Oh la la … AirBnB slammed a big, unhappy dent into the side of my birthday celebration

Last September I turned 40.

For Tina’s 40th birthday, we did a big trip to Bali.

For mine, I wanted one more trip to France.

Several years ago, Tina and I decided to only stay in AirBnBs when we travel. We found that the “living like a local” experience is far more valuable than living like a tourist out of hotels. When you can buy local fare and cook for yourself, it enriches experiences.  We’ve AirBnB’d in the states and abroad, including New York, California, France, Turkey and Italy.

We’ve stayed in homes with art on the walls that probably cost more than our condo. Splurging a bit on better AirBnBs is partly on purpose. Not only do we want to live like locals, we want to experience living in a place that is better than the our life.

Tina’s attention to leaving the apartments tidy and clean has landed us reviews from all the owners we’ve rented from about how clean we are.

This trip may change our view of AirBnB, of their philosophy of placing people in people’s lovely homes, and also of their greediness to raise their annual revenue rather than work with their customers in an honest and well-intentioned manner.

During this last trip, we traveled with my oldest and dearest friend Aaron and his wife Jackie. We started the trip in an amazing apartment in Paris’s 16th arrondissement for three nights. At that apartment, the owner couldn’t meet us to check us in, so her good friend Robin met us. He showed us the apartment. Gave us not on the keys to the space, but to the area. He recommended a variety of restaurants, expensive to not. He recommended where to find markets and stores. He was incredibly thorough and kind.

Three days later, we drove to Normandy and stayed two nights in Caen. Our AirBnB owner met us with smiles and gusto. She gave us the keys, gave us an extensive tour of the apartment, the lights, the nuances, etc. She gave us advice on Mt. St. Michel. Where to go off the beaten path. She was incredibly kind and thorough. It felt like all AirBnB experiences to date.

Marseille is where the AirBnB train derailed

For the Marseillaise AirBnB, we chose lower price option and excellent location en lieu of appearance and a well-reviewed apartment. The apartment was situated right off of Marseille’s Vieux Port with amazing views of the area. Traveling is expensive, and this place was just a little lower on the scale of pricing.

When we booked the apartment, we noticed it no reviews yet on AirBnB. We assumed that the price reflected the owner’s need to build up some steam within the AirBnB community. Tina checked the listing frequently after booking, and she noticed some positive reviews trickling in, which seemed to set her (and our) mind(s) at ease.

As the dates approached, the owner sent Tina correspondence explaining that he could hook us up with a driver to pick us up at the airport for $80 each direction. We found that the rate was  a little high, but we thought that maybe we would accept a one-way ride and then decide later if we needed to book the return trip.

Despite Tina’s insistence to the owner that we only wanted to pay for one way, he kept sending her a payment request for $160. Frustrated, she almost gave up. Then he finally sent a bill for $80 less than 24 hours before we were to arrive in Marseille. The owner told us that the driver would be waiting for us upon our arrival, holding a sign and all that cool stuff.

When we arrived in Marseille, the driver called us to say he was running late, due to a fuel strike in the country. We waited about 10 minutes for him.

The driver apologized and we all loaded into his van to head into the city. He was friendly and gave us a history as we drove, showing us where Zinedine Zidane grew up, and other information about the area.

When we arrived at the apartment, he pulled up on to a curb and we unloaded all our luggage. He went into a local restaurant at the base of the building and later came out explaining that the keys weren’t there and we would have to wait for them to be delivered by someone. He had no idea when the guy would arrive, but he said we could find something to eat at the restaurant we were in front of. We were concerned about all our luggage, and he said we could leave our bags in the restaurant. Since this was the case, we ended up staying and eating at the restaurant whose specialty was sardines.

About the time that our food was coming out, the representative with the keys walked up. He was about 40 minutes late. Tina and I left Jackie and Aaron and we walked upstairs to check in. While I was getting my luggage, Tina had a difficult time communicating with him. When I walked up, Tina was telling the representative that I spoke French so maybe that would be better than her trying to talk to him in English. But when I tried to speak to him, I couldn’t seem to communicate in French either.

So he didn’t speak French or English? 

Inside the building, we crammed into a small elevator and rode to the 6th floor. The elevator stopped on the middle of the landing between the 5th and 6th floors. So you had to walk up or down a few stairs depending on your floor. We went up to six and he let us in to the main room. The guy kind of pointed at the kitchen and the views in the main room. One of our first questions everywhere is: “What’s the WiFi password?” In very broken French, he told me. I finally found a pen and made him right it down on a paper towel that we had brought in our luggage from the last apartment. He struggled with writing as well. I wondered if the was a bit special.

Within a minute or two, we were on our way out the door again without a proper tour of the space. We assumed we’d have to get our bearings when we came back up with Aaron and Jackie. I mean, what is there to know? There were doors to two rooms and it appeared to look like it did in the photos. I looked in one of the bedrooms from the threshold, but didn’t go inside.

If anything, we felt very uncomfortable with the guy showing us around, and figured it’d be better to let him go, finish our lunch and get back upstairs with the rest of our luggage.

Big mistakes are elephant shit-sized blunders

Once back in the apartment we got to see how flawed it was. We laughed with Jackie and Aaron that this rental was definitely going to be considered a location to sleep, and that we did NOT rent it for its appearance. The apartment felt more like dorm rather than a home.

