Hosts, guests scrambling after hundreds of Airbnb bookings cancelled in Toronto

Airbnb superhost Brandon Wall stands in front of his home near Little Italy. He says he's frustrated with Airbnb since it hasn't helped hosts or guests after it cancelled all his future bookings this year. (Keith Burgess/CBC - image credit)
Airbnb superhost Brandon Wall stands in front of his home near Little Italy. He says he's frustrated with Airbnb since it hasn't helped hosts or guests after it cancelled all his future bookings this year. (Keith Burgess/CBC - image credit)

Nearly a week after Brandon Wall lost all his guests' Airbnb reservations without warning, he's still working on rebooking them and struggling to get help from Airbnb to fix the issue.

On Friday, Wall received a panicked email from a guest asking why her reservation had been cancelled. He logged on and discovered all of his reservations were gone and his Airbnb listing, which had been active for six years, was taken down.

"It's been incredibly frustrating. It was extremely overwhelming the first day," Wall said.

Wall isn't just any ordinary Airbnb host, he's what the company terms a "superhost" — someone who's well-established and a top performer on the platform.

But he still had to drop everything and spend hours trying to rebook the reservations while attempting to sort out the issue with Airbnb and the City of Toronto (Airbnb hosts must register with the city).

"All these guests are being hung out to dry and put in really bad situations," Wall said.

Submitted by Brandon Wall
Submitted by Brandon Wall

The city says it recently received nearly 100 inquiries from hosts like Wall who had their bookings cancelled. CBC Toronto spoke with a handful of them who shared a similar story: all their bookings were abruptly cancelled, the city confirmed their registrations were valid, Airbnb hasn't been helpful in addressing the problem and hosts have been scrambling to sort it out while trying to appease would-be guests.

The hosts, with help from city officials, eventually discovered the likely cause was a minor discrepancy in how their address is listed on their City of Toronto registration versus how it appears on their Airbnb profile.

That led to the city flagging registered hosts after it ran a short-term rental compliance audit. The city sent the profiles to Airbnb, and instead of contacting the hosts to address the clerical error, the company automatically cancelled all their bookings.

Guest had to book hotel after 2 cancellations

In Phillip Tallman's case, the Airbnb superhost's apartment unit number was listed on a different line in one of his profiles — causing Airbnb to cancel all 46 of his bookings, including someone set to arrive the next day from England.

"I would say we lost probably 10 per cent of our bookings that we never got back," Tallman said. "[Guests] that just said, 'I'm done, I'm out, I'm not coming to Toronto.'"

Sandra Schott booked an Airbnb for a trip to Toronto from Pennsylvania to see a concert earlier this month. After her booking was abruptly cancelled in June, she booked another stay, which was also cancelled by Airbnb.

She says she contacted the company, but didn't receive a response.

"It just gets a little frustrating, especially when you've got something to do on a certain date," Schott said.

"I started to look at hotels in the area and it wasn't feasible, so we ended up staying in a hotel in North York." she added.

Submitted by Sandra Schott
Submitted by Sandra Schott

Airbnb didn't answer CBC Toronto's questions, but provided a statement saying the City of Toronto "is responsible for identifying listings ineligible to operate, and the city recently exercised this authority, affecting some hosts across the community."

The San Francisco-based company also said "while enforcement is entirely controlled by city officials," it's working with hosts, guests and the city to find a "common sense solution."

Guests forced to pay more fees for cancelled bookings

Wall says after he got his account back up and running and while he was trying to rebook his initial guests, he had a flood of requests from new people requesting reservations. Other hosts had the same experience and say they believe it's due to the hundreds of guests who were left in the lurch trying to snatch up any available Airbnb.

Wall has since closed off his dates while he manually books his guests again. He's honouring their initial price, but several guests are being forced to pay more since Airbnb increased some fees for the same bookings.

A guest of Tallman's who had his reservation cancelled twice and was being made to pay more for the same booking sent Tallman angry messages accusing him of trying to make a profit and calling him "scum" and "a disgrace."

"You are a morally corrupt individual who I wish misery upon," the guest wrote.

Supplied/Phillip Tallman
Supplied/Phillip Tallman

Laura King is planning to visit Toronto from the United Kingdom in September and booked with Airbnb for the first time at Wall's property. After he rebooked her cancelled reservation, she had to pay an extra $60 in fees. She says Airbnb told her there's nothing the company can do about it.

"It did stress us out quite a lot," she said. "It did obviously cause a little bit of drama, but thankfully the host was very, very responsive. So that made it a lot easier on both ends."

Bookings cancelled by Airbnb more than once

Wall eventually discovered his Airbnb profile includes the term "basement suite separate entrance" as part of the address, but not on his city registration. He's been trying to get it changed on his Airbnb profile, but after several phone calls and more than 30 messages with Airbnb staff, he hasn't had any luck.

A message from Airbnb to Wall on Tuesday says the company can't change his address on his profile and suggests Wall contact Toronto's short-term rental office instead.

Wall is worried that if he can't get his address changed before the city runs its next audit, all the reservations he spent hours rebooking will get cancelled yet again.

"I can't imagine having to do it again," he said, upon learning it's happened to other hosts.

Tallman's bookings were first cancelled in June and again in July after he rebooked guests.

Submitted by Phillip Tallman
Submitted by Phillip Tallman

The City of Toronto says to ensure short-term rental listings aren't flagged during audits, hosts should ensure the information in their listing is "an exact match" to their city registration.

The city also put a posting up on its short-term rental website this week with information for hosts after dozens of inquiries about the issue.

"All these hosts are just middle men here. [We] keep being told to go back and forth," Wall said.

"Someone from Airbnb needs to get on the phone with someone from Toronto short-term rentals and just figure it out."

If they don't, Wall says he may look into other short-term rental booking options.