“This is not what we had signed up for”

Anita Muldoon found what she thought would be the perfect vacation rental in Nice, France, through TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals. But she thought wrong.

The rental turned out to be a nightmare and now the owner of 78 rue de France has kept her 804 euros without giving her the accommodations she paid for, at least according to Muldoon.

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In today’s installment of Should I Take the Case? — a completely unvetted and unresearched consumer question where I ask you, the reader, if I should get involved — we’ll take a closer look at Muldoon’s grievance.

Maybe you can tell me if I should be her advocate.

It all started last fall, when Muldoon began planning a trip to France with a friend.

“We had been searching for short apartment rentals, rather than a more costly hotel stay,” she says. “Our search of several sites landed us a place in Nice, France, on TripAdvisor.”

She found an apartment in Nice that looked ideal. TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals connected her with the landlord, who referred Muldoon to a rental agency he was using for the transaction. So far, so good.

But when she arrived after a long flight, she was surprised by what she found.

“The apartment did not have the same appeal as the photos had shown,” she says. “But the worst was yet to come.”

Simply put, the apartment was unsanitary. The pillows on the sofa had “what appeared to be grease smeared on them,” she says.

“The bed was covered with a bedspread that was full of stains of, I wouldn’t even want to guess what,” she says. A representative from the rental agency plopped a few sheets on the bed. They could make the beds themselves.

“At that moment, my friend and I looked at each other and I knew she was thinking what I was thinking. We didn’t want to stay. This is not what we had signed up for. So, I asked her if we could change our minds,” she says.

That didn’t go over well with the representative.

I’ll let her pick up the story from there:

She became irate. She got on the phone with the landlord and told him we did not want to stay.

I understand French a bit, and I hear her refer to me as “a bitch,” and by the tone of the conversation, I could tell the landlord was angry too.

She hung up and said, “You can leave.”

It was so uncomfortable, clearly not a professional environment at all. I asked about a refund and she told me, “He has not received anything yet so we would deal with it later.”

So we hauled our stuff back down the flights of stairs and hit the streets, exhausted and looking for a place to stay.

Not exactly the best way to start a vacation. Muldoon had prepaid for the rental in full through PayPal. She contacted her bank, PayPal and TripAdvisor, attempting to secure a refund of the more than $1,000 she’d paid the property. Every step of the way, she was denied.

Muldoon approached me in December about taking her case. I suggested she address this in our help forums, and she did. Privately, I also advised her to send a written complaint to TripAdvisor, which was acting as a de facto broker for her vacation rental.

Here’s how TripAdvisor responded:

Apologies for the delay in reply, also for the inconvenience caused in this situation. But due to having no photographic proof we were unable to be able to block this payment for further investigation. This is why the money was sent to the owner.

The dispute is now between you and the owner, however, we have reached out to the owner and we are trying to come to an agreement with them in regards to some sort of refund.

Once we have heard back from the owner we will be in touch to update you.

Again, apologies for all inconvenience caused.

Kind regards,

Stefania Galletti
Customer Service Advisor

OK, that’s not a definite “no,” but I wouldn’t be holding my breath. Interesting that TripAdvisor is insisting on having “photographic” evidence of the dirty pillows. I wonder how the representative would have reacted if Muldoon had started taking snapshots of the dirty apartment?

That’s an expensive lesson.

“I have learned I should have paid only a deposit,” she says. “[Also], not to use a check card, and to take pictures.”

Should I jump into the fray and try to pressure TripAdvisor (which took a 3 percent commission from the landlord) or the rental agency or the owner to refund a rental she never got to stay in?

Should I take Anita Muldoon's case?

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31 thoughts on ““This is not what we had signed up for”

  1. The avenue to go after is either her bank or PayPal. TripAdvisor, like many of these vacation rental listing services, explicitly offers very minimal protection. (and unlike VRBO, TA rentals apparently does not offer optional policies for better protection.) When using a vacation rental listing service, customers should read very carefully what guarantees/protection the service does, or does not, provide. TA Rentals website shows they offer two policies (depending on listing): one just guarantees that you’ll be able to access the unit. The other also has guarantees against “material misrepresentation”, but in a large-print exclusion, specifically says this refers to size or location only, not cleanliness, maintenance, or inconvenience.

