Leibsly’s story is more than a cautionary tale for anyone considering a vacation rental. It’s also a by-now-familiar warning to read the entire rental contract from start to finish. You never know what rights you could be signing away.
The chain of events began last year, when Leibsly decided to plan a trip to England with his wife to celebrate their 20th anniversary. “We wanted to rent a flat in London for three days,” he says. “So we researched and chose a very nice-looking apartment in Stratford, next to the Olympic park. The pictures of the apartment were beautiful: very modern, bright and pristine.”
Any doubts were quickly dismissed when he read the online reviews, which raved about the property and awarded it five stars, the highest possible rating. He agreed to pay 548 pounds, about $850, for three nights in the apartment.
But when he and his wife arrived in late May, they found the opposite of what they’d expected. The apartment was in a depressed, crime-ridden part of London, he says. And it was a mess. “It was a far cry from what was represented in the flat description and pictures,” he added. After one night, they checked out and requested a full refund from FindaFlatinLondon.com, the company through which they’d rented the place.
Leibsly also sent a review to HomeAway.com, the Web site through which he’d found the apartment. In it, he described the apartment’s condition in detail, including a long list of complaints: worn furniture, linens that hadn’t been changed from the previous guest, no toilet paper, mold in the bathtub, lack of air conditioning. He also sent me photos of the apartment that appear to back up some of his claims.
What happened next depends on who’s talking, and not everybody’s talking. This much is not in dispute: The apartment’s rental managers refused to refund Leibsly’s money.
Shortly after HomeAway.com approved Leibsly’s review, the entire listing was removed, he says. I contacted HomeAway and asked why. Within less than a week, the listing, along with his review, reappeared. HomeAway won’t disclose why the listing returned to the site, but it said that the one-star review Leibsly penned was in compliance with its standards.
“The traveler’s review was published in accordance with our standard content guidelines, which state that content may not be posted for the purpose of trying to force a particular response or action from another person in an unlawful, abusive or otherwise inappropriate manner,” Carl Shepherd, the chief strategy and development officer for HomeAway, said in a statement. “In this situation, the traveler stayed in the property — even if only for a night — and so rightfully may post a review.”