Hey, where’d the money go for my Hawaii condo?

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By Christopher Elliott

Today’s question isn’t about whether I should try to mediate Deb DiSandro’s case. She paid $3,203 for a vacation rental in Oahu that she obviously didn’t get. I’m going to try to help her.

It’s more a question of who has her money — and who is responsible for her refund. That’s where I could use your help.

One year ago, DiSandro pre-paid for a condo at the Ko Olina Beach Villas Resort. There were numerous warning signs from the very beginning. The owner wanted to be paid in full by PayPal weeks before she checked in. Initially, he didn’t want to honor the rate that DiSandro saw online for the two bedroom unit on the top fourth floor on the north side of the oceanside tower, but then agreed to, as a favor.

It just didn’t look right. And sure enough, it wasn’t.

From foreclosure to a lost deposit

“About two weeks before our June arrival, the person we rented the condo from called to tell us that we no longer had a place to stay,” she says. The unit had gone into foreclosure and was now owned by a bank.

DiSandro scrambled to find another rental, and eventually paid another $4,000 to secure her accommodations in Hawaii.

“I have tried to get our money back to no avail,” she says.

Here’s where things get a little complicated.

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She’d found the unit through a website called StayAtCondo.com, but the site is nothing more than a listing service and informed DiSandro she was booking “at her own risk.” She says a site representative tried to help by making a few calls on her behalf but failed to resolve anything.

Broken promises and unresponsive owners

She then contacted the former owner, whose name was on the contract and to whom she’d sent $3,203.

“He actually picked up the phone and stammered and mumbled, and said he is not responsible,” she said.

So she sent him a registered letter with proof of her payment, demanding a refund, but he never sent a response or the money or answered any of her subsequent phone calls. (Here’s what you need to know before you rent your next vacation home.)

More research revealed the owner had known he was about to lose the unit — indeed, that the condo was probably in foreclosure when the transaction took place — and knew he couldn’t honor the reservation.

How about Ko Olina Beach Villas? DiSandro sent a letter, but got the brush-off.

“No one seems to care,” she says.

The complex rental responsibility puzzle

DiSandro wants to know who is ultimately responsible: the site through which she rented the condo, the former owner, the bank that now owns it, or Ko Olina?

Well, this one’s a real head-scratcher. I think on some level, all of the parties should be concerned that someone along the line pocketed $3,203 of her money.

Ultimately, the person with the money — the former owner — should reimburse her. But if he isn’t answering his phone, the only way to secure a refund would be to sue him in small claims court.

“Should I just let this go?” she wonders.

I wouldn’t. If DiSandro’s story is accurate, then a condo owner fraudulently accepted payment for a rental that he knew he couldn’t honor. Now he’s giving her the silent treatment. That’s wrong. (A traveler, forced to cancel her Hawaii vacation due to lockdowns, sought a refund for her canceled Maui rental.)

The question is, what’s next? Who should I contact in order to extract the refund everyone can agree she deserves?

Who is responsible for DiSandro's refund?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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