I only have one bad review as a guest on the Airbnb system, which after almost a decade of frequent use is probably not that bad. But it still rankles.
The apartment was in Bologna, a nice enough place in the city centre, though it did have its issues – namely a large collection of cacti spread across the floor that seemed custom-designed to poke a toddler's eye out. Oh and we were travelling with a toddler.
At least you don't have to spend an hour cleaning the place before you're allowed to check out.
After a little shifting around, however, and the closing of a few doors, everything was OK. We stayed three nights, we ate all the ragu Bolognese and tortellini in brodo we could get our hands on, and then we packed up and checked out, headed for the train station.
About halfway back to Rome, I got a message on the Airbnb platform, from our host in Bologna: "What a mess!!! No respect at all. Sorry but you've been very unpolite.
Hope nobody will treat your house as you've done with mine."
I was pretty surprised. We'd cleaned up after ourselves, left the dirty laundry in a pile in the bathroom, swept the floors. What was the problem, I asked in response?
"Dear Ben," the reply pinged back, "lights were on, kitchen table was deeply dirty, aluminium foil everywhere. I hope you're more respectful of my apartment, it's not a kindergarten or a hotel!"
And that, right there, is where my opinion differs with our lovely Bolognese host, and where our issue seems to have originated. As far as I'm concerned, her apartment is a hotel. Effectively, anyway. I pay a large amount of money to stay there for a few nights, I then pay an extra €30 ($47) "cleaning fee" to have the place sorted out for the next guest, and as far as I'm concerned if I leave the house in a reasonable state with nothing broken or in need of repair, I've done my bit.
There's a meme doing the rounds on social media at the moment that got me thinking about my bad Airbnb review. It's two poorly drawn heads, one angry, one relaxed, with captions under each.
One reads, "Airbnb: Noooooo!! You left the garbage in the garbage can you will be getting a one-star review!" The other says, "Hotels: Just make sure you leave by 11. If not that's fine."
I mean, yeah. That's pretty much it. Hotels don't make these demands. They don't have you take out your garbage before you leave. They don't make you wash the dishes. They don't ask you to tidy your room. You just check out and leave. They'll take care of the rest.
Home-share arrangements – across a range of platforms, not just Airbnb – seem to operate in a different universe, where apparently the money you pay to rent a space only entitles you to the space itself; you're expected to leave it pretty much as you found it. Even if, in some cases, you've paid an extra fee to have it cleaned.
Is that really fair? Is it reasonable? This varies, of course, from owner to owner, which is the basis of the problem. Different hosts have different rules and different expectations. I've treated every Airbnb property I've ever stayed in in pretty much the same manner, and only one person has taken exception to that.
But the rules can be pretty outlandish. I rented a house in northern Victoria a few weeks ago, and the hosts – managed by a local real estate company – sent through a form asking for my credit card details beforehand, stating the house rules: "Dishes must be washed and put away prior to you vacating; ensure all lights and unnecessary power outlets are off when you leave" and so on. If any "excess cleaning" was required, including doing the dishes or rearranging furniture, my credit card would be charged an unspecified amount.
Say what you like about hotels – they aren't perfect. Rooms are small, facilities are spare, mini-bars are ridiculous. But at least you don't have to spend an hour cleaning the place before you're allowed to check out.
I approached Airbnb to get their take on this, and they directed me to a page on their website, advising hosts of what they see as reasonable behaviour: "It's important to manage expectations on what your cleaning fee includes," it says. "Would you like guests to load dishes into the dishwasher, or strip the bed linen before checkout? If so, consider charging a very minimal cleaning fee, or no fee at all. With a higher fee, guests may expect to be able to walk away from the space at checkout as they would at a hotel."
This is probably my one gripe with renting a holiday home, or staying in someone's apartment. I'll be respectful of your property, of your home, particularly if it's clear you actually live in the apartment when it's not being rented. I'll keep the place tidy and leave it with everything undamaged and in good repair.
But it won't be perfect. It won't be as you left it. Because you are, effectively, a hotel.
Do you think home-rental hosts have unreasonable expectations of their guests? Are you happy to wash dishes and strip linen before you check out of a house? Or do you think that should be included in the rental fee?