Did my rental company just disappear with my deposit?

Tom Frankel rented an apartment last fall through an agency called UsaParis. When he left the rental, he says it was in immaculate condition, and like any responsible renter, he expected to get his $500 security deposit back promptly.

When he didn’t, he began to worry.

“We have received no complaints about the apartment condition,” he says. “But not a penny has been refunded.”

It’s been five months since his visit to Paris, and Frankel wants his money back. He’s asked several agencies for help, but so far there’s no sign of his deposit. “The contract has an arbitration provision,” he added. “I asked that it be used but they are completely ignoring me.”

Well, that didn’t sound good. I decided to ask UsaParis, which promises only the “best vacation rentals” in Paris, if it had seen Frankel’s $500.

A representative responded to me promptly when I contacted it by email last week, insisting the agency had responded to his queries. It added that Frankel was bound by a contract, which allows for additional time to refund any deposit.

She added,

What happens here is that the guest has constantly sent emails to the customer care department requesting that a special procedure is followed for his security deposit meaning that it should be refunded earlier than stated in the policy and in the law.

One day after the checkout, the guest email requesting his security deposit to be returned immediately. When requesting the booking to be taken, the guest also requested that we provide him with a different set of documentation than the standard one and he expected all along that we change our procedures to his convenience and to respond to his email instantly without considering that we have hundreds of guests who need assistance.

We know that all our customers are equally important and we need to split our limited resources accordingly.

UsaParis explained to him that it can’t change its policies, and it says under French law, owners have up to three months to clear security deposits. The company, she adds, is just following procedure.

Even so, unfaithfully, he began filling in claims with multiple entities, claims that do not have any base since at the first moment when they were initiated the legal frame time allowed for refunds was not reached, not even 30 business days.

We appreciate that Mr Frankel’s actions harm UsaParis in a way that needs to be investigated. UsaParis has no responsibility regarding security deposits; this matter needs to be treated with the owner and his representative. Filing claims against UsaParis and without any reason cannot resolve anything.

I asked Frankel what he thought of the response.

I am dumfounded. I really don’t know who these folks are talking about. Here are a couple facts that are fully verifiable by the actual documents in my possession.

The only contract I signed for the apartment is with UsaParis. The relevant provision is very simple. Section 9a states “The Landlord shall refund to Tenant any unused portion of the deposit together with an itemized list of all deductions from the deposit within 30 days after Tenant surrenders possession of the property.”

What’s more, says Frankel, his correspondence with UsaParis has been brief and polite. He sent a quick follow-up message after his stay to verify that the apartment was clean and that his $500 would be returned. He only began to complain after a month.

“The UsaParis response is fluff, hoping that I will just go away,” he says. “How many other people are in my situation?”

Several, actually. Frankel started a discussion on TripAdvisor, in which other UsaParis customers came forward to say they, too, had experienced a similar delay.

Then I was contacted by Kellie Lawrence, who says she is a former UsaParis property manager.

“They are scam artists,” she wrote in an email.

They don’t return the tenant’s security deposits within the 30 days as specified on their contract or at worst, not at all. They make up claims of fake damage.

They owe money to their staff and the owners of the apartment’s dont get their share of the rental income. Trust me, it is a very bad scene.

I asked UsaParis for a response to these allegations earlier this week, but several emails sent to addresses that previously worked are now bouncing. That’s not a good sign.

The company believes it is just an intermediary between the apartment owner and customer, and should not be held responsible for a deposit. It apparently thinks it provided him with the service he paid it for: a Paris rental in September 2011. But is that extent of its liability?

Update (6:30 a.m.): This looks like trouble. I just received a note from Lindsey Wainwright, a former UsaParis employee. She writes,

I used to work with the company last year, and they have yet to pay me for the last month and a half I was working there. I also know of another person in a similar position. If this would be of any interest to you, please let me know.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • http://jpportz.livejournal.com/ Jeremy

    Silly poll, the answer is clear.  It sounds like this may quickly be a matter for the courts rather than a consumer advocate, however.

