I’m dealing with an “unstable, ignorant” landlord. Can HomeAway help?

By | November 29th, 2016

David and Helen Kunz were looking forward to their summer vacation in Ocean City, N.J. They had booked a vacation rental home and sent the owners the payments they had asked for to reserve their lodgings. But just before their vacation started, the Kunzes were told that the property was no longer available – and they couldn’t get back the money they had prepaid for it.

If that story sounds familiar, it’s because the Kunzes made their booking through HomeAway.com, a vacation rental site that’s makes regular appearances on this site. The Kunzes’ story is a reminder to exercise the utmost caution when using online services to book travel arrangements and to read the smallest print very carefully, because your money may be taking a trip without you.

The Kunzes booked a property listed on HomeAway. The owners instructed the Kunzes to mail them payments for half the rent for their four nights’ stay plus a refundable security deposit, totaling $770. The Kunzes sent the payment three months prior to the scheduled date of their stay. HomeAway claims that its Trust & Security Department insured $500 of this deposit.

But two weeks before the Kunzes were scheduled to depart on their vacation, the owner called them. He had bad news: because of construction nearby, his rental home would no longer be available for the Kunzes’ stay. He promised to immediately send them a full refund for their $770 payment.

Since the Kunzes, who live in Arizona, had already purchased their plane tickets to New Jersey and didn’t want to lose their vacation, they had to scramble at the last minute to find another rental property – at the height of the rental season. They found one through a local broker, Fox & Roach Realtors, and incurred additional costs of $125 for the processing fee and rental damage coverage for that property.

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Despite the owner’s promise to immediately refund the Kunzes their full $770 payment, they only refunded $377. The owner posted on HomeAway’s website that HomeAway was holding the $393 balance of the refund due the Kunzes and had locked the owner out of his account.

The Kunzes filed a claim with the HomeAway Trust & Security Department, providing copies of their documentation, but HomeAway denied the claim. They also inquired with the Ocean City Office of Licensing whether the owners had a mercantile license or rental registration on file for their property as required by local law – and found that they did not.

“We’re dealing with an unstable, ignorant man who truly believes he’s right,” says Kunz.

Although the Kunzes might have escalated their complaint using our company contacts for HomeAway, they contacted our advocacy team, asking: “How can HomeAway advertise and facilitate rental of a vacation property that is not even registered as a rental and deny our claim for a full refund of our deposit?” They asked for help securing a refund of the $393 owed them by the owner and reimbursement for the $125 they paid to Fox & Roach Realtors to rent its property.

HomeAway’s terms and conditions disclaim legal responsibility for everything posted on its site, but provide that:

Users agree that they are responsible for, and agree to abide by, all laws, rules and regulations applicable to their use of the Site, their use of any tool, service or product offered on the Site and any transaction they enter into on the Site or in connection with their use of the Site.

Members further agree that they are responsible for and agree to abide by all laws, rules, ordinances, or regulations applicable to the listing of their rental property and the conduct of their rental business, including but not limited to any and all laws, rules, ordinances, regulations or other requirements relating to taxes, credit cards, data and privacy, permits or license requirements, zoning ordinances, safety compliance and compliance with all anti-discrimination and fair housing laws, as applicable.

In spite of its disclaimer of legal responsibility, HomeAway should have helped the Kunzes secure the refund for their deposit as a matter of good customer service.

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HomeAway offers a Book with Confidence Guarantee, which provides that if a customer reserves a property on HomeAway or one of its affiliated sites, books it using HomeAway’s website checkout system, and pays for it using an approved method of payment, the customer will receive protection from HomeAway in the event of a loss of funds because of the unavailability of the property.

But when our advocates reached out to HomeAway, they were told that because the Kunzes had mailed the owner their deposit,

Unfortunately, the travelers paid outside of HomeAway’s checkout and therefore are not eligible for our Book with Confidence Guarantee. We have a team dedicated to monitoring listings, and we take action on suspicious listings and those with poor rental practices. Due to privacy laws, we are not permitted to disclose any action taken regarding this situation.

In light of this disappointing response from HomeAway, we have to file the Kunzes’ story as a Case Dismissed.

  • Alan Gore

    For an escrow service to work, both sides have to use it. It should hold all money until the service is satisfied that the rental (in this case)was delivered as promised.

  • Barthel

    Sue the owner in small claims court. They might need to retain an attorney in the jurisdiction where the owner lives. Maybe if they first filed a complaint with the AG in NJ they could resolve the case without suing.

  • Rebecca

    It sounds like HomeAway pulled this owner off their site, but they can’t say that. I may be wrong, but I’d guess the OP isn’t the only one this happened to. Unfortunately, they didn’t pay through HomeAway. If they had, they’d probably have gotten a refund relatively quickly. If not, they could file a credit card dispute and would easily win. To be fair to HomeAway, they make it very clear on their site that you need to pay through them to take advantage of their protection. That and it’s common sense. I feel bad for the OP, but fortunately it isn’t a significant amount of money, like the ones we’ve seen here for thousands of dollars. The owner absolutely owes it to them, but HomeAway doesn’t.

  • AAGK

    So the Kunz family didn’t use Homeway whatsoever. They researched properties and paid outside the site. Obv any protection for renters who book through Homeway, and pay its processing fees, etc. would not apply. The owner still owes the $393 and since he has a known asset, there are still available remedies, however pursuing Homeaway would be a waste of time.

