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.
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 and my advocacy team and me to persuade VRBO.com to post her review.
You can tell if a vacation rental is terrible just by reading its description, or by reading its reviews. 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. (Here’s our guide to renting a vacation home.)
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.