A Career Breaker’s Troubled Love Affair With Airbnb

Most career breakers utilize the sharing economy services these days as a critical part of their itinerary.  Sites like AirBnB, EatWith, Car2Go, and Couchsurfing are hallmarks of the sharing economy and can help career breakers save money, make connections, enjoy local experiences, and find deals the world over.

Read How to Use AirBnb On Your Career Break

Sites like AirBnB work great most of the time, but the benefits come with risks you may not have considered. This is a true story of how two career breakers learned this lesson the hard way.

bad airbnb stories

Jill and Zac on the road

Love at First Stay

We started using AirBnB in early 2014, and what started out as a week in Seattle quickly bloomed into a monogamous relationship with the service. In the few years we were together, we cataloged over 13 stays in 5 countries. It seemed like a dream.  We had many amazing experiences and only one bad one. We met a lot of great people and were highly reviewed by our hosts. We hadn’t even considered looking at other rental sites.  It was true love.

When we decided to take a career break, sell our house, and travel around the world, AirBnB was a huge part of our plan; starting with a road trip in the US, in which AirBnB was our only choice of lodging.

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Stellar reviews – the beginning of a great relationship

Cracks in the Facade

Upon arrival at our stay in Cleveland, our guts were telling us to leave. There were a lot of red flags that we had never experienced with our other AirBnB rentals. We should have left, but the place was well reviewed by other guests. Everybody has a bad day, right? That’s what love is about – the good and the not so good.

However, things did not get better; in fact they got worse.

The night before we checked out, we could not gain access to the back door. The deadbolt had been thrown from the inside, and key we were given didn’t work. We texted the owner, called through open windows and rang the doorbell until we were admitted by one of the housemates. We told him the key would not work in the top lock. He tried it and agreed. Since we were leaving the next morning we decided to leave from the front door and gave it no more thought. We went upstairs, packed and went to bed.

Early the next morning we said our goodbyes and left – using the front door as planned.


As is customary, the owner of the house reviewed us, and we him. He was short and complimentary as were we. We did mention some of the troubles, but did not go into gory detail. There’s a dance that is done in review giving and we decided to play along.

We were at our next stay in Louisville when we received a notification from the AirBnB resolution center stating the homeowner in Cleveland was demanding $1000 for damaging his door.

We were shocked. That level of damage couldn’t be caused by trying to put a key in a lock. The amount was exorbitant, and it felt like extortion. We were totally floored and ready to defend ourselves to AirBnB.

However, sadly we weren’t given much of an opportunity to do so. Homeowners on AirBnB can provide ample data in their charges against a renter, including video, pictures and testimonials. But as a renter you are allowed only to respond via the resolution center.

Breakup by Text

Airbnb encouraged us to reach an agreement with the owner, which meant paying for the damages. We informed them we were not open to paying what amounted to extortion.

It was right after this that we got a text notification that our next booking in Memphis had been cancelled, and payments refunded. When we called customer support, we were told we were blocked, and they were under no further obligation to discuss the case further. We were dumped, and they were moving on. The relationship was over…

When looking out of our hotel room in Hong Kong, we couldn't help but imagine how many of the lit windows were Airbnb rentals.

When looking out of our hotel room in Hong Kong, we couldn’t help but imagine how many of the lit windows were Airbnb rentals.

In the age of customer-centric, reviewer based economy, we had no standing and were without any rights. Our spotless record and glowing reviews meant nothing. We were never given the chance to state our case as we would have expected.

In our case, we were not innocent until proven guilty; we were guilty without the option to present our case at all.

How To Avoid Being a Jilted Lover

Sadly, our love affair with AirBnB is over, but to help other career breakers from suffering a similar fate, we’ve compiled a short list of key points so you can protect yourself.

  • Reviews have their benefits, but aren’t foolproof. Send an email asking a few questions, and weigh how they respond. If the response feels off, move away.
  • Be wary if there is a deposit required for booking. This means that they could for any reason decide to keep your cash after you leave if they aren’t satisfied with how the space was kept.
  • Trust your gut. If you have any problems with the apartment, you are under no obligation to stay. Sure it can be a hassle to back out.
  • Know your rights – read the terms and conditions for the booking site. It’s a downer to think about the worst-case scenario when planning a dream vacation or long-term travel, but you’ll sleep better if you do.
  • Notify the owner via text or email immediately if something isn’t right.  This leaves a trail and shows you didn’t break anything.
documentation for airbnb

Document! Dear apartment owner. Your thermostat is broken, and we aren’t responsible. Please refund our $500 deposit when we leave.

  • Take photos or videos of the apartment upon arrival and check out to show you left it in perfect condition.

We hope that your relationship with AirBnB, and similar services, has more longevity than ours.


About Zac and Jill Stafford: 
Zac bioFeeling that there was more to life than freezing in Minnesota, Zac and Jill sold their house and possessions and are traveling the globe. For them this is more than a career break, it’s a life change. Jill quit her corporate job as a business analyst and became a certified yoga instructor and Zac is taking his paid search marketing skills on the road. They are documenting their journey on their website visa-vis.com.

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