A Rant for and About Airbnb Hosts

We’ve been using Airbnb solidly for the last 4-plus years. For the most part, it’s been a really great service. It’s so much nicer having an apartment/house instead of a hotel room when you spend your life traveling.

During the last 8 months, for some reason, we’ve run into more and more subpar to downright disgusting situations. I’m not sure why that is, but after our latest round of experiences, including having a host cancel on us 1 week prior to our arrival, it has me contemplating taking a break from using them.

A lot of the issues are small things that just begin to get to you after your 20th time. If you aren’t using them often, then you may not identify with my level of frustration. However, hopefully if you’re an Airbnb host you’ll take note of how you can get even better reviews and referrals from your guests.


I am no clean freak by any means, but if I’m paying a $30 USD cleaning fee, I don’t expect to be greeted by these images like we were in Cancun.

airbnb, airbnb horror stories

This isn’t a stain. I was able to wipe a spot with my finger.

airbnb, airbnb horror stories

Inside the oven we had rodent droppings and a shard of broken glass

airbnb, airbnb horror stories

We had about 20 plates on the counter. All of them were about as dirty as this.

airbnb, airbnb horror stories

Windowsills in the bedroom. Plenty of dirt and some rodent droppings as a bonus.

Even without a cleaning fee, no guest should find your place looking like this. Come on!

We’ve only had 3 places that were this atrocious, but all of them have been within the last 8 months. Are Airbnb places going downhill or is it just crap luck? All of them had good reviews, too. I don’t get it.

We’ve also had food-stained blankets (in Riga and Paris), which is just gross. I don’t mean a stain that won’t come out in the wash either. I’m talking about dried-on food that I can pick off.

Lack of items and bad conditions

There are some basic things an Airbnb host can do to make a guest’s stay more enjoyable. Someone who is staying for a few days or a week in your place probably isn’t going to want to buy a big bottle of oil or a 5-kg bag of sugar. Why not spend a tiny bit extra and have some of the basics waiting for them?

Could you throw in some napkins, too, please? If you don’t want to launder cloth ones (which I completely understand), large bags of paper napkins are super cheap and go a long way.

Throw in a couple of extra glasses and dishes, too. If you have 3 guests, having only 3 glasses, 3 plates, etc., is a bit ridiculous. Most of us don’t enjoying doing the dishes at all much less having to do them after every single meal, drink, or snack.

If your home is “suitable for up to 7 people,” why do you only have 1 medium-sized pot and 1 smallish pan? And do you really think it’s a good idea to leave these (see below) for your guests? Do you not realize this is a potential health hazard?

airbnb, airbnb horror stories

airbnb, airbnb horror stories

How about also investing in at least 1 oven mitt and 1 kitchen towel, too? If your guests have an oven to use, there’s a chance they may use it; even if it’s just to heat up frozen pizza. As most people’s skin isn’t burn or heat resistant, how about you help them avoid injury.

And for an extra kindness could we have at least 1 knife that is suitable and sharp enough for cutting up veggies? After 4 years of long-term travel, I finally carry a chopping knife in my checked baggage because I’m so sick of it.

It’s really hard to cook or eat many things when all you have is a nonserrated table knife.

Do you use a spatula or large spoon when you cook at home? I’m pretty sure that will get a yes from everyone. Then why does your Airbnb not have them? Am I supposed to use my fingers if I want to flip over my eggs and bacon when cooking them?

I actually have a whole large packing cube devoted specifically to kitchen items because of this.

Sure, the average person on a 2-week holiday might not mind so much, but provide a little extra and it will show in your reviews.

If you have a washer, leave some soap for them, or charge a tiny fee to cover the expense. It can be really hard to find a box of detergent small enough for just 1-2 loads.

Might I also suggest that in addition to the 1 partial roll of toilet paper you have on the little bar or stand that you leave an extra just in case? It seriously won’t cut deeply into your profit margin. I promise you.


A lot of us don’t have a phone plan that provides for roaming, so please give your guests all the info they may need, such as the flat number and which intercom button to press. Simply relying on people being able to send you an SMS, WhatsApp, or ringing your phone when they arrive doesn’t always work.

Also don’t count on the airport or train station’s free WiFi working for them. We had this happen in Firenze, and it was a total bust. He knew the train station had free WiFi, but he didn’t realize that in order to use it you have to register with the service using an Italian phone number. We were stuck standing in the street at the apartment building because he wouldn’t give us even the floor number in advance. His name wasn’t next to any of the intercom buttons either. Luckily a kind passerby called them for us after we had been standing around for 20 minutes buzzing almost every flat.