  • http://flyicarusfly.com/ Fly, Icarus, Fly

    I’m not sure I’d go through all that trouble for an apartment rental. Why can’t they pre-authorize your credit card instead, much like at a hotel? If there is no damage, then you’re not out any money.

  • Monica Lynn Kennedy

    Sorry, but if he signed a contract with UsaParis’ name on the top, and it says deposit will be refunded in 30 days, then UsaParis is 100% responsible for getting him the money back as stated in their contract, regardless of what French law might be. Their contract takes precedence.

  • Sam Varshavchik

    Looks like he’s been had. From the looks of the facts, the company is now out of business, and disappeared with the guy’s money.

  • Raven_Altosk

    The first sign of a bad company is one that complains that a customer contacts them “too quickly” about an issue. I mean, really? God forbid someone should have to do their job and answer the customer! 

    While I’m usually the heartless one around here, and I poke fun at letters, this one is totally legit and the company is completely wrong. To tell an ombudsman that the customer was a trouble maker because “his actions may harm” and “we treat our customers equally…with limited resources…”  WHUT? 

    There are plenty of times to blame the customer. This isn’t one of them. This is just customer no-service at its best.

    A French company that scams tourists…c’est la vie…

  • emanon256

    I don’t know how anyone voted yes to this one!  Wow!
    This company sounds horrible, what a mess.  Also the fact that Chris e-mails now go into a void after he confronted them, makes me pretty sure the OP was telling the truth about his e-mails going into a void. 
    I hope he can get his money back, but sounds like he will have to go to the courts since the company won’t even allow him to use the arbitration clause in their own contract.  Maybe he can even get punitive damages for their inaction.  This is sad.

  • jikinn

    I, too, was wondering who voted “Yes” in this poll. I suspect that some folks might like to give the opposite answer than the one Chris is probably expecting. :)

  • cjr001

    Who in the world are the 4 people voting that this ripoff of a company did enough!?

    The company themselves says it can take 90 days for a refund (which is a complete joke, either way), and it’s been more like 150 days.

    This person deserves their money back. However, it’s apparently very doubtful that he’ll get it unless he drags somebody to court.

  • Nikki

    Talk about getting screwed without even the benefit of a 2-drink minimum…

  • Pdoggs

    Of course the company didn’t do enough, they should have refunded the deposit already. 

    I don’t think it’s like Mr. Frankel is likely to get his money back at this point though.  If the company is in trouble he can sue but if it’s a French company he’ll have trouble suing AND trouble collecting.  Even if it’s a US based company he’ll have trouble collecting.  He’ll be a creditor but one of the bottom of the totem pole. 

  • SoBeSparky

    Why didn’t he challenge the credit card deposit charge within a timely period with his credit card company?  Did he wire transfer or use some other mechanism?  

    I am baffled by these complaints when the credit card company could settle the dispute easily.  And if he did not use a credit card, then shame on him.  A careful consumer never, just never, transfers cash to a foreign country.  There is virtually no recourse, unless you plan to return to the country to sue.

  • Elmo Clarity

    The only reasons for those ‘Yes’ votes I can think of is they are from the current UsaParis owners or people with some interest in the company.  How could anyone say a company has done enough for someone when it clearly has not returned money owed in the time frame it promised to the customer?

  • pauletteb

    The more I read about these rental companies, the less likely I am to ever use them.

  • Cybrsk8r

    The way some of these companies work is that they pretend to go out of business and then re-appear under another name.

  • TonyA_says

     Me, too.

  • TonyA_says

    Maybe the person who voted yes was a person who got their deposit back -or- the owner of the company?

    Makes me want to ask – has anyone been able to get their deposit back from the company on time? If not, can the owner of this company be charged with Fraud in Florida?

  • Logan Bartholomew

    I did some checking into the usaparis.com domain name, hoping to locate a physical address or responsible party’s name.  Believe it or not, the domain name registration is expiring today (8 March 2012).  This is not a good sign; if they do not renew it soon, the website will effectively disappear.

    I also noticed that their website lists phone numbers in the 561 area code, used for Palm Beach County, FL (and my hometown area). Thus, I checked the Florida Department of State’s records, and found that the business is operating as a “fictitious name” (a “DBA” name, if you will) registered to a residential Boca Raton address.

