Castle heating charges astronomical

ITN was mailed a copy of the following letter, sent by a reader to Mr. Joe Hyman of Country Cottages.

As requested during our phone conversation, I am summarizing the problems we had during our 2-week rental (April 19-May 3, ’03) of the property you represent, the Castello La Rocca in Traversa, the Mugello, Italy (postal address: Loc. Traversa, 50033 Firenzuola, Firenze Province, Tuscany, Italy).

You are already aware of the outrageous charge we were to be assessed for the weekly cleanup: $450 per week, or a total of $900 for the two weeks. As you know, we were not informed of this cost until three weeks before our departure. Had we known of this cost before being required to pay in full, we might not have taken the property. You agreed that the cost was extremely high and you offered to, and did, split the $900 with us.

The overbearing costs continued during our rental. More towels — extra. Additional soap — extra. Toilet paper — extra! And although we were aware that gas (stove), heating and telephone would be extra costs to us, again we were not informed of the magnitude of the charges. Of course, we could have asked, but that would not have changed the extenuating circumstances that caused the heating charges for the first week to be €669, or the equivalent of approximately $750!

Firstly, there were no tenants in Castello La Rocca for perhaps several weeks before our arrival and, as our rental started April 19, temperatures were rather cool and the castle was chilly. The stone interior walls were very cold to the touch. Therefore, it took two days of constant heating to get the castle to a bearable temperature. At least one member of our group didn’t feel warm enough to take a shower for two days, when the accumulated heat finally reached a comfortable temperature. I think it is reasonable for us to expect that the property be delivered to us in a livable condition as far as warmth is concerned.

After two days we were able to control the heat — not by the thermostat but only by turning the radiators on or off throughout the castle.

When our first week ended, we were presented with the heating bill of €669. We were, understandably, outraged and made our feelings known to the caretaker. We wanted it known that since the thermostat didn’t seem to control the heat, we were not responsible for the high energy consumption.

While her poor English and our poor Italian got us nowhere, the caretaker communicated our dissatisfaction to Cuendet, your broker in Italy, and the next day she received a fax from them asking that we call. Our phone conversation with Cuendet did not resolve anything, but we were informed that a technician would check out the thermostat.

The technician pronounced the thermostat to be working properly. However, we pointed out that when we turned the thermostat to the “off” position, heat still emanated from the radiators and that even though the thermostat might have been working properly, it didn’t seem to be connected to the furnace! We were told that the owner himself, a Mr. Berti, would visit us at the castle that night.

Through a translator, Mr. Berti acknowledged that indeed there was some defect with the connection between the thermostat and the heating unit, and he was willing to make a concession of approximately €100. This was not acceptable to us and we proposed a more equitable solution, namely, whatever the costs would be for the second week would be multiplied by two (for the two weeks) and we would pay that amount.

Mr. Berti absolutely refused to consider this and a heated argument ensued, resulting in his telling us to leave the castle in two hours’ time. We were willing to do this if Mr. Berti would return the monies for the second week’s rental, which he refused to do.

After further discussion, he consented to deduct an additional €60 from the heating bill. As he “held all the cards,” we had no choice but to accept.

He further stated that a handyman would come at 7 o’clock each morning and physically turn off the heating system, then return at 7 in the evening to turn it back on again. This statement by itself is a further admission of a deficiency in the heating system.

This entire situation not only detracted from the anticipated pleasure of living in a castle but consumed precious vacation time.

Of course, by the second week we were fully aware of the excessive charges for which we would be responsible. Although we made every effort to conserve heat by turning off most of the radiators, not to mention having the heat turned off 12 hours per day, our second week’s heating cost was still an astounding €263 ($295).

Taking into account the previous concession of €160 and the stress endured by eight people who were supposed to be having fun, we believe a fair settlement would be restitution to us of no less than $400.

Woodbury, NY

ITN sent another copy of the above letter to Country Cottages (2300 Corporate Blvd. NW #214, Boca Raton, FL 33431) and received no reply. In Mr. Burack’s cover letter to ITN, he wrote,”My letter was sent on May 7. Mr. Hyman decided to send my letter to his supplier in Italy. After I made several follow-up calls to Mr. Hyman seeking a resolution, he finally advised me in mid-July that his people in Italy would do nothing to compensate us.”

The Buracks paid a package rate of $2,148 per person for two weeks’ accommodation, including round-trip airfare from New York to Pisa and two mid-sized cars.