BUYER BEWARE — If you rent an apartment through Key Barcelona they might electrocute your sick girlfriend then accuse you of blackmail when you complain

(Obviously, some people pay good money for that kind of service… but not us)

My girlfriend and I recently spent 6 days in Barcelona. She’s been pretty ill this year (without going into too many details, she has advanced cancer), and we were looking for somewhere to unwind after 18 weeks of pretty harsh treatment. In particular, we wanted a decent, comfortable apartment we could use to base ourselves in while we had a lazy, slightly boozy time of it.

Given the nature of cancer treatment, we weren’t able to book in advance. So the time we came to look for somewhere to stay, the usual suspects (AirBnB & the like) were pretty much booked up or completely out of our price range.

So after a bit of faffing around online, we eventually found a lovely-looking place — if somewhat pricey (more than €900 for six nights) — right in the middle of the district we wanted to stay in — Poble Sec. Here it is on, but it’s ultimately managed by a local agency called Key Barcelona. Remember their name.

We’d chosen Poble Sec because a) our friends live there and b) it had a decent nightlife. And, quite by chance, we found out after booking that our stay there coincided with the area’s annual Fiesta. Great, we thought. Not far to walk for the fun, and not far to walk home if/when we get knackered.

As is so often the case, the online photos didn’t really match the reality. So when we turned up at the flat, we were a little disappointed. For example, what you can’t see in this photo:

…is the toilet, which is completely (deliberately?) obstructed from view by the sink, and over which you literally have to clamber to get into the shower. When you’re managing chronic back pain and post-chemo fatigue, this isn’t great. Similarly, the kitchen was more of a cupboard. But hey, that’s the fish-eye lensed world of online property rental, right? And all this is subjective, I guess.

Anyway, more objectively, and more relevant to this story, the apartment is bang opposite a bar… which, thanks to the Fiesta, had set up a temporary outdoor stage pretty much directly underneath our balcony, which was part of the main bedroom.

As he checked us in, the Key Barcelona rep (Thomas, who was absolutely lovely) cautioned that the music from this stage would go on pretty late and, to quote him pretty much verbatim, “you probably want to stay in the back bedroom for the next couple of nights.”

This ‘back bedroom’ turned out to be about half the size of the main room. And while it had a double bed, that was about it — a small shuttered window overlooked on a pretty grim view; it was hot; and there was no a/c in the flat (though there was a fan). Not ideal, but, well, OK. Neither of us is a prude when it comes to staying up late, nor sleeping through noise. It seemed a sensible, if grudging, compromise. But we were feeling a bit miffed about the whole thing — for €900 we could have got a decent hotel and a bit more, well, luxury…

But things then took a turn for the worse.

Mid-way through our first night, my girlfriend got up to go to the bathroom. And as she stood up in the pitch-black room, unsteady on her feet (chronic back pain will do that to you), she brushed against something on the bedroom wall and felt her whole body jolt. She put her hand out to steady herself and again, a sharp jolt convulsed through her body. There were TWO LIVE ELECTRICAL WIRES sticking out of the wall:

Shocking decor (lol)

We spent the next two nights desperately, anxiously, avoiding this shocking protrusion. Then, with the Fiesta over, we moved to the main bedroom.

What follows below is the email exchange between me and Key Barcelona discussing the wiring, and whether they should refund us some money. I’ll leave it to yourself to decide who’s in the right here. Yes we perhaps should have notified them earlier in the holiday — but we were also dealing with a metric f*ck-tonne of issues related to my girlfriend’s illness (involving, without too much detail, the constant juggling of pain medication just to keep the show on the road, while trying to have A Nice Time). Quite frankly, neither of us had the headspace to get into a dispute, and I HATE using the phone. And yes, perhaps I shouldn’t have opened with quite such a demanding email.

But ultimately, there shouldn’t be live electrical wires sticking out of the wall of an apartment for which you’re paying upward of €900.


