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 Southwest Airlines. The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.

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, 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.

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

  1. I wonder what this useless “customer service” rep would have done if presented with a photograph of the property burnt to the ground? Because that might was well have been the situation here, for how usable it was.

    1. bill you like the rent a car places. You own us $600K with the cost of a new house + lose of use + admin fees.

  2. It seems like AirBnB needs staff training. While sometimes there are legitimate disputes, this case is so over the top, it is amazing that it took Chris to resolve it. I also wonder where the OP stayed, and how much it cost, instead of staying at the terrible condo.

    1. when companies, particularly in customer service, focus on process over outcomes, they usually have unhappy customers

  3. Glad to hear that there was a successful resolution, I really think the resolution should have been more that an extra $50 voucher.

    No mention of what alternate lodging arrangements were required because of the uninhabitable home. Hopefully, the costs were less than what she initially paid. Otherwise I would expect to be reimbursed for the difference as well.

    If the city of Las Vegas requires a business license to rent a home via AirBnB, then AirBnB should ensure that the renter has such a license before accepting any postings.

  4. This is so strange. I’ve never had this issue with Airbnb. In fact, I had a problem just a couple of nights ago with a place being horrible when I showed up. Not only did they get me my money back immediately, the rep worked with me to find a replacement property that night and they even covered the (slight) cost difference.

    However, you do need to at least say you’ve contacted the host and then call the right number. You can’t just jump to asking for your money back. I know it seems patently clear in this case (and it is), but they deal with tens of thousands of calls a day and they need to have a procedure to make sure people aren’t calling in for a refund because they don’t like the color of the bathroom tile. People who are unfamiliar with how Airbnb works (or who don’t take the time to find out) or who make knee-jerk assumptions will, I suspect, have many unfair and negative things to say about this company… but it’s at least a little bit a breakdown of procedure on her part as anything else.

    (For example, they would have found a replacement property for her asap—and probably one that was up to $50 a night more expensive at no extra cost—if she’d followed the right steps.)

    1. If there’s a note on the door prohibiting the (nasty, uninhabitable) property from being rented, I think the OP can be forgiven for skipping the step of contacting the owner, and going directly to wanting a refund.

      1. Or, taking a few at about the same rate minutes more, have followed the rule that states contact the owner first. Having failed in that attempt, then call Airbnb, explain being able to contact the property owner, explain the condition of the property (and state you have pictures to back up your concerns). Then, ask if they can help you find another property in the local area at about the same price and see what happens. If none or you can’t be helped, then go through the procedures for a full refund. Sometimes, following the steps does bear fruit in the shortest amount of time.Or, at least you can honestly say that you tried.

      2. Why wouldn’t you go through the one easy step that gets you the assistance you need, though? Contacting the owner to find out what the heck happened and to make sure I was at the right place would actually be my first thought. Then I’d contact Airbnb to get into a new place on their dime. Why *would* you want to be stuck finding your own place at the last minute when someone else can do it for you and throw extra money at you for your troubles as well?

  5. That is just plain ridiculous. I’m glad the OP took photos, because it helps give a frame of reference. But the cease and desist order should be the end of the story. She’s due an immediate refund right there.

    I’m glad they replied once this site got involved. But my speculation is that the reps have some sort of quota in terms of refunds, and that’s what led to this fiasco. It’s so cut and dry I have a really hard time believing the rep ignored the officers letter. I think they have a quota for how much they can refund each month/quarter, and the rep was stringing along the OP to stay within their quota.

    Often, we see what appear to be incompetent reps. While that is sometimes the case, I think more often than not, it has to do with quotas and metrics. These are implemented with zero thought given to situations like these, where a customer is obviously due a full refund. If that same rep had several similar cases that month, they could be worried about going over the metric for amount of refund. I personally saw this happen at a large company. The metrics are unfairly determined, and the reps are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

    1. Exactly! There are more hotel rooms per square foot in Las Vegas, I’m surprised AirBnB does much business there at all. $ 1464 for three days can get you a suite at a lot of properties in Las Vegas (some more amazing than others, some on the strip, some just off it), even on the weekends. Here’s my question though – while I don’t doubt the OP’s story, if there was no key to the property in the first place, how did she get into it and take all those pictures as well as smell the animal urine?

