Seaweed on the shores — can I get a refund for my vacation rental deposit?

Is seaweed a legitimate reason to cancel your vacation rental and receive a full refund for your deposit? Susan Dorsey thinks so and she thinks I should think so, too.

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More specifically, Dorsey would like me to pressure her vacation rental company to cough up a refund for her planned stay in Antigua. This is an interesting case.

Every Monday morning in this feature, I ask if I should take a case. And every Monday morning, you tell me.

Now, I realize some of you may be snickering at this one. You’re not alone. But let’s hear what Dorsey has to say.

Last March, she found a good deal on a rental in Antigua through VRBO.com — a privately-owned condo at the St. James’s Resort. She paid a $1,700 deposit.

A short while later, she discovered there was a reason why the price was so reasonable.

“Apparently, the beach there has been invaded by massive amounts of sargassum seaweed with dead fish and a terrible smell,” she says. “Tourists staying at the resort are unable to swim in the water and say the resort should be closed.”

After reviewing the photos and online reviews, Dorsey asked for her $1,700 back. After all, her stay was still 9 months away.

“I was told by the owner that I will get a refund if the property is re-rented during the time I reserved it as per the cancellation policy,” she says.

She’s livid.

“This property and the water near it no longer resembles in any way how it is pictured on the listing website,” she says.

Perhaps not. I know Dorsey wants to get her money back now, but if she’s almost a year from her vacation, there’s a fairly good chance the unit will be re-rented, and she’ll get her money. Even if she doesn’t, will the seaweed still be there? It’s hard to say for certain.

But this does raise an interesting question about amenities. At what point are you allowed a no-penalty cancellation?

How about for bad weather? Maybe a blizzard or a hurricane that makes it impossible to reach the vacation rental?

Is it when a destination’s raison d’etre is no more? For example, when a ski resort closes because of lack of snow, or a beach is closed because hypodermic needles are washing ashore with the high tide?

Indeed, to what extent are hotels and vacation rentals responsible for their surroundings?

If you said “they aren’t,” then maybe you work in the hotel industry. So you would charge a guest if they had a death in the family and couldn’t go on vacation, or if their flight was grounded. After all, you have a business to run, don’t you?

But I think those of us who aren’t hotel revenue managers can agree that there are times when a refund is in order.

So, is a refund in order for the fish and seaweed?

You know, as a guest, I can tell you I would be pretty upset if I smelled dead fish and seaweed from my vacation rental. But I’m not sure if I would blame my hotel for it.

Should I take Susan Dorsey's case?

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13 thoughts on “Seaweed on the shores — can I get a refund for my vacation rental deposit?

  1. I say take the case, have her keep trying on her own, have her keep a great paper trail, but don’t do anything until it’s closer. I mean it’s so far out right now…

  2. Based on recent reviews, it appears they are able to keep the beaches clean and folks are enjoying their vacations.

    Also, this is only a problem with the beaches on the windward side of the island.

  3. Well, for starters, this is unlikely to be a permanent addition; the seaweed will almost certainly be gone some time in the next nine months; it’s generally a seasonal event.

    Also, they ARE offering to refund if they can’t find another tenant; that seems pretty reasonable to me. After all, maybe her reservation blocked somebody else from booking this unit.

    As a side note, not that this should make a difference, but there is no “hotel revenue manager” here. This is a privately owned unit and this is the owner who is sticking to this term.

  4. Perhaps she should have done her investigating before she booked the place? As you said perhaps there was a reason it was so cheap. Perhaps she should have read the rental agreement? Maybe she should have been looking on the leeward side of the island? Just seems to me like a case of buyers remorse, with a healthy dose of a lack of personal responsibility.

  5. Chris, I will say in response to the Revenue Manager comment, VRBO tends to be individuals renting out more than big businesses or hotels. It is harder to absorb “goodwill” costs when you have inventory of 1 unit. In addition, there isn’t much loyalty or future repeat business to expect meaning lifetime customer value is generally that one experience. However, to your point, 9 months is a long way away and so it does not sound like she is really costing them lost reservations so she may get her refund as expected if re-rented.

    I say no advocate on this one. She can and should keep trying, but doesn’t seem like she was wronged. She is in a bad position, but there was no malicious intent on either side and a process which may make her whole anyway.

  6. She booked it in March 2015? So, 9 months later is Dec 2015. That is 2 months from now. I don’t see the exact timeframe for her visit, so that”s what I am basing things on. I have been reading recently (like this past weekend) of the seaweed problems. Not a good thing for a beach to be covered with. That being said, I think it is more a Act of God than something the location is responsible for. Unless they own the beach and maintain it. They I’d say there may be some wiggle room for a settlement.
    But, as others have said, have her keep working the email (for paper trail purposes).

  7. Alas, the time to do your homework is before you make the booking. Reading the other comments here, though, sounds like the seaweed is a non-problem. That would be nice for everyone.

  8. The sargassum could be totally gone by the time she travels. If that is bothering home, she shouldn’t travel to the Caribbean at all because most of the Caribbean has been taken over by this seaweed. It ebbs and flows too – here today and gone tomorrow.

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