If Airbnb isn’t safe, can I get a refund?

Q. We booked an Airbnb for three weeks in Orlando. When we arrived at the property, my wife and I feared for our safety. While the apartment was nice and clean, the area around the apartment smelled of marijuana. Even with it being a gated community, there were cars sneaking around the gates and getting in and a lot of groups of people hanging around cars.

After looking further into some of the reviews at the apartment complex, we decided not to stay. At the end of the day, you don’t want to stay somewhere you do not feel safe. We left within 30 minutes of checking in.


We contacted both the host and Airbnb, and both are refusing to refund the $2,436 we spent or compensate us appropriately. Can you help?

ADAM GONIA, Lake Mary, Fla.

A. You should feel safe when you check into a vacation rental — that goes without saying. But do you deserve a full refund? That’s an excellent question that many other guests have asked me recently.

The answer: It depends. The definition of a “dangerous” neighborhood can vary. For you, it was people loitering outside and smoking weed. I agree with that definition. I wouldn’t have felt safe checking into a place like that. However, other guests might feel right at home.

Airbnb says it runs a risk assessment before confirming a property. It uses predictive analytics and machine learning to instantly evaluate “hundreds of signals” that help it flag and investigate suspicious activity. It also runs host and guest names against regulatory, terrorist, and sanctions watchlists.

The company says no screening system is perfect, and that presumably includes its own. But it seems unlikely that a dangerous vacation rental would last on the site. Guests would complain about it and Airbnb would eventually de-list it.


You also have to do your due diligence on a property. You say you read the reviews of the property, which is great. But it looks as if you started the research after you checked in and found the place less than desirable. You need to do that before you click the “buy” button.

Airbnb initially offered to refund its booking fee. I suggested that you contact someone higher up at Airbnb. I list the names, numbers, and e-mail addresses of the Airbnb executive contacts on my consumer advocacy site, Elliott.org. In response, the company offered you a $950 refund, more or less splitting the difference with you. I think that may be Airbnb’s best offer.

Christopher Elliott is the chief advocacy officer of Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that helps consumers resolve their problems. Contact him at elliott.org/help or chris@elliott.org.