    This does not bode well for the OP.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    Lamest poll ever. The only question is whether the 2% voting “yes” misread the article, were just being funny, or are working for UsaParis.

  • dave3029

    I may be reading it wrong, but the link Chris provided for UsaParis’ contact specifies in Section X that the security deposit is paid to the property owner into their account and the owner then has 3 months to clear the deposit and refund it to the renter if there are no issues. 

    The renter did not wait the 3 months and began contacting UsaParis regarding the deposit – – which they would not have had, it was given to the owner.

    I can understand UsaParis not refunding the deposit under those circumstances. At the least, they should provide the renter with the owner’s contact info (if that is not already done by the contract) so he can pursue the refund.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    To answer your question, their policies specifically demand checks for the security deposit…probably to make it easier to keep the money.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TBSCJO6WXX37T5ISTTUETH4OMM Fred Munroe

     This is a good suggestion, BUT there is an important reason why this route may be fruitless.

    Almost all credit card companies have a “60-days from statement date which charges appear to dispute a charge” clause.  Unless the deposit was done by credit card very near the actual service dates, it is likely the window available to dispute the charge is long gone.

    The credit card companies use this narrow window to avoid liability often.  That is not a stab at the credit card companies; it is just reality.

  • Sadie_Cee

    From Logan Bartholomew’s research earlier, it could be that the OP is dealing with a U.S. company!

  • MikeInCtown

    In the general provisions under security deposit, it does state that unless there are hidden damages, all should be settled within 30 days, just like it is quoted in the story.

    “Unless hidden damages has occurred to the Property, and as permitted by Law, Landlord shall indicate to Tenant the balance of his security deposit or any unused portion of the deposit together with an itemized list of all deductions (if applicable) no later than 30 days after Tenant surrenders possession of the Property— this includes any and all keys allowing access to property.”

    Even if we allowed for the 3 months, that has now passed and as far as I can tell, the owner has never contacted the renter within the 30 days specified, much less refunded the money. As I am reading the contract, it also seems that funds can be caught up in processing and wire transfers and that the owner may be responsible for the refund… in which case, the OP may still be able to get his money back, even if the company goes under.

    Under the disputes section…” The Statutes, Laws and Regulations of the State of Florida or the Federal Laws and/or regulations of the United States of America, may be applicable for all financial matters related to the reservation process, payments and collection of unpaid rents or damages, at the sole discretion of the landlord and his Agents.”

    Seems he may have recourse here in the US and may not have to travel to France to get monies returned.

  • SoBeSparky

    Both comments below are constructive, and also revealing as to why an alert consumer should just say “No” to rental firms which demand a deposit in cash or a charge more than 30 days in advance.  

    I can see making a reservation-deposit credit card charge in advance, but making a damage deposit?  How can you damage something 90 days in advance?  

    If you don’t like their policies, don’t do business with them.  If they are “cheaper,” then like Spirit Airlines, you get what you pay for.  

  • bodega3

    Chris, I think this situation brings a good time for me to suggest that you do an article on the various states in the USA that have Seller of Travel laws.  Florida is one and I do not see anywhere on the UsaParis website their registration number.  If you have done an article before, then perhaps rerunning it would be appropriate.

    Many consumers are not aware of the requirements of websites to register to sell and the protections afforded them if their state has such a requirement.  Here in CA, if a company is registered and you are a resident of CA, the Seller of Travel law is a consumer protection law and all Sellers are suppose to pay into an account which is used to pay out to consumer if they qualify for a refund based on certain criteria.  All Seller of Travel numbers (SOT) are suppose to be displayed, but I often don’t find them. You can check online with the State Attorney General’s office to see if the company you are looking at is registered.  If they are not, this is a huge red flag and you take your chances.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/EKMVLKEW3RIT4EZVPSFAIQTWFE Ray

    Simple fix – -which may or may not be “your cup of tea.”  After having gone through problems with foreign travel vendors from airlines to hotels — and pretty much everything in between, I make sure I only fly on an American flag line, and deal with an American based vendor, whose identify, address and Better Business Bureau rating is above reproach — and even then if there’s a problem, it isn’t always resolved.  And then what I do?  I sue them- – and that has worked in the few times this has happened. End of story.

