VRBO - Owner Cancelled and is keeping deposit

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Jul 24, 2020
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We booked a rental property in Florida March 8th for travel in July of 2020, and paid a $1500 deposit up front. In early April when it was clear that the COVID situation would keep our trip from happening, we reached out to the owner to see what our options were, they told us they did not have a refund policy (despite the fact that our booking confirmation had an attached contract stating that if we cancelled more than 90 days out, we would be refunded our deposit less a $250 fee - the owner said they "don't know how that contract was sent" and that they actually did not offer any refund.)

We held off on cancelling and contacted VRBO to figure out options. In the meantime, the owner cancelled the property (conveniently JUST as we hit 89 days before the rental date) and claimed a refund was not due. We've gone back and forth with VRBO at every level for the past couple of months to no avail - despite the fact that we have written proof of an agent telling us "if the owner cancels, they will have to give you a full refund" in a customer service chat, they have not honored it. Today, I was told that us reaching out to the owner mentioning we would have to cancel amounts to a cancellation on our part, even though it's the owner who actually cancelled, which seems crazy to me because we may have made another decision rather than fully cancel without receiving a refund, but we weren't given the chance.

Meanwhile, the property is booked for the week, so it looks like the owner got a full rental PLUS our $1500 deposit, and VRBO won't help. I'm at my wit's end. Any advice?
 
Dec 19, 2014
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If the owner initiated the cancellation and is refusing to refund your deposit then that is not right.
Unfortunately, as you discovered, VRBO is a toothless organization and they have little enforcement power. The only recourse VRBO has would be to delist the property or penalize the listing, and the owner may simply not care.

You may have to go to small claims court to recover.
How did you pay the owner?
 

smd

Mar 14, 2018
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I think it will depend on exactly you said to the owner when you reached out to them? In your post, you say both that you wanted to "see what our options were" and that you mentioned you "would have to cancel."
 
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Jul 13, 2020
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I agree . If me I would make a claim with the credit card I paid with. This is surely a case of buying goods and they are not being delivered. It should not matter what the terms said, if the owner canceled the booking. Think of it , I could buy a property and just cancel every booking and make 1500 deposit one after the other.
 
Feb 24, 2018
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I agree with smd. It seems likely that whatever our OP said to the owner, the owner took it as the OP initiating the cancellation. However it was phrased- going to have to cancel, need to cancel, are being forced to cancel, have to cancel- can be read as the act of cancelling itself, rather than a "feeler" for cancelling in the future. The owner could argue that OP had communicated the cancellation, but had not entered it into the system, so owner needed to do the cancellation in the system to open up the property. If this written communication is offered to counter a credit card dispute, it might be a toss up.
 
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Neil Maley

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Dec 27, 2014
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www.promalvacations.com
I agree with smd. It seems likely that whatever our OP said to the owner, the owner took it as the OP initiating the cancellation. However it was phrased- going to have to cancel, need to cancel, are being forced to cancel, have to cancel- can be read as the act of cancelling itself, rather than a "feeler" for cancelling in the future. The owner could argue that OP had communicated the cancellation, but had not entered it into the system, so owner needed to do the cancellation in the system to open up the property. If this written communication is offered to counter a credit card dispute, it might be a toss up.
Well said. That’s why we need know exactly what was communicated to the owner. Was this in writing or verbal?

Without knowing full details, we can’t really advise you properly.
 

jsn55

Verified Member
Dec 26, 2014
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I agree with smd. It seems likely that whatever our OP said to the owner, the owner took it as the OP initiating the cancellation. However it was phrased- going to have to cancel, need to cancel, are being forced to cancel, have to cancel- can be read as the act of cancelling itself, rather than a "feeler" for cancelling in the future. The owner could argue that OP had communicated the cancellation, but had not entered it into the system, so owner needed to do the cancellation in the system to open up the property. If this written communication is offered to counter a credit card dispute, it might be a toss up.
I agree. It would really help if people started communicating precisely. "Reaching out" is meaningless describing a problem like this. "I called the owner on 2/3/20 ... on 3/2/20, the owner emailed me ... per instructions, I used VRBO's website to fill out a form and submitted it 4/2/20" ... that's the communication needed to fully describe a situation. Details are vital in advocacy. "Discussing the options" is also too vague to be meaningful. "I asked the owner if our deposit was refundable if we cancelled ... the owner told me that he would cancel our agreement ... my notes from 4/3/20 state that the owner told me that our deposit was refundable". Those are statements of fact that mean something putting together an advocacy case.
 
