More and more, it seems like booking a rental through Airbnb is a risky proposition. There was the story of the “superhost” crashing through the bedroom window in the middle of the night, or the less dramatic (but also alarming) stories of rentals found to contain hidden cameras in everything from clocks to fake motion sensors (and one family who discovered a live-streaming camera filming their every move). Now, thanks to one traveller’s story, we know to look out for rental owners who claim that you’ve caused damage to their property—damage that could result in thousands of dollars of fees.
After leaving an Airbnb in Madrid, Spain, travel writer Lee Abbamonte returned home to find an angry email from a supposed owner of the apartment.
“At first I didn’t think this was meant for me, nor did I know who this woman was,” Abbamonte wrote. “I had dealt with very nice people from a management company before and during my trip to Madrid. Then the woman started sending me photos of the apartment claiming we did all this ‘damage’ to her apartment.”
Back when we all stayed in hotels when we travelled, figuring out what to do with your luggage was easy. If you arrive in town long before you’re supposed to check in or your flight is long after check out time, any reasonable hotel offers luggage storage and will hold on to your bag for you for the price of a tip to the bellman. When you’re staying at an Airbnb or the like, things can get a bit more complicated.
According to the email, Abbamonte and his guests had, among other things, left trash on the floor of a room and ruined furniture, including a chair worth 4,000 euros. But Abbamonte insists he did no such thing. “The chair, which was a piece of shit, was already ripped when we arrived,” he wrote. “We literally sat in it once or twice and saw feathers pop out. We picked them up and that was it. It didn’t even occur to us this was an issue or that we should report it or whatever.”
And after a back and forth with an Airbnb rep, Airbnb ultimately ruled in favour of the host. Abbamonte was not charged in the end—but he was still held responsible (his account was “notated for future discipline if anything else happens”).
Take photos of your Airbnb upon your arrival and before your departure
Perhaps the easiest way to protect yourself from this type of scenario is to take photos of every room as soon as you arrive and right before your departure. By taking photos of the Airbnb on your arrival day, you can make sure you weren’t responsible for any existing damage (in the same way you might photograph a rental car before using it). Taking photos on your departure date, too, will ensure you didn’t leave the apartment in a total state of chaos.
Having time-stamped proof of your departure time and date is crucial, too. If you find something seriously damaged when you arrive, you should inform your host immediately in person, or otherwise, send a photo as close as possible to your arrival time.
When leaving, try taking a photo with a dated newspaper or a video of the apartment with time-stamped email as proof (or even send a ‘thank you’ message to your host via Airbnb as you depart and use that as evidence).
If your travel plans involve an Airbnb stay in the U.S, your vacation could get more complicated (and expensive) than you expected.
Carefully read the reviews
Of course, always check your Airbnb’s reviews before booking a trip. If the apartment has little or no reviews, check to see if your host has other listings with reviews or even their own reviews as guests. Check to see if they’re verified through Airbnb, too (which requires info like Facebook profiles, email addresses, and government-issued ID’s). And as Redditor u/cr1zzl recommended, communication is key. If they’re not as responsive or dodging any questions, it might be best to reconsider your stay.
Communicate through Airbnb
Lastly, be sure to verify anyone who reaches out to you from any means other than Airbnb’s direct messaging system. While management companies may operate on some hosts’ behalf, you should always reach out to Airbnb to make sure they’re, in fact, the owner. (In other words, don’t immediately trust any emails from supposed owners.) It’s a pretty common practice now for hosts to email their guests with check-in info or map directions. Still, you shouldn’t be so quick to accept from someone unverified.
Hosts must often provide documentation like photos and receipts in the event of any damage claims, too, so being armed with proof that you left a rental in good shape will protect you from any trouble down the line.