Did my rental company just disappear with my deposit?

Tom Frankel rented an apartment last fall through an agency called UsaParis. When he left the rental, he says it was in immaculate condition, and like any responsible renter, he expected to get his $500 security deposit back promptly.

When he didn’t, he began to worry.

“We have received no complaints about the apartment condition,” he says. “But not a penny has been refunded.”

Elliott Advocacy is underwritten by Travelex Insurance Services. Travelex Insurance Services is a leading travel insurance provider in the United States with over 55 years combined industry expertise of helping people dream, explore and travel with confidence. We offer comprehensive travel insurance plans with optional upgrades allowing travelers to customize the plans to fit their needs. Compare plans, get a quote and buy online at Travelexinsurance.com.

It’s been five months since his visit to Paris, and Frankel wants his money back. He’s asked several agencies for help, but so far there’s no sign of his deposit. “The contract has an arbitration provision,” he added. “I asked that it be used but they are completely ignoring me.”

Well, that didn’t sound good. I decided to ask UsaParis, which promises only the “best vacation rentals” in Paris, if it had seen Frankel’s $500.

A representative responded to me promptly when I contacted it by email last week, insisting the agency had responded to his queries. It added that Frankel was bound by a contract, which allows for additional time to refund any deposit.

She added,

What happens here is that the guest has constantly sent emails to the customer care department requesting that a special procedure is followed for his security deposit meaning that it should be refunded earlier than stated in the policy and in the law.

One day after the checkout, the guest email requesting his security deposit to be returned immediately. When requesting the booking to be taken, the guest also requested that we provide him with a different set of documentation than the standard one and he expected all along that we change our procedures to his convenience and to respond to his email instantly without considering that we have hundreds of guests who need assistance.

We know that all our customers are equally important and we need to split our limited resources accordingly.

UsaParis explained to him that it can’t change its policies, and it says under French law, owners have up to three months to clear security deposits. The company, she adds, is just following procedure.

Even so, unfaithfully, he began filling in claims with multiple entities, claims that do not have any base since at the first moment when they were initiated the legal frame time allowed for refunds was not reached, not even 30 business days.

We appreciate that Mr Frankel’s actions harm UsaParis in a way that needs to be investigated. UsaParis has no responsibility regarding security deposits; this matter needs to be treated with the owner and his representative. Filing claims against UsaParis and without any reason cannot resolve anything.

I asked Frankel what he thought of the response.

I am dumfounded. I really don’t know who these folks are talking about. Here are a couple facts that are fully verifiable by the actual documents in my possession.

The only contract I signed for the apartment is with UsaParis. The relevant provision is very simple. Section 9a states “The Landlord shall refund to Tenant any unused portion of the deposit together with an itemized list of all deductions from the deposit within 30 days after Tenant surrenders possession of the property.”

What’s more, says Frankel, his correspondence with UsaParis has been brief and polite. He sent a quick follow-up message after his stay to verify that the apartment was clean and that his $500 would be returned. He only began to complain after a month.

“The UsaParis response is fluff, hoping that I will just go away,” he says. “How many other people are in my situation?”

Several, actually. Frankel started a discussion on TripAdvisor, in which other UsaParis customers came forward to say they, too, had experienced a similar delay.

Then I was contacted by Kellie Lawrence, who says she is a former UsaParis property manager.

“They are scam artists,” she wrote in an email.

They don’t return the tenant’s security deposits within the 30 days as specified on their contract or at worst, not at all. They make up claims of fake damage.

They owe money to their staff and the owners of the apartment’s dont get their share of the rental income. Trust me, it is a very bad scene.

I asked UsaParis for a response to these allegations earlier this week, but several emails sent to addresses that previously worked are now bouncing. That’s not a good sign.

The company believes it is just an intermediary between the apartment owner and customer, and should not be held responsible for a deposit. It apparently thinks it provided him with the service he paid it for: a Paris rental in September 2011. But is that extent of its liability?

Update (6:30 a.m.): This looks like trouble. I just received a note from Lindsey Wainwright, a former UsaParis employee. She writes,

I used to work with the company last year, and they have yet to pay me for the last month and a half I was working there. I also know of another person in a similar position. If this would be of any interest to you, please let me know.