Airbnb FTC complaints cite fake postings and shoddy host-guest mediation

Dissatisfied users report false advertising, scam wire transfers and unforeseen mountain treks

Written by Beryl Lipton

Airbnb has racked up 38 complaints to the Federal Trade Commission since its inception. Reported gripes primarily reflect the more common difficulties associated with Internet-based companies: fraudulent offers, dashed expectations and missed connections.

Since it officially launched as airbedandbreakfast.com in August 2008, Airbnb has carved out a strong market niche by linking those with extra space and those looking for a place to crash. A pillar of the web-facilitated “share economy,” the company boasts accommodations “in over 34,000 cities and 192 countries,” annual revenue in the $150 million range, and a valuation of over a billion dollars.

As its revenue stream and user base continue to expand, Airbnb has drawn criticism and crackdown threats from housing and licensing regulators, who slam the service as a workaround for landlords that could never pass rental unit inspections.

Most of Airbnb’s handful of FTC complaints come from users who encountered accommodations that were in disrepair, or which failed to live up to their billing. Some users subsequently claimed that cancellations did not come with satisfactory reimbursement.

One family claimed, “The hallway and room were full of dust. We also had to walk underneath some electrical cords to enter the apartment, and we had spotted a cockroach at the entrance.”

Another dissatisfied customer from France was frustrated to find that the “lit jaune” (“yellow bed”) portrayed as a two-bed unit in website photos was unavailable, and that a bunk bed was the only alternative. Another reported that the trek to a reserved apartment in Amalfi, Italy was unexpectedly burdensome, due mostly to the boat voyage and mountain climb required to get from the nearest city to the front door.

Airbnb mountain

Unsurprisingly, another handful of complaints came from victims of Internet scammers. Some were duped into conducting transactions via the personal email address of a “host,” who would then ask for direct wire transfers for reservation fees. As with communications, Airbnb’s terms and guidelines asks that all payments go through the site. Others received emails from seemingly legitimate email addresses, such as automated@airbnb.com, that similarly directed guests to submit fraudulent wire transfers directly to the scammer.

“The email was very well branded to look exactly like the previous emails that had come from Airbnb,” claimed one user.

In another instance where host and guest negotiated a dispute via Facebook, the host claimed that requests for cleaning fee restitution went unanswered and that Airbnb went to great lengths to avoid responsibility.

Airbnb Facebook communication

“I have used Airbnb’s resolution tool with no result,” the host wrote to the FTC. “I have done everything. Airbnb says because we communicated via Facebook, they had no responsibility.”

As similar peer-to-peer business models proliferate, additional consumer complaints and critiques are sure to emerge. MuckRock staff and users have submitted requests for complaints against Airbnb to the attorney general in New York and California, as well as an updated request for FTC complaints.

Read the full release embedded below, or on the request page.


Image via Wikimedia Commons