Well here we are, the post you have been waiting for, the reason we went social media dark & are over 2 months behind on writing about our adventures… grab a snack, this is a long one 😉 really long 📝
At the end of 2022, we left Yucatán & headed east to the coast, Quintana Roo & the city of Playa del Carmen, PDC. We visited PDC for the first time back in May of 2021. We fell in love with it. Sadly what we fell in love with was not what we found upon our return. Turns out visiting after high season, amidst a global pandemic is quite different from experiencing it with the masses.
We arrived just before Christmas with plans to stay in the area until our March departure back to the US. We had three Airbnbs booked to split our time along the coast. The first was a relatively new two-bedroom apartment near a grocery store & about a 2km walk from the beach. The bed was cozy, the water pressure descent & the internet, fast enough for both of us. It wasn’t as clean as I would have liked, especially the kitchen. So I did what I do, I contacted the host, who had been quite communicative upon our arrival. He offered his apologies, saying the unit had been vacant for a month or so. I, of course, suggested a refund on nights or an extended stay to give us a packing/moving buffer. He agreed to the extra night & offered to have the housekeeper come during our time. I was happy with that, I cleaned the kitchen & didn’t give it another thought. A week went by with no issues. We walked into town, along 5th Street, went to the beach & out to dinner, all was well. We even enjoyed over-imbibing as we celebrated New Year’s Eve at Señor Frog’s on the beach, where I can neither confirm nor deny that we possibly forgot to pay the bill. All was right in Adventureland!
Thankfully, it was after my hangover subsided that I got the first bizarre email from Airbnb on Monday, January 2nd. Our host sent a request through Airbnb to cancel our reservation. We had only been in the apartment for a week and had just over two weeks to go before moving along. I messaged our host via Airbnb & I got a single message, saying he wasn’t getting the correct funds from Airbnb & therefore needed to cancel our reservation. Then radio silence for five days. In the next five days, the real story would unfold. When I didn’t hear back from our host, I contacted Airbnb. The customer service representative was very nice & probably gave me information she shouldn’t have. She told me the host had failed to include some relevant tax information on his account & therefore they were not releasing the funds to him. She also said it was perfectly within my rights to decline the request as he could not cancel our reservation under these circumstances. So I declined. Once again, I didn’t give it much more thought.
In the midst of this special kind of crazy, we were in the beginning stages of getting our first pet/housesit back in Yucatán. As with many of these stories, there are many other stories. As such our adventures into housesitting is one we will have to circle back to. I will say, that story was beginning to grow legs on Wednesday evening, January 4th. We were in the middle of a zoom interview with the pet sit homeowner when there was a knock at the door. Dave & I both discounted it because we didn’t know anyone here, who could be knocking at the door? A few minutes passed, there was another knock at the door. I left Dave to continue the interview & answered the door.
It was our neighbor from across the courtyard whom we had never met, but I recognized. She introduced herself & said the owner of the apartment wanted to talk to me. To which I replied, “absolutely I have been trying to reach him, both in the Airbnb app & on WhatsApp.” What would be discussed & revealed over the next 10-minute conversation was a bit surreal. You hear stories, you empathize with people & you hope it never happens to you. But here we were.
“The owner of this apartment is a woman,” she said. 😳 The man you are renting it from is their renter!!!
All I could do was laugh. What little I knew was beginning to make sense. The neighbor showed me a picture of the owner & asked for my number so she could pass it on. Could they call us that evening? Most definitely!
I rejoined are pet/housesit interview, which we finish successfully & waited for the phone to ring. The owners were a lovely couple from Monterey, who were currently in Puerto Vallarta celebrating a family birthday. Turns out, our Airbnb host had rented the apartment from the owners some time ago. Somewhere along the way, our host decided to sublease their apartment on Airbnb, but told the owners, he just had some friends coming to stay 🤨
🏠 Note to landlords: Airbnb does not consider what our host did to be subletting. Airbnb does not call its customers renters, it calls them guests. Somehow, that is some sort of semantical BS. So if you are a landlord & you do not want your tenant subleasing or renting it as an Airbnb/short term vaca you should probably also put that in the contract.
