As Airbnb struggles with plunge in travel ahead of IPO, hosts are complaining about missing payments

Key Points
  • Airbnb hosts are complaining about missing and late payments from the company when they need the money the most.
  • "Us little guys, we look at this company — they're like our livelihood," said Deric Mathew, who manages 26 short-term vacation units throughout Florida. 
  • Airbnb said there was a "small technical issue" that affected fewer than one in 1,000 hosts on the site.
Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky.
John van Hasselt | Corbis | Getty Images

It's been a brutal few months for Airbnb hosts, who count on income from the home-sharing site to help make ends meet. The coronavirus pandemic has battered the travel and hospitality industry, particularly in big cities, leaving vacation rentals vacant for extended stretches of time.

But lost revenue isn't the only problem hosts are facing. Even for the nights they are able to book guests, some property owners are complaining of late and missing payments from Airbnb.

Before Covid-19 forced millions of Americans to shelter in place, Airbnb hosts typically received payments from the company within a day after check-in. Airbnb takes payments from visitors on its website and then remits the money, minus a fee, to the host. 

Now, some Airbnb hosts say payments from the company are taking much longer to arrive or they are outright disappearing from their online dashboards. Missing and delayed payments present another issue for Airbnb to address as it prepares to go public, potentially this year. The company plans to submit a confidential filing with the SEC this month, a source familiar with the matter confirmed to CNBC. 

In an emailed statement last week, an Airbnb spokesperson said that the company "identified a small technical issue with our robust fraud protection system, affecting fewer than one in 1,000 hosts on the platform." The company said, "We expect imminent resolution for the impacted hosts."

Deric Mathew manages 26 short-term vacation units throughout Florida. Prior to Covid-19, he exclusively listed the units on Airbnb. But since March, Mathew said he has noticed that Airbnb has failed to pay him on multiple occasions, and that missed payments add up to $3,000 to $4,000. 

Most recently, Mathew was owed $726 for a guest's stay on July 18. Unable to get sufficient help from the company's host support service, Mathew said he decided to no longer list his properties exclusively on Airbnb and said his issue with the company remains unresolved.  

"Us little guys, we look at this company they're like our livelihood," Mathew said. "But they've really truly shown their true colors over the past couple months. When things went bad, they only looked out for themselves."

Deric Mathew manages 26 Airbnb short-term vacation units throughout Florida, but since March, he said he has noticed that Airbnb has failed to pay him on multiple occasions.
Courtesy of Deric Mathew

The coronavirus pandemic brought the travel industry to a halt, resulting in an estimated $320 billion of lost revenue since the beginning of March, according to an Aug. 6 report from the U.S. Travel Association.

Airbnb has been forced to slash marketing costs and raise billions of dollars in debt. In May, the company announced it would lay off 25% of its staff, or nearly 1,900 employees. When the company eventually goes public, it will likely come at a drastically reduced valuation from its private market peak in 2017.

Airbnb may be slow tracking payments to hosts in order to hang onto cash, said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst at Atmosphere Research Group.

"It's no doubt a reflection of the terrible loss of business they experienced earlier this year," Harteveldt said. "This slow payment to the hosts concerns me because inevitably some of these hosts are going to choose to put less of their inventory on Airbnb."

A month before the technical issue that Airbnb said came up in August, multiple hosts told CNBC about late and missed payments.

Kyler Clark, a host in Nashville, Tennessee, was among them. He said he was missing a $235 payment. Clark called Airbnb's host support and waited on hold for an hour without anything being resolved. He also messaged Airbnb about the missing payment and received an automated response. When he told Airbnb he was speaking with a reporter, the company finally took action, he said.

Clark said the amount he was due "wasn't a lot, but if you do that to every host on the platform at one time, that's a lot of money."

In addition to Clark, other hosts said they finally received payments after CNBC brought them up with company. Similar to its statement last week, Airbnb said in July that there was a technical glitch.

'It's a big deal'

"This week, we discovered and quickly resolved a minor technical issue affecting approximately 2% of host payouts over less than a week," an Airbnb spokesman told CNBC at the time. "All payouts to impacted hosts are complete or in process."

The company spokesman said there are other reasons why a host may not receive payment for a visit, though he didn't say if they applied to these hosts. For example, Airbnb says it's required to hold funds if it doesn't receive "valid and verified ID" within 30 days of notifying hosts that they must provide proof of identity, the spokesman said. 

Kelly Aplin in Brooklyn has been an Airbnb host since 2017. She became much more dependent on her property in upstate New York after she lost her job and her husband's live entertainment business was hurt by the coronavirus. Aplin said she's missing a payment of $1,983 from a guest's stay on July 17. 

"We've lost most of our income this year, so it's a big deal," Aplin said. "I might not feel comfortable renting through Airbnb going forward if we're going to have to harass them to get paid with no response."

After being contacted by CNBC, Airbnb issued Aplin her missing payment, she said.

The problem isn't limited to the U.S.

Christina Strutt, who has a property in Somerset, England, said she's complained to Airbnb about four missed payments from the company. Strutt said Airbnb owed her £1,300, or more than $1,700.

"I'm quite upset because I don't like big people bullying little people," she said. "It's just frustrating when they don't get back to you and brush you off with excuses."

Soon after CNBC told the company about Strutt, she was informed that she would receive her payment. 

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