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.

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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.

  • Johng

    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.

    This is why people are always advised you can be firm but polite; it is nearly always makes a difference.

  • PsyGuy

    That’s a long time to wait, I’d have filed a dispute with my bank card way before that happened.

  • aerix88

    Exactly what I thought. Open and shut case, would have been refunded in a few days, at most a month.

  • Mel65

    I don’t understand how forwarding the original reservation information plus the email from the condo owner stating that he couldn’t rent it to her and would be refunding her money to VRBO immediately, didn’t result in a refund immediately! It should have never gotten to the point where the OB felt compelled to use sarcasm and profanity; what a mess!

  • Harvey-6-3.5

    VRBO looks really bad in this story. By using their payment system, she followed the rules. VRBO didn’t. And $100 isn’t much recompense for a failed vacation, given that the OB might have incurred airfare or other expenses, besides having to find alternative arrangements on the fly.

  • sirwired

    Well, I expect a lot depends on when the profanity and sarcasm (and quite possibly more than a bit of incoherence) was deployed. If it was in the initial note to VRBO just after the owner started the song-and-dance, then that’s going to gum up the works straight-away.

  • sirwired

    I will say the owner is definitely not telling the truth. If a long-term rental isn’t allowed for the initial reservation, how was it going to be allowed between May and December?

  • sirwired

    Well, if her first contact to VRBO (after the owner started with the excuses) started straight off with the sarcasm and profanity (which often occur in lock-step with a note that’s hard to understand) then that’s going to impair the refund process.

  • Bill___A

    Althoughh the OP’s response may have been hostile, there are two things that are not clear to me. One being that the Renter was “not home to receive a refund”. What kind of nonsense is that? Credit card refund=non issue with that. Second, how is it that the cono association doesn’t allow long term rentals but he offered it for alternate dates? Makes no sense. There should be refund and damages. Just like the guest has to pay a penalty for last minute cacellations – so should the renter. This whole episode is absurd.

  • MF

    The owner couldn’t rent it this month, but another? Sounds like a lie. Perhaps he had another tenant that wanted to pay more than our OP? One day’s notice to cancel a long term rental is not fair to the renter. A $100 ‘concession’ from VRBO is an insult to the OP and their precious time off.

  • PsyGuy

    At most a week.

  • James Dworak

    I had used vrbo a couple of years ago in SW Florida renting a home.
    Making sure I wasn’t getting scammed by the renter, I called the town of Cape Coral and found out exactly who owned the home.
    Turns out the names were not the same. The European speaking person I was dealing with turns out to be the wife of the owner, but uses her own name. I actually contacted the owner in New York verifying the information. I’ll always confirm what and whim in dealing with.

  • Tracy Larson

    One month sounds more like a vacation rental and not a long term rental. It sounds like the owner is not telling the truth about why he can’t rent it to her for the stay – betting he got a better offer. VRBO had probably already paid the owner by depositing the funds into the owners bank account. I know VRBO pays us the rental amount well before the rental actually takes place in our condo. Maybe he had to mail a check? Doubtful, but a possibility.

  • Dutchess

    This is why as a guest I like Airbnb, they penalize their host when they cancel last minute. If a host cancels on a guest, Airbnb blocks out those dates on the calendar and the property isn’t available for rent for those days. It shows as a mark on their record, right in the reviews for all future renters to see, and they can lose their superhost status. Finally they can fine the host $100 or charge them difference between a new comparable space and what the guest was supposed to pay. Of course hosts don’t like this but as a guest it gives me a lot more confidence my host will perform.

  • Blamona

    I list too–and vrbo has no problems taking the money back after it’s given

  • Blamona

    Vrbo penalizes too

  • LeeAnneClark

    If I’m reading this correctly, it sounds as if she is getting her reimbursement from her “credit card company”, not VRBO. So I assume this means she filed a credit card dispute? If so, that’s surprising given that it’s been ten months. I thought there was a 90-day window to initiate a credit card dispute. Or did VRBO refund her? That’s not clear in the article.

    In any event, this seems to me like a pretty open and shut case – she should have received a refund immediately. And when she didn’t, she should have just filed a credit card dispute and let them hash it out.

    But as others have noted, there are two oddities with this story: 1) not being home for a refund. Huh? One doesn’t have to be at home for their credit card charge to be refunded. Perhaps if she’d just said “thanks” when the owner offered to refund her, that would have been the end of it.

    And 2) the profanity and sarcasm. It’s not clear at what point that began, but I would agree that if it was used immediately, that could have thrown a monkey wrench into getting this resolved quickly. But if it wasn’t used until later, when it was obvious her refund was not immediately forthcoming…frankly I can kinda understand. ;-) Doesn’t make it right, but sheesh…if there was ever a case as clear-cut as this one, I can’t remember it!

  • Carol Molloy

    I wholeheartedly agree with you. Extreme emotion and profanity can make it very difficult to get a clear fact pattern. At the very least, it raises suspicion about what has transpired. When I have a written complaint passed to me that is laden with outrage and profanity, it often has incomplete facts, i.e anything that might weaken the client’s argument is conveniently omitted. We always try to receive matter impartially, and favorably for the client, but sometimes they are their own worst enemy.

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