We spent the next hour & some discussing the situation, comparing our host’s Airbnb listing to the actual owner’s AirbnbMX listing, all the while the owner‘s husband was on the phone with Airbnb & I had opened a support ticket.
By the end of our phone call, Airbnb had suspended our host’s listing & the actual owners had generously said we could stay through the end of our reservation. We also agreed to let the actual owners continue to try to reach out our host, who btw had failed to pay his current rent. This would be the first of several phone calls, all pleasant, some panicked. Once we were off the phone, I continued to log info into my Airbnb support ticket.
Note to people who use Airbnb: take screenshots of all platform threads. I am certain there was pertinent information missing when I revisited the tickets later. Also, take screenshots of threads between yourself & hosts if things become problematic because once you block them, you no longer have access to the threads. An additional piece of advice here is to stay in the Airbnb platform messenger & do your best not to communicate using an outside third-party app or texting. We were also messaging via WhatsApp, which I would later decide was a mistake.
We considered our options. l had already begun looking for other accommodations after receiving the first request to cancel from our host. As part of those efforts, l made a post in a PDC Facebook group seeking support, info & alternatives. I mentioned our general location, but not the name of the complex or the name of our host.
Thursday passed with no new insights. Friday, January 6th, I woke to a message from Airbnb. Our reservation had been canceled & our entire payment was refunded. WTactualF!!! I contacted Airbnb for information. I still had heard nothing from our fraudulent host. All we could do was rest in the confidence that the actual owners of the apartment had said we could stay. The only response we got from Airbnb was “thank you for confirming everything is sorted now.”We didn’t receive any kind of notice from Airbnb to leave or find other accommodations.
Saturday, January 7 we returned to the apartment at about 3 PM after a big day of reef drift diving & hanging out with some bull sharks. (Another story) Dave was cooking dinner before we both passed out from exhaustion when my phone blew up. Apparently, our fraudulent host’s Airbnb account had been restored, & I assume he could see that our money had been refunded. He had seen my PDC Facebook post & was pretty pissed.
This was when he began posturing & making minor, empty (we would later learn) threats. I immediately contacted Airbnb through the “I don’t feel safe” button & the actual owner of the apartment. I made two calls to Airbnb in a two-hour timeframe under the guise of an emergency & got no help. Again, Airbnb was useless. I had two options, call the local authorities or wait for a phone call back from the customer service rep handling my case, who I would later find out was somewhere in the Middle East. A seven-hour time difference, not so great for an emergency.
My phone call to the actual owner was more conclusive unfortunately not in our favor. This was when I learned the semantics of Airbnb. Airbnb told the actual owner that they don’t consider what was happening to be subleasing. The owner had also finally heard from our fraudulent host. Our fraudulent host said he had gotten a lawyer & knew his rights & blah blah blah, again, probably complete posturing & total nonsense. I was beside myself, I told the owner about the text the host had sent. I also informed the owners that Airbnb had reinstated the fraudulent hosts listing which was now once again showing the apartment available to rent. I asked the owner if they thought we should leave. They said yes if nothing else for your safety.
All the while I had been on the phone I was also packing, just in case someone showed up at the door as the text threats suggested. Interesting sidebar: that chair 🪑 under the doorknob 🚪 thing really does work. We sat down to eat our dinner & figure out what we were going to do next. Dave asked me if I thought someone was coming to “remove us from the apartment.“ Dave didn’t think so. I wasn’t sure but I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to sleep a wink in that place. We finished dinner. We finished packing. We booked a hotel. Thankfully, we had rented a car the day before. We loaded up the car & took another round of photos of the apartment as proof we left it as we found it. I called the owner again to let him know we were leaving & told him we had left the keys on the dining table.
Luxury Apartment 😆
What happened next was a Mexican miracle. We checked into the hotel with perfectly wonderful staff who must have sensed we had had a really hard day. We had a comfy bed & a decent shower & we slept, hard! The next morning we had a delightful breakfast, delicious coffee & finally a message from Airbnb. Two days after Airbnb (not the host, not the owner) canceled our reservation, 66 hours later & another 7 messages asking for follow-up, Airbnb sent me a list of potential places to stay but no mention of the safety situation. We declined their recommendations & booked a return to Playa Chaca back in Progreso. We were headed to that area for the pet sit & it just made sense to get the hell out of PDC.