There was an orange leather couch in the main room with a base that was covered in black duct tape. When I bumped the base with my suitcase, orange powder fell to the floor from underneath.

There was a light dangling from wires on the terrace. No fixture.

The hot water heater was left with water in it and a thick layer of residue had grown on the sides of the container. I had to scrub it out, and tried not to share that information with Jackie and Aaron, because they probably wouldn’t want to drink the coffee made from the water it heated to put in the French Press.

In the bedroom we slept in, there were two random red stains on the wall opposite of the bed that looked like someone spilled something and tried to wipe it down.

Had we had more foresight, we would have photographed the stains and the water heater and sent them to the owner, as well as documentation for the light, more complaints regarding the guy who let us in.

The day before we checked out, we decided to contact the original driver to take us back to the airport, because Uber rides were coming up at 40 euros and there wasn’t an Uber Black option, only Uber X, which may or may not hold all four of us and our luggage.

We contacted our owner, and he sent us an apology for the keys guy and offered us a ride at 40 euros, half the cost of the trip to the apartment.

We took him up on it.

In our communication, we failed to ask what to do with the keys. So at 7:15 a.m., we decided it was best to leave the keys in the door of the apartment. On the inside of course. It was something I did all the time when I lived in Montpellier, France back in college.

The straw that broke this trip’s back. 

There was no going back on the decision to leave the keys, and once landed in Paris, Tina’s phone blew up with texts, messages and voicemails from the owner. At first he claimed we needed to pay the fee to have a locksmith come out, because he had no other keys.

Then he found that the key was in the door so we needed to pay over 1200 euros to pay for an entire new door and lock system.

Then he sent us another message to say that “Good news, the cost is only 110 euros” only to respond minutes later to say that the person found red stains on the wall that had not yet been noticed, and that we needed to pay to repaint the walls.

To shorten the long story, we dealt with the owner on several phone calls and in messages. To me, his calls felt like harassment. Instead of discovering the information, and figuring out how to deal with it, he impetuously called us and immediately sent money requests.

He also sent over what appeared to me to be newly manufactured documents explaining that the guy who met us (40 minutes late) at the apartment to check us in, would meet us at the apartment to check us out. I’m not sure if the owner realized how stupid that made him look, though, because he made no mention of it in any of his correspondence when discussing check out at 7:15 a.m. He only sent us a message that a driver would pick us up at 7:15.

Finally after arguing with the impassioned owner, we involved AirBnB and they started mediating the issue. I never got the feeling that AirBnB really read our side of the argument and I was shocked that their resolve included asking us to pay half of the door cost. When I read through the company’s policies and about their inordinately high revenue, I felt that this issue, arising solely by miscommunication from the owner, deserved nothing from us. This issue belonged to him, his insurance and maybe with AirBnB’s host guarantee. The issue was cut and dry a failure on the part of the owner to designate a place to leave the keys.

This conversation is easily one of the first subjects that comes up at checkin. It usually goes: 1: “What’s the WiFi password?” 2: “Where’s the bathroom?” and 3) “What do you want us to do with the keys when we leave?”

When the owner sends an idiot to meet you almost an hour after your agreed checkin, the failures point only at the owner. The owner’s ambassador didn’t show us the apartment. He simply gave the keys and dashed.

I do think that if it weren’t for his discovery of the red on the walls, that AirBnB would likely have better sided with us, but with the accusation of the walls, plus the lock, AirBnB’s pathetic customer service placaters department thought it was impressive to require us to pay half the door bill.

Blazing accusations and impetuous, exorbitant bill requests

Imagine if you were on vacation, and the owner of a hotel or place you were staying kept calling you, claiming you owed him $1500 for something you honestly didn’t do on purpose and then kept calling with irritated and erratic claims that you did things you didn’t do? In fact, he was blaming you for his own inferiorities, his own mistakes, his own failures.

$1500. Wouldn’t that make you sick?

$1500. For something you didn’t do.

It would derail your world. Put you in a tailspin. Stress you to the nines.

This demand for $1500, dear reader, was harassment.

Fortunately, time and reality set in, and the price dropped to 110 euros. But I believe that this issue always only pertained to the owner and to AirBnB.

The loss of time, the stress, the attention to clearing your name would occupy your life, thoughts, ideas, perspective. No matter how hard we tried, we were occupied with this experience and spent valuable vacation time dealing with incomplete information, redundant requests for inflated sums of money, and an owner who is nearly as incompetent as he is a failure.

The whole reason we choose AirBnB is because we have consistently felt that all the places we’ve stayed felt like a home. In the last place we stayed in Paris, the owner described the apartment as her “baby.” She was proud of it, and that pride transfers onto us, her guests, just like it does with every apartment, except the one in Marseille.

This wasn’t someone’s home. That piece of shit was someone’s rental property. And instead of living up to the philosophy and standards that we’ve grown to love about AirBnB, it represented everything that’s wrong with commercialism and growing popularity. The Marseille property is the sellout, and I imagine it’s signifying the fall of a company like AirBnB, who is greedier for cash revenue rather than honoring their own legacy of placing weary travelers into honest to goodness people’s homes that they take care of like they are their own children.