  • AAGK

    They may also be able to place a lien of some sort on the property.

  • Hanope

    I’m not sure suing would be worthwhile in this case. The amount in dispute is $393 plus $125, so $518. They could either file the complaint themselves or retain an attorney in Jersey, either of which would likely cost more than $500 because of flying to Jersey and/or attorneys fees for filing the complaint and doing the trial. So unless they have a signed rental contract that provides for the losing party to pay attorneys fees, which I doubt given the facts, it would cost them more to sue than the damages they’d get back.

    Filing a complaint with the AG in NJ might work better, and be a lot cheaper.

  • sirwired

    This is a disappointing outcome, but not surprising. If HomeAway doesn’t have the money, has never had the money, therefore they aren’t responsible for it. If you don’t process your payment through HomeAway, they make pretty clear that they are essentially no more liable than Craigslist or a Newspaper’s Classified dept. if something goes wrong.

    Yes, they could force everybody to use their payment service, but when AirBnB did that, Chris posted an article complaining they had the temerity to charge for it.

  • Rebecca

    They wrote a paper check. The owner had to deposit that check, so they know where he holds a bank account (the routing number would be on the back of the canceled check). There’s a good chance they could see the money if they could garnish (or the NJ equivalent, I’m not sure) this account, or any other he holds there. Getting to that point may not be worth it, especially for a few hundred bucks. But, it’s there if they want to push it.

  • AAGK

    And they know where the home is so if there is a mortgage… seems like the OP has so much leverage but if the owner is MIA or crazy then it won’t mean much. I would probably drop since it’s my own fault for sending money to a random stranger on the internet.


    Not sure why HomeAway is the villain here. The OP did find the property on HomeAway but decided against following the payment procedure that HomeAway set up. By paying directly they left HomeAway out of the transaction and exempted themselves from the guarantee that would have protected more of their payment. Did the OP say why they did this? Did the property owner insist on that method of payment? (A big red flag if they did). Or were they trying to save a few dollars? As much as I want to blame HomeAway it is difficult to hold them responsible when the renter and property owner cut them out of the transaction.

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    I have to agree. If you are using one of these booking sites (or probably any booking site whatsoever), you need to play by their rules if you want them to protect you. If I mailed cash to the Marriott front desk instead of paying online with a credit card in order to save money, I shouldn’t be surprised if my reservation is missing.

  • Mel65

    This totally sucks, but Homeaway is off the hook on this one (for a change!). They have to follow the money and it isn’t Homeaway who has their money. Why would they think that anyone OTHER than the landlord would be the ones to go after?
    OT: Can the option to make the articles “Single Page” PLEASE be put at the top instead of the bottom of the article?

  • LeeAnneClark

    I really can’t stand this two-page format. I keep forgetting to look on the second page, and am missing entire portions of article.

  • jmtabb

    Agreed. Don’t like the two page format at all.

  • PsyGuy

    This is one of those scenarios where the thief is of course in the wrong, but never send money to someone directly or by wire. If the landlord won’t go through the appropriate POS process, go to another property, anyone trying to circumvent the system may very well have a scam down the road.

  • PsyGuy

    The AG would be better than small claims court. These kind of scammers are afraid of handcuffs and bars, winning in small claims court gives you a judgment that’s a piece of paper. You have to turn that piece of paper into money, and it’s hard to do, and likely will cost you more in time and resources.

  • PsyGuy

    We actually are only assuming the property owner owns the asset. We don’t even know if there is a property. This could be a scam, is there even any evidence of the “construction”? It could be phantom listing, then an excuse with a promise of a refund then they disappear.

  • PsyGuy

    The multi page option is really annoying.

  • Tracy Larson

    We own a vacation home and rent it via HomeAway/VRBO. I am always nervous when a potential guest wants to send us a check for payment. We get these requests because HomeAway/VRBO charge the guest a service fee for the booking. They figure if they pay us directly, they don’t have to pay that fee. I worry about the check not clearing and then we have a guest in our home with no payment. I also don’t like it because they then know where we bank when they receive the cancelled check. I think the service fee HomeAway/VRBO charge is a blatant money grab and I don’t like it, but I prefer payment through the system.

  • ctporter

    1000 times YES on the option for single page at the top, before I discover through comments I am missing relevant points to a story. (talk about deceptive practice! – LOL)

  • cscasi

    I can understand your thoughts on this matter. But, at least Homeaway does offer the service and as a part of it, it does protect the renter (for a fee) against something like what happened to the Kunzes. Also, the renters would never face sending a check/money order to a fake person whom they thought is the real owner/landlord. So, there is definitely two sides to the story.

  • AAGK

    Great point.

  • Tracy Larson

    If I was renting a place, I’d be nervous about sending someone I don’t know a check. As much as I don’t like the added service fee, I’d be willing to pay it if it protected me. We ask people to pay through the site because I think it helps protect both sides.

  • greg watson

    Caveat Emptor !

  • joycexyz

    You’re absolutely right. The service fee gives protection and peace of mind for both the renter and the owner. And remember…there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

  • jah6

    They should file a credit card report. They would win, I have done similar things before.

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