How to Not Be a Terrible Airbnb Guest, According to Hosts

You may be surprised at just how easy it is

March 1, 2021 10:26 am
Airbnb host greets new guests at his residence in San Francisco
Airbnb host greets new guests at his residence in San Francisco
San Francisco Chronicle/Hearst Newspapers/Getty Images

In a Facebook group called Vent, Recommend, and Discuss, Airbnb hosts from all over the world are given a private platform to do exactly that. Much of the discourse is as to be expected: lighthearted and meant for the sake of curating an all-around better guest experience. Advice on furniture, linens, complimentary snacks and cleaning live side by side with excerpts of reviews and questions surrounding policy changes.

But it isn’t entirely that. 

Many hosts (frankly, after weeks of observation, what feels like the majority) retreat to the group in search of solidarity, as a result of having been on the receiving end of some new and outrageous behavior from guests. The scenarios described in this group are — to me, a frequent Airbnb guest — incomprehensible.

I’ll be the first to admit I’ve been guilty of overlooking some of the idiosyncrasies included in my stay, because historically, my crash pad for the night has never been the main event in my travel itinerary. That said, these (nonprofessional) hosts go to great lengths to create and ensure a positive, memorable experience for guests, and the least we can do is repay that respect.

One could argue that, by opening your home to strangers, you’re opening yourself up to the possibility of damage, and that’s just an unfortunate consequence of being an Airbnb host. But to rent from an individual only to wreak havoc on their property, whether intentional or unintentional, is… gross. Not only that, hosts have the ability to rate you and provide feedback on the nature of your stay — a feature that other hosts rely on heavily to vet you prior to your next stay. If you’re a serial Airbnb host-screwer, your prospects will diminish over time until you are invariably proclaimed unrentable to the entire community. 

So in order to ensure that you’re being the absolute best Airbnb guest you can be, we went ahead and spoke to Carolyn Major Bisby, a seasoned Airbnb Superhost based out of Phoenix, Arizona, to come up with a few cardinal guest rules:

1. Read the listing thoroughly prior to booking

Superhosts take their ratings very seriously, and for good reason: the algorithm prioritizes their listings, increasing their likelihood of getting booked. Last year Carolyn was booked 327 days out of the year. 

But the Superhost status is a precarious one, and requires the maintenance of a 4.8 rating at all times — one three-star rating has the potential to strip the host of their title. And, according to Carolyn, more often than not, those less-than-stellar ratings go hand in hand with failure to read the listing in entirety, prior to booking.

“Sometimes people drop [the rating] because of things like location. ‘It was too remote.’ Well, did you read the description? It is exactly as it was described,” she says. “Or there will be things like, ‘The road was not as accessible as we expected.’ But did you read the description? It was right there in the description.”

In effect, understand where you’re going. If you want a beach house, and the listing states that the property is located a few blocks away from the beach, don’t book it. And if you didn’t read the listing in advance, don’t take it out on the host. Similarly, if you want a house all to yourself — make sure that it is explicitly stated that the entire house is for rent. Carolyn, who’s Airbnb property is a suite in her private residence, finds it to be a detail in her listing that is frequently overlooked.

“I had a woman, she was an opera singer, and she wanted to know if it would be a problem if she practiced. I said, ‘No, that’s wonderful.’ And she says, ‘Okay, I should be there by 11 p.m. tonight and then I’ll start practicing,’ Carolyn says. “Again, she thought, ‘Oh, I have the whole house,’ because she did not read the description.”

2. Don’t abuse the property

This feels like a no brainer but it happens more frequently than you’d expect. Some of the hosts in the Vent, Recommend, and Discuss group detail incidents in which they’ve been left with hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in damage repairs after a particularly unsavory run-in with a guest.

Carolyn is among the luckier of the bunch — she hasn’t incurred any real damage to her home, though that’s not to say that she hasn’t been on the receiving end of some questionable behavior.

“We have a grandfather clock in the suite, and we have it off because some people love the sound of a clock but others hate it,” she says. “But instead of telling us, ‘Hey, we don’t like the sound of this clock,’ [we’ve had guests that] just stuffed a pillow in it. That’s not the way you stop a grandfather clock. It’s a really expensive clock. That’s not what you do — open the cover and stuff a pillow in to stop the pendulum.”

Carolyn is a realist and her threshold for tomfoolery is, in my opinion, considerably high. She knows that people are on vacation, inhibitions are generally lower and accidents are bound to happen from time to time — all she asks for is a little mindfulness.

