An allegedly illegal Airbnb listing is still available to book, even after guests reported they had been kicked out of the property because the host owed two months’ rent.
Barney Mersich, a 23-year-old entrepreneur, called the experience “an absolute ordeal” after he and two colleagues were stranded in Los Angeles with nowhere to stay.
The three young men from Manchester were booked into the Airbnb property for five weeks for a business trip, but just two weeks in, they were dismayed to find an eviction notice.
“We found a letter stuck to the door informing us that [the host] hasn’t paid rent for two months and owes over $5,000 for the lease, Mr Mersich told The Independent.
“The letter also said that he and all others in possession of the apartment (meaning us) had three days to pay or forfeit the apartment and face legal action and risk having bailiffs coming in and taking our belongings.”
The group was informed by the building’s management that their Airbnb host, Kevin, was a “dodgy character”.
“They also made it clear to us that placing apartments in that development on Airbnb was not only against the lease agreement but also illegal in LA,” said Mr Mersich.
Feeling “panicked” and anxious, he contacted Airbnb for help.
While the first case manager they spoke to assured them that they would receive a “full refund” and that Airbnb would help them find adequate housing elsewhere within one hour, three hours later they were still awaiting a call back.
Over the next four days, the group spoke to more than five different customer services operatives, none of whom had any notes recorded from previous calls – and all of whom promised different outcomes, ranging from partial refunds to a coupon for alternative accommodation.
At one point Mr Mersich was told their account had been locked as the reservation was reported as “fraudulent”. While the listing remained live on the site, it prevented the group from receiving a refund or making an alternative booking.
“I do not have a time for update so am uncertain when we could move forward,“ wrote the case manager in a message seen by The Independent.
Already “exhausted, stressed, anxious, and confused as to what on earth was going on,” the next thing the group knew, Airbnb had cancelled the booking entirely without telling them or finding them an alternative place to stay.
Finding themselves homeless in a strange city, at 1am the group was forced to check-in to an expensive hotel, costing $320 a night.
Four days after they initially raised the issue, the group was eventually rehoused by Airbnb.
However, Mr Mersich called the situation “an absolute ordeal” and said it was “handled in an unacceptable way”.
“It should have been taken more seriously and handled quicker considering there would have been a real risk of us being homeless in an unfamiliar country, some 8,000km from our homes, had we not had over £3,000 in the bank while we waited for refunds to be processed,” he said. “We were lucky.”
Despite Mr Mersich reporting the incident to Airbnb, the property listing is still live and bookable on the website at the time of writing.
An Airbnb spokesperson told The Independent a review is ongoing and that appropriate action will be taken regarding the host.
They said: “We were disappointed to learn about this experience and, while we immediately provided the guest with support, our handling of this issue did not fully meet our usual high standards and we have reached out to the guest to continue to make things right.”
Airbnb said it has fully refunded the guests for the remainder of their stay, and provided additional support towards the cost of rebooking another listing as well as reimbursement for alternative accommodation expenses.