A couple of places we’ve rented have had land lines, and one even included a cell phone for our use (can you say Superhost status?). Those are incredibly handy; however, please don’t give that number out to every business, utilities, etc. I really don’t enjoy having to pay to be your secretary and/or having the phone ringing several times a day.

These days, WiFi is increasingly considered a must-have amenity for travelers. Since it’s how I work and how my son educates himself and keeps in touch with his friends, it’s vital for us. If you’ve been thoughtful enough to provide WiFi, let me encourage you to pay a little extra to upgrade your package. Slow and/or unreliable service is only going to irritate your guests.

And please don’t list WiFi as an amenity if you’re just relying on the city’s free WiFi, or the restaurant downstairs, which quite often doesn’t work, especially during periods of high volume. For working travelers, this is a bit of a nightmare.

Obviously, if you live some place like Bali or Cuba where Internet just sucks, this isn’t your fault. But we’ve stayed in too many places where an extra $10 per month would provide much better speeds. It’s a worthwhile investment so you can attract business travelers, digital nomads, etc.

And if you have banging Internet, make sure you include that as part of your ad. That could drastically move up someone’s interest level in a very competitive field.

airbnb, airbnb horror stories

Our host in Tallinn, Estonia left these for us. We loved them and bought many more.

Little extras

If your area has several restaurants that deliver, why not leave some menus for them to use? They’re free. (And if your flat has an intercom system, make sure your guests know how to work it so they can let the delivery person in.)

If the local markets charge extra for shopping bags, or if you just want to be more environmentally friendly, have a few reusable bags your guests can use when they do their shopping. This can be a big help.

Also consider having a couple of umbrellas for their use as well. Most travelers don’t bring them or rain gear along.

We’ve had several hosts that actually had a notebook for their guests filled with all kinds of useful info like nearby restaurants, grocery stores and their hours, the nearest public transportation stops along with their route numbers and which to take for the commonly visited sites, ATM locations, directions for how to use the washer, and so on.

I can tell you my satisfaction level goes way up when a host presents me with such a thing. It shows they’re a concerned host, and I can often overlook a few small irritants when I feel like my host really values my patronage.

And I make sure to note these kinds of things in the reviews I leave.

I’ve been very impressed and felt extremely welcomed when I’ve had a host who has left a small container of milk in the refrigerator to go along with my morning coffee. Often people are tired from traveling and don’t do a grocery shop their first night. Having a couple of small items available like milk, a couple pieces of fruit, etc., are super helpful and make you stand out as a host.

Our hosts in Novi Sad, Serbia, blew me away with all the little extra touches, and I recommended them for Superhost status (which they were awarded) and have recommended them specifically in a blog post as well. I’d say that’s a pretty good return on their investment of around $6.

[Updated 5/9/2016: Superhost status doesn’t always guarantee a great experience, unfortunately. We’re currently staying in a filthy apartment of someone with Superhost status.]

This can mean a lot, especially when a potential guest is reading reviews. When I see these types of things noted, it puts that property far ahead of the others for me. In fact, I’ve paid more to stay with a host who had these types of comments in the review section.

When you’re paying to stay somewhere, you want to be as comfortable as possible (keeping in mind the adage of “You get what you pay for.”).

These small investments often mean a great deal to an Airbnb guest. Happier customers means more business for you. It’s a win-win.

Do you have an Airbnb horror story or things you wish a host had done?

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  1. What kind of people, what pigs… I once booked a room through airbnb, and there was a dead mouse 🙁

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  2. I host on AirBnB. I’ve got scores of great reviews. I’m very good at this and go the extra mile. But doing this job wears thin. I have a guest at the moment who does everything on a whim. Totally unpredictable about everything. So. We don’t know when we can have a shower, because she might be in it. We don’t know when we can go to sleep, because she might have a hairdryer on at midnight. We don’t know whether we can make noise, because she sometimes decides not to go to work but doesn’t make anyone aware she is home. It isn’t a hotel. She’s entered another family’s life….and she is such a law unto herself that it has been very stressful to us. I’m putting the price up to get better people.

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    • Having a higher price doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get different kinds of people. Hopefully your current guest is leaving soon, though.

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  3. What did you pay? Not a lot? Well then, stop complaining. Or book a hotel. Easy.

