las Vegas?

The initial Airbnb representative focused on the wrong part of your story. He pointed out that you had not followed the Guest Refunds Policy Terms precisely as is laid out in the Airbnb contract. Under “Conditions to Claim a Travel Issue,” Airbnb details that you must make an effort to let the host remedy the situation before you reject the property.

The representative pointed out that you did not give the host a chance to correct any issues with the home. Clearly, the facts of this case show that was not possible. There is no way that the host could have corrected the lack of approval from the City of Las Vegas to rent her property.

This Airbnb representative put you off for several weeks, telling you that he was attempting to get the other side of the story from the host, who was not answering his inquiries.

Meanwhile, the host refused your calls as well. You began to seek out further information about her and discovered that she appeared to be having financial difficulties. You found the host on the GoFundMe site. There, she was requesting donations to keep her business — a restaurant — afloat.

You suggested that the host’s “unavailability” may have been by design. Although your theory seemed like a logical conclusion, the Airbnb representative persisted with his stance that he needed to speak to the host before you could receive a refund.

Proof of an illegal Airbnb rental in Las Vegas

In light of the letter from Officer McCoy of the City of Las Vegas, I wondered why it was necessary to have any input from this host. That message is quite clear — this property is an illegal Airbnb rental:

This property has a Notice and Order from the City of Las Vegas to cease all short-term rental activity.

You may inform Airbnb they may contact me directly as to the status of this property if further explanation is needed. In the City of Las Vegas, a business license is required for this type of activity.

This notice should have proved your case. But still unconvinced, the Airbnb representative sent you one last email closing your case. He reiterated that this was the final decision and that he hoped you would continue to use Airbnb in the future.

If that was the end of this story, I doubt that you would ever reuse a company that sent you to an illegal rental and then charged you $400 for your trouble.

The good news

But that isn’t the end of this illegal Airbnb rental tale.

I contacted Airbnb on your behalf (here are Airbnb executive contacts for your use), and their resolution team corrected your situation almost immediately. Our executive contact reviewed the case and noted that the representative who had been handling your request made an error. Arriving at a property and discovering it’s an illegal rental is sufficient grounds for a complete refund.

Airbnb has now refunded all your payments and offered you a $50 credit.

In the future, if a company representative appears unable to understand your situation, politely ask to speak to a supervisor. Your story is an example of how useful a fresh set of eyes can be in resolving conflicts.

As a result of this case, Airbnb has removed this listing from its site.  We can be sure that this host will not lure any other unsuspecting traveler to her “rental.” And that’s a good thing.