7 On Your Side Investigates: Airbnb refunds NYC frontline worker after pandemic booking fiasco

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- A respiratory therapist who came to New York City from Nashville to help out during the height of the coronavirus pandemic says a misleading listing on Airbnb left her with one big surprise when she arrived in the Big Apple.

"I was like no way, I am not going to stay here," Adetola Folaranmi said. "It was unclean, and it was unsafe too."

Folaranmi said she booked the listing after receiving an email from Airbnb about a program the company had created called "Frontline Stays" to help traveling healthcare workers responding to the pandemic find free and reduced cost listings.

"The caption on the listing was, 'Lovely apartment in the heart of Park Slope,'" Folaranmi said. "I was like, OK, this is a place I would like to come back to when I go home and I am so tired. There are a lot of free hotels for frontline workers, which I appreciate, but I chose to pay for mine because I wanted the comfort."

Folaranmi had left her kids with her mother and come to New York City for the first time to help.

"I was scared for my life, but when you go into healthcare you choose to help others," Folaranmi said. "So this was the right time to do it."

Folaranmi said she arrived at the apartment exhausted after a long shift and found herself in an unsafe unit and an unfamiliar city with no experience taking a subway or getting around.

She quickly made alternative living arrangements for her temporary assignment and reached out to Airbnb for a refund for the more than $3,300 she had paid.

"It's not only about getting my refund back," she said. "It's about right. It's about somebody advertising a listing and you get what you pay for."

Airbnb initially refused to refund Folaranmi the money she had paid and found no issue with the listing, according to a note Folaranmi received from an Airbnb customer service agent.

"I was like am I crazy," Folaranmi said.

She then reached out to 7 On Your Side Investigates for help.

We called Airbnb, and the company agreed to give Folaranmi a refund. The company also removed the listing in question from its platform.

"We strive to provide world-class customer support to our global community and apologize to Ms. Folaranmi that in this instance our support fell below the high standards we set for ourselves," Airbnb wrote in a statement. "We are incredibly grateful for all of the doctors, nurses, and other frontline responders like her who are working tirelessly to keep our communities safe."

"I was screaming. I was so excited," Folaranmi said.

Still, Folaranmi said she wishes Airbnb would do more to verify the conditions of the listings on their platform.

Folaranmi added that after our involvement, another Airbnb customer service representative called her and explained that an error when she was booking had logged her out of the Frontline Stay Program, contributing to the problem.

"I am very grateful," Folaranmi said. "I am also proud of myself for following through and not giving up."

Airbnb does have general standards for cleanliness and safety, as well as accurate listing descriptions.

During the pandemic, Airbnb has also launched enhanced cleaning standards and recommends guests look for the enhanced cleaning icon on a listing, indicating hosts are following the latest Airbnb cleaning guidelines developed using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations.

Airbnb has also partnered with SEIU 1199 to provide no-cost stays to union members working on the frontlines. They have also partnered with the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) to offer no-cost stays to members.

Finally, Airbnb has launched the Frontline Stays Program, Folaranmi tried to use, which identifies hosts willing to offer free and reduced stays to healthcare workers.

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