A recent study conducted by John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the UCCS School of Public Affairs analyzed complaints by guests who utilize the short-term rental service Airbnb. These grievances were then categorized into sections with the top five being highlighted for the purpose of this article.
Travel safety group Asher & Lyric initiated the study results which took over two years to interpret.
"We used a combination of human coding of individual Airbnb Twitter complaints, machine learning, and natural language processing techniques to accelerate the categorization and understanding of such a large dataset of 365,250 individual tweets or 169,023 Twitter conversations," Asher & Lyric explain on their website. "Of the 169,023 conversations, 127,183 were from guests reporting their problems."
The results were gleaned from complaints logged between January 1, 2015, to September 1, 2020, based upon this question: "Which Airbnb guest problems are most likely to be complained about via Twitter?"
Research partners Chelsea Binns Ph.D., Robin Kempf JD, Ph.D., Germán Sanchis Ph.D. then studied the results and broke them down into three of the most noteworthy negative complaints: Scams, Unsafe Conditions and Discrimination.
UNDER THE SCAMS CATEGORY THERE WERE 5 THAT SEEMED TO APPEAR OVERALL:
Multiple listings of the same property
Property not as described
Account hacked & fraudulent credit card charges
Fake listings and reviews
Other: which include upfront fees that weren't apparent in the listing, hosts claiming false damage to the property, and links to fake rental payment sites.
NEXT IS UNSAFE CONDITIONS
Complaints of finding dead vermin, to fire damage, to handguns, and other unpleasant situations, researches found that this type was a frequent one, but due to personal safety concerns, renters weren't as comfortable sharing visual evidence.
"While serious safety concerns remain a frequently Tweeted complaint, it is both difficult and dangerous to depict safety concerns in pictures, so we were only able to capture 8 images out of hundreds of concerning complaints around guest safety and wellbeing."
This type of concern is probably most damaging to the homeowner. Fortunately there weren't many made in the duration of the study. However, there were still 4,851, or 3.81%, lodged under this category. The majority (2,891) were from people with disabilities.
The next were as follows:
Race (1,051 complaints),
LGBTQ+ (153 complaints)
Other discrimination issues (756 complaints).
KEY SAFETY TIPS THAT WILL HELP YOU AVOID AIRBNB HORROR STORIES
1. NEVER BOOK A PLACE WITH ZERO REVIEWS
Ideally, look for a minimum of 50 reviews in popular tourist areas or 25 in quieter areas. New listings are often a red flag because many times a host will remove a poorly-rated listing and re-list it instead of improving the actual space. This is how we ended up getting scammed in Paris.
2. ONLY STAY AT PLACES WITH A 4.85-STAR REVIEW AVERAGE OR HIGHER
Most people will only leave less than that if they have had a truly horrible experience. And in today’s weirdly skewed Airbnb rating economy, leaving a 5-star review is normal and anything much less than a 4.85 almost guarantees something is sub-par with the accommodation. Many people will even leave a 5-star at a bad listing, out of guilt, to avoid confrontation, or out of fear of retaliation (feedback can be argued with by hosts, which can reflect poorly on the guest). Nobody wants bad feedback on their guest profile either.
3. VET REVIEWS VERY CAREFULLY
Additionally (and paradoxically), be mindful that Airbnb appears to censor reviews, and hosts are more frequently being cited as manipulating ratings and inflating their overall rating with bogus reviews. For this reason, I recommend you read all the reviews to make up your own mind of how legitimate the reviews are, and what are the specific concerns other travelers have noted.
4. USE THE “SEARCH” FEATURE TO YOUR ADVANTAGE
Always use the review search feature to check reviews for keywords like “not”, “but”, “bugs”, “noise”, “wifi”, “dirt”, “mold”, “linens”, “neighbors”, “smell”, “host”, “rude”, “cancel”, “refund”, “recommend”, etc.
