Why can’t I leave a review about my vacation rental from hell?

Stephanie Frey/Shuterstock

Diana Younts’ problem isn’t her vacation rental from hell. That one, she fixed on her own.

It’s trying to warn the rest of the world about what she believes are the unscrupulous owners — and an intransigent website that appears to be protecting a shady customer.

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Before we get to the details, a few facts about her rental in Ashland, Oregon, which she found on VRBO.com.

“The day before we were supposed to arrive, the manager told us the house was uninhabitable,” she says. “We later learned her son was living in the house, that it had no plumbing, and that it was trashed.”

Younts asked for a refund, but the manager stalled until she “wised up” and disputed the purchase on her credit card.

End of story? Not really. Younts clicked on VRBO.com and left a review of the property in an effort to warn other customers about the rental. But the review never posted.

Then she got a terse email from VRBO.

“We received the review you submitted for vacation rental listing #347557, but this review does not meet our Content Guidelines. To submit a review, you must have stayed at the property.”

Younts wrote back, asking for an explanation. After all, she was a paying customer and had an experience she wanted to share.

That prompted the following answer:

Thank you for your reply. I am very sorry that you did not have a good experience with your vacation rental reservations.

Reviews are posted directly on listings for the benefit of future travelers that are reading ads on our website, trying to find the perfect property for their vacation. Once travelers have stayed at a property they are allowed to submit a review. Our traveler review eligibility guidelines state the following:

The traveler reviewing a property must be able to provide evidence that the traveler stayed at the property displayed on the listing (which must be the same property being reviewed).
Prior to the review being posted on the website, it is moderated to make sure that it meets the requirements defined [by] our policy.

One of the requirements is that the traveler actually stayed there – “stay” being defined as “physically visited” the property. Being a public forum, the intent of reviews is that they describe the property – not the owner or property manager or their booking procedures.

There are a variety of legal reasons that your personal dealings with the owner are not the focus of the posted review. The HomeAway legal department has given us strict guidelines and procedures to follow in the area of traveler reviews. Our system’s guidelines are not arbitrary; each facet is a legal requirement.

That being said, we take all complaints very seriously. Personal interactions during the reservation process that result in an unpleasant booking experience can be processed as a property complaint. When our Trust and Security department receives a formal complaint, they document the traveler’s and vacation rental owner’s or property manager’s information about the stay. Then they give the owner or property manager an opportunity to resolve the dispute. The documentation related to formal complaints is strictly internal and is not made available for public view.

That makes no sense to Younts. Why would any part of the customer experience be censored and the results kept “strictly internal”?

“It’s outrageous,” she says.

Younts wants me to persuade VRBO.com to post her review.

I see no reason — legal or otherwise — to censor her review. Insisting that a customer actually stayed at the property, as opposed to being a paying customer — can only protect VRBO’s customers, the owners and managers who are paying to be listed on the site. But you could argue that it protects the wrong ones: those who abruptly cancel a reservation or who kick a guest out of a property.

At the same time, Younts is trying to do much more than ask VRBO to post a single review. She is essentially asking it to rewrite its review policy. I don’t think that’s unreasonable, but I’m not sure if it’s realistic. VRBO has not been the most responsive company lately, at least to my queries on behalf of their customers.

Should I mediate Diana Younts' case with VRBO?

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138 thoughts on “Why can’t I leave a review about my vacation rental from hell?

  1. The legal mumbo jumbo is BS. But in this case, I cannot imagine, in my wildest dreams, that you have the proverbial snowball’s chance in hell of getting them to change the policy. What possible incentive, besides possible public shaming, do they have to change the policy?

    1. I’d go as far to argue that as a general policy they’re better off now than if they did change it. Owners would be posting negative reviews of competing properties, or people would retaliate when a place they were considering was rented out to somebody else.

      1. This is why I voted “no”. Keeping the policy in place helps ensure the reviews that are posted are legitimate and trustworthy. It’s too bad they can’t accommodate her in some way, though. Doesn’t VRBO have standards? They should have something in place for dealing with unscrupulous owners.

  2. Well the legal isn’t BS, VRBO is trying to mitigate possible civil action by property owners. We don’t know what is in the agreement between VRBO and the property, but even just the action of being sued is punitive in defending the suit. On the other side VRBO has nothing to fear or lose by refusing to post the OP’s review. It’s a corporation erring on the side of caution, minimizing their legal expenditures, and basically CYA.

    That said, posting her story here, has probably garnered more recognition than a posting review on VRBO.

    1. No, that’s simply not correct.

      Whatever the contract between VRBO and the property owners, it was undoubtedly drafted by VRBO. Individual property owners have little, if any, negotiating power. It’s almost certainly a standard take it or leave it situation.

      For VRBO to imply that its legal department advised them that this was the way that their business has to be conducted is disingenuous. VRBO made a unilateral decision, perhaps incorporated into its contract as a shield, and is now hiding behind this pretext.

      As far as erring on the side of caution, that is also pretextual. Whether the OP stayed at the property or not has no bearing on whether the review meets the elements of defamation. There are no CYA elements here.

      If an owner receives a bad review, and wishes to litigation, the owner would have a huge problem going after VRBO. First, I’m sure the contract shields VRBO from liability. Second, an owner would have a difficult time even making a prima facie case against VRBO. Thus a lawsuit might very well be frivolous subjecting both the owner and its attorney to sanctions. Third, VRBO would undoubtedly terminate its business relationship with the owner, thus depriving the owner of a revenue source.

      No, this is clearly a case of VRBO conducting itself to protect the owners from bad reviews as its axiomatic that a review from a person who didn’t stay at the property is certainly a bad review.