  • BillCCC

    This is an American company and their new (after 1 Oct 11) policies clearly state that the amount of the Security Deposit to be refunded must be stated within 30 days but that the owner must provide the money within 3 months.

    For older bookings the security deposit was supposed to be refunded within 30 days.

    In either case it is up to the Landlord to refund the money. For what it is worth his dispute is with the landlord.

  • Sadie_Cee

    In the matter of his deposit, it appears that the OP has been thoroughly scammed.  USaParis has done nothing to help him.  He gave them his deposit in trust and not only his deposit, but the company has also flown.  Can you believe the *outrage* the co. has demonstrated in its response to Chris? 

    I checked the Better Business Bureau to find if there have been any complaints about this company.  BBB lists a USaParis, aka IMarketers.net, Inc., as an internet marketing company, at 169 E. Flagler Street, Suite 1535, Miami, FL 33131. 

    There is no telling if this is the company that the OP has been dealing with or whether this address is current.  If this can be determined, I hope that the OP will register a complaint about USaParis with the BBB in addition to all the other places he already has.  This could help  other people who might be thinking of dealing with this company in the future.

  • Michael__K

    The first line of that alleged contract (note that the filename in the URL is “policy_new.html”) states:
    (For Customers who made their booking AFTER October 1st, 2011)

    If it’s been 5 months since the OP’s visit to Paris, then he almost certainly booked before October 1st, 2011.

  • JanePane

    I rented an apartment in Paris through USAParis in 2009, primarily because it was listed as being in the 1st Arrondisement.  After they sent me the actual physical address, I called a friend in Paris to check it out; it was actually in the red light district of the 17th Arrondisement. When I called USAParis to complain about the location, the man I spoke to said that every apartment is advertised in a different location than it actually is located! I called foul on that, and he said that as long as I had no teenaged girls traveling with me, we would be fine in the apartment.  I happened to have my 10-year-old and 16-year-old daughters traveling with me; his response to that info was to ask if they were pretty, because if they were, he would cancel my reservation so we wouldn’t have any issues with any sex workers!  When we went to Paris, I drove by the apartment, next door was a 24-hour sex shop, and across the street was a live nude girls stage revue.  They are definitely a shady company.

  • SooZeeQ

    So many articles about deceitful airlines, travel sites, etc. and their keeping consumers money when it turns out they are rightfully due the credit or refund.

    Crummy way to run a business.

  • emanon256

    You’re not heartless, you simply tell it like it is.  I appreciate that and almost away agree with everything you say.  Keep it up.  In today’s post, its the company that was ridiculous.  Often it’s the customer that was ridiculous.

  • emanon256

    Same here.  And I often use 1 or so a year.

  • http://gspirits.com/ Zod

    Hmmm, I knew that the french hated Americans, but this is ridiculous!

  • Lindabator

    Um… they ARE an American company.

  • TonyA_says

    Unfortunately most States do not consider this (hawking apartments) selling travel. I’m not sure California or Florida does. But Iowa asked AirBnb to register over there.

  • TonyA_says

     Minor detail :-)

  • bodega3

    Since they are in FL they should be registered so right off the bat they aren’t a company anyone should be booking with since they are breaking the law.  If they do that, what else do they do?

  • TonyA_says

    Heck, I’m here in NYC and I pay $100 a year for my CA SOT registration. I also have to register here in NY state insurance commission just to LINK Travelguard on our emails (since we sell travelguard). Here in NY, if you earn a cent of commission from insurance, then you must register as an insurance agent. FL,NV,WA,IL,IA all want some money, too, for travel. I can’t believe anyone can sell travel nowadays without registering somewhere. If they can afford a website and do all that selling, they should have enough money to be legit. Or maybe not?

  • TonyA_says

    FYI, there is a great article by Karen Fawcett at the sister site yesterday about renting an apartment.

    I guess tomorrow her 7th tip will be how to avoid scams like this.

