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Vacation Rental Not As Advertised, Leading To Costly MistakeVacation Rental Not As Advertised, Leading To Costly Mistake

Article from the Charlotte Sun
Author: David Morris is the Sun’s consumer advocate. Contact him c/o the Sun, 23170 Harborview Road, Charlotte Harbor, FL 33980; email; or leave a message at 941-206-1114

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Sandra and Larry Taylor have many enjoyable memories over the last eight years traveling south from Ontario, Canada, for three months every winter.

This year, the couple picked Venice because of its “small-town atmosphere.” However, the visit was a memory they’d soon like to forget.

The Taylors found a good-looking property online at When Larry made a booking request, the owner called back offering a discount of $1,500 if they booked directly with him, rather than through the VRBOsite. Considering the savings“substantial,” Larry mailed a $2,900 check for the first month’s rent. It turned out to be a costly mistake.

That’s because upon arrival, Larry described the conditions as “despicable,” including malfunctioning water taps, sticky floors and roaches. He said they had no choice but to leave, not paying the $5,800 balance owed. The owner refuses to refund them any money. VRBO is part of the HomeAway vacation rental platform, which also includes VacationRentals.

com. HomeAway, in turn, is part of the Expedia family of brands,including Trivago,, Travelocity and Orbitz. HomeAway claims its three sites represent some 1.2 million rental property listings worldwide. Property owners and renters each pay fees to HomeAway to use the platform. It appears the nonpayment of those fees — by circumventing the VRBO site — substantially comprised the Taylor’s offered “discount.”

Unfortunately, by not booking and checking out through VRBO, the Taylors became ineligible for HomeAway’s promised “Book with Confidence Guarantee.”

It protects against listing fraud, denied entry or significant property misrepresentation, along with providing rebooking assistance and help in recovering wrongfully withheld security deposits.

“While we strongly discourage against travelers and owners from paying outside of the HomeAway system for numerous reasons, it’s not a violation of a policy that would make a traveler eligible for protection or reimbursement,” explained HomeAway’s Jordan Hoefar, who forwarded the complaint for review.

However, even if the Taylors had booked through the VRBO site, the property misrepresentation protection guarantee isn’t absolute. Reading the fine print discloses it doesn’t include refusal to take possession on the grounds of cleanliness, or minor or temporary defects. And all claims are decided on a caseby- case basis.

The takeaway here is best summed up by the Federal Trade Commission: “When you’re looking for a rental, it’s caveat renter — renter beware.”

“Some scammers hijack a real rental listing by changing the email address or other contact information, and placing the modified ad on another site,” warns the FTC. “In other cases, scammers have hijacked the email accounts of property owners on reputable vacation rental websites. Other rip-off artists make up listings for places that aren’t for rent or don’t exist, and try to lure you in with the promise of low rent, or great amenities. Their goal is to get your money before you find out.”

The best advice? Don’t rely solely on provided photos, which can bedated or doctored.

Consider asking the property owner for a live tour using Apple’s FaceTime app or Skype.

Read property reviews.

Get a copy of the rental agreement before making a payment. And don’t wire money or send a check. Use a credit card, which allows you to dispute a charge.

Finally, remember, travel insurance policies don’t normally cover vacation rental fraud.

David Morris is the Sun’s consumer advocate. Contact him c/o the Sun, 23170 Harborview Road, Charlotte Harbor, FL 33980; email; or leave a message at 941-206-1114.

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