When Carrie Martin and her family arrive to their latest VRBO rental they are initially put off by the lack of cleanliness of the unit. That concern is quickly replaced when they hear a disturbance outside their bedroom window. Through the darkness they see someone on a ladder trying to get in. The police take care of that problem, but will VRBO take care of Martin’s refund?
Question: I would like help in receiving a refund for our two night VRBO rental. The listing was clearly fraudulent. The pictures were fake and the amenities were non-existent.
The place was filthy, and we were forced to leave early in the morning after checking in the previous night. We were awakened at 5 a.m. to the sound of a drunk woman on a ladder banging on the window and shining her flashlight in our room, yelling for “Lex” to let her in. We believe she may have been a prostitute.
We were all very frightened, and I called the number on the wall to contact someone from the hotel. They sent the police, who handled the situation. Obviously we did not sleep that night, and we left soon after.
But the hotel will not refund our money and VRBO/HomeAway takes no responsibility for fraudulent listings on their site. My credit card company will not even help us because we did stay there one night.
I am at my wit’s end, and this experience ruined our family trip last week! I have seen that you have had success in these types of cases. Can you help me, too? Carrie Martin, Orlando, Fla.
Answer:What a frightening experience. Of course, when you book a VRBO rental you should be able to assume that it will be clean, secure and somewhat similar to the photos on the listing. In this instance, it doesn’t seem that those expectations were met.
I was surprised when you told me that VRBO had not been willing to resolve your problem.
Typically, the consumers who contact us with unresolved VRBO problems have circumvented the VRBO payment center in order to save a few dollars. In these situations, VRBO then has no direct involvement and will not assist.
But you had used the VRBO’s payment system, so its refusal to help you was puzzling.
Because you had booked the rental and paid through the VRBO system, you thought that you would be protected by the Book with Confidence Guarantee.
But what is exactly is this guarantee? You wanted to know — since it did not seem to be helping you in this case.
The official definition on VRBO’s website says:
“The Book with Confidence Guarantee is to help travelers feel confident booking on HomeAway, reducing booking hesitation that in turn supports our homeowners.”
OK, but what does it really mean?
It’s a lengthy document with extensive legalese. I think it is safe to assume that most VRBO/HomeAway users have not read this complete tome.
But they should — if read carefully, it isn’t clear to me that this guarantee would induce “confidence” in a renter.
In fact, I know that you did not read it, because among other things this guarantee requires a renter to make their complaint known to VRBO within 12 hours of arrival to the unacceptable accommodation.
You didn’t do that. After your first disastrous night at this apartment, you packed up and drove home. It was two days before you alerted VRBO of your family’s exodus. Unfortunately, with that misstep you officially disqualified yourself from any refund eligibility.
Further review of the “Book with Confidence Guarantee” reveals that there are a variety of situations that are, surprisingly, not considered valid reasons to reject a property outright. Among them are:
(i) The cleanliness of the rental property; (ii) Minor or immaterial defects of the subject property in relation to the description in the listing including, without limitation, differences to the extent of: (1) the actual orientation of the subject property; (2) the actual overall habitable surface area of the subject property being immaterially different than the description the in the listing; and (3) a temporary defect of or within the subject property or attached services (such as failure of the air conditioning, internet, phone service, grill, hot tub, or swimming pool).
So if you rent a house with a beautiful pool, but you arrive there and it is “temporarily” drained or otherwise unavailable — according to these terms that isn’t a reason to reject the property. Or, if your rental is in the middle of the desert and the air conditioning breaks — also not a reason to press the eject button.
This paragraph had me hard-pressed to think of a situation that would be included..
Additionally, the guarantee makes clear that it isn’t a first line of defense in a rental dispute. In fact, it clarifies that you must initiate a chargeback and lose before you can even attempt to utilize this “Book with Confidence Guarantee.”
When I reviewed your complaint, I noted that you were focused on the fact that the unit was dirty when requesting your refund. However, the above exclusions point out that the state of cleanliness of a rental is not a valid reason for immediate rejection.
Your second complaint; however, was far more serious. You had your young daughter with you and you felt unsafe.
Although VRBO does not specifically address whether a possible prostitute on a ladder trying to climb in your window while yelling for “Lex” is covered as a reason to reject a property, I noted that it wasn’t on the list of exclusions. And I thought it was worth an inquiry.
I contacted VRBO on your behalf and relayed the account of your awful evening at this apartment. Since you had also found some Yelp reviews of the property in which other guests had similar experiences and complaints, I forwarded this information, as well.
As suspected, our contact pointed out that you did not follow the proper protocol to qualify for a refund. While this is true, I countered with the fact that you had been a loyal customer of VRBO/Homeaway and had never had a problem before. Thus, were unfamiliar with the steps needed to obtain a refund. And this certainly was an unusual situation.
The VRBO resolution team reconsidered your case and agreed to refund the one night that you did not stay at the apartment.
Although you were not completely satisfied with this outcome, you have accepted that, given the circumstances, this is the best resolution that can be expected. And we agree with that assessment.
We are pleased that, ultimately, VRBO returned half of your money — because they did not have to do so, as per the terms of your rental.
Remember that when booking a hotel or other accommodation it is important to know all of the policies and terms, so that if trouble should arise you can take the proper steps to protect your investment — and yourself.