      1. However doesn’t the web site have every right to determine what is or is not posted on its site? Bad policy is not illegal, just bad business.

      2. I’m sorry we disagree. Granted the contract was likely drafted by VRBO, but it also needs to be an attractive deal to the property owners. It can give them nothing and be of any value.

        It actually makes a great deal of difference. Property owners sue, even if their claims are meritless, they still require the time and cost of counsel to fight the suite, and perhaps would actually go to trial costing more, even if VRBO prevails, its work and effort they don’t have to do, because denying the review costs them zero, they lose nothing and it costs them nothing.

        1. Hey

          There’s not wrong with disagreeing, as long as we’re not disagreeable 🙂

          Here’s where I think you are in error. VRBO and AirBnb are the 800lb gorillas in this market. As such, the bargaining power is incredibly lopsided and there is a take it or leave it mentality, much like with a Walmart supplier contract. So the contracts don’t have to be the most evenhanded.

          On the legal side, as I mentioned before, whether the OP stayed at the property or not has no bearing on a defamation suit. So preventing the OP from writing a review is an ineffective way to CYA by VRBO

          As someone who litigates corporate contracts and advises corporations, I can assure you that VRBO is not concerned in the slightest about being sued under these circumstances. Just put yourself in their respective places. The very legitimate concerns you raise on VRBO’s side are the same concerns that a not-so-deep-pocket small property owner would have. He or she would have to hire an attorney. Unlike VRBO, that property owner doesn’t have an insurance company to pick up the tab.

          Moreover, a defamation cause under these circumstances would not motivate an attorney to take it on a contingency. That is because 1)the case will probably be dismissed on any number of grounds and 2)even if its not tossed, it would fail for failure of proof, i.e. the OP would have to show that because of that review, someone elected not to rent, an impossible task.

          That means the property owner would have to pay an attorney’s hourly rate. I would conservatively estimate the property owner would incur no less than 5k in the first 45 days. Companies are more fearful when the case can be taken on a contingency, e.g. employment, injury, etc.

          The property owner would be out 5K in the first month alone.

          1. The contracts don’t have to be even handed, but they cant be one handed either, there has to be some value benefit to listing with VRBO, and BnB. They cant have a value add of zero. To that end, there are property owners who have premium properties, to which the BnB and VRBO give much better terms for, because those premium properties drive business to the site. “Oh your prefered property in unbookable, what about these options”. Those properties get very nice terms.

            Regarding the legal issues, property owners do have something to defend and that the reputation of their revenue stream, it may be expensive, and have minimal return, and is improbable, but the comparison is only trivial when compared to the the posting of the review. While the potential liability to the property owner is minimal, the liability of refusing the review is zero, its not near zero, or improbably zero, negligibly zero, or a trivial zero, its and absolute zero. There is no concern that VRBO incurs by denying the review.
            So weighing the options on one side of the scale we have a small probability of damages, and on the other side of the scale we have zero probability of damages. I’ll take the zero and decline the review.
            Unless there is some negative value to denying the review I am overlooking.

          2. The obvious negative value is the negative publicity that VRBO is receiving here and presumably among other travel sites. 129 comments suggests it’s a story that has received traction with this audience. 870 voters (73%) are in favor of mediating this case. None of that is good for VRBO’s reputation.

            The legal risk mitigated by VRBO denying reviews by the OP and others like her is negligible; not small…negligible. It would require scientific notation to represent a number that tiny. It would not come close to justifying the reputation hit.

            Think of it this way. The risk of you getting a speeding ticket by going one mile over the speed limit on the highway is negligible. According, you probably don’t drive exactly the speed limit. If you did, the chance of getting a speeding ticket is zero. But you still speed. In real life, even the most risk averse person takes some risk.

            Since VRBO is in the business of making money, we must conclude that it makes rational business decisions. If this were based on any calculus involving the legal risk of defamation someone needs a new calculator.

  3. The owner breached contract at the last minute – the day before the reservation! The renter would suddenly have to find new lodging and pay full rate.
    It isn’t just the time during rental that counts, but the time from when the contract was entered to the time it was closed out. Any harm a renter experiences during this time period should count toward the review. VRBO is just fabricating stories to constrain renters.

  4. If it is truly company policy dictated by their legal department, you may not get very far. It would be good to know that someone higher up did see her complaint and demand to post her experience rather than a canned customer service reply. In this case, the property owners conduct was so outrageous that other users of the service should be warned. There are probably other disgruntled customers out there who have had less than satisfactory interactions that did not result in an actual booking. Maybe they could set up an alternate site until the company changes its complaint policy!

  5. I’m curious. How is it possible for a house not to have plumbing? Maybe the city cut the water supply off due to nonpayment?

    1. Same as @sirwired:disqus ‘s response – my brother lived in rental house of my mother’s. When I arrived to carry out the eviction, I found there was no intact plumbing, as the lines had been sold for scrap. The house was also trashed to the point that my mother had to sell the property for the value of the lot. And no, it was never on VRBO. 🙂

      Thinking about the OP’s situation: this house should not be listed on VRBO, review or no. My mother had her suspicions about the rental house; I’m sure that the owner of the property in question did, too. It takes a long time to get a well-maintained house on the market as a vacation rental; the OP’s situation should not have been made known to her the day *before* her rental.

      So, question for Christopher Elliott: is this property still listed on VRBO? If so, it sounds like fraud, on both the owner’s and VRBO’s part. Maybe the OP can’t post a review, but VRBO may be motivated by this article to shut this particular rental down.

