Report rental problems to booking site first

By Wilbur Davis
This item appears on page 22 of the August 2020 issue.

I reserved an apartment in Antwerp, Belgium, for July 2019 through the short-term-rentals website The apartment I booked was owned and operated by Smartflats, a Belgian “aparthotels” company.

In the photographs, the apartment appeared reasonably attractive. One photo showed an extended verandah that faced a modern office or apartment building many stories high across a narrow street.

But the reality, when I arrived there, was that that building across the street was being renovated. Not only had it been totally stripped of its exterior, but for nine hours a day, jackhammers were breaking up sections of concrete, and cranes were bringing down debris or lifting materials. The noise, unbroken throughout the day, was insufferable. I would leave early each day and not return until the late afternoon, when the construction crews would leave.

By email, on the second day, I believe, I notified Smartflats* of my distress. Their short response was, “Buy earplugs. We will reimburse you for this expense.” Lacking experience in rentals, I did not insist on being immediately moved to a suitable rental for the remaining rental days.

Once I returned home, I again contacted Smartflats by email. They offered me a 15% discount on a future reservation. In response, I requested that I be given a 33% cash refund, since I had to abandon the apartment eight to nine hours a day to escape the noise. I received no further reply.

If I ever again rent a vacation property, I would do so only if there is a person on site with whom I could communicate, directly, for a near-immediate response. Perhaps I should stick to hotels.


Newport Beach, CA

*According to the Vrbo website, problems encountered during a Vrbo rental should be reported to Vrbo, not to the property owner. In a section titled “Book with Confidence,” the website states the following under the heading “During your stay”: “If you can’t get into the property or if you discover that it was significantly misrepresented online (fewer bedrooms, material defects, etc.), let us know in the first 12 hours. We’ll try to find you new accommodations so your trip can go on smoothly.”

Vrbo’s Book With Confidence Guarantee reaffirms that if you arrive at a property and find that it has been “materially misrepresented,” Vrbo not only will assist you in finding another property but will refund you the cost of the original property. However, you must contact Vrbo within 12 hours of first entering the property on the first rental day.

Unfortunately for Mr. Davis, the situation he described may not have been covered under the guarantee. According to the Terms & Conditions, material misrepresentation, specifically, “material noncompliance,” is defined as follows: “. . . (i) Material defects in the subject property that are not disclosed in the listing and are of such an extent and duration that occupancy under normal usage conditions is impossible … and/or (ii) the material failure or complete absence of goods or services or facilities that are part of the subject property that were described in the listing and that constituted an actual and material inducement to the rental of the subject property… .

“… the term ‘Material Non-Compliance’ DOES NOT INCLUDE a Protected Traveler’s refusal to take possession of leased premises arising from or on the grounds of (i) The cleanliness of the rental property; (ii) Minor or immaterial defects of the subject property in relation to the description in the listing including, without limitation, differences to the extent of: (1) the actual orientation of the subject property; (2) the actual overall habitable surface area of the subject property being immaterially different than the description the [sic] in the listing; and (3) a temporary defect of or within the subject property or attached services… .”

Note that in each case, the Terms & Conditions only cover defects and/or misrepresentation in the rental property itself, not in any nearby properties or the surrounding area.

ITN wrote to Vrbo regarding Mr. Davis’ experience but received no reply, so it cannot be known what assistance they would have provided Mr. Davis had he contacted them within the 12-hour window.