  • Joe Farrell

    USAParis probably deals with its properties separately – meaning it will not sent a deposit since it spent the money and it waiting until some other suckers sends them $500 to the last person at that property . .. 

    Look – everyone wants to save a buck but if you can’t use a credit card in an international transaction to protect yourself – you need to be willing to lose every dime you send.  Its as simple as that. 

    This is a stupid tax. 

  • Philippa_FRA

    I aimed for NO but apparently hit YES with some DUI mouse driving in a decaffeinated state. Oops.

    I have one – post-caffeine – observation to share: The reviews and comments on the UsaParis site are not only all positive, they also have impeccable grammar and punctuation… too good to be true! 

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HMW3OTJSBDWWRKIEKEKWWM7BEA bc

    Why the HECK would you ever rent an apartment without knowing the address first?? Wouldn’t this be the first sign that something was wrong? 

  • Cybrsk8r

    He asked if your daughters are pretty?  Talk about creepy!!!

  • Nancy Marine Dickinson

    Raven, I don’t know I’d ever call you heartless.  You’re direct, to be sure, but with people terrified to speak the truth lest we hurt someone’s feelings, I find your honesty to be refreshing.

    It also looks like USAParis is a US company based in Florida.  According to the link they provide to the BBB that shows them to be an “accredited” business, the real name of the company is iMarketers.net

    In digging a little deeper into their location, I came across this:

    Imarketers.net Inc169 East Flagler StreetMiami, FL 33131(561) 767-4598 
    (877) 217-2747 ‎usaparis.comI’d say contacting the attorney general’s office in Florida might be a good next step.

  • Ann Lamoy

    Raven, you aren’t heartless-you are blunt. But many of the people Chris posts about need a good does of bluntness and reality. With the internet and the availability of information, there is no excuse for some of the situations that the people who are turning to Chris end up finding themselves in.

    One that comes immediately to mind is the person that whined about the family member that packed their passport when they were going to board a (I believe it was Carnival ) cruise. I mean really? A simple search of the company website turned up the information-it took me all of five minutes. And the letter writer admitted there were experienced cruisers traveling who could have told them to carry their passports. No excuses but they didn’t want to take any responsibility for their actions.

    Keep telling it like it is. :D

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Coby-Hunt/100001057993791 Coby Hunt

     Kinda funny title But very true. there are many Companies with such intentions i hope no one caught in their trap. Dubai City Tour

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Cheryl-Emerson/742540539 Cheryl Emerson

     I agree with Jeremy, that is really a silly poll question!  Maybe the question should be “Do you think the authorities should be contacted about questionable business practices?”

  • http://www.theroaddogblog.com/ Chad @ Road Dog Travel

    I wonder if UsaParis has read this post and seen your poll?  Like the last commenter said, I think the answer to your question is pretty clear. Even if they don’t have the money you’d think they’d try to help a little more to resolve the problem for their customer. I stayed at an apartment in Paris a few years ago and my deposit was credited back to me before I got home from my trip. Sorry to say, I forget what company I used.

  • bodega3

    Their website is no longer as their domaine expired earlier this week.  I would say the OP is going to be hard pressed to get the money, which should NEVER had been paid for in cash or check.  That is a red flag right out of the start.

  • judyserienagy

    Handle your apartment rentals with a credit card, backed by a bank that will help you.  I won’t use anything but an AmEx card because the company always looks out for me.  If people in Europe want cash for any reason, go elsewhere.  Once you get home, it’s a nightmare trying to deal with any problems.  With my last apartment rental, the owner wanted cash for the security deposit; I gave her a personal check and when I got home I stopped payment on the check.  She was an honest owner, but I don’t have time trying to pry money out of an entity in Paris.

  • http://twitter.com/JessinAK Jessica Carey Graham

    I am in EXACTLY the same boat as Tom Frankel.  I rented an apartment in Paris in September 2011, started asking for my security deposit back after 30 days, got the run around for months, and then got a check in early January 2012 that proceeded to bounce.  I expect I’ll never see my money back.  The word needs to spread that this is an absolute scam.