Why won’t Airbnb refund my rental in St. Thomas?

David Christophe books an Airbnb rental in St Thomas. But then Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastate the island. So why won’t Airbnb or the owner agree to cancel and refund his money?

Question: I was supposed to be traveling to St Thomas in November and staying at an Airbnb for three nights that is located in the Point Pleasant Resort. After they were hit by two hurricanes the resort decided to shut down and cancel all reservations until Dec.15.

While the host is a private owner of a condo in the resort, he listed several of the resort’s amenities in our contract (award-winning restaurants, three pools, among other things). Those amenities and the promised access to the resort were the reasons why I booked with this specific host.

I have been asking if I will have access to everything in the contract despite the hurricanes. The host has yet to be able to make those assurances, which places him in an anticipatory breach. Airbnb and the host have not denied that the host is in anticipatory breach of contract, but both refuse to cancel the reservation.

After I informed the host that I believed he was in breach of contract he stated he will no longer talk to me. Airbnb and the host want to wait until November to make a decision based on whether or not the condo will have electricity.

I have even gone to the lengths of giving the Airbnb reps the specific parts of the terms of service that apply to this situation and which would allow me to immediately have this canceled. I have also given the host and Airbnb the two famous court cases that clearly support my point that this is a breach of contract and I can cancel this contract before it is executed, in case they wanted to research why I am pushing for this cancellation. Do you think you can help? — David Christophe, Walnut Creek, Calif.

Answer: When I read through your complaint, I was sure that I could help you. But first, we would need to get rid of all of the legalese that you were peppering throughout your complaint. It was unnecessarily complicating your case. It was also a bit off-putting.

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Your case was actually quite simple. When you booked your Airbnb rental you were looking forward to a relaxing, tropical vacation with beautiful views, warm weather and, of course, electricity and running water.

When I went to the website of the Point Pleasant Resort, I immediately noted that, at this time, your Airbnb rental could not even meet the criteria for basic human needs. The resort is currently closed until further notice and does not have electricity or running water. There is also a food shortage on the island.

In fact, the resort’s main webpage has been turned into a relief effort for the employees of the resort who have lost their homes to the hurricane. It reads:

As many of you are aware, St. Thomas experienced two major hurricanes — Irma and Maria — within a two-week period in September 2017. Point Pleasant Resort sustained damages from these storms and is temporarily closed to guests. Additionally, the resort and a substantial portion of the island are without power and water.

Our staff is one of the reasons guests love and return to Point Pleasant Resort. Our incredible team has worked together to achieve and maintain the TripAdvisor rating as one of the #1 resorts on St. Thomas. Sadly, many of our team members are currently out of work, lost their homes and possessions or had damage to their homes, and one even lost a mother during Irma.

If you are able, please considering donating to this fund. On behalf of our employees, Point Pleasant Resort extends heartfelt thanks and appreciation for your continued support and generous donations.

One thing was clear; you had focused on the wrong facts in your quest for a refund. While complaining that the resort amenities would not be available during your stay you had neglected to recognize that there was a much more dire reason that you could not possibly vacation at the Point Pleasant Resort at this time: It’s closed and the people of the island are suffering.

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I asked the Airbnb resolution team to take a look at your case and determine why your cancellation and refund had not been processed. I included a link to the resort to show that it is closed until further notice.

Airbnb responded quickly:

We’ve taken care of Mr. Christophe’s case now and refunded him in full, as we have an extenuating circumstances policy in place for much of the Caribbean at this time. This should have happened earlier, but again we appreciate you bringing this to our attention.

In addition to your refund, Airbnb included a $100 voucher for future travel. And you are now content with the resolution.

So what lesson can be learned from your case?

It would seem from the beginning, your somewhat aggressive tone and legal jargon did not endear you to the host or to the Airbnb representatives. And you were focused on the wrong facts — not having access to an “award winning restaurant” or “three swimming pools” was not actually the problem.

In other words, the facts of this case were on your side, but your tactics weren’t.

When making a complaint to any company representative, it is critical to remember that you want to make that employee want to help you — the power is in their hands. Keeping that in mind can be the difference between a successful resolution and one that you might need to take to a consumer advocate for assistance.

The devastation in the Caribbean is shocking. We hope that the recovery efforts can lead to a swift return to normalcy for the people of St. Thomas and all the neighboring islands.

Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is the executive director of Elliott.org. She is a consumer advocate, SEO-lady, writer and licensed clinical social worker who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Friedman Read more of Michelle's articles here.

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