Case dismissed: A “disgusting” apartment rental and no refund

When Steven Silverman found an apartment in London through HomeAway, one of the largest home rental sites, he was sure it would be perfect. After all, the site specifically guarantees its rental properties won’t be misrepresented.

Maybe the apartment’s owner didn’t get that memo.

Silverman says the rental, for which he paid £1,350, was “disgusting” and didn’t meet his requirements. He’d specifically asked for an air-conditioned unit, and was promised one. But that’s not what he got, he says.

Here’s what he saw when he entered the apartment, which had no air conditioning, after arriving in England:

It had not been cleaned from the prior renter. There was food in the refrigerator and used soap on the sink in the bathroom.

We were exhausted, needed to take showers and go to sleep, even without the air conditioning. When we went to use the shower, it had also not been cleaned. The shower mat was black in places and was filthy. Even more incredible, there were only two bath towels for three people.

When my son tried to go to sleep, we opened the bed. It would have been perfect, if he was a foot shorter. He was a little under 5’6’’, so he is not a giant. Maybe a 10-year-old could have used the bed. There was also no clean bedding for him.

Silverman left the apartment the next day and found another hotel. The owner agreed to a full refund.

A happy ending? Not quite.

[The owner] was supposed to have our credit card refunded with the money that we paid. Well, of course, she did not do that. We waited a few weeks after our return to get our money.

We then contacted her and she said that she had changed her bank and could not refund to the credit card. She then said she would send a check. Well after another delay we got a “check”. It was a check that was drawn on a new account.

It had numerous problems with it. She had spelled my name wrong, and then crossed out part of it. She used numbers instead of dates, so it looked like the check was written on February 8, 2010 instead of August 2, 2010. She also shorted us by 300 pounds.

Needless to say, his bank wouldn’t accept the check. A subsequent credit card dispute didn’t work because it was an overseas transaction, according to his bank.

So here I am, out some $2,000 when we did everything correct. We researched the place, paid by credit card and got screwed. It is not feasible for me to try and collect $2,000 from London.

It is not fair that I should get screwed by this landlord and my credit card company. Can you help?

I thought Silverman had a strong case, and that he should be dealing directly with HomeAway. But when I read the details of its guarantee, I came away with two impressions. First, who the hell writes these contracts? And second, I’m not convinced it applies to Silverman’s rental.

Anyway, I contacted HomeAway on Silverman’s behalf. Maybe, in the interests of good customer service, it would find a way to help him with a refund. Here’s the response he received:

We’re so sorry to hear about your negative experience with property [redacted].

We certainly appreciate the time and effort made to communicate this unfortunate situation during a frustrating time. We want all of our travelers to have a positive experience. Reports such as yours help us maintain the integrity of the site.

Please note that the property you referred to, listing [redacted], is no longer displayed on our website.

You may try calling the advertiser at: [redacted]

According to our complaint process, we have documented your complaint details on the advertiser’s account. Per our privacy policy, we will be unable to discuss the details of any actions.

Although this may be no consolation for this trip, for your next trip we have the following programs specifically designed to protect our site users
when booking vacation rentals online:

HomeAway Carefree Rental Guarantee:
Access America Trip Insurance:

Thank you again for bringing your experience to our attention, and we wish you carefree renting in the future.

In other words, sorry, no can do on the refund — shoulda bought the insurance. (I’m not sure an Access America policy would have covered a dirty apartment, but I might be wrong about that.)

At any rate, this case was a spectacular failure from my point of view. Silverman deserved a full refund, and if HomeAway couldn’t vouch for the apartment, then why deal with the site at all? Why not just visit Craigslist for your next vacation rental?

I do see HomeAway’s perspective on this, too. If it starts refunding every rental for which there’s a hygiene issue, it would probably be bankrupt in no time. And Silverman didn’t have to check out of the unit and go to a hotel.

Still, it upsets me that this customer had to take a £1,350 loss. I wish I could have helped him.

(Photo: jdiego_gr/Flickr Creative Commons)

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