When Guests are Locked Out – Who is Responsible?

locked_outI’m always disappointed when I see reporting in the media such as this story from our own Canadian based CTV News.  It’s about a couple from British Columbia who rented an apartment in Paris from a private listing on Airbnb.  On one day of their vacation they inadvertently locked themselves out of the apartment and when unable to locate the owner, who was out of the country, had to employ a locksmith to let them in , and then replace the lock at a cost of over $2000.  They contacted Airbnb who they claimed were little help.

“Here we were in France, in a foreign country with a foreign language with my wife, and we were completely abandoned by Airbnb, it was absolutely no support, no backup” said Mawhinney.

However, with the help of the consumer watchdog at BC CTV who intervened on their behalf they got their money back from Airbnb but that was not enough for the ‘hapless couple’ as according to the story: The experience has soured Mawhinney and his wife on both Paris and Airbnb. 

“When you most need your travel support, when you most need a champion in your corner, I think is when you're going to a foreign country and I’m not sure that I would use them again,” said Mawhinney.

Isn’t this like saying Auto Trader should compensate if you buy a car listed in the classified section and the brakes fail?

I was gratified that the comments almost unequivocally say what I am thinking in this instance.  What has happened to personal responsibility?  Since when do you blame a listing company for the consequences of an action you take i.e. for leaving the property without the keys in your hand?

Having said that, some responsibility lays with the owner for not providing an alternative method of entry but the media article doesn’t mention the owner at all.  For all we know, the neighbour or building supervisor had a spare key, but of course that would not have made the news.

This brings to mind a story of my own from earlier this summer. One of our rental agency clients called us to say they had been locked out of the cottage they had rented and were completely incensed this had happened, blaming us entirely for the fact they had left the cottage, forgotten the key and the latched door had locked behind them.  Because there was no cell signal around the property they had to walk ten minutes to call us – it was after hours so it was another 5 minutes before our on-call person got back to them with the location of a spare key.  More angst because they had ‘not been told earlier’ that there was a spare key which would have saved them ‘all the distress the situation had caused’.  When they were told the property manual had details of where the spare key was, the response floored us:

“We’re on vacation, not here to read a bunch of instructions”

These stories highlight an important issue for all of us – that we need to keep one step ahead of the new generation of guests, who are less self reliant and more in need of guidance and hand-holding. We can do this by brainstorming worst-case scenarios and solutions so damage control can be swift and effective.  Such as what happens if:

  • guests get locked out
  • there is a power outage
  • the septic tank backs up
  • an essential appliance fails

We don’t know the whole story behind the Mawhinney’s predicament.  If indeed there was no other method of entry and there was no-one available to help them out, then the owner does need to accept some responsibility for the costs of replacing the lock.  Maybe Airbnb will be following up with them – we don’t know that – but we can learn from the situation and be prepared for a similar one in our own properties.


I can happily report that we’ve eliminated the whole lock-out issue with our Nexia/Schlage system…but talk about ” the new generation of guests, who are less self reliant and more in need of guidance and hand-holding”…how’s this?
I got a frantic phone call at 5 o’clock on a Friday, that the refrigerator wasn’t working. The freezer was…but not the fridge….hmmmm?
For the next hour, while I was waiting for my repair guy, my phone was getting minute by minute text updates on the status of the fridge from my guest….still not working…still not working…still not working….(and of course, he was opening the door every time to check).
Finally, I got a call from the service guy…with the diagnosis: refrigerators tend to lose their “coolness” when you throw 4 cases of HOT beer in them all at once…and apparently my particular model does not have the magical ability to chill 96 beers instantaneously!
Apparently I neglected to adequately inform my guest about the laws of thermodynamics…but, it only cost me 80 bucks for my transgression.
I am currently working on manual for each sink, which explains the difference between hot and cold water.

Heather Bayer

iamcrafty The refrigerator issue is one we have been plagued with this summer.  Mostly, guests have arrived and whacked the temperature down to it’s coldest setting and had the whole thing ice up.  The only way to deal with it is by defrosting completely and starting again.
Check out my next blog post which attempts to deal with these issues.


Wow , what a nerve, they should be completely responsible they left the keys behind, this is a typical British attitude particularly in Florida supported by British tour operators that just bow to their clients.
Fortunately as a management company in Florida we are able to reach all our managed properties within 7 minutes


SunsplashVacationHomes Hey Sunsplash I think you need to consider your opinion before you denigrate an entire nation. Especially one that is coming to your country to spend their hard earned cash. Imagine if someone considering booking with you from the Uk comes across this post? Might it make them consider you as their support in resort? I think it might. Of course their are people in the Uk who cause issue but I’d wager that’s the same the world over. 
The issue here, for me, is about support. I know we all get customers who are extremely needy but they’ve paid to stay in your accommodation and as a service we have to serve. Consider the backlash from the publicised story and if you’d want to be the focus of it. regardless of whether we think the customer should know better or not, as owners and agents we have a responsibility to ensure the guest enjoys their stay so much, they come back.


I’m with Andy. Ours is a service industry and we are here to make sure our guests have a great time. It doesn’t matter who is responsible, and attitude doesn’t matter either. Our feeling is that we should bow to our clients – they are the ones that pay the rent on the house they are staying in and the house I live in. Read my blog about how several owners I work with responded to this issue.
Bert Simonis

Heather Bayer

I agree with your post that owners need to be proactive and prepared for any eventuality.  The point I was trying to make is that our guests are less self-reliant than they were 20 years ago, and the responsibility lies with owners to understand this.  In ten years of managing our agency we’ve moved towards a greater hand-holding approach with guests, providing them with additional information and always trying to be one step ahead of the game.

El Paso Locksmith

You should be more careful when it comes to keys, especially in a foreign country where you don’t know how much a locksmith would cost but the people in charge should have provided a better response when you needed help.

El Paso Locksmith

Heather Bayer

I think the key to the problem (pun intended) is to ensure that a physical key is kept in a keypad secured lockbox on the exterior of the property that can be accesses once the owner or manager is notified. Mistakes can happen when setting digital keypads so to have the key available after a phone call is important to ensure a quick resolution to the issue. The other option is to have the owner or manager meet the incoming guests at the property, this can ensure a warm welcome but can be very time consuming if the guests are not on time.

James Beveridge

Of course, the first thing worth saying is that the couple should have been more
careful. But when it comes to Airbnb, these guys should have been more helpful.
When you are assisting people, it should not only be until your interest is attached, it should be beyond that.

Locked Out Guests: The Need for Vacation Rental Smart Home Control Grows - PointCentral

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LockState CO

Heather, what do you think about smart locks that can manage access and monitor usage? We’d love to work with you on exploring this strategies for owners.

John Cargile

Clock Software

Who’s supposed to help the guest with on-property issues like this – the owner or the booking mediator? Responsible owners should always have plans A and B for critical situation that might occur.

Leighenne Rivero

Well. Last night, I was locked out of my air bnb through no fault of my own… imagine the host has to unlock the lobby door for me when I punch in the code!! Too bad I had to find this out at 2am outside in the street at -12 degrees C

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