Using the search feature for your specific sticking points will help you quickly identify if you are going to have a bad stay. Those with allergies, for example, may want to search “dander”, or light sleepers will want to search “noise/noisy”. Guests will often cloak negative experiences within mostly positive reviews, so the search function helps you identify potential concerns.
5. REMEMBER THAT THE VAST MAJORITY OF REVIEWS WILL SEEM POSITIVE EVEN IF THE GUEST WAS UNHAPPY
Sociolinguist Dr. Camilla Vasquez suggests “reading between the lines” when it comes to Airbnb reviews, as reviews tend to trend more positively on Airbnb according to her research, and “bad” reviews are typically written as “lukewarm”. So any hint of things not coming across as absolutely glowing from a guest probably has undertones of dissatisfaction that may not seem immediately apparent.
6. DON’T JUST LOOK AT YOUR LISTINGS REVIEWS, LOOK AT YOUR HOST’S OVERALL REVIEWS
Many hosts will have several listings and just because one listing has good reviews, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a good host. Check to see if they have other rundown, dirty, undesirable properties on their profile before trusting the reviews of one listing alone. If one of their properties is in disrepair, odds are they all are.
7. USE SUPERHOSTS WHENEVER POSSIBLE
These are supposed to be experienced hosts who cancel less frequently, respond quickly, and have a 4.8 rating or higher. Because of the various metrics involved with becoming a Superhost, they are typically the most reliable hosts on the platform.
8. ONLY STAY WITH HOSTS WHO HAVE PROVIDED VERIFIED GOVERNMENT ID
Many countries only need email and phone verification, which means that poorly-rated hosts can easily circumvent any sort of ban or de-listing by quickly making a new account. And while Airbnb does not seem to consistently verify listings (despite previous promises to do so), having a host with an ID on file gives some semblance of security.
9. AVOID HOSTS WHO HAVE MORE THAN A COUPLE OF PROPERTIES LISTED, AKA PROFESSIONAL AIRBNB LANDLORDS
Beyond the ethical issues around how Airbnb is affecting the housing and rental markets, professional Airbnb “landlords” often come with their own set of issues. It’s much more likely, for example, that your host has little to no idea of the state of their property, choosing to outsource the cleaning and operations to employees. In our experience, we had no idea who we were actually talking to, who had keys to our place, who the point-of-contact was, and other important factors. Additionally, scams can be known to be done as large operations, as reported in this well-known Vice article. There are many reasons to strongly favor small, independent hosts over hosts that seem to run a “commercial Airbnb business”.
10. COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR HOST BEFORE YOUR STAY
Before you arrive at the property, ask the host if you have any questions about anything you’re not sure of. Location, safety, wifi, guest restrictions, pet questions, accessibility, and other important details that might not be outlined on the profile.
Communicating about check-in/check-out times and any other details that need to be ironed out beforehand will save you the stress and frustration of doing it last minute.
11. DOCUMENT ANYTHING THAT GOES WRONG WITH PHOTO AND VIDEO EVIDENCE FOR HELP WITH GETTING A REFUND
Avoid going through the messy “he said, she said” with a host by taking your own photos of the property before your stay and after your stay. Make sure to get all the major hoteaspoonots like the bathroom, the kitchen, and any heavy traffic areas.
If your host tries to claim unfair damages or give a review that isn’t correct, being able to provide photographic receipts may save you a huge headache (and a lot of money). Make sure your photos have timestamps or metadata enabled.
Although the above information only includes negative situations in which renters voiced a complaint, there are many on the opposite side of the scale that aren't listed here.
In June 2021 Boomberg published an article about Airbnb and their satisfaction rate.
“Airbnb says that fewer than 0.1% of stays result in a reported safety issue, but with more than 200 million bookings a year, that’s still a lot of trips with bad endings. Only the most serious problems are transferred to the internal safety team.”
Whether or not Airbnb is manipulating reviews is not for us to say, but the study conducted by Asher & Lyric is definitely eye-opening and as with most services, customers should put caution before money.
To read all of the results from the above survey, click HERE.