Thursday, November 3, 2011

Vacation Rental Horror Story - Renter Beware!

Front Porch with Old Couches
You can get complacent. I've rented with some of the most well-respected vacation rental companies on the web and always had a great rental and a very professional experience.

Renting Late in the Game
But I got myself into a bind one year. I always love going to the Tucson Gem and Mineral shows which run late January through February. I wanted to go with friends and it took us awhile to decide on dates. So when we logged on to our favorite vacation rental site, there wasn't much to be had, especially places with four bedrooms. We had rented a two bedroom condo in the past. The third person ended up on the front room hide-a-bed couch. It wasn't comfortable and we promised that we'd find a place with four bedrooms next time and invite another friend.
We didn't need a pool - Especially this one!
Bingo! We found a Rental!
So we searched and searched and finally found a rental in downtown Tucson that was close to some good restaurants and not far from the gem shows. We were thrilled. The vintage home was described as something like... "A Desi and Lucy Charmer." So the furniture was dated... it looked clean and neat from the photos.
The description of the large home with four bedrooms sounded lovely. So we sent in our deposit and signed the contract.
Bait and Switch?
Oh, oh! One of our eagle-eyed travelers noticed that there was something not right in home rental land.  The rental we had signed a contract for showed up on the rental website calendar as available part of the week that we expected to be there. We had rented the house for a full 7 days.  Alarmed, she called the owner who  hemmed and hawed and said she'd made a mistake. She rented part of our week to someone else.
But, not to worry. She had another house in the same neighborhood - a three-bedroom with a swimming pool. Although we were not entirely interested in a pool in February, we thought we could make the 3 bedroom do. We noticed she had listed that same house on Craig's List at a lower rate than we had paid for the 4 bedroom and the rate she had quoted us for the smaller home, and, through some painful negotiations, got a more reasonable rate for the three of us.

We were surprised this outdoor water heater worked at all!
Shock and Awe
One of our party arrived early and settled into the house full of rickety furniture and questionable cleanliness. We, arriving later, drove up and found her sitting on one of many old couches on the porch having a glass of wine. We then found out why she had popped the cork before we arrived!
What follows is our list of horrors sent to the owner of the rental after spending as much time dealing with our accommodations as we did enjoying the gem shows.
The List of Horrors
Our note to the landlord:

Since your note on the refrigerator suggests we notify you of things to be fixed, we are making this list:
  1. Your description says “recently remodeled with brand-new polished concrete floors and countertops. The appearance of the floors and scars and stains on the countertops do not reflect a recent remodel.
  2. Your description says there would be a television available to us. No instructions were provided on how to work the TV. We could not use it for several days. When we did receive instruction, we found the picture to be of poor quality. Color was mainly pinks and blues.
  3. Your description says there are plenty of dishes. There were not. For example, there are only three spotted wine glasses.
  4. Your description says there is a private pool. On the one hot day when we would have loved to use it, it was covered with plastic circles that appeared to have scum on them, had debris in the bottom and equipment in the pool and on the slide ladder. There was also debris on the surface. You suggested that we would be happy with this. home as there was a pool available, suggesting that it would be useable. Your photo shows a clear, usable pool. You also indicated on your note posted on the refrigerator that a pool cleaning service was to come once a week. One never came during the week we were there and it looked as though it had not been cleaned for quite some time.
  5. One plastic lounge chair is broken and the edges are sharp.
  6. We were unable to use the coffee pot as it was soiled and stained beyond use.
  7. Dishes and glasses were spotted and we were not sure they were clean. We could not locate dishwasher soap in the cabinets.
  8. We were unable to use the bathtub for two days as there was no hot water. When we did run the water, black metallic residue would appear in the tub. This caused us to be concerned about water quality.
  9. There was no hot water in the sink in the hall bathroom throughout our stay.
  10. The master shower needs to be cleaned of the mildew. This is a safety issue for those allergic or sensitive to mold. In addition, we found that it leaked through the tile to the bathroom floor.
  11. The faucet in the master bedroom continuously drips and the stain in the sink indicated this is not a new occurrence.
  12. Your photo shows a neat front yard and clear porch. When we arrived we noticed that there were old soiled couches on the front porch and landscaping was full of dead leaves and branches.
  13. Your description states that there are plenty of blankets. There were not many, and we had to bring our own to use. The ones left in the closet were very worn and did not appear to have been washed recently.
  14. Pillows and sheets look heavily used and perhaps stained. You state that there are “quality linens” in the house.
  15. Your description suggests there are “fluffy towels.” We found many stained and ripped towels.  Linen seemed to be thrown into the linen closet.
  16. In the master bedroom there was a large exercise machine in the middle of the room, a tripping hazard at night.
  17. In the next bedroom, the closet door was broken.
  18.  We were concerned that there were no smoke detectors and the wiring, as viewed on the outside of your house, looked a bit concerning.
  19. We were kept awake at night with the loud gurgling noise the pool cleaning machine made. It needs to be checked.
  20. We found the trash can to be completely full and could not fit more trash in it. One of our senior women lugged it to the road for trash pickup so that we would have a place to put our trash. This should be emptied prior to guests arriving. The recycling was full as well.
  21. We found some of the blinds to be very old and frail so that we didn’t think we should try to use them. The blinds in the master bedroom are detached from the frame and only partially functioning.
  22. The dining room table is unstable and tilts from side to side with the least pressure.
  23. The toilets ran incessantly (causing us to waste water). The mechanisms appear to be at the end of their useful life. This was happening when we arrived. Perhaps your cleaning service should let you know about problems like this.
  24. It looks like the water heater outside is quite old and is rusted and probably lacks the capacity needed for a large home with multiple guests.
  25. There are no GFCI outlets in the kitchen or bathrooms, where you normally see them. This is a code infraction.
  26. Due to the age of the house and the condition of the wiring and appliances we suggest a carbon monoxide detector. It would be a wise investment.
Do you see a code violation anywhere here? Scary!
The Outcome
We stayed in the home for the week because we had plans each day for attending the gem shows, the Tubac Art show and for hiking. Although we complained constantly, we felt we had no alternative.
When we returned home we summarized the concerns about the home (per above) and asked for a partial refund. We, of course, did not receive a refund. I think writing up the list was therapeutic but it certainly did not help us financially.
So now with Tucson Gem Show time upon us, I am busy writing an article about ways vacation renters can avoid the issues we dealt with. Please read the article.