Facing an Airbnb damage claim? Here’s our story:
We’ve been pretty regular Airbnb customers for a few years now.
Lakefront cabins, forest lodges, beachfront apartments, even converted RVs and Airstream caravans. We’ve loved using Airbnb for our travels in California and beyond.
It’s fair to say our Airbnb hosts have mostly loved us, too. Reviews on my profile say we’re polite, respectful and clean. Until we received this message from our most recent Airbnb host:
“I believe you are not Sally, you are a liar, and have made this account up. You have trashed my home, broken crockery, glass, curtains and items are missing. You left the house in a disgusting condition – nice!”
My first reaction was confusion. We’ve never had any sort of Airbnb damage claim in seven years of using the site. What was happening?
I wondered, is this message even real? I logged into my account. It was real. The host also pointed out that they had cameras and had taken photographs of my car. She said the villagers would be looking out for us, now. “Don’t come back here or we will call the police!”
Why did our Airbnb Host Accuse us of Damage?
Once I got over my initial shock, I looked at the Airbnb damage claim in more detail.
The host had only uploaded one photo, a dimly lit image of a curtain folded up. The host claimed that we had damaged the curtain, and several other items around the house. The curtain would need replacing at a cost of £150. The host was also requesting £100 for additional cleaning of the property, and a further £50 for items of “tableware” that had been stolen from the house.
According to the notification from Airbnb, I had the option to accept the damage claim and pay the £300, to pay some of that amount, or to decline the request. If I didn’t pay the full amount, the host had the right to apply to Airbnb who would look at all the evidence, and make a judgment on who should pay what, if anything.
What Actually Happened
My first instinct was to think that the message was just a weird mistake. I knew for a fact that it wasn’t true that we’d “trashed” the home. When we left, we cleaned up, emptied the bins, loaded the dishwasher and locked up. All the things the host had asked us to, basically. I mean, it was obvious we’d slept in beds and used things, but it was all fairly typical.
We had been careful and I was sure we hadn’t had any spills, or accidents during our stay. I wasn’t aware of anything being broken. I was 1,000% confident we hadn’t stolen anything.
I did know that before we’d left, I’d taken some photos of the house. The lounge was dark, so Flea had opened the lounge curtain a little wider. The curtain slid right off the track – I assume the end stop was missing, or broken. None of the curtain hooks were damaged, and the curtain itself was fine.
However, the track was too high for me to be able to replace the curtain, and I wasn’t about to stand on someone else’s expensive looking furniture. So we folded the curtain carefully and popped it onto a chair next to the window, with the hooks on top. We were paying a £60 cleaning charge as part of the rental fee, so I figured the cleaner would be able to replace the curtain on the track using a stepladder.
How to Respond to an Airbnb Damage Claim
After I’d read the message closely, what I did next was NOT what is recommended. I telephoned the owner. Actually it’s far wiser to keep all communication with a host on the Airbnb platform. This is in case the owner subsequently asks Airbnb to intervene in a damage claim – so they can see the full conversation history.
Anyway, I’m not that smart, so I phoned the owner and was basically, “Did someone break in after we left? This is insane!”
It turned out that the owner of the property lived in London and a local cleaner was in charge of cleaning the property between guests. Apparently the cleaner had arrived at the property and was “horrified” to find the curtain had been, “pulled off the wall”, that there was “broken glass everywhere,” and “the bedroom was covered in shopping tags and bags.” She’d also said mugs had been put in the bin, there were broken glasses in the dishwasher and tableware had been stolen.
The cleaner, who had given us the keys to the house when we arrived, also claimed that we were not who we said we were. According to her report, it wasn’t me and Flea who picked up the keys from her house. Nope. Apparently, the keys had been collected by a woman in her mid-20s and a man in a pick-up truck. I pointed out that my 14-year-old would be thrilled to be mistaken for someone older, but I was a tad insulted to be remembered as a man in a truck. Maybe she thought I was in my mid-20s?
