When Whitney Todd tried to check in to a Vrbo vacation rental, a property manager told her to leave. (Actually, that’s the G-rated version; the host told her to “Get the [expletive] outta here!”). But if a Vrbo host tells you to, you know, leave, then shouldn’t you get a refund? (reprint/Nov. 2019)
Before you say, “Of course,” you should take a look at the rental agreement. That’s always good advice before you stay in a vacation rental — or any rental. What does the contract say?
Todd’s case looked like a slam dunk to our team. She’d rented a home in Anchorage, Alaska, through Vrbo and looked forward to spending a weekend attending a softball tournament with her family. But when they arrived, they found the house was not quite ready for them.
Vrbo host: “Get out of here!”
“The house we booked had a check-in time of 4 p.m.,” she recalls. “We got there around 8 p.m. and it was nowhere near ready for guests.”
Why not? There was a construction crew busily working under the August sun.
“It looked as if they were in the process of converting the garage into a bedroom. They were still cleaning the inside, had furniture and junk all over the driveway, and had tools everywhere in the inside as if they were attempting to remodel,” she recalls.
She contacted the property manager to find out what was happening.
“The property manager told us it’d be ready in 5 minutes. My husband told him there was no way it’d be ready in 5 minutes,” she says. “The property manager then said, “Get the [expletive] outta here!'”
So they left.
How to not run a Vrbo vacation rental
Somehow, I don’t think this is what Vrbo has in mind when it says it will “help people everywhere travel better together.” But you have to remember, Vrbo thinks of itself as just a platform that connects homeowners and travelers. It doesn’t offer etiquette lessons to its property managers, although Todd’s contact could have benefited from them.
I mean, why would anyone tell a guest to “Get the [expletive] outta here!”
The quality of vacation rentals varies greatly. I stayed in a Vrbo rental this summer that had it all — a great location, a responsive host and terrific amenities. I stayed in another Vrbo rental this month where the bed collapsed, the shower leaked and a sofa had a horrible smell. The property manager was very apologetic and tried to fix all of those problems. He did not tell me to “get the [expletive] outta here!”
One of the problems is that Vrbo doesn’t publish a list of standards for its rentals. So you have to carefully read the property description and then hope for the best.
Read the contract before your host tells you to leave
That’s not the only document you have to read. Vrbo doesn’t have an umbrella refund policy. Instead, each property has its own cancellation policy.
For example, if you are eligible for a 50 percent refund per the cancellation policy timeline, then 50 percent of the amount paid to date will be refunded, according to Vrbo. However, any fees, such as its service fee, aren’t refundable.
In other words, Todd’s property manager could have told her to get lost and kept her money.
Sometimes, property managers will send a contract that details other terms and conditions. But my last rental in Los Angeles didn’t even do that (the property manager promised to, but didn’t). I felt as if I was in a legal gray zone, somewhere between Vrbo’s terms and conditions and the state lodging statutes.
HomeAway Trust & Security to the rescue
Todd contacted Vrbo for help. Could her property manager pocket her money and leave her homeless? Of course not.
HomeAway’s Trust & Security team asked her for documentation of her hotel stay. In response, she sent the following document.
When I saw this, my first reaction was: What is this, the CIA? I haven’t seen this many redactions since my last request to the TSA under the Freedom of Information Act. All that’s missing is an 18 ½-minute gap in the tape.
I’m not surprised that Vrbo didn’t accept the document. Not only was it filled with redactions, but it wasn’t under Todd’s name. That made it difficult for Vrbo to determine whether to reimburse her or not. Her case languished for more than two months.
Finally, Todd reached out to the Elliott Advocacy team to get our help.
Why the holdup?
Todd wanted a full refund for the vacation rental and for Vrbo to cover the hotel she had to use at the last minute. Both requests seemed reasonable.
After the Elliott Advocacy team received Todd’s request for help, our advocate Dwayne Coward took over. He reached out to Vrbo to see if it had an update on her refund request. I wasn’t surprised when Vrbo got back to Todd quickly, apologizing for the delay.
There was a paperwork problem, a representative from HomeAway’s Trust & Security team told her.
“We do still show that you have not provided the folio that matches the bank statement for room 108. The folio for the room should show the same total that was paid ($256.48). Please provide this document so that we can proceed with your reimbursement claim,” the rep said.
Ah, there it is again. The paperwork!
I think if Todd had carefully reviewed her contract before renting the home and if she’d redacted a little less from her credit card statement, my team would be out of a job — at least on this particular case. But for a weekend in Anchorage, who has the time to do all that?
I’m a little tired of having to say “buyer beware.” The process shouldn’t be this difficult. People should get what they expect from a vacation rental, or any business. But that’s not how the world works, unfortunately.
I’m particularly bothered by a property manager who drives away a paying customer while swearing like a sailor. That’s not hospitality. That’s not good customer service. It is the exact opposite of what Vrbo implies you’ll get when you rent with it. I hope Vrbo takes action to remove this listing from its inventory.
And here is your refund
Shortly after Dwayne contacted Vrbo, we had some good news. The company reviewed her case and “based on the negative experience she has experienced,” agreed to cut her a check for the full $1,318 she requested.
The next time a manager tells you to leave without offering a refund, remember this story. You can avoid this problem by paying attention to the terms of your rental site and the rental contract. You can avoid further delays by promptly sending the required paperwork to the company for reimbursement.