    Online vacation rental listing services should be treated no different than Craigslist or an ad you tore off a bulletin board.

  2. I avoid PayPal. Ever since they (and eBay before eBay owend PayPal) screwed me out of over $1000 for something I sold. When I e-mailed the purchaser that the item was on its way, he cancelled hte transaction and stole the money out of my bank account. No help from either eBay or PayPal. They can rot.

    1. I had a buyer pull the same thing on me. When I googeled the “Verified” address, it turned out to be a hotel. I called the hotel, and the manager agreed to let his staff know that when the package arrived, to refuse it and return it. (I tried USPS first and they wouldn’t stop it in transit and return it despite it being sent with tracking). Fortunately I got the package back and was only out the shipping.

      1. In December canceled a transaction because the buyer’s name on the account did not match the name on the PayPal account, which had an unverified address in India. They asked for the item to be shipped to a hotel, saying it was for a friend, and they said do not include any packing slips or info in the box because it was a gift. I contacted eBay before I canceled the transaction and told them that they should never have accepted the bid because I had selected the setting that I only ship to US addresses and PayPal verified address. I also made sure that I would get both the PayPal fees refunded and final value fees removed from my invoice. I did still have to pay the listing fee. I finished the listings that I had up, but have not sold on eBay since and will not in the future.

    2. I think PayPal holds the funds in escrow now… I can’t remember for sure, but I don’t think a buyer can just cancel a transaction like that now. Things like what happened to you probably happened enough times that they had to put some kind of assurances in place. I’m trying to remember… it’s been awhile since I sold anything but I swear they kind of fixed this problem.

      1. No, actually, if you list that you don’t accept returns eBay now requires you to have back up funding through them. That way if a buyer complains and you’ve taken the money out of the PayPal, they’ll charge your credit card for the refund to the buyer.

    3. The buyer cannot ‘steal the money from your bank account.’

      only Paypal can take it out – now -the buyer and fraudulently claim a refund – but they don’t have access to your account . . . . if you can prove you shipped the item rarely will people get scammed any longer. I had a guy try this – and since I took the money – there was no money in my paypal account or my bank account – Paypal contacted me for it – instead of taking it first and forcing me to fight them. They understood once you get their attention when THEY are out money . . .

      I use a separate bank account for paypal – so this cannot happen. Plus – my credit card is a $100 ‘temporary’ card that theycan try to charge back they only get $100 . . . .

      Sorry – but ANYONE who uses a debit card for any purpose is stupid – it can be stolen which drains your account, it can be skimmed, which drains your account and it can be subject to these kinds of things where you lack any recourse – whereas if you used a credit card – yeah. Once the bank is out money, someone is paying attention.

  3. I would like to read the listing first. Can not locate any listing. Also, no VR that I know of rents without full payment ( i.e.: should have only placed deposit ). As in a hotel, a guest can not just depart,
    and expect a refund, without dealing with the negative issues first.

    1. What concerns me about this story is the representative saying “You can go.” If they were planning on keeping all the money, there’s no point in giving permission. “You can go” implies permission to leave. Of course she could go if she wanted. She specifically asked about her money, though. She knew no one was FORCING her stay there. If she was willing to just leave without assurances about her money, she knew she could go. She took what was said as permission to leave and then asked about the refund. And she did what everyone here tells travelers to do: she spoke up immediately, while the representative was in the apartment with her. The representative could have called the owner and they could have come up with a “solution” (which I’m sure wouldn’t have made her happy either)… they could have agreed to get completely new linens, or give a one night refund, etc. Of course she should have taken pictures. Of course she should have gotten information about the refund in writing. But the point is that she believed she was given permission to leave, which implies she’d get some money back. As I said… she could have just walked out and been in the same predicament. What happened after is kind of her fault. She should definitely have taken pictures. But while there, she DID deal with the problems… she dealt with them immediately, and the REPRESENTATIVE told her it was fine for her to go, after being on the phone with the owner. How else can you take that? If the rep had come back and said “you can go, but you’ll forfeit the entire amount” then that would have been a different story. But taking her at her word as to what occurred? I think she was justified in leaving. They told her it was fine to go.

