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You asked: What if my rental house is not what was advertised?

In this week’s By The Way Concierge, how to get a refund from the property host

(Cynthia Kittler for The Washington Post)
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Traveling has always come with complications, but the coronavirus pandemic has made it more challenging than ever. Our By The Way Concierge column will take your travel dilemmas to the experts to help you navigate the new normal. Want to see your question answered? Submit it here.

I booked a rental property months ago for a big family vacation next month. Two weeks before the trip, I got a call from the rental company that the owners are ripping up the deck, and it may not be done when we arrive. Not to mention, workers may be there while we are staying in the property. The outdoor space was a big reason we booked the property, and no other comparable listings are available now. What are we entitled to, and how should we ask to be compensated? This is the second time I’ve had an issue with a rental not being what is advertised. — Anonymous

That sounds like a mess; what a way to start your best summer vacation! I took your problem to a slew of vacation-rental operators and other experts to get their take. The good news: A reputable management company should make it up to you. The bad news: Not every management company is reputable.

Making repairs during a guest’s stay can be unavoidable, particularly with demand for rentals booming, says Jeremy Gall, CEO and co-founder of the vacation rental property care platform Breezeway. Even so, professional managers or hosts should have systems down to minimize these surprises.

Your first step is to contact the property manager. Mike Slone, who owns a travel agency and two vacation-rental properties in Maine, says to ask the host why the property won’t be as advertised, giving them the opportunity to explain and correct the issue. Get that conversation in writing.

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Steve Turk, managing director of Turk Hospitality Ventures, recommends taking screenshots of every exchange in case you need to provide evidence to a booking platform or your credit card company.

Your next step is to review the terms of your rental agreement to see if you have any protections. Those terms should be available on their website or in your booking confirmation.

If this wasn’t a safety issue or emergency repair, Luca Zambello, CEO of the hospitality tech company Jurny, says the host should have scheduled the construction when the unit was unoccupied. With this letdown, you shouldn’t be expected to pay the same amount for your reservation.

“It is possible, however, that they will offer nothing more than apologies and earplugs,” says Zambello, who is also an Airbnb Superhost.

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If there wasn’t a clear policy at the point of booking or payment, “issues like this are a complete gray area,” says Chris Cerra, founder of RemoteBase, a monthly newsletter on rental discounts for remote workers and digital nomads. It may be within their rights to refuse your refund request.

Turk says the management may argue that the property is habitable and a safe place to sleep. “There are some companies that will not be as hospitable and will do everything they can not to return your money,” he says.

The experts say it is standard for the rental company to offer you a comparable property in their portfolio that suits your vacation dates. Of course, that could be impossible. In that case, Gall says, compensation will vary by vendor, but you should be entitled to some kind of upgrade, a partial or full refund, and/or a credit toward a future stay.

Should you decide to keep your booking, Larry Snider, vice president of operations for Casago Vacation Rentals, says you can negotiate a better price with the host.

Whether it’s a deep discount or a refund, ask for the specific compensation you would like and describe in detail the ways the unadvertised situation will impact your reservation, such as dealing with construction noise, having workers stay at the property or not being able to use an outdoor space as promised.

“More often than not, they will be willing to negotiate a discount so that they don’t lose you as a guest,” Snider says. “Losing you would cause them to have to advertise the property with full disclosure of the construction situation, which would likely result in the inability to get new guests to book.”

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It’s reasonable to be upset in your situation, but lashing out could do more harm than good, says longtime Airbnb Superhost Dan Driscoll, now the co-founder of the vacation-rental platform Boutiq.

“Threatening bad reviews or lawsuits will make all other parties shut down and diminishes the guest’s credibility,” Driscoll says.

Instead, try to convey that you’re not mad — you’re disappointed. Be reasonable but clear that something was promised and isn’t being delivered.

“Or put another way, give the host the benefit of the doubt and treat them as you would hope to be treated,” Driscoll says. “A little courtesy on each side goes a long way.”

Cerra agrees. If you’re dealing with a smaller agency, “appeal to the agent’s human side, or highlight the importance of doing good honest business,” Cerra says. “I hope they can see that fixing this issue is just one small step to seeing you return next season.”

Should none of this do the trick, Marcus Rader, CEO and co-founder of the vacation-rental software company Hostaway, says to check if the credit card you used to pay for the rental offers some sort of travel insurance. It may have coverage for your exact situation. Your home insurance or even your work benefits might, too.

Have a travel dilemma for By The Way Concierge? Submit it here.

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