When the hot water doesn’t work in your hotel room, you call the front desk and with any luck, it gets fixed. But what if you’re in a rental apartment?
That’s the situation faced by Amy Maas when she rented a flat in Paris a few weeks ago through HomeAway.com.
“Upon our arrival we realized there was no hot water and notified the owner,” she says. “Although we were led to believe it would be fixed, we spent the duration of our trip without any hot water or ability to shower or bathe normally.”
The challenges of property misrepresentation
Good thing Maas paid extra for HomeAway’s Rent With Confidence guarantee, which, among other things, protects you if “the property is misrepresented.”
And the apartment was represented as having a working bathroom, which it did not.
HomeAway would not reimburse Maas for a claim on the apartment rental she made under the guarantee. Indeed, under section 2 c) of the terms and conditions, a “temporary defect of or within the subject property or attached services (such as failure of the air conditioning or swimming pool)” is excluded.
“We also attempted to place a review on the website but discovered that the owners control what gets posted, making reviews in general worthless,” she says.
(When it comes to ratings, the truth may actually be a little more complicated. I spoke with a VRBO customer yesterday who told me the company’s policies on guest reviews are unevenly applied, but can sometimes favor the owner and sometimes the guest. Another reader pointed to this discussion, which suggests VRBO does allow guests to speak their mind even when they have something negative to say.)
Compensation offered from the rental owner
Maas contacted the owner, who offered a $150 credit and a free night off their next stay in the Paris rental. But she’s unlikely to be able to take advantage of the offer, since this was a “once-in-a-lifetime” trip.
“We felt that a 25 to 50 percent refund would have been more appropriate given the inconvenience. They also had to deal with the plumber for the first two days,” she says. (She was in the apartment for a total of six nights.)
I normally send “no hot water” cases directly to the “dismissed” file, but not this one. Being unable to shower for your entire stay is totally unacceptable. HomeAway shouldn’t allow a substandard apartment in its inventory. And if it does, then it should eliminate the 2 c) exclusion on temporary defects. It should also take some responsibility for its product. (Related: I survived a week in this “charming” Airbnb. Here’s what I learned.)
At the same time, refunding half the rental seems a little rich to me. The $150 credit is pretty generous, but the devil is in the details. If Maas can transfer it to a friend or sell it, then it might have some value. Otherwise, the offer may have been made by a cynical owner who knew she’d never come back to Paris. (Here’s what you need to know before renting your next vacation home.)
This is not an easy one.
Update (Nov. 30): HomeAway has responded to this post.
We have no record of her attempting to post a review on our site and her claim regarding owner control is 100 percent not true. All of the HomeAway U.S. sites feature unbiased traveler reviews, which owners cannot delete or modify in any way. As long as the review complies with our guidelines, then it will be posted.
Owners are, however, given the opportunity to respond to a review, but that does not effect what the traveler posts. In a case like this, it would give the owner the opportunity to say “We’ve since fixed the hot water problem” or something to that extent.