Well, I’ve done it.
I’ve withstood what I think might be the worst possible AirBnB experience you can have without coming to bodily harm.
And through no particular competence of my own, it happens I’ve won.
The first sign of any real trouble was probably when my host told me the flat had a mop.
The flat did not have a mop. It had a broom, and no dustpan, and a floor that felt like it had been left to gather dust for three weeks and then given a fresh polish right on top of all the grime. It was a floor that desperately wanted for a mop.
My host, an uncannily smiley fellow named Mario, had told me over WhatsApp, “The mop is in bathroom…I show you when I come again.”
When he did come again, he showed me the broom I had already known about. I, the naïve, nervous, spineless thing that I am, said, “That can be used for wet cleaning?”
He grinned and bobbed his head and told me yes.
I knew he was lying.
“Okay,” I said, and he left, promising he’d come back once more to drop off the laundry card before he left the country for several months.
It’s fair to say this set the tone for our overall dynamic.
I only saw Mario one more time after that.
He came with a friend to drop off some electronics. They were all pretty big items, and since this was a studio apartment, I had to reorganize my stuff to make room for them somewhere out of the way. Almost incidentally, since he was already there, Mario also gave me his laundry card.
Before he left he said that if anyone knocked at the door while he was traveling, I should tell them I was his girlfriend. (I wasn’t about to get into a discussion about my pronouns with a person I never expected to see again and who spoke virtually no English.) This was another pretty big and immediately obvious clue of trouble, but one I was nervous to act on, since approaching AirBnB or the building administration about it would be outing myself as a person who was in the wrong and knew it. So I said nothing.
It was about three days later that someone buzzed at the door. It was one of those firm, insistent sort of buzzes, the doorbell equivalent to a cop’s distinctive rap. I didn’t answer. They buzzed again.
Realizing that whoever was outside could probably hear my podcast, I opened the door. Outside stood a tall, broad man who gave the impression of not wanting to be as intimidating as he was. He handed me a slip of paper with something written in German. We tried to exchange words and knew too little of each other’s languages to be any use. After a minute or so he pulled out his phone, dialed someone, and handed it to me.
“Hello?” I said tentatively.
A woman was on the line. (I believe these two were roughly equivalent to, respectively, a superintendent and administrator, but I never got the specifics.) “Hello, who is this?” she snapped.
“Everest. …Mario’s girlfriend,” I said after a moment. “Is something wrong?”
“Yes. Mario is several months behind on his rent.”
“Oh, wow. Do we need to leave?”
“Well, that or pay.”
“Oh, okay. I’ll tell him.”
“When will he be back?”
“I don’t know,” I admitted. I wasn’t sure if he was even in Germany anymore. “What’s your phone number? I’ll have him call you.”
She gave me her number, and I hung up and returned the phone to the man, who was still standing in the doorway. “I’ll talk to Mario,” I told the man, and he nodded and left.
I texted Mario. No reply. Getting a new flat became the immediate priority, but Mario had a long-term cancellation policy, which meant if I cancelled, I’d still have to pay for the following 30 days unless I could pin the fault on him. That would have put me out about $1000, money that could cost me a whole one to three months off the later portion of my total travel time. Desperate to avoid this, I called AirBnB.
We had several hours of back-and-forth that amounted to “unless the host confirms this is happening, you need the actual eviction notice to get a refund.” Hopelessly I sent them a photo of the slip of paper the man at the door had given me. I was pretty sure it wasn’t an actual eviction notice, just warning or a request to get in touch. By now it was evening and I still hadn’t heard from Mario. I was getting pretty sure he’d left the country specifically so it’d be easier to keep my AirBnB money and leave all the fallout of his rent issues falling on me. AirBnB told me they had a new person on the case, that I should update them with any new info, and that they would get back to me soon.