      1. Of course that could be a bit of “he said-she said”. I really really want to see that listing and I wish Elliot would share it with us.

  4. Pictures would have helped a lot in establishing LW’s case. Was this specified clearly in the contract, even in Paramecium Bold Extended?

  5. With no photographic proof and dealing with a vendor overseas, I don’t see you being successful. It will turn into the ultimate “he said / she said.” The rental company is just going to say that it wasn’t as bad as the LW said and that the apartment was clean.

    I think my biggest lesson is just to avoid renting property over the internet. It seems to be a high percentage of your cases where the renter gets stuck.

    1. Have to wonder what would have happened if they had started taking pictures while the representative was there. They might not have felt comfortable doing so considering the situation. I agree, pictures would have made a big difference, but could have made things even worse at that particular moment.

      After reading this site for a number of years, I don’t think I’ll ever rent these kind of places. I may be missing out sometimes, but rather not take my chances.

      1. @Jeff Kolker:disqus I’m with you. I don’t really rent apartments etc but my parents have. They have struck out repeatedly using VRBO and other websites. Since they tend to return to the same area every year, they now go look at places while they are there and get one under contract for the next year. No surprises.

        1. Remember that CE only sees the negatives. Most of these rentals go off perfectly. I myself rent a vacation home at least once a year. Its much cheaper than a hotel, and you get a real kitchen. Some of the cases do sound like true horror stories, but that is probably lees than .01%. I also think in many cases here the renters expectations are too high, after all its a rental, not a full service hotel. Ive even been to many high end hotels where there are stains on the bed spread and/or couch pillows.

        2. I’ve used VRBO and similar a fair amount and have never had a bad experience. Your mileage may vary but I find sticking to places with lots of photos and a continual stream of reviews is pretty safe. I agree seeing the place live is the best but renting a place for next year still leaves a lot of time for things to break, get dirty, owners or management to change, etc. The place from this letter could have looked immaculate 365 days ago, for example.

  6. I realize that you do not have all the details but I would not go further on this one. Photos are important and I doubt if the rental agent was already mad that photos would have made the situation much worse. The OP talks about finding this on TripAdvisor but does not mention having read any reviews of the property–something I find a bit odd since she was on TripAdvisor in the first place. Those two things–no mention of reviews and no photos–are red flags for me on this one. She has learned lessons about how to pay–especially credit card vs debit card. But without any documentation (photos) to back up her claims about the lack of cleanliness I think this will go nowhere.

  7. All this snow must be turning me soft, because I voted yes. I think you might be able to help the lady out here. She followed your advice to try to resolve it through the help forums and by writing a letter to TripAdvisor. While she got the all but no reply from TripAdvisor, what were the replies from her bank and PayPal? Were they in writing or phone conversations? As I was reading I kept thinking “the next paragraph will have this lady whipping out her camera and taking a few pictures,” but alas it never came. While photographic evidence would have helped, I think even producing the receipts from the hotels she ultimately stayed in during her trip would bolster the “we left and didn’t stay there” part of the story (and maybe get a couple nights of the payment back) even if it doesn’t help the “it was too dirty” narrative.

    1. That the LW stayed somewhere else is not important to the landlord. And TripAdvisor has no knowledge of the state of the place she chose through them. Seems like some sort of independent proof is mandatory to get a resolution.

      1. I think it would be central to the landlord’s narrative. The lady and her friend plan months in advance, pay nearly a thousand bucks up front, fly thousands of miles for a trip, and…don’t stay in the apartment? Why? If TripAdvisor is waiting to hear from the landlord, surely that question comes up somewhere? I agree wholeheartedly on the photos- they would be crucial evidence, but I can’t help but think TripAdvisor is stonewalling here and hoping that the lady will just go away.

