She left her “unsafe” Vrbo rental. Can she get her money back?

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By Christopher Elliott

Nicole Morin wants her money back for the “unsafe” vacation rental she booked through Vrbo. And she wants me to help her get it.

But was her Vrbo rental really dangerous? Both the host and the vacation rental manager claim it’s perfectly safe and suggest she may have been overreacting to some minor cosmetic problems with the property.

I’ll let you decide for yourself. Along the way, we’ll answer these questions:

  • Can you tell if your vacation rental is dangerous before you book?
  • What are the signs your vacation rental is dangerous?
  • Does Vrbo offer refunds for unsafe vacation rentals?

Morin’s family had rented the apartment for a week under tragic circumstances. She was in Montreal with her family to inter her sister’s ashes. 

“We needed a place in Montreal where we could all be together,” she says. “The loss of our sister has been very difficult.”

But when she checked into the apartment, she noticed a problem.

“The rug in the master bedroom was completely waterlogged,” she says. “It looked like someone had just taken a shower. Water was on the floor in the shower and on the bathroom floor.”

They soon found the source of the problem: a large hole in the bathroom ceiling.

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“Water was visibly dripping down from the hole, the light fixture in the shower and the ceiling fan onto the flooring and toilet below,” she says.

They also found that the property hadn’t been properly cleaned. Here’s what she saw when she opened one drawer.

Used face mask. Yuck.

Morin contacted the host through the Vrbo app. She did not respond.

Then Morin asked Vrbo for help, but the host did not respond to Vrbo either. So after spending a sleepless night in the rental, her family decided to leave.

Will she get a refund from Vrbo?

Morin finally heard back from the host the day after she left.

“She informed us that a plumber was going to come to fix the problem,” she recalls.

But this wasn’t something a plumber could fix. 

“My brother, who is an engineer, said that it would take days to repair all that was wrong and to make it safe to use,” she says. “The multiple issues with the apartment caused my family much distress.”

She asked Vrbo to refund her $2,101, which was the cost of the unused nights. After all, doesn’t Vrbo have a Book With Confidence guarantee that says her rental will be liveable? (Related: Vrbo took my $1,270! Can a vacation rental host cancel my stay and keep my money?)

The response?

After reviewing your request, we’ve determined that your requested reimbursement is not possible under our Book with Confidence program. We encourage you to discuss this request directly with the property manager as only they would have the authority to override their policy & offer a return of your funds.

We want to assure you that we have taken appropriate action on this advertiser’s account. Please note that due to privacy laws, we are not permitted to disclose any action taken regarding this situation.

It wasn’t too difficult to figure out what “action” Vrbo had taken. It removed Morin’s apartment from its platform.  (Here’s our guide to renting a vacation home.)

That’s interesting. The company is saying that the apartment doesn’t belong on Vrbo — that it is not suitable for future customers. And yet it is also telling Morin to negotiate a refund directly with the host. 

How can you tell if your vacation rental is dangerous?

Dangerous vacation rentals are out there — I’ve written about them many times on this site. But how can you tell if yours is dangerous? 

Signs of trouble before you arrive

Here are the telltale signs before you book:

The listing looks too good to be true

If the photos show a luxurious mansion with an infinity pool and a private beach, but the price is suspiciously low, it may be a rip-off. Hosts who lie about their rentals also tend to cut corners when it comes to safety.

No certifications

Look for designations like “Airbnb Plus,” which can denote a higher level of attention to health and safety. Vrbo also encourages hosts to add information about their cleaning practices. If you don’t see the certifications, it may be a sign of trouble.

No reviews

A lack of feedback from previous guests can either mean the property is a new listing or hasn’t been properly vetted. Proceed with caution, especially if the owner or manager doesn’t provide any references or documentation. Personally, I never book a rental with no reviews. It’s just too risky. (Related: He bought travel insurance through Vrbo. But where’s his policy?)

The owner is unresponsive or evasive

A host who doesn’t respond promptly or dodges your questions may be hiding something. Don’t book that rental.