      1. Its early, but am I reading this correctly. You had to evict your brother, who had trashed your mom’s rental house?

        1. Yes. My mother signed the paperwork after much pleading on my part, but I had to get the ball rolling and then show up in court to represent her. She was working a job in her seventies and in poor health, to pay the insurance, taxes and utilities on that house, plus his grocery money. My brother is in his late 40’s and kept having problems with the police and neighbors. The last straw was when he threatened to kill my mother if she didn’t give him more money. Unfortunately, we couldn’t commit him for mental evaluation, since he’s an adult, and that left my mother on the hook for the bills he was running up. Had to evict him. He’s found a group that helps people like him get back on their feet, but he still has a long ways to go. Very, very tragic.

          1. Very tragic indeed. Sorry to hear this happened to you and your Mom.
            We certainly have a sad, sad situation about mental health support programs in our country.

    2. I rented my old house out when I moved. I got tenants who seemeed nice and signed a 2 year elase. 18 months later they stopped paying. I had to file for eviction which took almost 6 more months and the willingly moved out right before the court date and didn’t let me know until the eviction hearing, so I was out that travel expense. When I went to the house I found they had put holes in all of the walls, taken out all of the plumbing fixtures, took an ax to the deck and a mature tree. We had PVC pipe, but I am sure if we had copper they would have taken that as well. I took them to court and the judge was very leinent on them, ordered them to pay 1/2 of the depreciated value on the fixtures, all of the damage except the tree (which was a very low cost since I did most of the work myself), 25% of my travel expenses to get their for court (refused to make them pay the eviction hearing travel, and only made them pay half of the debt trial, but refused to let me appear by phone), and 80% of their back rent. It’s been 4 years and they have been paying a few dollars here and there, and they just hauled me back into court because they requested the remainder of the debt be erased since they, according to them, already paid enough and were good tenants. Their story has always been that after 18 months of their 2 year lease, they saw an equivalent rental house for less than mine, and two year at the lower rate was what they had paid after 18 months, so they shouldn’t have to pay any more, and I should owe them more for harassing them about not paying.

      They have bought a very nice, very expensive house for themselves. So I hope the judge puts a lien on it. And this time they will let me appear by phone. But its still quite annoying.

      1. I’ve run into someone who wouldn’t pay a judgement before. Hired a lawyer that was local to the debtor for a percentage of what he collected. Debtor filed for bankruptcy soon after so neither of us got anything… Apparently it was my debt and the accompanying pressure that put him over the top.

        1. I had a renter show in court tell the judge he was broke and out of work. I asked about the equipment he had(it was a commercial property) and he told me and the judge he sold it to pay other bills. I got a judgement and nothing else. He’s out of state and probably pulling the same thing somewhere else.

        1. You give people too much credit. Some renters just don’t care and are either negligently or actively destructive.

        2. Ha, well they woudl have needed my permission to do a renovation. I think it was retaliation because I wouldn’t let them live for for for the next 6 months because they found a cheaper house elsewhere. Oh, and the cheaper house, it was on the opposite end of town in a much cheaper neighborhood.

          1. Back in my college days, there was a group of students who rented a house near campus. They were informed by their landlord that they were breaking the lease early as the house was going to be demolished to build condos.

            I don’t know the specifics of how early, or whether there were provisions for that in the lease, or how much warning they had… but it would have been very difficult to find a new place quickly due to the tight market around campus. I also don’t know how good as tenants they were up to this point.

            Needless to say, they were mad as hell… and they threw a giant party straight out of Animal House (no togas, though). Inspired, and probably encouraged, by the circumstances, many attendees engaged in destruction of the property, under the assumption that it didn’t matter given that the house was slated for demolition. Massive holes in walls, broken windows, etc.

            That house stood there for at least a year longer, rented to other people, before finally being demolished for condos… I can’t imagine what the repair costs must have been to restore the house to a rentable condition.

            Obviously, those who actually did the damage are at fault, with responsibility resting on the hosts who set the mood and didn’t rein their guests in. But I think (assuming the broken lease story is true) there is a lesson that it is always better to fully communicate and not to antagonize people in any relationship, whether a rental home, a hotel reservation, a plane ticket, car rental, etc.

            When people feel wronged, they may act disproportionately, and ultimately cause more harm for everyone. Perhaps if the landlord had worked with the students to ease the burden of finding new housing, or found a way to let them finish out the lease, everyone may have been happier (well, except those with lifelong ambitions of Animal House parties where they kick holes the walls).

            That came to mind, not necessarily because I think emanon could have done anything better, but because it is a similar example about how a civil dispute about a lease can escalate into much higher costs for everyone, including property damage and so on.

            From a cold logical accounting in hindsight, whatever the six months rent was, was it more than the combined cost of the property damage, the litigation, the stress, the penalties? If it had been possible to run a little simulation, count up what each side would have lost, then settle for that percentage of the rent due… everyone would have been so much happier.

          2. Wow, that is scary. In my case, they simple sent me a letter stating they found a cheaper house, and after figuring out what my house would have been for all 24 months at the price of the cheaper house, I owe them and they won’t pay any more. I called them and asked what was going on and they said they refuse to pay and intend to stay until their lease is up. I offered them a reduced rate and asked that they just try to keep the house tidy so I can list it, they wouldn’t budge. They said they won’t pay and I can take them to court if I want. I did list the house first, and try to be nice to them and they started demanding I owe them money. Then when people viewed the house they reported the damage and that’s when I filed for eviction. It was only a few hundred total for the eviction hearing and travel. At the end, they owed $7,500 in back rent and just over $2,000 in damage. Total travel for all of the trips was around $1,400. I think no matter what I did, they would have damaged the house as they did it before I did anything. Yes it was a lot of trouble, and it still is, but I am glad I took them to court.

