My Hawaii vacation rental is infested with ants – can I get a partial refund?

Irin-K/Shutterstock
Irin-K/Shutterstock
Maybe David and Mary Sue Conner didn’t tell their rental homeowner they were in Oahu for a family vacation of a lifetime. But when you drop $25,000 for a one-month stay in Hawaii, and the whole ohana is there, that probably goes without saying: this is a special event, and everything needs to be perfect.

It wasn’t. The problems ranged from minor, such as a faulty air conditioning unit and a broken dryer on the owner-managed rental, to something many guests would consider a real deal-breaker: insects. Lot’s of ’em.

“We noticed as we were unpacking that there were ant traps throughout the house,” remembers Mary Sue Conner. “We didn’t give it much notice since we were in the tropics and bugs come with the territory. But on the second morning my husband noticed that the window sills in the great room had piles of ant hills across the entire length. It’s almost 30 feet long. We found ants everywhere.”

That made living conditions difficult.

We had to throw food out that wasn’t covered correctly. One little grandchild went to his bedroom because the living room was too warm and took a snack with him. Bad move. He fell asleep and awoke with ants in his clothes and all over the bed.

Most of us would have checked out at that point, but when you’ve pre-paid for your vacation home, you don’t have a lot of choices. You work with what you have.

The Conners asked for help in a series of increasingly desperate emails. They forwarded about a dozen of them to me, so I could examine the paper trail.

Here’s one:

We really are getting overrun with ants. We have sprayed and put down the traps, but I think the house needs to be sprayed on the outside.

The ants are building a nest in the house. Please take care of this soon. We woke this morning and ants were in our lap tops. Please help.

Repeated calls and emails to the owner’s representative finally resulted in someone repairing the faulty AC and dryer, and the exterminator arrived eight days before their stay ended. He delivered some more bad news. The problem would take more visits to fix, and was definitely pre-existing. The owner knew about the bugs, Conner says.

It was too little, too late. By the time the dryer was fixed, one family member had already left. “They never had air conditioning, ants had infested their bathroom and they left with dirty clothes,” remembers Conner.

I know this part of Oahu fairly well, having stayed there last fall. It can get buggy, so you have to use the screen doors to keep the insects out. It’s hot, but some rental homes in Hawaii don’t even have air conditioning. You have to use the ceiling fans which, for this adopted Floridian, is almost inconceivable.

The family asked the owner’s representative to adjust their bill, based on their disappointing experience.

“She said that the owners were in Europe for the summer and would be in touch when they returned,” she says. “I thought this was the most ridiculous answer in this day and age.”

The answers didn’t get any better, despite repeated requests by email and phone. The Conners want a $2,000 refund, and they’d like me to help them get it.

I’ve reviewed the emails between Conner and the manager, and the guests are polite but firm. According to Conner, the last few requests have gone unanswered. Given her experience, and the allegedly dilapidated condition of her North Shore rental, she thinks a cash refund is “not unreasonable.”

After looking at the property listing and its reviews on VRBO.com, I have mixed feeling about this one. The unit looks new and in excellent shape, but it’s not entirely clear how recently these photos were taken. What’s my next step?

Should I mediate David and Mary Sue Conner's case?

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