How can this vacation rental damage be my problem?

Is this vacation rental damage her responsibility, Paris Attitude?

After an extended stay in the City of Lights, a truly unpleasant “Paris Attitude” blindsided Margaret McNamara. At checkout, the French real estate management company accused her of vacation rental damage she didn’t cause.

Now McNamara is asking who really is responsible for this vacation rental’s giant repair bill?

This story highlights an unfortunate hazard of renting abroad. Defending a vacation rental damage accusation is difficult under most circumstances. However, when the real estate company is based in a foreign country, it can become nearly impossible. For that reason, it’s imperative to clarify all details regarding the return of your deposit before heading home.

“How could this vacation rental damage be my responsibility?”

McNamara is a frequent visitor to Paris. Last fall, she enjoyed a two-month stay in an apartment rental there. She rented the property through Paris Attitude, a local real estate company.

“All was going satisfactorily up until my last scheduled Saturday in Paris,” McNamara recalled. “Early on that afternoon, one of the three deadbolt locks on the apartment door became inoperable.”

McNamara found herself stuck on the wrong side of her apartment’s door. Luckily, she had her cell phone. She made a call to Paris Attitude to explain the problem. And that’s when a different type of Paris attitude confronted her.

McNamara explains:

I called the local office and explained my emergency. The lady who answered at Paris Attitude told me there was no one there who could speak English. She said the office was now closed and then she hung up on me. I was stunned.

Paris Attitude is closed on Saturdays

McNamara says she called Paris Attitude two more times with similar results. She then emailed the owner of the apartment, who does not live in Paris. The owner gave her the name of a local manager. McNamara then emailed and called that person.

The local manager sent a message to McNamara and seemed to indicate that a locksmith was on the way. Unfortunately, the caretaker gave no specific timeline for the locksmith’s arrival.

But McNamara was hopeful.

She waited over two hours outside the apartment waiting for a Parisian locksmith to appear. None did. And now evening was beginning to fall. In the autumn air, McNamara was becoming cold and her coat was inside the apartment.

“I waited well over two hours and then I sent an email to the owner and the caretaker,” McNamara reported. “I told them that I had no coat and if they did not respond within the next hour, I would go to a hotel.”

McNamara says one more hour passed. She still hoped that her host was sending help.

Paris Attitude won’t help. The owner won’t help. Now what?

Finally giving up on the owner and on Paris Attitude, McNamara went to a local hotel and checked in. Happy to be in a warm, comfortable location, she decided she would straighten out her vacation rental problem in the morning.

Several hours later, around 7 p.m., McNamara heard from the apologetic owner. At that time, the owner told her that she was surprised that Paris Attitude had not been able to help. She appeared to be under the impression that Paris Attitude had an additional key that may have opened the door. The owner told McNamara she was very sorry and that she could get access to the apartment in the morning.

McNamara was already ensconced in her hotel room for the evening but was happy to know that in the morning she could return to the apartment. She had no idea that the owner intended to charge her for this inconvenience. She had done nothing to damage the vacation rental, but the owner had other things in mind.

Checking out — and being accused of this vacation rental damage

The next day, McNamara was able to return to her vacation rental apartment. The owner had contacted an alternative locksmith who she said had fixed the lock. But when McNamara arrived at the apartment the next day, she discovered that the locksmith had merely removed the third deadbolt. No repairs had been made.

McNamara used the keys for the other two locks and successfully opened the front door.

There were just days left before McNamara was scheduled to fly home. And she was determined to enjoy them. She heard nothing further from the owner.

On checkout day, McNamara thoroughly cleaned the apartment and returned the keys to Paris Attitude. Except for the minor locked-out snafu, McNamara was happy with her stay and with Paris Attitude. All in all, it was a lovely stay.

However, her opinion was about to change completely.

McNamara flew home and soon found out that the owner of the Parisian apartment intended to keep her security deposit. When she asked why, Paris Attitude told her to speak to the owner. The owner explained that the $350 security deposit would not even cover the repair costs of the damaged lock on the vacation rental.

McNamara was incredulous. The broken front door lock had greatly inconvenienced her. Because of it, she had incurred an unexpected $150 hotel bill. That night, through no fault of her own, she was simultaneously paying for an apartment that she could not access and the hotel room.

The owner refused to discuss the situation further. The $350 vacation rental damage bill would remain.

Can a rental company charge a guest for normal wear and tear and call it vacation rental damage?