My opening salvo, sent on the Tuesday:

Dear Key Barcelona,
We have been staying in flat 2–1, Carrer de Ricart since last Thurs (21st) and are due to leave tomorrow. We came to Barcelona for a short break to allow my girlfriend to recover from the chemotherapy cancer treatment she’s been having for the last 18 weeks.
For the first three nights there was extremely loud live rock music playing in the street below until very late. This meant we had to sleep in the bedroom at the rear of the apartment. Unfortunately — and upsettingly — we discovered that this room has two *live electrical wires* protruding from the wall (see attached photos) — and on walking past them early on Friday morning, my girlfriend experienced a significant electric shock to her right arm.
However, due to the continued loud music for the next two nights, it was impossible to sleep in the other double room.
When the street festival finished on Sunday we were able to move back into the main bedroom and have since had a pleasant stay. But the first three nights we spent in the apartment were extremely stressful as we had to spend our time avoiding the wires and sleeping in an uncomfortable, dangerous room.
I would therefore request that you refund us the rental fee for the first three nights here which, by my calculation, is €487. You can transfer this back to the card used to pay the rental balance on 21st.
Please do not hesitate to get in touch if you require further information.

Here’s their initial response (my emphases):

Dear guests,
First of all we would like to apologize for the electric shock.
As we explained during the check-in time, our phone number is available 24h/7days in case of issue or emergency in one of our apartment.
You should not hesitated to phone us to signal the electrical problem. We are a bit surprised to receive complain only at the end of your stay (6 nights).
But once again, we apologise for this inconvenience.
Regarding the “Fiesta de Poble Sec”, at check-in time, our Colleague Thomas informed you that during all week-end, the district of Poble Sec will be full of concerts and events (annual event).
Thomas told us you were not upset and you knew a bit about this “Fiesta de Poble Sec” is was not a problem.
Moreover: this apartment offers LARGE double bedroom on the “garden side” and LARGE double bedroom on the “street side”.
For all this reasons, partial refund requested will be not accepted.
We offer 10% discount for next booking in one of our 30 apartments.
Best regards

Now, here’s the contact card that Thomas the check-in guy had handed us, with the number to call underlined. I’ve also highlighted some important information on it:

So here’s my response:

Thank you for the apology, but that is still not satisfactory. To clear a few things up:
- We were ‘not upset’ by the Fiesta, as you put it, as Thomas had explained that we could stay in the bedroom at the rear.
- We specifically chose Poble Sec to stay for its character, HOWEVER, we were unaware that the Fiesta was taking place before we arrived (contrary to your implication) and certainly surprised to find a live music stage directly beneath the balcony of the main bedroom.
- Your business card, handed by Thomas, states that your office is open Monday — Friday, I had not understood that it was a 24hr number.
- As I mentioned in my initial email, my girlfriend has cancer, and we have actively been managing a number of issues relating to her health over the past few days, while trying to have the best possible time on holiday. Finding time amongst all of this to call you to complain about the electrical wiring in the flat was lower down our list of priorities.
Hopefully this clarifies our position — I think it is only fair, under the circumstances, that you offer us some financial recompense for the inconvenience caused by the dangerous wiring in the bedroom of the apartment.

They came back with this:

Dear Henry,
Thank you for your email.
20€ will be refunded to your credit card.
Regarding your security deposit refund, unfortunately we did not manage to refund yet.
May you confirm your credit card number please?
We wish you a nice week end.

€20. That’s the extent of their apology for sticking 110V through my girlfriend.

I’ll leave you to decide whether you think this is fair recompense. As you can see from my reply below, I don’t (I may have been a bit angry by this point)…

My third email:

My girlfriend and I both feel that €20 compensation for her being electrocuted in a darkened room whilst recovering from cancer treatment is, at best, dismissive and, at worst, an insult. Please could you reconsider your position — I notice you have several social media channels and I will not hesitate to make this story public if you do not take our grievance seriously.
I do hope we can draw this matter to a swift conclusion from here.

And here’s their final response:

Dear Henry,
Thank you for your email.
We do not use to work or to make discount against “blackmail”. As we said we apologise for the electric issue. As we said, we have 24h/7days phone number available in case of urgency/issue/…
We confirm your security deposit and 20€ will be refunded on tomorrow.
Best regards,

So, there you go. The €20 has been refunded, and, as promised, I shall be making this story available to users of Key Barcelona’s social media channels.

Not sure that counts as ‘blackmail’, but whatever.

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