  8. Oh dear, I am the heartless one today. (Can I be banned for being snarky to myself?) I’m outvoted by a large margin, but I don’t feel as strongly about my No vote today as I did about my Yes vote on the passport problem last Monday. I only voted No today because I don’t think the letter writer (a phrase I ALWAYS spell out) has exhausted her options. She’s still waiting for TripAdvisor to hear back from the landlord.

  9. For a number of years we lived in Paris at the most beautiful apartment. It was all black and white and had all the newest appliacnes. Our landlord would have a bottle of Champaage waiting for us. He liked us as tenants and we were royally treated. Yes, in the past we have had other apartments — one had a sheet hanging on the wall — it
    covered a moldy wall from water damage. I weigh 98 pounds and could barely get into
    the toilet room. Sink was out too far to pass. I could go on, but I know some owners WILL NOT SHOW YOU THE APARTMENT before rental — .
    All in all our experiences were great with the apartment and landlord. He took us to
    dinner our last night and drove us to the airport. SUPERB!!!

  10. I said No. With no photo evidence what does she have? Her word against the owner. Dealing with an owner in a foreign country who has to pay for $ exchange fee to receive her money then another cut for the bank fee if they reverse the charge. The only one who will make anything on this deal will be Trip Advisor.

  11. I wish she had taken pictures. Its very hard to say if dirty pillows on the sofa and stains on the bed spread warrant walking out of the entire rental. If that is really the only issue, then I vote no. It sounds like something that could have been addressed and corrected.

  12. And would photos really have shown enough detail to confirm that tha place was “dirty”? It seem to me that after having flown from the States to France, gotten to the place they planned to stay, and then leaving, dragging their luggage around, to hopefully find somewhere else in Nice, they have effectively shown that there was a substantial problem. It’s hard to imagine that they went through all of that inconvenience because of some minor problem. And sometimes I think we forget that it’s easy for us to second guess the OP and say she should have taken pictures, but really?

    1. The photos couldn’t have hurt. But I tend to agree with you based on something the OP says in the letter: “The apartment did not have the same appeal as the photos had shown,” she says. Note she doesn’t exactly say the photos were inaccurate, but that in person it wasn’t as nice as the photos. That gives me the vibe the OP is pretty picky. Maybe I’m wrong, but just the vibe I get.

  13. I voted yes. She paid the money and she didn’t get the service. A refund should be on the way. No brainer. I don’t know why she needs pictures. She didn’t stay in the place and it seems the landlord is not arguing about that.
    The letter doesn’t mention a cancellation policy or it doesn’t imply that the prepayment was non-refundable. So maybe those are the things to figure out first. If this was a hotel, it might take a first-day rate as a cancellation penalty, but pocketing the room rates for the entire period of reservation would be outrageous.

  14. I have rented 3 apartments in Paris from 3 different entities without a single problem. I think the first agency I dealt with (Perfectly Paris run by Gail, a Canadian ex-pat) showed me how to do it right and I have followed that protocol … giving a personal check for the security deposit on arrival, paying original deposit and fees by credit card, meeting the owner/agent at the property for a walk-through. Even tho Anita made several mistakes (easy to do if you are renting for the first time) I think the “rental agencies” need to step up and do their jobs if they’re accepting commissions. So please do go after TripAdvisor … they should be taking care of things much more thoroughly … inspections, instructions to renters on how to deal with an untenable situation … I don’t know how the owner/agent and the renter are supposed to solve problems without some assistance and guidance. And renters: always have a place to sleep the first night in case your apartment doesn’t work out. What a nightmare after a long flight.

  15. Without pictures, it’s he said, she said. Paypal does not offer the same consumer protections as using a credit card either. Also, weren’t there any TripAdvisor reviews on this property if she rented through TA? If it was that dirty I would think someone would have mentioned it unless they were reading some on the many reviews posted by people who have only written one review (I never pay attention to reviews by people who have never done a review before).

    I don’t understand why people insist on doing these type of rentals when there are so many legit suppliers who do apartment rentals, especially in France, that will back you up when renting.

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