Do I deserve a refund for this Sicilian vacation rental?


What makes Sylvia Guarino’s case interesting isn’t that she had a disappointing stay at a vacation rental she booked through VRBO. Those cases aren’t hard to come by.

It isn’t even that the advertised amenities didn’t meet her expectation. There, too, she’s in good company.

No, it’s that Guarino is a vacation rental owner herself. She knows how the game is played, and yet even she lost the first round. Should I help her fix this problem, or is it unfixable? That’s the question I’m trying to answer today.

Here’s the crux of her problem: When Guarino, her husband, and another couple showed up at Antica Dimora Grimaudo, they found two big problems with the unit.

“While the Villa was nice, property beautiful and views superb, our comfort was significantly marred by the lack of a door on one of the bedrooms and the lack of Internet service,” she says.

Guarino wants half her money back for the rental, and she’d like me to help her get it.

Now, before you say: Can privacy and Internet connectivity be worth half the value of a rental, let’s hear the rest of her story.

Before booking her rental, Guarino checked with the rental management company, Emma Villas, to make sure the home in Taormina, Sicily, would meet her group’s expectations. She knew what to ask about because she is a rental manager herself.

Here’s what she wrote to the company:

We are two couples, active and in our mid 60’s, looking for a week or possibly two in either May or June of 2014.

We need two bedrooms, two baths and a nice kitchen with a place to eat outdoors. Privacy is also very important. Can you tell me what week or two in May or June the villa is available? Also confirming that Wifi is available in the villa itself.

The rental company confirmed that the unit was private and had wireless Internet access.

When they checked in, they found the bedrooms, which were across from each other, were doorless. What’s more, the promised wireless access didn’t exist. The villa’s owners did their best to address the problem, but in the end, the group spent a week in Sicily without a wireless signal and without sufficient privacy.

At first, Guarino simply complained in writing to Emma Villas, asking them to address the problem. While she was still in Italy, she complained to the company, and received what can best be described as cursory responses.

“Surely the door is a detail that might create inconvenience and are sorry for your little inconveniences, the owner to put the tent to create the closure that allows for a bit of privacy,” a representative wrote.

I would prefer to chalk the tone of that email up to a cultural difference, as opposed to a commentary on the complaint, but I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

As far as I can tell, Emma Villas stopped replying to her complaints when she left the country. By the time I got involved, and advised Guarino to make a more specific request, it had gone into radio silence.

Guarino had followed most of the steps, including asking for a resolution in real-time and putting her request in writing. But after her stay in Sicily, she didn’t tell Emma Villas how it could address the problem. You can’t leave it up to a company to guess what would make you happy — you have to tell it.

She wrote back, asking for a 50 percent refund.

Not surprisingly, Emma Villas didn’t respond.

So now what? Guarino would like me to give Emma Villas a little nudge, if not to refund the money, then to at least respond to her request. I think she deserves some kind of response, but I’m not entirely sure if a 50 percent refund is the correct one.

I’ve stayed in a lot of vacation rentals that promised something they never delivered, including wireless Internet access, stunning views, proximity to everything. It’s all relative when it comes to vacation rentals, which are the last unstandardized travel businesses.

Then again, Guarino went to great lengths to make sure there were doors and an Internet connection. Basically, the management company may have misrepresented the unit to her. Some might argue that she’s entitled to a full refund.

Should I mediate Sylvia Guarino's case?

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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 . Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • bodega3

    Wireless internet is shown on the website as being available. However, things regarding internet access do happen. Being active people, meaning they were probably out and about during the day, how bad was it that they couldn’t take their laptop and find access somewhere in town? A vacation should be a vacation, things happen and you make do. Why is everything down to dollars needing to be refunded or something needing to be discount for every freaking hiccup on a trip? That house looks wonderful. I bet they really did have a nice time regardless.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Whether YOU think doors are a necessity is irrelevant. You’re not the one renting the villa. I kind of agree about internet access, although couples in their 60’s might want e-mail to keep in touch with families back home. Way cheaper than using your cell phone in Italy.

  • bodega3

    Yes, get off the bloody computer! There are other ways to get access if it was important. It drives me crazy to see people out with their family and friends, but with their face to their phone or laptop. Yes, they come in handy for looking stuff up, but that isn’t a necessity, just a convenience.

  • junk

    I disagree with the people saying doors are not important – would your position be the same if there were no doors on the bathrooms?

  • LonnieC

    Might her initial statement that “Privacy is very important” have been understood by the hosts as meaning that her group of four were concerned about privacy from other units or other guests, and not among themselves? If so, the error may be understandable as a case of cultural differences. Still, completely failing to respond to a guest’s complaint is wrong. I would have suggested that she recover 20-25%, plus costs the four had to pay for internet access, if any.

  • Judy Serie Nagy

    While I find the mental image of people scurrying around trying to keep themselves covered amusing, the missing doors could have been replaced by purchasing a sheet and hanging it in the doorway. Seems to me that Internet is not a right, it’s often unreliable and annoying and if it works that’s great. They should have given her $100 and said they were sorry. Half the rental amount is ridiculous. Travelling is full of surprises, deal with them and get on with the purpose of your visit.

  • Joe Farrell

    old people don’t use the internet . . . ok ok – there are always outliers . .. :D

  • mongibello

    I am also a vacation rental owner, managed by myself, living in Sicily. I would be devasted as a guest to arrive on my vacation to find doorless bedrooms and no internet connection if this had been confirmed by either/or the management company and the rental owner. I don’t think 50% compensation is an accurate amount as she stayed the full length of her stay so it must have been bearable. Had she left immediately then I may consider it.
    Personally I have never heard of a villa/apartment without bedroom doors (very strange!) and most people expect an internet connection these days for keeping in touch with family and some like to work while travelling.
    I voted Yes to mediate but not for a 50% refund – somewhat less.
    (The management company should also improve their English! I would call their language barrier ‘sloppiness’ which in business is not acceptable.)