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    • It doesn’t matter how much someone is paying. They shouldn’t expect to have a kitchen that is full of disgusting mess, rodent droppings, have the kitchen sink completely fall apart, etc.

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  4. Their lack of control on their host is obvious, they just try to increase their listing as much as they can.They have incompetent customer service who actually simply do not care about customer.

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    • I disagree solidly about their customer service. So far in all of my experiences they have been VERY good.

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      • Indeed. This person probably tried to keep it as cheap as possible for himself or herself and now has the hide to complain. Suck it up is what I say.

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  5. I live in Sydney (Australia). The press over here are always banging on about how Airbnb is a way for people to make big quick easy bucks. Perhaps that is one of the reasons for its decline – i.e. ppl who should not be in hospitality and have no experience in this area trying to make money.

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    • I think you’re probably right. I think that is precisely why things seem to be going downhill.

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  6. We are about to stay in our first (3) AirBnBs across Japan… i hope I have made good choices! WiFi seems to ge easy to find, but full size beds were harder. I hope the photos and reviews live up to expectations!!

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  7. Not every experience is going to be as planned or better than planned. Having said that, that place that you found in Mexico was a disgrace … I hope they refunded your money.

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    • I never expect perfection. But I also don’t expect a place like this. 😀 Waiting on Airbnb now as the host didn’t respond to my partial refund request. The ball is in their court. I’m pretty sure with the photos I sent that I’ll at least get what I requested.

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  8. The cleanliness is totally unacceptable! No way would I eat off of anything in that place without scrubbing it down, which I should never have to do on a holiday.

    I stayed in an Airbnb in Milan a few months ago. It was a person’s actual apartment that they would rent out when they were away at their lake property. It was extremely clean and great location, but it was uncomfortable because every cabinet and door in the place had a post it note about whether this was acceptable for guests to touch. It was hard not to be paranoid that I’d accidentally touch something I wasn’t meant to.

    This owner was also supposed to be a superhost, but the owner did nothing special to actually fit Airbnb’s definition of a superhost. I was even staying there with two friends that work on Airbnb’s marketing team as they were in Milan for meetings with their client and they agreed there was no way the owner really qualified as a superhost.

    I’m just not sold on Airbnb.

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    • That’s crazy! How uncomfortable for sure. I hope your friends took care of things back at the office so to speak.

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  9. As a vacation rental owner, these are great tips and happy to say we do all of these and have great reviews because of it. We have found though that anything that can be stolen…is. Beach towels, pillows, glasses, wine bottle openers…you name it. We have had only one complaint in 5 years and the renter was unreasonable (quarter size stain fhat had been laundered on the mattress pad under clean sheets that wasn’t noticed until after they stripped the beds at the end of their stay) and demanded refund which was probably their intent from the start. Could you do a post on how to be a good guest now? We have horror stories of bad quests too including a group of Catholic Priests.

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    • Catholic priests are some of the worse, unfortunately.

      With Airbnb a host can be reimbursed for stolen or damaged items. We had similar problems when we managed a hotel. I don’t get these people.

      I would NEVER complain about a stained mattress, unless maybe it was still wet or something when I arrived. Guests can be absolutely ridiculous. I think your suggestion is a good one. I’ll ask for input from other hosts for their horror stories.

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  10. This is timely, as I’ve noticed an obvious decline in Airbnb properties recently. Even in the listings themselves – I now see bizarre listings like “I accept cash only pay in person upon arrival” (against Airbnb’s terms of service) or “female guests only” (which is illegal).

    I also get really bothered by people having super-restrictive check-in and check-out times. If I can’t check in until 5 and have to leave by 11, I’ll just stay at a hotel instead, thank you. One listing I saw the other day said “You may not change the thermostat temperature,” which sends the message that the host’s comfort is more important than the guest’s. That should never be the case.

    Just yesterday it took me a couple hours to find a decent Airbnb host for one night in Miami, when it used to take about 10 minutes. Someone should send this post to Airbnb because I question whether they’re even aware of the growing discontent with their service.

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    • Excellent point about the check-out. In fact the reason we’re in an Airbnb right now is because our plane has a late departure time. In a hotel, I’d have to sit around the lobby for 4-5 hours, but with Airbnb I just double checked with our host that they would be OK with it. Much nicer sitting in my living room until it’s time to leave.

      I’m glad, and sad at the same time, to see that someone has noticed a general decline. I thought maybe it was just me.

