Be wary of owner-operated vacation rentals

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Vancouver Island is warning would-be travellers to use extreme caution when booking an “owner operated” vacation rental property.

BBB was recently contacted by a consumer from Calgary that had been ripped off after booking a condo in Victoria for a vacation. The consumer found the rental via a popular website for vacation rental properties. The consumer paid a deposit and portion of the total rental cost in order to secure the booking.

A little over 24 hours before planning to travel to Victoria, the owner of the vacation rental cancelled the booking, failed to refund the pre-paid deposit and stopped responding to the customer’s emails and phone calls. The consumer took the matter to small claims court in Alberta and has been awarded a complete refund, plus additional court costs.

However, the vacation rental owner has not made payment and a collection company is now attempting to track down the owner, who is believed to have moved to another country.

“Travelers who are thinking of renting a house or condo instead of staying in a hotel or resort need to consider whether it is a genuine and legal opportunity,” said Rosalind Scott, President and CEO of BBB serving Vancouver Island.

In addition to cancelled bookings and fake rental listings, consumers need to watch out for rental properties that are found in disrepair upon arrival, as well as misleading listings that claim a property has more amenities than it actually features.

To avoid vacation nightmares, consumers should do some online research and work with a reliable company to find their vacation rental.

BBB offers the following tips to help travelers avoid rip-offs when looking for a vacation rental:

n Do your homework. Consider using a reputable professional rental agent to locate a vacation home rental.  If you decide to use a third-party website or professional service to connect you with a renter, always check them out first with BBB at bbb.org.

Also, check to be sure that the house or apartment in question can legally be rented for a short stay. Ask the rental agent or homeowner to verify this with written proof.

n Dig deep and read the fine print. Not all vacation rental property services are created equally. Some online sites provide a minimal level of insurance that will cover unexpected cancelations, assistance finding other accommodations and refunds. Others do not provide you with any support, insurance or services, other than the initial online connection.

n Make sure the listing has multiple photos. The lovely photo of a vase of flowers in front of a sunlit window is nice, but it won’t tell you the condition of the bathroom or the size of the bedroom. Make sure there are multiple interior and exterior photos to view.

n Don’t be hesitant to ask plenty of questions about the property. Check reviews and references.  You can also do an online search for the property owner’s name and words like “complaints,” “fraud” or “scam.” Get it all in writing.

n Be sure that all verbal agreements are included in the rental contract, including: details on the deposit, rules on pets, refunds, what is included in the cost of the rental (such as utilities, internet, kitchen gear, cleaning service, etc.).

n Ask if the rental or sublet is legal and permitted under resident rules applying to the building or area where it is located; also check to see whether the rental agreement confirms this. Use a secure form of payment. Do not send money until you’ve

For more information about scams, frauds and tips to protect yourself go to: bbb.org/Vancouver-island.

To report and monitor scams go to BBB’s new Scam Tracker online tool at: www.bbb.org/scamtracker.