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Jul 24, 2020
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Thank you everyone for your detailed responses and apologies for not being more clear in my initial post. A few points of clarification:

1. Per the owner, the property is not refundable, although the contract that was attached as a PDF to our booking via VRBO states that any cancellations more than 90 days before travel commences would be refunded less a $250 fee. When we initially wrote to the owner (via VRBO messaging) it was because when we went to cancel the booking, it stated there would be no refund which was contrary to this policy. The owner stated in this exchange that the contract we received was outdated and that he was unsure how it ended up going to us. Although this was clearly a screw up on the part of either VRBO or the owner, I don’t think it makes sense to pursue given my next point.

2. The owner hit the cancel button. We did express an interest in cancelling via our written communication, but we also stated, verbatim, that we are uncomfortable proceeding with cancellation via the site because of the lack of clarity about the cancellation policy. No matter our intent, we did not make the final call. Thinking of it in the opposite direction, if I reach out to an owner and say “I’m interested in booking your property but I want to clarify some things before I do” does that legally constitute a booking? My guess is no, but maybe I’m wrong.

3.We have already gone through the dispute process with the credit card company and it was denied, with the card issuer stating the owner “provided sufficient evidence.” A VRBO agent said that they were unable to address the situation while it was in the credit card company’s hands, so we held off on further action until it was closed, after which we re-contacted VRBO.

I hope that helps to clarify, and I understand points about the owner taking our expression of intent to cancel as a cancellation itself, but given the fact that we also told him we were uncomfortable proceeding with cancellation until the terms were clear, I think it’s also evident he did so without our approval.
 

smd

Mar 14, 2018
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I think you're over-relying on who "hit the cancel button." If the owner pushed the button because you directed them to in your email, then you are still the one who cancelled.

You haven't posted enough information for us to see if your emails directed the owner to cancel. But, in the end, it doesn't matter what any of us think. You've already appealed to your credit card and VRBO, both of whom have sided with the owner. I only see three options at this point, all of which will require you to prove that you did not tell the owner that you wanted to cancel:
1) Sue the owner in small claims court for breach of contract.​
2) Escalate within VRBO. You will need to provide compelling evidence to get an executive to overrule their staff. Contacts are here.​
3) Sue VRBO in small claims court claiming breach of their Book with Confidence Guarantee​
 
Aug 29, 2018
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Sue the owner in small claims court
I've seen this proposed recently in several threads. Suing is not a panacea -- you might win, but the real battle after that is collecting.In the course of my life, I've had to resort to small claims court a few times, won each time, and never been able to collect.

If you do decide to go this route, think about ypur strategy for collecting on the judgement, and think carefully about whether it is worth your effort.
 
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Jul 24, 2020
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That’s fair enough, although I don’t know why my expression of interest to cancel holds more value than my later piece of communication stating that I didn’t want to cancel until we were clear on the policy. If the argument is that my word is bond, then that should apply to all of my messaging.

For reference, I found a lot of of parallels between my situation and this, which is what led me to reach out in the first place.


Either way, thanks for the feedback. I’m continuing to escalate through VRBO and am awaiting a call back from management in the resolutions department.
 
May 21, 2020
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near Charlotte, NC
What exactly did you write when you first broached the subject of cancelling? What was the owner’s written response?

Owner initiated cancellations are strongly discouraged by VRBO so she must have some written proof that you requested the cancellation. It’s all in the exact wording of your written communication with her.
 

Neil Maley

Moderator
Staff Member
Advocate
Dec 27, 2014
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www.promalvacations.com
“When we initially wrote to the owner (via VRBO messaging) it was because when we went to cancel the booking, it stated there would be no refund which was contrary to this policy”

You said you went to cancel the booking. I believe that’s why the owner might have done it for you.

When you received confirmation of your booking, what does it say the cancellation policy was? That is what you agreed to at the time of booking.
 
Sep 23, 2019
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1. Per the owner, the property is not refundable, although the contract that was attached as a PDF to our booking via VRBO states that any cancellations more than 90 days before travel commences would be refunded less a $250 fee. When we initially wrote to the owner (via VRBO messaging) it was because when we went to cancel the booking, it stated there would be no refund which was contrary to this policy. The owner stated in this exchange that the contract we received was outdated and that he was unsure how it ended up going to us. Although this was clearly a screw up on the part of either VRBO or the owner, I don’t think it makes sense to pursue given my next point.
As a Host/Owner who has property listed on VRBO I am going to agree with you that pursuing this with regards to this "contract" is counterproductive.
As Hosts, we are allowed to upload a PDF contract that gets sent to the Guest automatically.
But this is NON-BINDING unless it is signed.
There are many Hosts that insist on a signed contract after booking through VRBO. VRBO allows this. Usually the Host will include VRBO "House Rules" that spell out that you have 24 hours to sign and return the contract or the Booking is considered cancelled.

The contract can supersede any terms agreed to via VRBO, as long as VRBO gets their "Service Fee".
However, in this case no one signed it, so it does not apply to your issue, so both parties are bound by whatever default contract was made through VRBO.