Signs of an unsafe rental after you arrive

And here are the signs of trouble after you’ve checked in:

Pictures don’t match the property description

If the rental looks vastly different — in other words, worse — than it did in the property description — you could be in trouble.

Missing or broken safety features

Make sure the rental has working smoke detectors and fire extinguishers, as well as secure locks. If it doesn’t, you might be in an unsafe rental.

Foundation and structure problems

Look for foundation and structure issues, such as cracks in the walls, uneven floors, or musty odors, which could indicate mold or mildew. Black mold is common in vacation rentals; we’ve had several complaints about it.

Electrical and wiring issues

Pay attention to warning signs like flickering lights, frequently tripped circuit breakers, or burning odors, which could indicate potential electrical problems.

Plumbing and drainage issues

Watch out for slow drainage throughout the house, which could be a sign of a bigger plumbing problem.

Ghosts

I’m kidding. But if your host ghosts you, then you have a stronger case for a refund.

Bottom line: If you think your vacation rental is unsafe, do not spend the night in it. Ask your host or the platform to help you, but don’t be too patient. You might regret being in an unsafe home.

Does Vrbo offer refunds for unsafe vacation rentals?

Yes, it does.

Vrbo’s Book with Confidence Guarantee covers a material misrepresentation of the property you booked. It promises to either find alternate accommodations or refund you.

But when it comes to what Vrbo calls a “material noncompliance,” there are also some important exclusions.

They include:

  • Refusing to check in because of the cleanliness of the rental property.
  • Minor or immaterial defects of the subject property compared to the description in the listing.
  • Complaints about the orientation of the subject property.
  • Problems with the overall habitable surface area of the subject property being immaterially different than the description in the listing.
  • Issues with 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).

In other words, don’t ask for a full refund if the hot tub is broken. Vrbo won’t give you a refund.

Will she get a refund for this dangerous rental?

As someone who lives in vacation rentals practically year-round, I can tell you what my reaction would have been when I checked into the Vrbo rental in Montreal: I wouldn’t have spent the night there.

Something was seriously wrong with that place. There was a hole in the ceiling. There was water dripping on the floor. Even if a plumber had fixed the leak, I would have been concerned about mold. The failure to clean the property suggests the owner didn’t pay attention to the details, and that would have concerned me.

And if the owner didn’t respond to me or Vrbo — I would have been outta there. (Related: She wanted a refund for her Vrbo rental. The owner blocked her.)

It turns out there was more to it. Morin had also filed a credit card dispute under the Fair Credit Billing Act, but the bank sided with Vrbo. Morin also appealed to the Vrbo executives listed on our site, but the answer didn’t change.

Still, I wanted to ask Vrbo to take a look at the complaint. So I did. Here’s what Vrbo said:

We took another look at the case and determined this was an overall cleanliness issue based on our customer support team’s assessment. 

In most cases, and depending on the issue, we provide the host with 24-48 hours to respond to and/or rectify a complaint. The host was responsive to the leaking roof and did correct the situation, but the guest did not provide the host enough time to respond or rectify the complaint before leaving the property. 

We refunded the traveler service fee of $376 as a courtesy, and any refund of the remaining amount is at the host’s discretion and will have to be settled between the host and guest. 

That’s better, but it’s unlikely the nonresponsive host, who is now kicked off Vrbo, will be open to refunding the rest of the money. 

I wonder if the Vrbo team bothered to review the photos Morin sent them, showing a gaping hole in the ceiling and water leaking all over the bathroom. I wonder if they would spend a night in an apartment where they get sprayed with water when they try to use the bathroom. 

I’ve asked Vrbo if this is its final answer. I still think Morin deserves more.

“Our customer support teams took another look at this case and have come to the same determination that this was an overall cleanliness issue, and the host was responsive to the leaking roof which they corrected in a timely manner,” a Vrbo spokeswoman said. 

Vrbo offered to reimburse Morin $1,232 in addition to the refund of Vrbo’s traveler service fee of $376. 

She turned down the offer.

Update (1/22): Morin says she is taking the host and Vrbo to small claims court. I’ll have an update soon.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. He is based in São Paulo.

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