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Gay Jones & Kuhn Summer Series:
Expectations vs. Reality - What To Do If Your Short-Term Vacation Rental Isn't As Advertised

July 2, 2024

Mary Margaret Gay

Short-term rentals promise the perfect getaway. The options for places to stay when on summer vacation have exploded over the past ten years. Companies like VRBO, Airbnb, and private rental companies offer families options outside the traditional hotel room. These private rental options usually offer amenities that are extremely attractive to families like multiple rooms, outdoors space, full kitchens, washers, and dryers.  The options are endless—if you can include it in your home, you can likely include it in your vacation rental!    But what happens when reality falls short of expectations? Whether it's misleading photos, inaccurate descriptions of amenities, or cleanliness concerns, dealing with a disappointing vacation rental experience can be frustrating and threaten to ruin your vacation.

Here’s some guidance on what to do if your short-term vacation rental isn’t as advertised:

1. Document Everything. Upon arrival, document any discrepancies between the listing and the actual property. Take photos or videos showing the issues clearly. This evidence will be crucial when discussing the problem with the property owner or customer service.  Documenting everything does not include ranting on social media. It is understandable that you are frustrated, and you likely have a very frustrated family, but taking to social media before giving the owner the courtesy to fix the situation may only escalate the situation and delay resolution.

2. Contact the Property Owner. Reach out to the property owner or manager immediately to discuss your concerns. Sometimes, issues can be resolved quickly if the owner is responsive and willing to address the problem. Clearly outline the discrepancies between the listing and the reality and request solutions.

3. Use the Property Website or Booking Platform. If the owner is unresponsive or if you can’t reach a satisfactory resolution, go back to the website and find numbers for customer service through their platform. Provide them with all the documentation you have gathered and explain the situation in detail. Most of the larger rental companies have support teams dedicated to resolving disputes and ensuring guests have a positive experience.

4. Know Your Rights. Actually read the policies and the terms of the rental agreement, including the small print, when you book. Print out the rental information before you go.  This will help you understand the recourse you have if the property doesn’t meet the advertised standards.

5. Seek Alternative Accommodations. If the issues are severe and cannot be resolved promptly, consider finding alternate accommodations. This is hard and may not be a doable option because of the added costs.  However, you should never stay in a property that is unsafe or has issues that put you or your family at risk.

6. Leave an Honest Review. After your stay, leave an honest review of your experience. Honest reviews are powerful.  Experts recommend attempting to contact the owner one last time before you post a negative review.  Often, a review of a bad experience can get the attention of the owner. Constructive feedback can also encourage property owners to improve their listings and services.

7. Consider Future Bookings Carefully. When booking future vacations, scrutinize listings carefully. Look for verified reviews and photos from previous guests to get a more accurate picture of what to expect.  Travel + Leisure magazine’s article “12 Mistakes to Avoid When Renting a Vacation Home, According to Experts” provides expert tips on things to consider before you book.

8. Keep Records. Throughout the process, keep detailed records of all communication, receipts, and agreements. This documentation will be invaluable if you need to escalate your case further or pursue a refund through other means. Follow phone calls with emails and text messages.  Write down the names and times of the people you speak with about the issues. Screenshot anything you find when researching the property – yes, you may not have searched it on the worldwide web before you went, but your investigative skills are likely in high gear at this point.

9. Escalate if Necessary. If you feel your concerns are not adequately addressed ask for help in escalating your complaint.  This may mean you need a lawyer to engage to write a letter or submit a complaint on your behalf. You can also file a complaint through relevant consumer protection agencies and/or credit card companies, especially if you paid using a credit card that offers purchase protection.

Booking a vacation rental should be a straightforward and enjoyable experience. However, when things go wrong and your vacation rental property isn’t as advertised, taking swift and documented action is key to finding a resolution. By documenting issues, communicating effectively, and leveraging support, you can often turn a disappointing experience into a manageable one, ensuring your vacation gets back on track.

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