  6. Shocking … another complaint about the glorified newspaper classified section that is VRBO. Why would someone rent from here?

    1. That’s always amazed me, too. Especially considering that most places you’d consider vacation destinations usually have real estate agencies which also handle vacation rentals. I always book thru an agency when I vacation on the FL gulf coast.

      1. I’ve done both and had no worse luck with VRBO than with agencies. I’ve also seen agencies using VRBO. One example of that which springs to mind was pretty annoying because they were using photos of a single unit on multiple listings, which meant you couldn’t see the actual unit you were going to be renting. And that is one of the primary appeals of VRBO.

      2. Look up ASHLAND VACATIONS on Dun and Bradstreet.
        It is classified as:




        $ 160,000.00




        Tourist Agency Arranging Transport, Lodging and Car rental


        Vacations is located at 685 E Main St in Ashland and has been in the
        business of Tourist Agency Arranging Transport, Lodging and Car rental
        since 2011. It employs 2 employees and is generating approximately $
        160,000.00 in annual revenue.

    2. VRBO can actually be a good deal. One of my family members rented a gorgeous cabin on several acres for a wedding. I rented a condo in Anchorage for a week for a vacation, for significantly less than a hotel would have cost, plus I was downtown and had a full kitchen, which further reduced my food costs.

      1. And for your one I counter with … My rental where we showed up to find out we couldn’t use the community pool or tell anyone where we were staying because renting your house violated local HOA tenants. Not to mention half the “beds” were mattresses thrown on the floor. No linens in the house at all.
        Or a recent rental my parents had where they showed up and were given a unit different than the one listed on VRBO that was infested with fleas and they later found out had just had a major water leak with the accompanying musty smell.

        VRBO wouldn’t do anything about either rental. CC company declined the chargeback on the second property because my parents actually occupied it.

        You just need to go in realizing what VRBO is. A glorified classified ad.

    3. It seems like a reputable business. When we went to Maui three years ago, I used a local realtor/property management company, and had a wonderful experience. Can’t remember how I found them, but so glad I did.

    4. A group of my friends and I use VRBO every year. We try to all go someplace new each year. VRBO is essentially classified ads. We usually talk to the owners and if they seem nice enough we go for it. We only had one problem so far. Last year the owner kicked us out 3 weeks before our stay, she found a long term renter and we were only going to be there for 4 days. Nothing we could do about it and it would have been too much of a pain to sue her to enforce the contract. We knew what VRBO was while getting into it, it sucked, but there are no guarantees in life either. We did find another place, also on VRBO. It is exactly what it says, Rental By Owner. There are bad owner, and there are good owners.

      1. I think something like that happened here. If the house is completely trashed and uninhabitable, then why is ASHLAND VACATIONS still selling it on its own website?

        I just need to know, do you pay in advance? Where is the money?

        1. I think you are right. They probably wanted to make it sound like a legitimate excuse. At least my person was honest, yet a jerk. She said they got a long term lease and my rental is right smack in the middle and she is canceling it. When I mentioned the contract, she said I can sue her, she will still come out ahead. Nothing personal, just business.

          1. The person was dumb. I can’t fault her for cancelling the rental under the circumstances. But the ethical thing to do would have been to make you so happy that you didn’t care. That’s what hotel do with overbooking. They pay for the first night. If she had offered to pay say half of the cost of comparable accommodations for the original rental period, say 1 week, thus reducing your cost by maybe a thousand or so, would that have made you happy. Could you be bought 🙂

          2. That would have made me very happy. She was not as nice as she seemed. I can’t fault her either, but she should have done more. Either way, the place we ended up getting was much nicer, but also cost more.

  7. I’ve put reviews on VRBO of places I HAVE stayed at and they have not appeared. The owner is allowed to decide which reviews are posted, which is why you only see good ones.

    1. That is actually incorrect. VRBO will not remove unfavorable reviews. I know someone who advertises a rental property on VRBO, and they were scammed by a renter who tried to basically extort the owner of the VRBO property. The renter wanted something that was costlier than their budget allowed, so after their stay, they threatened to post a fraudulent review unless the owner gave them an unreasonably large discount. The owner did not give in, so the review with all kinds of false allegations about the property went up.

      Despite the owner disputing this with VRBO, VRBO refused to remove the fraudulent review. The owner lost a ton of business because the review made all kinds of false allegations about the property. VRBO is not going to send someone out to investigate. The owner had to get new renters in there and beg them to leave favorable reviews to hide the blatantly false review.

      1. This must have changed if what you say is true, because that has not been my experience. I prefer to rent through airbnb because you can actually see honest reviews without the owner having a say over what is posted.

        1. Well, anecdotes aren’t data. One person’s experience is not going to necessarily indicative of how an entire organization is run. Given how many personnel they must have reviewing disputes and responding to them, it’s highly unlikely that they would respond 100% consistently. I just wanted to point out that VRBO has to field complaints from both renters and property owners.

          1. I am speaking from personal experience. It seems to me that it is you who is coming up with anecdotes. anecdotes. My experience with VRBO which I have used several times is that the owner has the option not to post negative reviews. This is not the case in Trip Advisor and Yelp, or other such review sites.

          2. You already said this exact thing to another post. Yelp allows the place that has been reviewed to pay a fee to move a negative post. TA, doesn’t allow all negative posts and notifies the poster that their post wasn’t accepted.

          3. I am speaking from personal experience. It seems to me that it is you who is coming up with anecdotes. I have used VRBO several times, and it is my experience that the owner has the option of blocking negative reviews. This is not the case with other review sites such as Yelp or Trip advisor. It is impossible to get a true picture of a vacation rental if only glowing reviews are published.

