Stuck in a smoky Airbnb in Mexico! Now what?

Stuck in a smoky Airbnb rental in Mexico. Michelle Couch-Friedman, author.

When Michael Germano finds himself stuck in a smoky Airbnb rental in Mexico, he turns to our advocacy for help. Can we do anything for him?


I am in Mexico right now. I reserved this Airbnb room for two nights. As soon as I got here, I smelled cigarette smoke and the host said the guy upstairs was smoking. He had the door open and that’s why I could smell it. As soon as he left I closed the door and realized the place itself was smelling from cigarettes. I sat on the bed and the smell was so strong I couldn’t breathe, my son has asthma. I sleep with a CPAP machine. So I called the host and said I can’t stay here and immediately tried to give back the keys.

I hit the cancel reservation button on Airbnb. After I wrote my comments, it gives me an error message. I told the host that I’m not going to stay and he just walked away from me. I had to leave the keys in the room. Then I looked around the room. The wall unit with the drawers were all broken and falling apart I pulled back the sheets the linens were dirty but I could not live there because of the cigarette smoke.

The host said nobody smokes in that room. I even had the Uber driver come in with me to verify that the place was reeking of smoke. The place was not as described and totally unacceptable. Can you help get out of this smoky Airbnb rental right now? How do I cancel with Airbnb and get a refund? Michael Germano, Lukeville, Ariz.


Here we go again, Michael. This reminds me of the time you contacted our advocacy team a few weeks ago on a Saturday night with another Airbnb rental problem in Mexico. Or the time that you were charged $2,000 for car insurance that you didn’t want, also in Mexico. You appear to be having quite a journey, south of the border.

When I saw your current Airbnb problem, I was surprised that you did not know how to contact Airbnb, since you have been using them throughout your trip.

But I digress.

You didn’t want a smoky Airbnb rental

No one should be subjected to cigarette smoke during their vacation. Well, unless of course, this has been agreed upon prior to making the reservation. And with your son’s asthma and your sleep apnea, you certainly did not agree to a smoke-filled accommodation.

You wanted to leave and get your money back from the host.

In this situation, you were correct that you needed to contact Airbnb immediately. If you check in and find your rental unacceptable, it is imperative that you follow the steps that Airbnb lays out in its terms. Those instructions explain that in order to receive a refund, an unsatisfied traveler must contact Airbnb within 24 hours of arrival.

The clock was ticking for you because you had already spent some time in the rental. It was important that you quickly make a confirmed connection with Airbnb.

The problem was that you were trying to do all this from your phone and that small screen was making it nearly impossible. And you were under the impression that you just needed to press cancel and that would entitle you to the refund that you wished to receive.

That was an incorrect assumption.

As you found out, pressing the cancel button only led to an error message. You can’t simply cancel your reservation once your stay has begun. You must contact the host, request a refund and send Airbnb an explanation of why the rental is not acceptable.

I sent you a screenshot of the instructions from Airbnb. Part of these instructions encourage a renter to take photos of the rental before leaving.

Taking photos of the problems in this Airbnb

You snapped some shots of the unclean room and uploaded them to your Airbnb account. And after a bit more struggle on your Android phone, you found the location within the app to make your refund request.

In the Airbnb app, under the section marked “Help and support,” at the bottom of the screen is a link to the resolution center — which, for some reason, is inside a highlighted area that says, “Send or Request Money.” I agreed with you, that this seems a bit like a hidden path to the resolution center. But this is the correct way for an Airbnb user to request that the host return their money.

And soon after submitting your information, I received this message from you: “They issued the refund and I’m glad you guys exist, thank you.”

Airbnb confirmed that, after speaking with the host, you will receive a $37 refund out of the $48 that you had paid. You found this reasonable since you had stayed one night at the rental before the smoking began.

We are always happy to be of help, Michael. And as you continue your odyssey through Mexico, we will be here waiting if you should need us again. Something tells me you might…

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