I didn’t damage my VRBO rental. Why can they keep my security deposit?

Julie Mandel checked out of her VRBO rental home, believing all was well. She and her family had followed the owner’s rules and left no damage. But when she arrived home, the property manager refused to return her security deposit.

“Since I didn’t damage my VRBO rental, why can the owner keep my security deposit?” asks Mandel.

Mandel’s case is a painful reminder that booking a stay at a private home through VRBO or another vacation rental company is risky. These companies, unlike hotels, merely bring together property owners and guests and facilitate payments of guest fees. Everything beyond that, claim the companies, is between the owners and the guests. Resolving Mandel’s case boils down to her credibility.

“I didn’t damage my VRBO rental”

Mandel rented a property for herself and four other persons, including her son and daughter-in-law, last July for a one-week stay. At that time, she paid a $500 damage deposit through her Citi card to the property manager.

According to Mandel, there were some miscommunications between herself, the property manager and VRBO. Mandel believes that these miscommunications caused hard feelings on the property manager’s part. Before checking out, Mandel photographed the property to document that she and the other guests left no damage.

The property manager refused to refund the deposit, claiming that Mandel and her other guests tore a headboard and scratched the oven. According to the property manager, an entire bedframe had to be replaced because of a small tear, about one inch in diameter. But Mandel’s photograph shows no damage to the headboard.

“Either the tear was previously there underneath where the eye can’t see it or she tore it to claim my damage deposit,” says Mandel.

She also states that neither she nor any of her guests used the stove during their stay.

Up to the property manager

Mandel contacted VRBO for help. She thought that her damage-free photographs would either prompt VRBO to refund the security deposit itself or intervene with the property manager on her behalf.

But VRBO did neither.

Although Mandel had several telephone conversations with VRBO agents, ultimately they told her that “it was between the property manager and myself to settle disputes and there was nothing more they can do.” If the property manager wanted to keep Mandel’s deposit, there was nothing VRBO could do for Mandel.

“I really don’t know how [the property manager] can get away with this,” says Mandel, who believes that the property manager is keeping the deposit in order to pay for repairs that the property needed prior to her rental. She initiated a chargeback against VRBO, but the claim was unsuccessful.

“How can she keep my security deposit?”

Unfortunately for Mandel, VRBO’s terms and conditions don’t contain any language that helps her out. It provides that regarding the relationship between renters and guests,

We are not a party to any rental or other agreement between users. … As a result, any part of an actual or potential transaction between a traveler and a member, including the quality, condition, safety or legality of the properties advertised … are solely the responsibility of each user.

VRBO’s refusal to advocate for her with the property manager is consistent with this provision.
Does that mean Mandel is out of luck?

After Mandel’s chargeback attempt failed, she contacted our advocates for help. (Contact information for VRBO, a property of HomeAway, owned by Expedia, is available on our website.) But we didn’t have good news for her.

Our advocate, Michelle Couch-Friedman, advised Mandel that if neither VRBO nor her bank would help her, we probably can’t either. She suggested that Mandel contact a lawyer for assistance. Mandel isn’t sure whether getting a lawyer is worth it. So we’ll put it to our readers:

Should we advocate for Julie Mandel with VRBO?

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