          4. Yelp does move negative reviews to the bottom for a fee to be paid for by the owner of the business. Also, Tripadvisor doesn’t allow all negative reviews. They notify the poster that their post has been rejected.

          5. I posted the first Yelp review for a company (negative – oh yes) and it promptly disappeared. I have read they don’t post reviews until there are more than two. Not sure how true that is.

          6. I went to a restaurant because it had 4 stars on yelp. It was horrible! Service and food were both bad. I posted a negative review and a friend of mine who ate with me also posted a negative review. Our reviews went away and the place still has 4 stars. I contacted Yelp and they said they use a proprietary formula to filter out fake reviews. I am guessing its a cash filter.

          7. I don’t know how germane this is to VRBO and their policies, but yes, Yelp will hide reviews if you can’t be identified as a reliable contributor. I have a very active Yelp account and none of my reviews have ever been hidden, even if I am the first to review.

          8. If your review was negative, Yelp charges the business $300 (or that was the charge recently) to move, not eliminate, your review to the bottom.

          9. Do you understand the definition of an anecdote? Personal experience without data from multiple users is an ancedote.

          10. Of course, if I saw no reviews at all, I’d have to reach one of two conclusions. One, it is a brand new listing, or two, it’s a real dump and ALL the reviews were negative and therefore, not published.

            I wouldn’t take the risk in either case.

    2. They seem to have two options: Not allow any reviews (and those owners oftentimes post quotes from previous renters in lieu of actual reviews) and allowing all reviews. The owner also has the ability to post responses to reviews.

  8. I quit reading at VRBO. Seriously…why do people still use this scam-filled website?
    I think we need names/dates/addresses of this scam artist. Post them here, on Facebook, everywhere…make sure you put “a VRBO Rental” in the first line. It will make search engines find it faster.
    VRBO may not change its review policies, but I’d take it all over social media!

  9. She never even saw the property – how can she review the property?

    She can review the landlord – but there isn’t a place for VRBO to host that.

    Did VRBO remove the listing? I can’t tell from this article, but it seems like that’s all they owe the clients. The OP wants people to know this rental isn’t habitable – with no listing, that’s achieved.

    1. I just searched VRBO and the number in the letter brings up no results. It appears it has been taken down.

      1. A little more sleuthing reveals this for Listing # 239720 …

        We also have a lovely two bedroom home located a block down from this home, VRBO listing #347557.

        The Charming Craftsman House and Studio, 4/3, Close to Theatres listing’s calendar has NOT been update for about 2 years!

        The property’s calendar has not been updated in over 23months. You can contact the owner for availability or look for properties with confirmed availability.

        Makes me wonder who is managing these rental properties.

        I believe this is the website for the 2BR cottage:
        ashlandvacations dotcom/TheRoseCottage dot html

        ADDED: The address is:
        685 E Main St‎, Ashland, OR

  10. On TripAdvisor you see stuff like this all the time. Somebody trashes a restaurant because they couldn’t get a reservation or a hotel because they were oversold and had to “walk” the customer to another place of lodging. When I look at reviews I want to see the experience of somebody who actually got to use the product.

    1. Exactly what I was going to say about Yelp. Yelp does have a ‘not recommended’ filter which allows people who, for example, saw a restaurant on a reality show, but they’ve never eaten there. It doesn’t catch everything but it’s a pretty good alternative.

      1. Yelp allows merchants to move a negative for a fee. Tripadvisor doesn’t allow all negative reviews. Apparently it depends on the wording. Facebook allows businesses with FB pages to removed negative posts and even block people from posting again.

    2. Different people may want different things. When I do business I absolutely want to know about the type of people I am dealing with. If they are sketchy that’s often as important to me as the actual product. This plays out especially in the are of service recovery. What happens when things go bad or there are other issues?

  11. I’m not sure I disapprove of the VRBO’s policy. On the one hand, the LW can’t leave a review to warn other travelers. On the other, she has the opportunity to have a more lasting effect by bringing the matter to VRBO’s attention whereby the property could be removed from their site, denying the property owner any further revenue — and also protecting other travelers from sharing the LW’s experience.

    The LW has hurt feelings over having a review rejected but is focusing on her feelings and not the ultimate goal of censuring the property owner.

    1. The policy looks bad in this case but on the whole they’d open themselves up to far more problems by changing it. You’d have owners posting negative reviews of other properties in their area to try and get more business for themselves. Or people would get mad when a place they were considering was rented out to somebody else.

        1. That would work great in this case but still not sure that would be the best policy for all cases. There’d be negative reviews each and every time the renter canceled and there was any dispute over how much refund was coming back, for example. It’s easy to see why they decided it was cleaner to limit reviews to people who had actually stayed at the property.

          1. That’s a business decision by VRBO. The stated reason that it was at the direction of the legal department is pure nonsense.

  12. I can understand why the company doesn’t want people who have not stayed at a property putting reviews on the web site. It could lead to all sorts of skewed reviews from either friends of the property owner making the property seem like the best thing ever or competitors making it sound like the worst thing ever. Either could give VBRO a bad image and hurt business. But I think this event is giving them an even worse image. I know I will never use their service.

    Someone rented a property wanting to stay there and from everything we see here definitely would have stayed there, the renter was told at the last minute they could not and the owner told them to go through a credit card dispute to get the money back (I hope that at least went well for the renter). This should be allowed to be posted on the VBRO site. VBRO should also immediately remove the listing until proof can be provided that the property is rentable and the owner will actually have the place in a condition to be lived in.