Around 2 AM I finally heard back from Mario. He sent me a screenshot to indicate he’d paid his rent. It looked like the right recipient, but only a month’s rent if my instincts were right – meaning things might be okay for now, but this would all happen again next month. Dutifully I told AirBnB that this had happened, and my remaining concerns. A full day and a half went by without reply before they told me quite helpfully that they had a new person on the case, that I should update them with any new info, and that they would get back to me soon.
As of Monday morning, three days from my last contact with AirBnB, there had been complete radio silence on all fronts. I followed up asking when I should expect to hear from someone. I received no reply. Later that day, terrified that I was about to be forcibly removed, I spent ten minutes avoiding what turned out to just be a postman asking me to hold on to a package til a neighbor got home.
Wednesday rolled up, a week from the inciting incident, and with it another firm, insistent buzz at the door. The familiar intimidatingly tall man stood in the doorway. Seeing me, he didn’t even try to explain, just brought out his phone, made a call, and handed it to me.
“Hello, is something wrong?” You know when you already know the answer to a question, but you have no idea how to broach the topic except to pretend you’ve got no idea? Yeah.
“Yes, you need to leave.”
“I thought Mario paid his rent?”
“I’ll kill him,” I muttered under my breath. “How long do I have?”
“You were supposed to be out as of Monday,” she replied.
“Okay. I’ll get everything out. Thank you.” I had no idea why I was thanking her.
I handed the man his phone again, ready to burst into tears. We managed to communicate where I should go to drop off the key to the flat. He indicated that it would be okay if I did so tomorrow instead of same-day. I thanked him too.
This time I called AirBnB before contacting Mario. I admit to having a full-on soccer mom rant.
Very long story short, I was told they’d reach out to Mario and get back to me. When we got off the phone, I opened his contact page in WhatsApp. I knew he was out of the country by now, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. When he got back to me two hours later, it seemed to be with genuine surprise. He said he would call the administration in the morning, and that if the intimidating man came back before then, I should just get him (or the woman in administration) and Mario on the phone with each other.
In other words, I probably wouldn’t be homeless tomorrow, but I wouldn’t find out for sure until someone came to kick me out. I started packing.
When AirBnB next got back to me, it was via email again. (To be honest, I’m starting to think they do that to force you to sit on your rage instead of spilling it onto the phone representatives.) They said Mario had been in contact with the administration. When I said that was a lie and provided the screenshot to prove it, they never replied. I called and was told that, although AirBnB can’t transfer a guest to their case manager, my manager was available and online and would call me within five minutes of hanging up. An hour passed. He never did. Since calling apparently couldn’t get me in touch with him, I sent another email. Nothing.
It was around 11:30 PM now. I informed the next representative I spoke to that I would keep calling every half hour until my case manager finally got sick of being told about it and answered me. It turned out he had gone home for the day without even letting me know. The current representative was kind enough to at least mark my case as “urgent.” Apparently 24 hours until eviction isn’t, but 12 might be.
It occurred to me that if Mario didn’t get this straightened out tomorrow, I’d lose the money I needed to book a long-term stay again either way. At that point, I was starting to think it’d be worth losing it just to be done worrying – because after this last week, how could I ever relax here again? I’d spend every day dreading the buzzer, every week certain last week’s resolution had gone wrong. Desperately, I asked if I could just get put on the phone with someone to help me book a place to stay the next day.
It was this hero, whose name is lost to bad cell service, who told me that Mario had missed a deadline in responding to them, and that I would get refunded starting whenever I left, regardless of whether I was evicted. I thanked this man profusely. I thanked him so many times I think he started to feel bad, and then I reached out to a few potential new hosts and went to bed.
The next day Mario told me he had straightened everything out with the administration, and I told him I was moving out. In the morning I emailed my case manager summing up the previous night’s call and hoping to confirm that the refund would go okay. True to form, it took him nearly 12 hours to reply.
The day after that I left Mario a review on AirBnB. In the public review I told a much-abridged version of this horror story. It’s my expectation and earnest hope that he never hosts again.
Privately I told him his flat would be more comfortable with new pillows. It felt good.