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  11. I hope this somehow makes its way to Airbnb hosts to read. All fantastic advice. We’ve also only recently started to have some bad Airbnb experiences (although continue to have some fantastic, superhost experiences too). The check-in, the wifi, and the cleanliness – all huge factors to consider that you would think would be common sense. We recently had an Airbnb host who showed up 2.5 hours after the agreed upon time and did not respond to any of our calls or texts during the lengthy uncertain waiting period. Once he showed us the room, we found the floors to be covered in dirt and we don’t think the sheets had been cleaned. The icing on the cake was when he didn’t have a key for us, so his solution was to just leave the front door to the house unlocked. This was in Mexico, by the way. Unacceptable!
    On the bright side, the wifi worked great. Sometimes its funny what you’ll put up with for good wifi, lol.

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    • Good gawd! You’re way more patient than me. I would’ve been in contact with Airbnb’s emergency help line. What an awful situation. Did you contact Airbnb about all this? I’m sure you’d get a refund at least.

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      • We probably should have contacted airbnb, but did not. It was only a short stay, so we put up with it and tried to work with the host. He agreed to have a housekeeper come and clean the next day and she thoroughly cleaned everything. He also promised to get us a key. After our four days there, the key never showed up despite us asking repeatedly. On the second day, we literally just saw a bunch of keys on the living room shelf, so we tested them all in the front door and our door to see if one of them worked and thankfully we at least found a key to our room, no thanks to him. The host was elderly expat (and we presume also a stoner). The problem with reporting him was that he was otherwise a super nice guy that probably would have given us the shirt off his back. He was just absolutely clueless and should NOT be running an airbnb. Nice shouldn’t trump competence though, and in retrospect we probably really should have contacted airbnb.

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        • It’s harder when they’re genuinely nice people. I just think about the next person and what they might encounter if I say nothing.

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  12. As someone else who uses Airbnb a lot, I totally concur with this. We have been very hit or miss. Our current place is amazing, but we have gotten stuck with some pretty bad deals too. This is particularly frustrating when they have great reviews. Come on people, nice doesn’t cut it, we need honesty! When we walk into a new place, my kids look for can openers first since only one in ten have them. We have also seen a big difference in the meaning of “included.” It isn’t included wifi if I have to pay for data and a rope to hang laundry in the sun does not count as an included clothes dryer.

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    • I get irritated with some of their amenity listings. A dryer does not include a clothesline, as you said, or a rack to hang clothes on. And if your washer is broken, and has been broken for a week, take it off your list!

      I SO agree about the reviews as well. I always leave honest reviews. If it was amazing, I’ll let people know. If it was hell, likewise. If it was in between, I’ll list both the good and the bad and let the reader decide. The purpose of reviews is to help people know what to expect, good or not so great!

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  13. Yikes!! Those pans are nasty! All good points. We try not to book unless there are hefty good recent reviews. We’ve had fairly decent luck throughout our year and looking into Airbnb again for Scotland this summer. I have definitely questioned the cleaning in a few. We have had the arrival communication problems like you where a neighbor finally saw us outside and offered their phone to help. We have had some leave us fruit and water, which was awesome. One in Lisbon, left us wine and cheese!!!(I think they had property management assistance). One interesting experience was we found dirty socks under couch and lots of prescription meds in desk drawer….I think for depression….not a good sign.

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    • Oh dear about the meds. We didn’t have as good of luck in Scotland with Airbnb. I mean we didn’t have bad places, but we had a really hard time finding places that were more economically feasible than staying in a hotel. We ended up staying in B&B’s and hotels most of the time because of it.

      Glad to know I’m not alone with the check-in issue. What makes them think everyone has phone service?

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  14. Great post!

    I suspect in some cases, hosts get burned by guests who steal or take things (like having extra tp or paper goods around). I wonder if in some places people are more likely to take even the utensils as well. The problem of bad guests cycles into bad hosts.

    It doesn’t excuse the lack of cleanliness or a kitchen not being functional at all, though.

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    • The thing is Airbnb will reimburse owners for stolen items. And if you can’t afford to replace 1 roll of TP, you probably shouldn’t be an Airbnb host or you need to bump your prices by a couple of dollars. TP and paper napkins do not cost a lot of money.

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  15. Talon, this was a great post. Lots of good information. I haven’t had the occasion to use AirBnB yet, but I’ll come back to this for ideas when I do.

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    • Thanks! It’s a really useful service, and we’ve had mostly positive experiences. Our string of failures is just taking its mental toll on me right now. A bright side is that Airbnb does offer great customer service when you’ve had experiences like mine. So at least there’s that.

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