      1. Someone commented elsewhere that VBRO is nothing more that an electronic version of the bulletin board you see on the wall at your local grocery store where anyone is allowed to post notices with no verification of the offer being made for validity. Unfortunately for the customers of VBRO, if this is true, the results are likely to lead to disappointment.

        At least in this case the OP did not wire the money.

  13. VBRO allows a “property complaint” to be filed according to the quote in the article. Did the OP do this? If so, what was the response? While this is not apparently a public posting, it might help get the property delisted.

  14. I’m speaking in the capacity of an administrator for a major ecommerce website’s ratings system. I don’t know if what I’ll have to say will add value for this specific instance, but it may provide insight to how these ratings systems work on the backend.

    The system that I administrate uses a professional ratings vendor who provides us with moderators who individually read each and every review. The reviews must meet certain moderation criteria before they will be approved. This criteria is provided by the vendor, who applies this criteria across the board to all of their clients. The purpose for this is to create a uniform criteria platform for all of their clients, so that these reviews can be moderated in a fair, consistent manner. The application of client-wide moderation criteria is necessary, since a ratings vendor may be moderating reviews for clients who may actually be competitors. That said, we can ask for minor adjustments to our moderation criteria to meet the specific needs of our business model.

    Most of the criteria deal with making sure that the verbiage in the review is appropriate from both a product use perspective (i.e. applicable to the user experience) and a content perspective (i.e. doesn’t contain caustic language, doesn’t expose the client to legal liability, doesn’t contain time-sensitive information that is no longer germane to the product,such as special limited-time pricing offers.)

    One key criterion is that the customer must have actually used the product before their review will be approved. This particular criterion is important, because it prevents reviews from being applied to a product or service, where the content isn’t germane to the customer’s use. Chances are, if the customer hasn’t actually used the product or service, what they’d have to say wouldn’t provide an accurate reflection of the quality of
    the product or service.

    In this case, the client didn’t actually get a chance to use the product or service. By that criterion, which is used by most commercial ratings systems, VRBO was within its rights to reject the review.

    That said, how a company handles negative rejected reviews is an important reflection on how customer-facing that company truly is. It’s always been our policy to reach out to each and every customer who places a negative review, regardless if it’s accepted or rejected, and see if we can improve on that customer’s experience. Regardless of whether the review met or didn’t met moderation criteria, it should be the mission of any company to make sure that these customers feel valued, validated, the core issue of their negative experience addressed in a manner that’s satisfactory to the customer, and that their experience has been related to their VOC department (“Voice of the Customer”) for future action and tracking.

    While VRBO was within its moderation rights to reject this review, their handling of the underlining issues associated with the review were less than satisfactory. The fact that it took a credit card dispute for her to receive a refund is deeply troubling. VRBO is recommending that the customer file a “property complaint.” However, all verbiage relating to filing a “property complaint” seems to predicate actually “staying” at the property. (“When our Trust and Security department receives a formal complaint, they document the traveler’s and vacation rental owner’s or property manager’s information about
    the stay.”) So much of what is in this response looks like boilerplate verbiage. If she filed a “property complaint,” would it also be rejected because she didn’t actually “stay” at the

    I would still encourage this person to go ahead and file a “property complaint.” It would be interesting if she could post a response in the comments as to the progress reports she receives after she files the complaint. At the very least, I would think that the final outcome of this “property complaint” would be for VRBO to require the manger of the property to provide documentation proving that the property is in a rentable condition. Failing that, VRBO should assure this customer that the property will be removed from their listings until such time that such documentation is provided. In my opinion, that would be a satisfactory outcome for this situation.

    1. A decent rating system makes sense if the service or object being rated has some REAL VALUE. But this case is so egregious, that there was really nothing to rate because there was NOTHING. It was simply FRAUDULENT.

      1. I think that’s why I’d like to go ahead and see the OP try to file a “property complaint,” since that’s what VRBO suggested. If it is also rejected due to not meeting their criteria (i.e. she didn’t actually stay at the property), then the only process of suggested remediation would also be fraudulent. Also very interesting that someone else was able to post a positive review for a property at which they didn’t actually stay. At the very least, it looks like the “must stay at property” criteria isn’t being applied consistently – that’s a polite way of stating it…

  15. Carver Clark Farrow and subsequent comments show the futility of trying to get VRBO to change. Obviously they worded their contracts to thwart unwanted criticisms with
    the expectation that there would be some.

    I went on their website and looked at their testimonials. All were sterlingrecommendations.

    As with many of Christopher’s essays, the “pound of flesh,” for the injured party is the essay itself. Perhaps a permanent link to a listing of both good and bad vendors of
    services with an additional link to the archived article would make the site a Consumer’s

    To use this current example:

    The first link would be “Companies We’ve Written About.” This would be a link to a long list, perhaps divided into sections as hotels, vacation rentals, car rentals, equipment
    rentals, etc. There the viewer could look to see if there were any remarks about someone with whom they were considering doing business.

  16. She has a complaint about the way the cancellation was handled but has no experience with the property itself. VRBO should allow comments about the reservation process separate from reviews of the stay. She cannot review the stay based on what she learned later. The VRBO contract seems to simply be self-protection. But VRBO should have a section where clients can leave a review of the contacts they have with the owner or manager. That contact often influences whether or not someone books. And in this instance the contact regarding cancellation is important. But at no point should Ms. Younts be allowed to comment on the rental itself as she actually has not stayed there and has no personal experience with the property itself.

  17. Another thought on this that I think Chris said… In our current connected world you are either the customer or the product. You don’t pay VBRO anything for their service so guess which you are?

