While on our road trip through Canada, we rented a two bedroom apartment in Quebec City. The reviews at AirBnB were great and made the place sound clean and well-appointed. It had a large kitchen with plenty of room for us to cook. The living room was spacious and had enough seating for our family of five. The bedrooms had comfortable beds and plenty of linens.
When I first walked in and the host toured me around his apartment, I thought, “hey this place looks great!”. I was taking in the big picture of where we would be relaxing and enjoying our vacation for the next week in this beautiful city. As soon as the host handed over the keys and left, Mrs. Root of Good looks at me with this look. It’s hard to describe, but it’s the “oh no, something is really wrong” look I rapidly discovered. It turns out the place was filthy and I was somehow enamored of the big picture of the place and didn’t pay attention to the tiny, crusty, hairy, grimy details of the general state of filth of the place.
We knew the owner had a cat, but we requested the cat not be present during our stay due to mild allergies suffered by one of our kids. We didn’t know the owner would leave us with an apartment filled with the cat’s weight in cat hair. Adhering to all the upholstered surfaces in the living room, the furry critter’s discards made inhabiting the apartment nearly impossible for us. I’m not talking a little cat hair stuck to the couch and rug and wispy hairballs floating across the floor as we walk by. I mean 3/4″ of pure unadulterated cat hair quilting everywhere we might have chosen to sit.
I make it sound like the cat hair was spread out everywhere around the apartment. However that’s far from the truth so I don’t want to oversell it. Some of the cat hair was highly concentrated in one place. The owner left us with a trash can half full of cat hairballs (and the cap from a new stick of deodorant). Bizarre, I know. I wish we discovered it on the first day instead of later in the stay.
The cat hair was only half the problem. The floors were incredibly grimy and dirty. I didn’t realize how bad they were until I took my socks off (we were there to relax, right?) and after a few minutes of walking around the soles of my feet turned black. Not good.
Two rounds of sweeping and mopping later and I managed to bring it down from DEFCON 5 to DEFCON 3. In non-military parlance, that means just a moderate amount of grunge instead of the initial thick coating of grunge.
Somewhere during hour #2 of cleaning some other dude’s apartment, I started getting a little disheartened. Sure, travel is supposed to throw the occasional challenge at you to keep things exciting. But I seriously didn’t know what to think or do. While completing the second round of mopping and sweeping, I was still committed to making the apartment rental work (after a little more cleaning, of course).
While I was busy getting the floors to some reasonable level of cleanliness (all I ask for is “reasonable”), Mrs. Root of Good found the vacuum cleaner and started battling the blanket of cat hair in the living room. Those valiant efforts didn’t last long though. I can’t recall what she figured out first. It might have been that the vacuum cleaner sucks in the pejorative sense (as in it doesn’t produce an adequate vacuum pressure). Or it might have been that the vacuum constantly trips the circuit breaker (cleverly hidden behind artwork hanging in the kitchen).
A few hours into our less than pleasant stay, we started to get hungry. Heading to the kitchen, we discovered it wasn’t much cleaner than the other common spaces. Pink mold surrounded the sink basin and faucet. Countertops, cabinets, and kitchen table were all slightly sticky to the touch from years of substandard cleaning efforts.
The floor continued to get dirtier even though we would wipe our feet on the kitchen rugs constantly. We soon discovered it was the rugs that were actually soiling our feet due to being heavily saturated with an emulsified mixture of cooking grease, dirt, and cat hair. I rolled those rugs up and stuck them somewhere before mopping (again).
Mrs. Root of Good made the call that the kitchen was not fit to cook in, and that we would be escaping our den of uncleanliness for dinner somewhere clean. Smart choice!
The bathroom was reasonably clean, so we were able to enjoy some nice hot showers and steal a few moments away from the filth. As soon as we woke up the next morning we both realized this apartment wasn’t going to work out. We quickly made the joint executive decision to cut our losses and move on.
I found out we could cancel the AirBnB reservation and get a full refund (less AirBnB reservation fees) for the unused nights remaining on our reservation. I only had 30 minutes to cancel before incurring costs for another day, so I went ahead and processed the cancellation and immediately received a refund for the last six nights of our stay.
At that point, getting a refund was secondary to getting out of that apartment. We spent the rest of that day sightseeing around Quebec City. After a day of touring the town that we had planned on visiting over the course of a whole week, we returned to the apartment, packed everything we could into the trunk of our Accord, and went to sleep for night number two in our dirty apartment. First thing the next morning we set out for the long drive back to North Carolina. Home. And cleanliness.
After returning home, I called AirBnB to see what they could do to make our poor experience better. The phone representative seemed genuinely shocked about the conditions at our apartment, and suggested I send any photos of the filth to them. The phone representative said she couldn’t promise anything, but that AirBnB would review my case and take the appropriate action (if any).
AirBnB eventually reached out to me after a week or two and offered a full refund of the customarily non-refundable AirBnB fees and a full refund for the two nights we did stay in the apartment. In other words, our entire stay at the apartment turned out to be dirty, but free.
AirBnB also apologized for the condition of the apartment and gave us a $150 AirBnB credit valid toward any future AirBnB stay anywhere in the world. They also reaffirmed their commitment to assist me with finding last minute alternative accommodations should there ever be a similar problem with a future rental.
Thoughts on AirBnB
As far as I’m concerned, AirBnB ranks up there with Amazon and Ebay for buyer protections. They looked at the facts surrounding my problem and made a sensible decision to keep me happy as a customer. Instead of losing me as a customer forever and leaving me with a poor impression of their business, they left me with some positive goodwill toward their operations.
I won’t hesitate to consider their rental listings in the future (along with competing lodging choices from other vendors). The apartments and houses I found while browsing on AirBnB were competitively priced compared to hotels in the cities we visited. Other vacation rental sites like Home Away and VRBO.com had a decent selection of properties, but didn’t seem to have very competitive prices or flexible booking terms.
AirBnB’s site has an intuitive and robust search interface that lets you drill down with filters to find exactly what you want, where you want it, when you want it, and within your desired price range.
If this sounds like sales copy for AirBnB, it is. I think they have a compelling business model of connecting consumers of lodging with owners of lodging. They allow people to make a little extra money off their house or apartment, and provide vacationers with a more affordable and more spacious alternative to a hotel.
Unfortunately the occasional issue arises, but if my own experience is any indicator, they work to make things right. I would encourage you to take a look at AirBnB’s listings the next time you need a place to stay while on vacation. If you want to save $25 off your booking, please click through this link. (Note: Airbnb gives me $25 toward my next stay if you sign up through my link and complete a stay).
Updated January 28, 2015: Looks like this owner took his rental listing off of airbnb. One less problem property…
Have you ever stayed in an AirBnB or similar rental? How was it?
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