      1. It was most likely just left unlocked, which was another reason why the OP didn’t want to stay there. As for why rent a home rather than a hotel room, a home is much more convenient. No people in the room next door, no hallway traffic, your own kitchen for meals on your own time.

          1. Also add, no need to pay for parking. All of the major resort properties in Las Vegas now charge $10 or more per night for the privilege.

        1. I suppose but $1464 for three days in Las Vegas seems awfully expensive. If she wanted a kitchen so badly, I’m sure she could have gotten something along the lines of a Homewood Suites/Residence Inn type property.

        2. If it was a busy weekend, it may have been difficult to find something with a kitchen and multiple bedrooms on the strip for anywhere close to this price. Regardless, criticizing her choice to trust airbnb is ridiculous.

  6. Not surprising the AirBnB rep didn’t want to acknowledge the illegal rental issue – the company has generally been passionately opposed to the idea that any license is or should be required to rent property out on their platform.

  7. I’m pretty horrified with ABB’s rep and the way this was handled. Just bad all around and something that makes me think twice. I have used VRBO and Homeaway, as well as reputable rental real estate agents for our rentals and have been mostly satisfied. The romance with AirBnB puzzles me–these rentals have been available through VRBO and Homeaway for a long time. They aren’t the only game in town. Oh yes, there’s FlipKey, too. That $50 is insufficient in my view. The renter went above and beyond and it was a no-brainer. Shame on AirBnB.

  8. Even without the cease & desist notice from the City of Las Vegas, how could Airbnb possibly expect the OP to wait for the host to correct this laundry list of pretty egregious defects, and check in anywhere close to when they needed to? The smell alone probably cannot be remediated. To clean that hole would probably take at least a day. And $50 is really cheap of them.

  9. I think that the customer service from Air BNB was beyond horrible. Good job elliott team but shame on Air BNB for remaining clueless for so long. I think $500 is more in line than $50. And the rep needs “retraining”

  10. Airbnb flouts laws in cities around the world. Why anyone would use them or believe they will do the right thing immediately is beyond me.

  11. HOT-Air B&B seems to have more & more cases on Elliott. If the OP’s had to pay more than the $1400 for a suitable replacement prop, I would argue that Hot-Air should cover the expense, as a Real Goodwill gesture, not some bogus $50 gesture. I would guess the prop owner will roll the dice again & find the next rental company to rent her dungeon, VRBO or what have you comes to mind.

  12. $50 as compensation is a joke after weeks of hassle and demonstrative incompetency. I will not use airbnb after knowing this.

  13. And yet another reason I’ll never AirBNB. If this “customer service agent” couldn’t pull his head from his butt long enough to realize this was uninhabitable, and it took an exec to get this done….pathetic.

  14. I need to contact Airbnb today (not about an existing rental but one I want to book). The more of these stories I read the iffier they seem, although I’ve used them several times with very minor issues. Wish me luck!

  15. You seem to be under the mistaken impression that all AirBnb houses cost that much. They don’t. The one this couple rented was on the high-end for sure. But if you go and look at Airbnb, there are some very nice houses in Vegas for less money then a hotel room.

    I just booked an Airbnb house near Atlanta for April, to go visit my daughter. I got a three bedroom house on the lake, with all the amenities I could possibly need, for $89 a night. The cheapest hotel room in the area is $87 a night…and it’s a dump. I wouldn’t stay there if you paid me.

    Obviously Airbnb is not perfect… Look what happened in this case. But I’ve used them multiple times now and never had a single problem. And I know that if I do, I’ve got the wonderful team here at Elliot to help me deal with them! 🙂

    I don’t understand all of the posts in here questioning why this couple wanted to rent a house. I think it’s pretty self-explanatory.

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