  18. I do not see the need to post a review.
    The OP should be pushing VRBO to remove the post if she is really concerned for other customers.
    it looks to me like the “property” owner use the post as a bait and switch in hope to cash in on customers not capable to defend themselves.

  19. I voted yes, I HATE censored reviews. I had the same problem with Amazon recently. I was duped by a third party seller who sold me a knock-off item under a listing for a real item. I posed a review of the seller and Amazon removed it stating my review didn’t meat tehir guidelines (They said I left a product review and not a seller review). I re-posted it very strictly adhering to their guidelines (although I believe I did in the first place) and it was suspended and I no longer have the ability to review that seller. I complained to Amazon and the refuse to address the topic, but offered me hush money when I pursued the issue. When I said I would rather leave the review than get money, they ignored me an said they are processing it and ended our on-line chat.

    1. If they are switching products then it is fraud. Perhaps a note to the Attorney General in the appropriate state? Maybe include the California Attorney General since Amazon is a California company?

    2. Yes, but much like the LW, you focused on the wrong issue: you should be bringing a deceptive seller to the attention of the listing service, not fretting over whether or not your review was accepted. In the long run, getting someone who misrepresents their product banned from the site is a much stronger punishment than a single bad review.

      1. I don’t think so. The outfit posting this house probably is a “big” customer in Ashland for VRBO in my opinion.
        Here is a copy of a ‘complaint’ from a cottage rental owner to Ashland’s City Council. It is about non-registered homes being rented out to tourists.
        If VRBO wants to ban the owner then why do they still list her other property?

      2. I did try to tell Amazon that they need to do something about this seller, but they didn’t seem to care. I think that seller sells a lot, so they would rather them keep selling and deal with the complaints.

          1. BOXX. I bought Duracell Duralock 10 year batteries, and got some knock off batteries that the end caps blew out of. When I left the feedback, their seller rating was 60% positive, when I debated my review, it was 75%, now its magically 99%. I wish I had screen shots. This seems very fishy to me.

  20. Interesting…I once left a review on VRBO for a property I didn’t stay in. My vacation plans changed, and the owner was very accommodating with refunding my money when he was able to re-rent the property. I left a positive review of the experience, and VRBO had no problem with it. So it would seem that they are OK with positive reviews, but censor negative ones.

      1. Perhaps reviews only get evaluated by the “actually stayed” criteria if the owner objects to them. That is, someone who books can post a review (as long it passes some basic criteria like no swearing), but the owner can object based on several additional criteria.

        The owner would never object to a positive review, and VRBO doesn’t remove a review unless the owner objects.

  21. I was in the minority on this one. As a vacation rental owner, I have seen people looking to post reviews on properties where they never stayed. Their reviews were motivated by not getting what they wanted ( often a discount)…….. or some other questionable criticism. I think this particular issue is more logically handled by the OP taking it to the better business bureau in the area where the property is listed, or some other organization that is able to evaluate what sounds like a very poor business practice.

    1. No, Cupcake. This is a SCAM. Listing a property, taking money, and then calling later and saying it’s “unavailable” and not refunding money is a SCAM and should be exposed as such.
      You have the ability to reply to your reviewers. You can always call them out on their BS. For instance: “You stated the carpet was dirty, but when we did the walkthrough you did not point this out to me. You had my cell # and did not call at all. It seems to me that you are just looking to get a ‘discount’ by complaining.”

  22. Being that I don’t consider myself on vacation if I have to make a bed or prepare a meal, the whole rental thing is anathema to me. But if that was the only way to get accommodations at a must-visit location, I most definitely wouldn’t be booking through VBRO. For every positive review of the company, I’ve seen at least 10 negatives. If I want to play with those lousy odds, I have two lovely casinos in my backyard.

    1. I must be on vacation then. I didn’t make up my bed this morning and all of the meals I will eat today are prepared by someone else outside my home. Don’t tell me boss, he might dock my vacation time! 😉

    2. That ratio of reviews is common across the board… satisfied customers whose expectations were met often don’t bother posting a review (I know I usually do not). Unhappy customers are more likely to post a review.

      This can vary based on the type of business, repeat customers, or what is more common recently: owners begging for reviews.

      All in all… I take negative reviews with a chunk of salt, try to read between the lines, and remember that some people will never be pleased.

  23. Don’t post the review to VRBO. Post it to one of the third-party review sites, some of which are much larger, like Yelp or Tripadvisor.

      1. I suspect, but have no specific knowledge, that as VRBO’s customer, an owner would have more clout with VRBO then they would with Yelp. But that’s just a supposition.

    1. Strangely enough, BBB has a “F” rating for the sole-proprietor ASHLAND VACATIONS. This is outfit behind this rental cottage.

      Complaint: This person agreed to rent us a house for vacation in Ashland Oregon for July 3,4,5, & 6 2013. We gave her a deposit for $795.50, cashed on 3/26/13. She called to inform us in the last week of June, that the house was no longer available. She agreed to rent us another house, then called and cancelled that house 2 days later. She offered us a 3rd rental option, but was unable to confirm the arrangements for this rental as of the afternoon of June 30th. We finally proceeded to make our ownarrangements for accommodations, and informed her of this on 7/2/13, as she was not available by phone prior to this. She now refuses to refund our deposit, even though we have offered to let her make payments of her choosing. She will not make a proposal for a payment schedule, an says she does not owe us a refund.

      Source: go.bbb dotorg/SHXJdc
      Not sure how much due diligence one has to do to avoid getting scammed.

  24. Most review sites are like this, to some degree. Yelp will pull a review for someone who says, “We tried to go there but couldn’t, because although they claim they close at 8, when we got there at 6 they were not open.”