McNamara wrote to both the owner and to Paris Attitude. Following all the problem-solving guidance from our publisher, Christopher Elliott, she composed a concise plea for the return of her funds.

I did nothing to cause the malfunction of the lock. Furthermore, I left that apartment in pristine condition — going so far as to scrub the toilets and washing the dish towels. In seeking resolution to this matter, I am motivated by principle as much as by the money in question.

My unfortunate experience illustrates some broader issues with the short-term rental industry — lack of accountability and due process and especially when the renter is not well versed in the language, culture and rental deposit adjudication protocols of the host country, and when the renter lives some distance away in a foreign country.

She went on to ask why she would be held responsible for what most would consider normal wear and tear.

Unfortunately, McNamara’s message moved neither the management of Paris Attitude nor the owner.

That’s some Paris attitude!

The response that McNamara received from Paris Attitude could be described as indifferent at best. The “client services” manager, Silvana, wrote a lengthy explanation as to why Paris Attitude had no culpability in McNamara’s problem. And she went on to explain the role of her agency as she sees it:

I understand your opinion, but our role here is to put in contact owners and future tenants. Nevertheless [that role] does not include taking care of an apartment’s furniture or equipment and does not require our presence here during the weekend. To be a tenant in Paris is a good option but it includes duties as well.

Silvana then told McNamara that she should have located a locksmith and had the repair done on her own.

“When there is a problem as the door lock, if it is a small repair, the tenant must take charge,” she insisted.

Silvana ended her email by saying that Paris Attitude was “deeply sorry,” but the company would not be refunding the damage charge. Nor would they cover her hotel bill. However, it would offer a future 10 percent discount off “agency fees” on a future vacation rental.

McNamara was furious at the response. She couldn’t think of any possible scenario that would include a future vacation rental with Paris Attitude and she let Silvana know.

A discount on a future stay is useless as my associates, nor I will be doing any business with [Paris Attitude] — ever again.

Asking the Elliott Advocacy team to retrieve this security deposit

McNamara tried one more time with Silvana. She suggested that Silvana did not understand the true inconvenience of being locked out of her rental with no one to turn to for help. She again proposed that Paris Attitude ensure the return of her deposit and also pay for her unexpected night at the hotel.

In response to McNamara’s email, Silvana turned up the attitude:

I am sorry that I did not “get it” as you said. I will be clear on my response: There will be no refund for your hotel stay from Paris Attitude for the reasons I exposed in my previous email. Hoping this response will suit you better.

Silvana also reiterated that the security deposit return is at the discretion of the owner.

But the owner had already rejected McNamara’s request for the return of her security deposit. She had informed a stunned McNamara that the damaged lock cost her nearly $1,000 to repair.

The owner of this Paris Attitude rental sent this email about the expensive damage to the front door.
The message from the owner of this Paris Attitude rental.

And that’s when McNamara gave up trying to reason with Paris Attitude and with the owner. Now she turned to the Elliott Advocacy team.

Is this really the type of vacation rental damage fee a traveler must pay?

When I reviewed McNamara’s paper trail, I could see something had gone wrong. The owner claimed that Paris Attitude provides a 24-hour emergency number for tenants inside their contract. She said that if McNamara had used that number, she would not have been locked out for the night.

McNamara sent me a copy of her contract and there was no emergency number listed for the company. And according to Silvana, that type of service is not the responsibility of Paris Attitude even if there was a number available. McNamara was definitely getting contradictory information.

And then there was the $1,000 repair bill for the lock on the front door — something that a tenant likely should not be responsible for in the first place. I was starting to believe some security deposit shenanigans were going down in Paris.

A delightful Paris attitude!

So I decided it was time to reach out to an executive contact at Paris Attitude for some clarification. I explained that McNamara had spent hours on the street waiting for the owner to send help that never came. Additionally, I asked if Paris Attitude would expect a client to pay for a malfunctioning lock on a front door.

I sent that inquiry on Monday. On Tuesday morning, McNamara woke up to a brand new Paris attitude.

Dear Michelle,

I have heard from Paris Attitude and they will be refunding the cost of the hotel, and the owner will be returning my full deposit. I am so appreciative of your advocacy on my behalf. You accomplished what heretofore I was not able to accomplish.

And now, a scenario in which McNamara finds herself back in a Paris Attitude apartment rental just might not be so far-fetched.

Should a traveler be charged a damage fee for a malfunctioning lock on a vacation rental?

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