I explained to the Airbnb host that this was all completely untrue. I explained that yes, the curtain had slid off the rail, but it was undamaged, clean and had been carefully folded. All it needed was for someone on a step to slide it back into place. The host accused us of being “travellers” and using the house to stash stolen property, since there were “bags and tags everywhere”. I explained that my teenager has indeed had bought some new socks and a t-shirt. We’d put the tags in the bin, as far as I was aware.
The house was clean and tidy when we left it, nothing damaged, nothing stolen.
Beating an Airbnb Damage Claim
The owner said she wasn’t sure who to believe. But I think once we’d spoken and realised I wasn’t some travelling criminal, she felt a little more happy.
Still, I was concerned about the Airbnb damage claim. I didn’t want to pay £300, but equally I didn’t want a bad review on our Airbnb profile – that could stop us from being able to book great places in future. I didn’t know if Airbnb could just take that money from my account, and wondered if I should just delete my profile.
In the end, what solved our issue was me telling the owner I had time-stamped photos of the house taken immediately before we left. From the photos (which you can see in this post), it was obvious the house was not damaged. The floors were clear, the house was tidy, and nothing had been “trashed” or “broken”.
Certainly, I couldn’t see anything that would justify the cleaner needing to charge us £200 for new curtains and £100 for all the extra cleaning she’d needed to do.
I felt reasonably confident that if Airbnb did investigate, the owner wouldn’t have been able to provide any photos supporting her claim that we’d “trashed” the house, and certainly nothing we’d done necessitated anything being replaced at a cost of hundreds of pounds.
I sent the owner all the photos I had, so she could see that the property was perfectly fine. Perhaps the cleaner let her imagination get away with her, or saw an opportunity to ask for more money for cleaning. Who knows? But either way once the owner had spoken to me, and knew we had photos supporting our version of events, she apologised for the misunderstanding.
To be sure, I sent a message via Airbnb summarising the conversation we’d had over the phone. I made a point of attaching the photos, so that there was a record in case the owner decided to take the claim further in future. I also removed my payment card from my Airbnb account, just in case.
Lesson Learned: Always Take Photos!
What I’ve definitely learned from this experience is that any host can issue an Airbnb damage claim for their property up to 14 days after you check out. They are allowed to ask for any amount of money, basically.
If you challenge the request and it goes to Airbnb, the owner will be asked to prove the amount they’re asking for, with receipts showing the cost of items or repairs, and photos showing the damage. If they can’t supply these things, the chances are you won’t be asked to pay anything, or you might only be asked to pay a small amount.
But it’s better if you can PROVE that you haven’t caused damage, obviously. With this in mind, I think there are three important things I will do with any Airbnb in future:
- When you check in, if the owner is not there, immediately make a note of anything that is broken or damaged, and alert the owner by messaging them on Airbnb. This means it can’t be blamed on you, later.
- When you check out, make sure you follow any instructions carefully so that you can’t be charged extra cleaning fees. We are often asked to empty bins, put recycling out, empty the fridge etc.
- Lastly, take photos of each room in your Airbnb right before you leave. Make sure you can see as much of the room as possible. This is your best protection against a questionable damage claim from your host later.
Did the Damage Claim put us off Airbnb?
This experience hasn’t put me off Airbnb. We have been able to stay in amazing places all over the world through the site. It’s generally affordable, flexible and gives you a real ‘home from home’. We’ll never forget that cabin in the woods at Big Sur, the converted RV in Santa Barbara, and the lakefront house in Washington.
Most hosts are friendly, but when you’re dealing with people remotely, it’s easy for misunderstandings to arise. It’s probably quite lucky we haven’t had other issues over the years.
I do think reporting damage as you arrive, and taking photos as you leave is going to be my new Airbnb motto, though.
Have you ever had an Airbnb host make a claim for damage?