Debra Gartner returned to Golden Valley after a family trip to Spain with happy memories — and an annoying problem. For a stop in Seville, Spain, she rented a home from Airbnb, and the host accused her of infesting the home with bedbugs. Gartner says that no one in her family showed signs of bites, and the hotel where they stayed immediately after their time in Seville found no bugs in rooms where the family stayed. Still, Airbnb claimed it would withhold a nearly $600 damage deposit because of the alleged infestation.

“I realize that there are many, many people who have had a positive experience with Airbnb. Nonetheless, everyone should be aware that they really are at the mercy of what a host may claim,” Gartner wrote in an e-mail.

Airbnb’s contract reads that if a host claims and provides evidence of damage, the guest agrees to pay the cost of replacing the damaged items and that Airbnb can charge the credit card on file or retain the security deposit “in situations in which you have been determined, in Airbnb’s sole discretion, to have damaged any accommodation.”

Gartner’s situation ended well for her. After KARE-TV, Channel 11 interviewed Gartner and called San Francisco-based Airbnb for comment, the company decided to refund the security deposit.

Travel research group Phocuswright found that 25 percent of American travelers have rented private homes, rooms or spaces, up from 13 percent in 2012, and that such renters represent a broad mix of travelers, not just cash-strapped students and solo travelers.

So for the growing numbers who enjoy staying in a home over a hotel, words of advice from Gartner: “Take photographs, walk through the residence with the host, and record or document it all.”

 

Send your questions or tips to travel editor Kerri Westenberg at travel@startribune.com, and follow her on twitter @kerriwestenberg.