Sunday, January 8, we made our way back to what we would call our safe place in Progreso, Yucatán. The actual owner called to check on us. They also confirm with agreement from Airbnb that in fact, neither the fraudulent host nor the actual owners nor we requested the reservation be canceled on Friday, January 6. That was completely a decision made by Airbnb. The actual owners had really gotten a lawyer & were in the process of terminating the lease with the fraudulent host. They had also already changed the locks 🔐
Monday, January 9th I received a payment request from our host for $1021.84 🤔 After declining the request is when I may have poked the bear 🐻 Let’s get real, once the dust settled & I had regathered my resources, I unleashed only a tiny bit of my passive aggressive super bitch. I messaged the fraudulent host… ➡️➡️➡️➡️➡️
He messaged back & just began to dig himself deeper into a hole, showing his true ignorance. He started by saying he knew we were still in the apartment (which we were not) & that we would be liable for any days we stayed after the cancellation & made more empty threats about charging us with theft because we didn’t leave the keys in the lockbox. Having talked to the owners & knowing that the locks have been changed, I knew the kid was just blowing smoke.
This was also the morning, I finally received a phone call from the Airbnb safety team. Two days after leaving the apartment under threats of physical removal. I regaled her with this same story. Roxanne, the Airbnb customer service rep was appropriately mortified & apologetic about the situation.
Along with the story, I expressed my complete & utter disappointment in Airbnb’s mishandling of the whole thing. I think it is safe to say that the actual owners, the fraudulent host & ourselves all had completely different customer service reps “handling our situation” & never once spoke to each other about WTF was going on.
I spent the rest of the day & the next writing the longest email ever to send to Airbnb recounting moment by moment, even more in-depth than this, the ridiculous situation as it unfolded & Airbnb’s complete lack of its management. I also continued to check on the fraudulent host’s rebooted listing & received the opportunity to leave a review.
Soon after that, the listing was still live, but could no longer be booked. I had not yet blocked the fraudulent host on Airbnb or social media but when I looked at the Airbnb message thread all of the fraudulent host’s messages have been replaced with a block statement that said “this message has been hidden because the person no longer has access to Airbnb.“
I finished my email, collected all of the screenshots & downloaded the WhatsApp threads into a dropbox link, ready to send it off to Airbnb. Our fraudulent host must have caught wind that Airbnb was no longer on his side because, at roughly 4 o’clock on Tuesday, January 10, I received this lovely WhatsApp message…
But wait, there’s more… on Tuesday, January 10, I received our fraudulent host’s message implying he had taken a hit out on our lives. Thursday, January 12, I received a second request for funds in the amount of $1023.29. I laughed out loud & wondered, were we paying for our own hit? What benefits did that offer? Did that mean that he would honor our wishes to be cremated? Would he return our remains to the United States? Did I need to give a specific address for that? I wasn’t sure what that payment would include. Gosh, could I up the ante & just pay the hitman directly when he arrived to not kill us?
Not surprisingly I declined, sending a response saying, I felt the death threats voided any obligation for payment. I took more screenshots & sent them on to Airbnb. With surprisingly still, zero response.
Saturday, January 14, one week after the original threats to physically remove us from the apartment, I finally got a call from the Airbnb safety department. I told my story again, this time to Abel. I resent the email. Crickets… 🦗
Monday, January 16, I received yet another request for money from the fraudulent host this time for $6112.13. Where were these numbers coming from & what exchange rate was he using? I immediately declined, took screenshots & sent a message to Airbnb support. I would follow up three days later in that same thread, saying I had heard nothing from Airbnb. I would get one last support message from Airbnb before I finally resigned myself to letting the whole thing go. I made sure to block our fraudulent host on all social media platforms, while still finding a way to keep tabs on him.
You probably won’t find it hard to believe that this was our least favorite part of the adventure. We would return to Playa del Carmen, continuing to keep everything on the down low. We would move along, finishing our adventures strong, occasionally laughing at this poor kid’s expense. The stress of the entire situation would eventually subside but I won’t lie, especially in today’s world with the illusion of privacy, I wonder if we should be looking over our shoulder. Will we try to be more cautious in the future, hopefully? Will crazy shit like this continue to happen to us, probably?!