Bedbugs are giving Airbnb users headaches… and itchy bites

By Dara Kerr

Terri was fast asleep when her phone rang. It was midnight on a Tuesday in early May. Despite the hour, she answered the call because it was from a guest at her Airbnb rental. The news she got was alarming.

“I’ve been bitten by something,” Terri says the guest told her. “I think you have bedbugs.”

Terri, a retired federal agent, has been renting out her three-bedroom beachside condo in South Carolina for nearly two years. (CNET opted not to disclose her full name to spare her public scrutiny.) She’s what Airbnb calls a “superhost,” an experienced and highly rated property owner. Terri didn’t know where the bedbugs came from, but she was sure they hadn’t been there before her guest arrived. So she turned to Airbnb for help.

At first, the short-term rental service provided assistance. Terri spent three hours on the phone with the company that night trying to find new lodging for her guest and information on how to get rid of the little blood-sucking creatures. But then Airbnb went silent. After CNET informed Airbnb more than two months later that it was writing a story about what happened, the company contacted Terri. Airbnb acknowledged it mishandled the situation.

“We have an outstanding customer support team,” Ben Breit, Airbnb’s head of trust and safety communications for the Americas, said in an email. “But when our handling of an issue fails to meet the high standards we set for ourselves, we work hard to ensure it is not repeated.”

Terri’s tangle with bedbugs is just one of hundreds of creepy-crawly examples of the problem affecting the popular lodging service. Spend time on an Airbnb forum, Twitter or Reddit and you’ll see report after report of bedbugs, whose bites don’t spread disease but can leave itchy welts and cause allergic reactions. Some of the reports include photos of swollen arms and legs covered in dozens of red boil-like bumps. Property owners often say renters are the source of the unwanted visitors, while travelers — or guests, in Airbnb parlance — blame hosts for not keeping their properties clean. Both sides agree that Airbnb isn’t doing enough to fix the problem.

CNET spoke to eight people who dealt with bedbugs in Airbnb rentals within the last three years. All of them said Airbnb, which was founded in 2008, doesn’t seem to have a systematic procedure in place for handling outbreaks. And most said that while they eventually received some form of compensation from Airbnb, the company failed to provide adequate support.

Read more here.

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