The Curious Case of AirBnB

We live in a condo apartment and we’ve had noise issues (and other issues) from a neighbouring apartment four times running over the course of the past few weeks.

At first, we didn’t think much of it. In fact, the first time we noticed anything, we noticed a strong, sickly sweet smell in our apartment in the middle of the night. The smell seemed to be everywhere but got stronger as you got closer to the door of the apartment. We had no idea what was going on but figured that maybe somebody was burning incense or something.

The smell was different from incense though and it seemed to make my wife fairly ill at that point and we had to air out the apartment to get rid of it. We complained to condo management but by the time they sent somebody over, the smell had dissipated. We decided that it must have been a one time thing and let it go.

The next night (or a night after) we were woken up by loud noises. Somebody was singing “Happy Birthday” in another apartment. The noise and the partying went on through the night and to the wee hours of the morning. We gritted our teeth and tried to sleep.

That was when we started to realize that we might have noise issues with one of our neighbours but we weren’t sure which apartment it was — it wasn’t as if we were going to run out in the middle of the night to see which apartment it was in our night clothes. And we also figured maybe it was somebody who had been partying for two days, or rather nights, and that would be it.

How wrong we were!

This week, we were woken up around midnight by another bunch of people singing “Happy Birthday” yet again. Two birthdays in two weeks sounded extremely unlikely for somebody who was renting the apartment long term. So it seemed more likely that the apartment was being used for short-term (very short-term it seemed at this point) rentals, or somebody had found a way to convert the apartment into some sort of a private club.

We started paying more attention — after all, we couldn’t sleep with all the noise, the yelling, and music.

To be fair, the noise wasn’t loud all the time. Oh, no! If it was loud all the time, we could at least have called security and pointed out the noise to them. Instead, things would be fairly quite for a time, and then their apartment door would open and noise would blast out as they screamed out to each other or greeted somebody. It sounded as if every time somebody arrived (or left), they had to yell out greetings — almost as if they didn’t care whether they disturbed anybody else or not. Funny that.

All the people who arrived were not masked even though the condo building had clear policies and rules about being masked. And that night there were at least 20 people in the apartment since we saw a bunch of 15 people leave and then another bunch of 5 stay behind to do clean up and then leave around 6:30am. That’s not counting anybody else who might have left before that.

We were tired and really annoyed at that point but still hopeful (oh so foolishly hopeful) that that was the end of it.

But … you guessed it, the party started up again the next night. And it was a different bunch of people.

That night, new Ontario lockdown policies came into effect limiting indoor gatherings to 10 people. Of course, these party animals didn’t seem to care about that since we counted two separate bunches of five people or so each leave around 2:30am to 3:00am before we dragged ourselves off to bed and the party was still going on.

Again, the party ended around 5:00am or so and more people left. And they were all unmasked.

We even knew who had been holding the party because they were shouting out that person’s name over and over through the night. Scant comfort that. (But this will play a role later, so remember this …)

It was Sunday morning and both my wife and I were really sleep deprived by now. But we were also angry. We just didn’t know what we could do. I wrote to condo management and told them all that had happened over the past two weeks and asked them if there was something that they could do.

It being the weekend, there was no response till yesterday. They informed us that the property was an AirBnB rental and that we could complain to AirBnB. They helpfully passed on the AirBnB complaints link too, which, in case it helps anyone else, is:

So we contacted AirBnB. I detailed everything out to them mentioning dates and events. They had two separate boxes for info – one a message to be passed on to the host, and the other for more information to be provided to AirBnB. I filled out both with lots of detail. I also provided the address of the apartment and submitted the info.

They then asked us to jump through a couple of initial hoops like validating our e-mail — par for the course.

Then we were contacted by one of their community support people and this was where things got reaaaaally curious …

First, they said that they can only deal with complaints within two days of the incident taking place. So apparently they could not do anything about the first two events but they mentioned that they wanted more details about the events from the weekend. Their exact words were:

In order to be able to start the process, we need you to please let us know exactly what happened on December 17 and 18th, 2021. This is because for us to start a process, the report has to be submitted maximum 2 days after the incident has taken place.

This was curious because that information — the fact that you have to submit a complaint within two days of an incident — does not appear anywhere on the AirBnB complaints site. So how are we supposed to know about this time limit? Is AirBnB perhaps trying to appear as if they care but don’t really care? (Shocker! I know …)

Then there’s them asking me for details when I’d already detailed everything that had happened. Couldn’t they read what I’d written out in detail already? Or are these responses so canned that they have no option of changing the wording at all?

