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There's a musty smell in her Vrbo rental. Can she get her money back?

When Maureen Entwistle and her husband check into a Vrbo rental in North Carolina, they can't breathe. Can they check out and get a refund?

My husband and I recently booked a stay through Vrbo in Lake Tuckasegee, North Carolina. When checked in, we noticed a strong, musty smell. My husband and I began to cough, and my husband felt a constriction in his chest.

We contacted the manager and Vrbo. The manager did not respond and Vrbo put us on hold twice for nearly an hour. A Vrbo representative promised to call us back but did not.

We had no choice but to leave. We felt our health was threatened if we slept there. We booked a hotel for that night and found a new rental nearby. Our breathing cleared up after leaving the unit and we had no problems during our stay in the hotel or in the new rental.

Vrbo says this is an issue between the owner and me, that their guarantee did not address the cleanliness of the unit. They would refund me only for the one-night stay at the Hampton Inn. They have made that one refund. Vrbo has also suggested I take it to my credit card company as a dispute.

This was not a cleanliness issue but a health issue. I'm hoping you can help us get a refund.

Maureen Entwistle, Clermont, Fla.

If you can't breathe in your vacation rental, you should check out immediately. But do you deserve a full refund?

Vrbo's Book With Confidence guarantee promises to help you with major problems. Those include being unable to access your property or discovering the owners "significantly misrepresented" the property online. The company promises to find you new accommodations so you can continue your trip.

But there's no mention of a musty smell or unsafe air quality. So Vrbo could have kept your money. But a review of the correspondence between you and Vrbo suggests it didn't. The company helped you find a new rental and reimbursed you for one night at a hotel. But it didn't refund the stay in the musty-air home.

Vrbo is sending a confusing message -- that it is responsible for what happened to you, but that it isn't.

Is it possible to avoid an air quality problem at a rental? Maybe. Pay attention to the reviews, and especially any comments about smells or odors. That can be evidence of a bigger problem. I've seen vacation rental owners try to mask smells with air fresheners or plug-ins, but those can make the problem worse if you're sensitive to scents.

Although Vrbo doesn't explicitly guarantee the air quality in its rentals, I believe there's an implied warranty. It's understood that you should be able to breathe the air in a rental.

You might have reached out to one of the Vrbo executives whose contact information I publish on my advocacy website, I also have a free guide to renting a vacation home on my site that will help.

I contacted Vrbo on your behalf. A representative contacted you and apologized for the experience. "While this is not eligible for coverage under our Book With Confidence Guarantee program, we believe it is appropriate to reimburse," the representative said. You received a refund of $3,183.

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a nonprofit organization that helps consumers solve their problems. Email him at [email protected] or get help by contacting him on his site.

© 2023 Christopher Elliott


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