    However, the fact that money changed hands might make things different.

    1. The logic in some instances is fuzzy. As an example, go to Yelp and search for Masterpiece Cakes. Some of the content is pure hate speech with no indication of every dealing with the merchant itself.

      Edited: I suppose this could be an oversight by Yelp …

        1. In the context of this site, your comment fits the design model. Yelp, like others is a REVIEW site, and as such should be reserved for comment by those having conducted (or at least attempted to do) business with said merchant.

          Reviews are exactly that: reviews, and not comments from those having no contact with the service provider.

          1. Oh dear, this is social media at its finest 🙂
            Do you really expect people to follow instructions nowadays?

          2. I guess I don’t, but I DO expect the site monitors to remove content that is unrelated to an actual review (which is an “after the fact” comment). If I want opinion on social issues, a review site is not where I look. In the case of this OP, it’s clear to me that her wish to post on VRBO is legitimate. It should not reflect poorly on VRBO, but rather the homeowner.

          3. No wait. The example you gave on Yelp was caused because of the owner’s discriminatory beliefs. Therefore it is obvious the public is incensed about what he had done and used Yelp to voice out their disgust. The comments had nothing to do with cakes and anyone reading it would get it.

            With VRBO and the rental listing, the comments of the OP are related to ones being able to rent the 2BR house. This kind of information is important for would-be renters to gauge whether the rental owner is trustworthy. It is not irrelevant. The owner still has other rentals in VRBO.

          4. It sounds like you misread my last comment. I AGREE that the VRBO post is relevant (my word was legitimate). Others here used Yelp as an example of a review site that prunes it’s reviews. My point with the original post is to challenge that assertion. Review sites are supposed to contain content about products, services, and providers posted by those who have purchased or attempted to purchase said items.

            Yelp is not, in my opinion, an appropriate place to “rant” about political/social positions. Same for Amazon, TripAdvisor, Zagat, etc. Most of those sites require that you have some DIRECT exposure to the actual products, services, and provider in order to post.

            If I am mistreated (or believe I have been) by a provider, then I should be allowed to post away as long as I adhere to the decorum set forth in whatever site. If, on the other hand, I read someone else’s post and wish to express my opinion, the review site is not the place to do that.

            The compelling factor is the meaning of the word “review” …

          5. Yes I agree that ranting has no place in Yelp, Amazon, TA, Zagat, etc. I’m just explaining how people have used any kind of “social media” to vent or rant. Maybe no one is paying attention to them at home. I think there is really no way to FULLY control who does what in these “extended” social media sites since it might be too expensive to do so.

          6. I see your point. One thing I have set as a guiding principal for my life that applies here is this: the difficulty of a thing does not, by itself, negate the need to get it done. That has kept me on track so many times when I wanted to give up.

            So, to all the review sites I say, be a review site or do something else. If someone has direct exposure to a product, service, or provider then let them comment (i.e. review). Even if it’s just to say that they’re supposed to be open until 8 but close at 6 (or that the owner of a VRBO-advertised property failed to deliver or refund the fees paid).

            And in the end, it’s the review-er who is responsible for any criticism.

      1. I see your point. With Yelp, unlike a few other review sites, nobody pre-screens the reviews before they are posted. They depend on regular users identifying improperly posted “reviews” (and photos) and *then* the site goes through and investigates. If they feel your flag was legit they will remove things.

        On Yelp, I’ve flagged hate speech, “reviews” consisting of nothing but “I heard the owner is a jerk,” photos for a business that are ‘selfies’ (with no items from the business included, just a user’s face – for a hairdresser, sure. For a restaurant…?), photos that claim to be from a business but are stolen from another website [and some of these clowns actually say, “I took this from (site)”], and more. All have been removed for TOS violations.

          1. Yes. You don’t have to use a real name or even a non-throwaway email address (although experienced Yelp users will tell you that they put more value on reviews from users with real names and pictures), but to flag something you have to be a registered user.

            Otherwise businesses would get legions of anonymous trolls to flag reviews they don’t like. (They still get legions of non-anonymous trolls to flag reviews they don’t like, but that’s another can o’ worms.)

  25. I am a vacation rental owner with 3 vacation homes listed on VRBO and VacationRentals.com (sister site). First, I am not a happy VRBO customer, but there’s not a lot of leeway in their policies. As an owner with many happy (and returning!) guests, I wish VRBO and VR.com would weed out bad owners. They give us honest owners a black eye.

    Second, to correct a misconception a commenter made below, owners have NO say or control over comments left by guests.

    It’s a tough business. Although the vast majority of my guests are decent, honest people, I have learned the hard way to recognize and weed out potentially problematic guests before I book them. (That’s a whole different article, Chris!)

    I also use VRBO and VacationRentals.com to find and book rentals when I travel. The discernment works both ways. I consider how thorough and fast the communication with the owner is, how forthcoming the homeowner is with information, whether there’s a fair written contract, etc….Which is why I will never use a company like AirBnB that “cloaks” communication between owners and guests.

    I’m glad the duped guest was able to get her money refunded by her credit card. I’m sorry she had such a miserable experience!

    Kelly Hayes-Raitt

  26. if the website won’t change their policy, those who are here, can spread the word.
    How about boycotting the site altogether.

  27. On a wider note, do you think we are in danger of becoming a society in which critical comments simply aren’t desired?

    Personally I think it is important that we can exercise our right of freedom of speech and air our opinions and viewpoints when we thing something is seriously wrong.

    Also, to what degree does the fear of a potential law suit result in a site erring on the side of caution and censoring comments?

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