British Columbia

Grandma sues Airbnb over Canada 150 stay in Ottawa 'university pot ghetto'

A B.C. grandmother claims her dream trip to the nation's capital was ruined by the reek of pot and the sound of revellers outside the door of her Airbnb rental.

Joan Gibbs claims her stay was marred by smell of marijuana and constant partying of other tenants

Joan Gibbs claims her plans to celebrate Canada's 150th birthday in Ottawa in a family friendly manner conflicted with plans of pot lovers to throw a very different kind of party. (Pawel Dwulit/Canadian Press)

Last year, realizing she wasn't getting any younger, Joan Gibbs says she decided to do something for her grandchildren "they would never forget."

A trip to the nation's capital. 

The 79-year-old says the kind of memories she had in mind involved fireworks, museums and festivities to honour Canada's 150th birthday — not stuffing rolled up towels under the door of her Airbnb rental to block the pervasive smell of marijuana or braving a crowd of revellers playing beer pong on the lawn to get to their front door.

"It was devastating for me frankly, because what was supposed to be a very special event was turned into a complete nightmare," Gibbs says.

"I was so discouraged that I had to put it out of my mind."

'University pot ghetto'

Gibbs filed a lawsuit against Airbnb and the website's co-founder Brian Chesky in North Vancouver small claims court this week.

She's seeking $6,809.96 — a refund of the nights she didn't stay in the suite she booked online as well as money to cover the bill of the hotel she and her family moved to out of frustration on the third day of their trip.

Joan Gibbs claims that she and her family returned from dinner on Canada Day to find dozens of people playing beer pong on the front lawn of their rental. (The Associated Press)

"This accommodation was clearly not, in any way, suitable for a family with young children. In fact it was not suitable for anyone wanting to sleep," Gibbs writes in her civil notice of claim.

"My Ottawa friends later described the area as a 'university pot ghetto.'"

In an emailed response, Airbnb said the company would like to look into the case further.

Gibbs claims she started searching for "family oriented" accommodation for her family in February 2017. She says she made it very clear that her party included grandchildren aged 10, 8, 6, 3 and two.

'Completely ignored the booking requirements'

From the beginning, she claims her experience was a descent into frustration.

The daily rate at the time she asked was $489 a night. But that jumped to $1,390 a night for the dates she requested.

Gibbs booked anyway.

Ottawa was full of people celebrating Canada Day, but not in the family friendly manner that Joan Gibbs had envisioned. (REUTERS)

She thought she would be staying on Albert Street — a short distance from Parliament Hill and Confederation Park. But instead she claims the accommodation was switched to Chapel Street — near the University of Ottawa.

"In spite of my phone calls and emails in trying to get this change of address explained or clarified, I have had no success," she states in her notice of claim.

"In short, I am taking the position that Airbnb completely ignored the booking requirements I clearly stated."

According to the court documents, the smell of marijuana was inescapable from the moment Gibbs checked into the suite along with her son, his wife and the five grandchildren.

'Two more days of this nonsense'

They stayed on the third floor. But smoke rises.

"The very first day we were there, we had towels and whatnot underneath the doors to stop the marijuana smoke," Gibbs says by phone. "It was just beyond my belief."

According to the lawsuit, the straw that broke the camel's back came on Canada Day.

"When we arrived back at dinner time of July 1st, there was a crowd of about 30 rowdy partygoers on the front law playing beer pong," Gibbs writes in her notice of claim.

"I realized for our peace of mind, we could not do two more days of this nonsense."

The court documents include copies of Gibbs' email correspondence with the property owner, who refunded her $750 — or half a night's stay — for her inconvenience.

A 'party city'?

Airbnb's regulations say the company "may" apply its guest refund policy "in certain circumstances" if a client is unable to resolve a problem with their host.

Gibbs claims she was told the company couldn't help her further.

"Also your claim that Ottawa was a party city due to the 150-year celebration and I should have known that is also very weak," her lawsuit reads.

"Ottawa is a very staid city and while there were numerous celebrations going on all over the city, we saw very little of the drunken revelry that was occurring on the front lawn of our Airbnb accommodation."

None of the allegations has been proven in court.


Jason Proctor


Jason Proctor is a reporter in British Columbia for CBC News and has covered the B.C. courts and the justice system extensively.


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