“Don’t abuse the property. For us, this is our home. We’ve worked hard to have this home. It’s our personal property, so take care of it. It’s respect.”

3. If you break something, be honest about it

“Sometimes things break. Sometimes they get stained. If you just tell the host upfront, ‘I’m really sorry, but I ended up getting makeup all over this washcloth, and I am so sorry,’ nine times out of 10 the hostess is going to say, ‘Don’t worry about it. Not a big deal,’” Carolyn says.

Also, for the love of God, don’t take the towels from your Airbnb. It’s not necessarily abuse of the property in the traditional sense, but it’s still an additional — and unnecessary — expense that falls to the host.

“Washcloths grow legs and walk away, and so do towels,” Carolyn says. “This is not a hotel and we don’t have big corporate dollars behind us. It’s coming out of our own personal monthly budget to restock that kind of thing.”

Be honest with the host. If you declare what happened — depending on the severity of the damage — they may not charge you.

4. Follow the house rules

This is especially important during Covid. If a host requests that you wear a mask upon entry, consider that it may be a shared residence (did you read the listing?). If the host does not allow pets, it may be because either they or their next potential guest have an allergy to pet dander. If they ask that you take the trash out or load the dishwasher prior to your departure, it’s most likely because the cleaning fee they charge you is just enough to cover the actual cleaning and sanitizing of the space —  not trash removal and picking up excessive messes.

“My rules are really, really simple. Don’t smoke in the house, don’t have parties, observe quiet time and pay attention to your heating and cooling temperatures,” Carolyn says. “Now, with quiet time, let me clarify. Our quiet time is 10:30 pm to 6:30 am. That does not mean you have to go to bed. Go out and stay out until two in the morning if you want, but come in quietly. Take off your shoes and go to bed.”

Heating and cooling poses its own series of obstacles for hosts, particularly those with properties in areas that experience large swings in temperature — like Phoenix. So if the host specifies a range, be respectful of that range.

“The controls for the AC and for the heat are in [our] Airbnb section. Just because it’s hot outside, if you turn the AC to 65, all you’re going to do is damage the air conditioner. There’s a range in there that we ask, ‘Please don’t set it below this or above this.’ And if you’ve got the heat blasting, please don’t leave the windows open.”

5. Be communicative with your host

First, be forthcoming about the purpose of your visit and how many guests are coming. It sets the tone and immediately opens up a line of communication between you and the host. Second, be on the lookout for incoming communication from your host, both prior to and over the course of your stay. More often than not, the bulk of the information you need will have been sent to you in advance.

“I’ll send the check-in instructions, because it’s all self check-in, and I’m not sure if people have read them and then they get here and I know they haven’t because they stand and look at the door,” Carolyn says. “They’re not sure which door they should go in and they don’t know how to get in. And then they don’t know how to get out.

“And then they’ll call me. ‘Where’s the Wi-Fi password?’ It was in those instructions I sent.”

Third, keep your host in the loop where unregistered guests are involved. Carolyn, like most hosts, doesn’t allow unregistered guests as a general rule of thumb — now especially, with the ever-present threat of COVID and her living on the premises — but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for exceptions. Recently, Carolyn hosted a longterm guest who, following the conclusion of her stay, expressed that she wished she’d had the opportunity to have visitors.

“Had she asked, ‘Well, of course.’ She was a nurse and a really good guest. Didn’t cause a minute of trouble. Had she just asked, we would have said, ‘Of course you can have company over.’”

Lastly, if something is definitely amiss, whether it be big or small — tell your host. They genuinely want to do right by you, and if there’s something they can do to increase the odds of that happening, trust they will do it.

“If something goes wrong, say something. Somebody said, just within the last few weeks, that the mattress pad wasn’t very comfortable,” Carolyn says. “I responded to her review and I said, ‘I wish you had said something. We could have removed it.’”

6. Exercise caution where glitter is involved

This last one either pertains to you or it does not, on any level, pertain to you. Either way, know that glitter is an invasive species that has the ability to cause your host immeasurable pain. While Carolyn has tolerated the mistreatment of her antique grandfather clock and the rotating theft of her linens, she draws a hard line when it comes to glitter.

“After the second time we said, ‘That’s it. No more glitter.’ People will put on the glitter makeup and you clean it up, I’m not joking, for six or eight months.”


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