ADVERTISEMENT

Travel Troubleshooter: Problems with vacation rental home

  • Article by: CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT
  • August 9, 2013 - 1:31 PM

Q: I recently paid a $2,060 deposit to rent a home in Aruba through VRBO.com. Before I was sent a copy of the lease, I realized that the rental didn’t have enough room for our party of 10, and I notified the owner that I wanted to cancel.

The owner refuses to refund the deposit, saying she runs the rental “like a timeshare.” I don’t even know what that means. That should have been explained in the rental agreement, and even more important, it should be explained to a customer when they are making a $2,060 deposit.

I sent the deposit in good faith, and now I feel stupid for not having gotten something in writing. I contacted VRBO, but so far it has been unable to help me get my money back. Is there anything you can do?

 

A: What a mess. The owner should have sent you an agreement before you paid for the rental home, which clearly outlined your rights to a refund. The contract should have also described the property in more detail, noting how many guests it could accommodate.

VRBO sees itself as an intermediary in this transaction, providing little more than a listing service. And at the time you rented your home, it offered something called the Carefree Rental Guarantee, which would have protected you if your rental had been misrepresented. But you would have had to pay extra for that.

Still, VRBO should be concerned when one of its property owners allegedly accepts your money without furnishing you with a contract and then keeps it after you cancel the reservation, saying that the property is run “like a timeshare.” I’m not even sure if I understand what that means.

This advice may seem obvious, but it’s worth repeating: Don’t sign a rental agreement — and definitely don’t make a deposit — until you’ve read it. If a rental owner refuses to send the contract, walk away.

Look for “gotchas” like no-refund policies and nondisparagement clauses, which prevent you from writing about the rental if you don’t like it. And make sure you have the option of paying by credit card, which will protect you if something goes wrong.

I contacted VRBO about your case. It got in touch with the property owner and advocated for you. The owner refunded your entire deposit.

 

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine. Read more tips on his blog, elliott.org or e-mail him at chris@elliott.org.

© 2014 Star Tribune