The tale of a dirty VRBO rental with a “lady” trying to crawl in the window

When Carrie Martin and her family arrive at 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?


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 our window. She was shining her flashlight in our room, yelling for “Lex” to let her in. We believe she may have been a prostitute.

This situation frightened us very much. And I called the number on the wall to contact someone in charge of the property. They sent the police, who handled the situation. Obviously, we did not sleep that night, and we left first thing in the morning.

But the property manager 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! Why would anyone want to pay money to stay at a dirty VRBO rental? I have seen that you have had success in these types of cases. Can you help me, too? Carrie Martin, Orlando, Fla.


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 this dirty VRBO rental met those expectations.

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Typically, the consumers who contact us with unresolved VRBO problems have circumvented the VRBO payment center 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.

VRBO’s Book with Confidence Guarantee

Because you had booked the rental and paid through the VRBO system, you thought the Book with Confidence Guarantee would protect you.

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 entire 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.

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A dirty VRBO rental is not a reason to reject a property

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. And if you check into a dirty VRBO rental? Also, not a reason to reject that property.

Lots of exclusions

This paragraph had me hard-pressed to think of a situation that VRBO would include.

Additionally, the guarantee makes clear that it isn’t the 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 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. Arriving at a dirty VRBO rental does not automatically qualify a renter for a refund. You must give the owner a chance to correct the problem.

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Safety concerns

Your second complaint; however, was far more serious. You had your young daughter with you, and you felt unsafe.

Since VRBO does not explicitly exclude a possible prostitute on a ladder trying to climb in your window while yelling for “Lex” as a reason to reject a property.  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 noted that you had been a loyal customer of VRBO/HomeAway and had never had a problem before. So you were unfamiliar with the steps needed to obtain a refund. And this was an unusual situation.

The resolution

The VRBO resolution team reconsidered your case. It then 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 you can expect.

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.

Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle is the executive director of She is a consumer advocate, writer and licensed clinical social worker who spends as much time as possible exploring the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Friedman Read more of Michelle's articles here.

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