Airbnb is part of us. I never expected it would grow so big. And that it would unexpectedly ban me while recently booking a week’s vacation near the Mexico/Belize border.
“Your reservation is canceled,” came the first message of short-term rental stay doom, delivered minutes after I’d had a three-bedroom home with terrace confirmed, and started a dialogue with its host.
“Hi, please visit our Contact Airbnb page and we’ll be able to help you out!” came a “No Reply” response from Airbnb when I asked what was happening. Each time I tried to get on their website I was told I had been shut out, and that someone from Airbnb would be contacting me post-haste.
“Hello Paul, Thank you for contacting us about your concerns. Please refer to our previous email, ‘Important Information regarding your Airbnb Account.’ Since Airbnb can’t alter your consumer report, we ask that you dispute any inaccurate or incomplete information directly with the consumer reporting agency. We’ve outlined the steps to complete this in our previous email, which should provide you with all the information you need to initiate the dispute. Until an official dispute has been resolved with the consumer reporting agency, we consider our decision final. If you have already filed a dispute, we’ll review your updated consumer report once the dispute process is complete. We’ll be sure to send a prompt response with any updates. You can find more information about the consumer report process here: airbnb.com/help/article/1308. If you have additional questions please reply to this email. Thank you.”
The previous email they were referring to went to my Airbnb account, which I could no longer access.
My wife tried booking the same place and was herself promptly booted and banned. Same happened to the friend we were going to be vacationing with.
We had first tied ourselves to Airbnb in 2013, as hosts. We were living in Catskill at the time and friends up and down the Hudson Valley had talked the program up; it was an easy way to make a bit extra off our third floor guest suite, formerly my office. By 2015 we shifted away from Home Exchange offerings in Europe and started becoming Airbnb renters.
I raised the subject of short term stays for an Ulster Publishing story. What’s the point, came the first answer. Turns out there were hundreds of such rentals popping up through Woodstock and the Rondout Valley. Very quickly the county took notice, along with town planning boards. It’s been the focus of some of the region’s top news stories for over six years now.
Meanwhile, the company grew and grew. Added on experience curation. It made tax payments to local governments. An assortment of fees that tended to push the cost of stays beyond the cost of hotels, unless one had enough people renting a home.
Airbnb became ubiquitous.
The idea of being banned from the “service” felt like an insurmountable encumbrance on all my future travel plans.
Over the next two weeks I made calls, and was told to await emails. Of course, that info took several tries, and several disconnections on Airbnb’s side, to come to light.
I tried searching out what was wrong with my consumer report, uncovering sterling credit reports for my wife and I in the process. And slipping into the quicksand of consumer reporting agencies in the process, which in turn cost me time and money sorting out that industry’s penchant for charging annual fees every time one contacted a consumer reporting company.
Finally I got someone at Airbnb’s new reporting company. They sent a copy of the report, which was filled with past driving tickets, all paid and dismissed. Plus a charge that I had allowed my kids to be truants from the Erie County, PA school system. And a charge of animal cruelty from Adams County, PA.
I appealed everything. All but one of the items was removed (turns out some counties forget to take proper care recording paid fines…or charging truancy, as with that place in Pennsylvania in which I’ve never even gotten out of the car). I sent an explanation for the animal charge, which happened after we all ran in to the bathrooms at the Gettysburg Visitors Center on our way back from my father’s memorial service, leaving the dog in the car with windows down for what turned out to be 20 minutes. Showed that the $1000 plus fine had been paid (the first such use of that law in Pennsylvania). And a copy of an Op Ed piece I’d written, dutifully sorrowful, for use by the Adams County Animal Control Officer should she see fit (She was thankful).
Got a letter from Imogen, at Airbnb, asking for more information on the animal charges.
“We’ve received your appeal and we will thoroughly review all additional information that you provide to us about your conviction, sentence, and your post-conviction conduct,” she wrote. “We apply evidence-based standards in reviewing this information to determine if your account is eligible for reinstatement. We’ll need additional information from you to complete a full review of your appeal. Please send any documentation you’re willing to share in a reply to this message, such as: Participation in rehabilitation or other treatment programs; Employment history post-conviction; Rental history or homeownership post-conviction; Participation in educational program(s) (including programs while incarcerated, if applicable); Mental health counseling; Any other documentation that may be relevant to your case. The information that you submit to us should not include sensitive personal information such as your social security number. Please also do not send sensitive medical records — our team will consider general statements from a medical provider. Please send us this documentation within the next 72 hours to keep the appeals process moving forward.”
I again sent all to the consumer reporting agency. Plus a picture of our dog, lying on the bed behind me as I typed.
Within hours I got another Airbnb missive:
“Hello Paul, Thank you for all the information and the picture of Berry! As stated before, to complete a full review of your appeal we need any documentation you’re willing to share in a reply to this message. In your message you mentioned employment and homeownership, so please provide any documentation you’re willing to share in regards to: Employment history post-conviction. Rental history or homeownership post-conviction. Best wishes, Imogen.”
Understand, this was in 2019. We’re living in Mexico now. I’m retired. I don’t carry files of paperwork with me. I thought about sending my just-submitted tax records then thought better of it. Found evidence of my social security retirement payments. The hiring letter from my last library job. A copy of my lease here in Guanajuato, as well as that for our renters back in Albany. Water and gas bills. Copies of all the stories I’d written for Ulster Publishing and other Hudson Valley publications about Airbnb over the years. Correspondence from higher-ups at Airbnb.
Plus a note stating emphatically that enough was enough…Given how the corporation was treating me, I’d had enough.
They reinstated me promptly.
And I immediately began writing this piece on what had happened, partly as revenge, and partly as a warning to others.
Just before hitting “send” on this, my wife told me of a woman she knew who’d been banned by Airbnb, too. What was her crime?
“She didn’t have a history of comments on rentals. Those were all in her husband’s name.”
Such are modern adventures: corporations falling prey to their own changing policies and algorithms.
Paul Smart isn’t completely retired. He still writes occasionally for Ulster Publishing.