The third interesting item was:

We also need you to confirm the listing in question because unfortunately, with the information you provided, we weren’t able to identify it.

Huh? They can’t find a listing in their own system after we’d provided the apartment address? How is that possible? Is AirBnB’s complaints management department so hobbled that they can’t search their own system for apartment listings by address? Or is it just another instance of them not caring and putting the onus on the reporter in the hopes that they would give up?

I told them that we lived in a condo with hundreds of apartments and that there were a lot of AirBnB listings for the condo and that we didn’t know how to find the apartment. After all, it wasn’t as if the listing says we are apartment number “xxx” after all! Nor did we know what the inside of the apartment looked like and so weren’t in a position to go through the listings and find the right one based on listing photos …

The response from the AirBnB side was to give us three listings and say that they found those three on a search for the address — only three mind you, but if we searched for the condo address we got over 300+ results. They wanted us to let them know if one of those matched the apartment in question.

We went through those listings. We pored over every detail. We were able to eliminate two immediately based on photos since they weren’t facing in the right direction. The last one looked like a possibility since it faced the right direction but then we noticed that the apartment appeared to be on the second (or at worst, third) floor based on the height of the trees from a balcony shot. So that let that one out too since the apartment in question was on a higher floor.

We told them again that we couldn’t be sure since we didn’t know what the apartment looked like and while one of the listings they sent looked like a possibility, we weren’t 100% sure and that it looked as if it was on a lower floor. Total silence at this point from them — almost as if saying that they can’t do anything further for us since we can’t be bothered to find the listing for them. (How dare we not make it easy, right?)

Again, it looked very much like AirBnB didn’t really care about the issue at all. They simply wanted us to go away and let them continue on doing what they were doing. If they really cared about noise complaints, shouldn’t they have some internal process for them to easily find a listing since the data is on their servers? I asked these questions initially, but was not given any answers, BTW.

So we decided to do some further digging. We looked up publicly available condo info to find the floor plans for the apartment. That let us know what type of apartment it was since we didn’t even know that at that point. That helped us narrow down our search.

Then we hit a break! We found a listing which matched and it had a review with a name we recognized — it was the same name we’d heard shouted out during the party on Saturday night! It was so helpful of them to have left a review already 😛

We did some additional checking and everything seemed to match. So we sent out the listing URL to AirBnB. Their response?

We do appreciate all your response and cooperation through this process.

As I mentioned before, we will address the latest situation on December 18, 2021. We are investigating this matter, and we will reach out to the host directly.

Huh? Didn’t they earlier say that they were only going to look at the incidents from the 17th and 18th? Now apparently, the 17th was off the table too! I guess I had somehow crossed a time limitation that I didn’t know of? Or they’d looked at a calendar? Or they don’t know how to communicate?

Who really knows? But what we did know at this point is that AirBnB didn’t seem to care too much about this at all. They would reach out to the host and possibly get back to us in some time in the future. They didn’t actually mention any time-frame for any action. So I’m not holding my breath.

What we didn’t know when we started this whole complaints process was that in Toronto, an AirBnB host had to be registered with the city of Toronto and that there are rules and regulations governing short term rentals. One of those rules is that the property that you are renting out has to be the host’s principle residence. And the rules also state elsewhere, that you can only rent out one property under a short term rental due to the principle residence clause.

This particular host has seven properties listed under them. So they are breaking the law. And since AirBnB has to be aware of the regulations, I would think that they are breaking the law too by helping the host break the law. I am not inclined to make an issue of it at the moment, but if this issue does not get resolved by AirBnB, I guess I go talk to the city of Toronto next …

5 thoughts on “The Curious Case of AirBnB

  1. I’m so sorry you and your wife are going through this, Fahim. I’ve known your wife for several years (although only online) and I empathize with your situation. It shouldn’t be this difficult to rein in hosts who cheat the system, if AirBnB even cares about neighbours at all. I hope this is resolved so you can get some sleep!

    1. Thanks, Sandra 🙂 I agree that it shouldn’t be that hard. To be fair by AirBnB, their online support via Twitter did reach out to me and told me that they’ve pinged their support people about this. Hopefully, something comes out of that. I guess we’ll wait and see …

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