This story is an important one, because it touches on several levels of problems — (1) the ever-expanding AIrbnb Terms of Service, which expand Airbnb’s own power and rights while reducing those of users of its platform, (2) Airbnb’s handling of complaints made by one user about another user or listing, (3) AIrbnb’s practice of terminating users without providing any explanation about why they took this action, or (4) Airbnb failing to offer any appeals process both for terminations and for other decisions it makes, say about requests for reimbursement for damages.
There is one recent court case in Baltimore Maryland which involves several interesting factors so it’s worth highlighting.
This case involves a long-time Baltimore host, Jeannette Belliveau, who was a SuperHost with over 500 Airbnb reviews, who had also done political advocacy work to support hosts in Baltimore. Her Airbnb account: https://www.airbnb.com/users/show/10722046
In summer of 2018, guest Stephanie Akker stayed with Jeannette in her home. Stephanie seemed to have a fine time, didn’t complain to Jeannette about anything. So Jeannette was quite disturbed to hear from Airbnb after Stephanies’ stay, that Airbnb was considering terminating Jeannette’s account on Airbnb over some type of violation of terms. After reading Stephanie’s review of her stay, Jeannette realized what had happened….the guest had made a false, defamatory statement about Jeannette in her review, and this false statement actually led Airbnb to terminate Jeannette’s account, without even bothering to consider Jeannette’s side of the story!
No, there was NOT a 9mm hand gun in a small basket by the front door! There were a bunch of doggie toys in the basket by the front door, as well as a toy rubber pistol that Jeannette used as a prop in a self-defense course.
Jeannette presented the facts to Airbnb, but willy-nilly they terminated her account anyhow, blithely disrespectful of the facts and demonstrating an unaccountable bias towards the guests’ false and defamatory statement. Apparently it was of no concern to them that Jeannette was a superhost with a long time solid reputation of over 500 reviews, or that Jeannette solely relied on her Airbnb income, which was her sole income as a retired person.
Jeannette first went to court to sue the guest, Stephanie Akker, in small claims court. This is Stephanies’ AIrbnb profile page: https://www.airbnb.com/users/show/153521542
So Jeannette filed suit in Baltimore Small claims court over this:
She won in court, and the judge was particularly upset not only that the guest (who now lived in Massachusetts, not in Washington state) did not show up, but also that Airbnb offered NO appeals process for its decision.
Jeannette requested an audio recording of the hearing and made a YouTube video of it:
For her part, when presented with the facts, not only did this guest Stephanie Akker not back down or apologize, but she went on AIrbnb Hell and posted there about it:
No decent person, when presented with the facts and shown that she has made a presumptuous mistake, a mistake that ruined someones’ business, would argue that she is entitled to her view, and to double down on it. The point isn’t that you have no reason to believe the gun was fake. The point is that if you are not absolutely certain this was a real gun, you dont’ report to AIrbnb that there was a real gun there!
Jeannette next sued AIrbnb itself in small claims court in November 2018. While most hosts believe that the Airbnb TOS still direct that users shall use arbitration, at some point the TOS were revised to allow hosts “the right to seek relief in small claims court for certain claims, at their option.” See some small claims and other suits against Airbnb here: https://globalhostingblogs.com/2017/12/17/lawsuits-against-airbnb/
Jeannette’s complaint against guest Stephanie Akker:
And her complaint against AIrbnb:
Jeannette went to court on March 6 2019. This is her report about what occurred in the small claims court with the judge, herself and an attorney representing AIrbnb:
“OKAY kids, I’m back from Small Claims court, and very much buoyed by everyone’s support and personal messages.
SUMMARY: I was denied damages of $5K, based on the judge’s view that I had voluntarily signed the Terms of Service waiving a right to damages. BUT the judge tore UP the AirBNB attorney for “making money off this host, but not providing her due process or any real investigation.”
The judge ordered AirBNB to do something to write a note on my listing to state (trying to remember exact wording …) something to the effect of, “This review is false and the host has been reinstated.”
She said to come to her if this did not happen and she would issue a contempt of court ruling.
The other defendants and plaintiffs in the courtroom were nodding and meeting my eyes and going “Umm hmm” as the judge made it clear there had been NO investigation of my case whatsoever.
Air’s attorney was a total rookie – this was his first District Court or any court appearance perhaps since graduating from law school 2 yrs ago. He did well! We are near-neighbors and both walk our dogs in the big nearby park, so we will greet each other going forward. No hard feelings, none of this stuff is personal.
I have ordered and paid for the audio recording of this trial as well, and will obtain and edit it in time … might take 7 to 10 days. (And upload it and send in a link for posting, God willing.)
Did an indirect shoutout noting “there are a lot of eyes on this hearing” and “other hosts* have been very kind in offering support.
The audiotape will be entertaining, I promise, it was all very Judge Judy (U.S. reality court show).
Some BIGGER takeaways:
You will hear on the audiotape that the judge raises the COMPLETE lack of due process and fairness in AirBNB’s dealing with hosts. (But her hands were tied by my agreement to the ToS.) I am frantically trying to look up the state of Maryland’s laws on contract waivers to see if I can appeal … I think this kind of case is VERY juicy to run up the chain of appeals, because the ToS anymore are getting crazy, for AirBNB and every other company.
I’m not sure about folks overseas or in other U.S. states, but my experience to date (if it can be generalized to others, who knows) is:
A) AirBNB can win against you in this kind of lawsuit because of the waivers in the contracts we more or less sign via the ToS
B)😎 you CAN sue the guest for defamatory reviews and get damages; that is not covered by the ToS
So this should be helpful info for others who suffer an unkind and unfair turn of events and end up in a similar situation.
In addition, it might help to point out that if any guest makes a statement in their review, as Stephanie did in hers, about having made a report to AIrbnb, or contacted AIrbnb, or complained to Airbnb, or sought Airbnb’s help with an issue with the host or listing, this is grounds to have the review removed based on Airbnb’s own review guidelines. Eg see here: https://www.airbnb.com/help/article/546/what-is-airbnb-s-content-policy or their review guidelines page https://www.airbnb.com/help/article/13/how-do-reviews-work.
Note they prohibit:
- Content that provides specific details or outcomes of an Airbnb investigation
So it’s considered providing details of an Airbnb investigation, if any user refers to contacting Airbnb.
I think one of the biggest things that is wrong in this whole picture, is the total lack of an appeals process when someone either has their account terminated, or is denied for a reimbursement for damages.
In the EU, according to new GDPR rules, it’s illegal for AIrbnb to terminate someone’s account without providing any explanation, and/or any appeals process. This is only basic justice, and really such rules should also apply all over the US and the rest of the world.