Dead chickens and overflowing trash greet guest at dirty VRBO rental

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By Christopher Elliott

When Terry Flores checks into her vacation home, she’s greeted by overflowing garbage and dead chickens. After cleaning up the dirty VRBO rental, is she entitled to some kind of refund?


I recently rented a home from VRBO in Pinetop, Ariz., with a group of friends. The owner gave us permission to check in an hour early because he said the cleaners should be done.

When we arrived at the property, it was not cleaned. Bed linens were still on beds from the previous guests, used towels were on the floor, old food was in the fridge, food debris was strewn throughout the kitchen, and the stovetop and the oven were caked with food. The trash can was brimming with garbage and we found a neglected chicken coop with eight live chickens and the carcasses of three that had been cannibalized by the survivors.

I contacted the owner via text and cell phone. First, he promised the cleaning crew would be out in an hour. They never showed up. We were are a party of 12 and it took over two hours with all of us cleaning to get the place habitable, and we were doing laundry for many, many hours, washing sheets and towels so we could sleep and bathe.

The VRBO owner said it never happened

The owner said he was sorry, that this had never happened, and that he would either refund us one night or comp a night for a future stay. The group decided we wanted the refund on this $600-a-night rental because we are not sure we would return.

But when our stay ended, the owner only offered $300 or a comped future night. We asked that he give us a refund of one night and waive the cleaning fee. He has not returned any texts or emails.

We paid for a luxury cabin experience and did not have that when we had to clean significantly, including doing a lot of laundry, dealing with dead animals, and general property neglect. Can you help us get a refund for this dirty VRBO rental? — Terry Flores,Tucson, Ariz.


A property like this should never, ever be rented through VRBO or any reputable vacation rental site. And did you say they claimed this was a “luxury” rental? Will someone please tell that to the dead chickens who greeted you when you checked in?

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If anyone ever offers you a one-night refund or to waive a cleaning fee, get it in writing right then and there. (You had the promise as a text message, but an email or a contract might have been more effective.) It looks as if you waited until the end of your stay to inform the owner of your decision about a refund. And by then, he’d had second thoughts about losing $600 and apparently decided to cut his offer in half. The fact that the owner had already broken one promise — “I’ll send the cleaners over right now” — should have been a warning. Of course, you had no written record of any offer, so what does it matter? (Related: Excuse me, your vacation rental is missing some amenities.)

Cleaning a dirty VRBO rental on your vacation?

But it does matter. An owner’s word should be like a contract. You shouldn’t have to spend the first few hours of your vacation cleaning your rental property. Good thing you rented through VRBO, which has a “Book With Confidence” guarantee that protects you from a rental disaster, or, in its words, a “material noncompliance.” Problem is, you would need to report the violation and refuse to occupy the unit. (Here’s what you need to know before renting your next vacation home.)

Still, VRBO should be concerned with any property that features chicken carcasses. You might have brought this to the company’s attention in a brief, polite email to a manager. I list the names, numbers and emails of the executives on my consumer advocacy site (VRBO is owned by HomeAway).

I contacted VRBO on your behalf. The owner finally responded to you and agreed to pay for one night of your stay and to refund the cleaning fee.

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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. He is based in Panamá City.

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