I was refused entry to my VRBO rental, so where is my refund?

When Judith Hartlieb rents a condo through VRBO, the owner tells her that he’s not allowed to rent it to her and cancels her stay the day before her arrival. Then he offers her an alternative date. When she declines, he promises her a refund but doesn’t issue it to her. Can our advocates help?

Question: I rented a condominium in Bonita Springs, Fla., for a month through VRBO and paid $5,800 for it through VRBO’s payment system with my credit card. But the day before I was supposed to arrive, the owner emailed me telling me that his condo association does not allow long-term leases, cancelled my reservation and asked me where to send me a refund. I responded that I would be on my way to Florida the next day and would not be at my home to receive a refund.

He also offered to rent the condo to me for an alternative date between May and December, so I think his cancellation was fraudulent. He has never sent me the promised refund.

I complained to VRBO, but they have been unhelpful, telling me that “unfortunately the notes were not as clear as needed to move forward.”

It’s been over ten months since I booked the condo and I still don’t have my payment back. I’ve used VRBO to book rental reservations before. Doesn’t its “Book With Confidence Guarantee” mean anything? — Judith Hartlieb, Highland, Ill.

Answer: It’s very disappointing to anticipate leaving the northern winter for warmth and sunshine, only to be told at the last minute that you’re not welcome.

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You immediately reported the problem to VRBO, which has since responded that it is treating your report as a formal complaint against the owner and has forwarded it to him for his response. VRBO’s agent also suggested that you leave a review of your experience on its site.

Sticking with VRBO’s payment system was the right thing to do, because our advocates rarely are successful in shaking loose reimbursements for renters who pay for their accommodations outside the system.

VRBO’s Book With Confidence Guarantee promises “up to 100% of the rental amount paid” in instances of fraud, misrepresentation of property, wrongful denial of entry to renters, security deposits withheld and other occurrences that prevent a renter from staying at a property he or she reserved through VRBO.

You had every right to expect a full return of your payment.

But although your case should have been an open-and-shut one, it wasn’t. You didn’t receive the promised refund. And VRBO was not otherwise helpful. What happened?

Part of the reason you were told that “the notes were not as clear as needed” may have been that you responded to both the property owner and VRBO’s agent with profanity, name-calling and sarcasm. While your anger about your situation was understandable, these are never appropriate ways to register a complaint or ask for help.

Although you might have used our executive contacts for HomeAway, VRBO’s parent company, to escalate your complaint, you contacted our advocates instead.

We reached out to VRBO on your behalf. You have since notified us that your credit card company has agreed to refund you the full amount of your deposit. In addition, VRBO has also agreed to issue $100 to you as a “concession” for your experience.

Jennifer Finger

Jennifer is the founder of KeenReader, an Internet-based freelance editing operation, as well as a certified public accountant. She is a senior writer for Elliott.org. Read more of Jennifer's articles here.

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