5 Red Flags to Watch For When Booking Vacation Rentals

  • 01 of 05

    Non-Disparagement Clause

    Luxury vacation rentals
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    Vacation rentals are growing in popularity, and so is the length of agreements to secure these properties. Renters should watch for some red flags when entering into a contract.

    Websites such as Airbnb and VRBO are linking property owners with travelers in record numbers. Shoppers on these sites often consult online reviews as they make final rental decisions.

    One increasingly common feature of contracts for vacation rentals is the non-disparagement clause. Somewhere in the fine print, look for a section that forbids you from posting a negative review on social media outlets such as Yelp or TripAdvisor.

    There have been cases in which a renter's credit card was charged a fee as a penalty for posting a negative online review.

    One case, documented at SFGate.com, involved a couple charged $500 for a posting negative comments on an internet renter's forum. The renter claimed he did not know about the non-disparagement clause because the contract itself was not available for inspection until after he had delivered his deposit money. After much haggling, the couple deleted the posting and received their money back. 

    If you own a rental property, it threatens your business when a bad review is on public display. But budget travelers in a free society should have the right to post fair, rational complaints if the arrangements fell short of what was promised. Look for this clause in your contract. If it is there, consider if the property owner has had a regular problem with negative reviews.

    Some online reviews are exaggerated, misleading, or downright dishonest. You should never take literally everything you read on such sites, and one bad review is not justification for bypassing a rental. Smart budget travelers look for patterns of positive and negative feedback in reviews of hotels and vacation rentals.

    But if you have a less than satisfying experience, it's only fair that you have an opportunity to share some of your problems with others who might follow you. 


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  • 02 of 05

    Payment Required Before the Full Contract is Available

    Travelers deliver payments without seeing the recipient.
    Moodboard/Getty Images

    In the previous red flag discussion, a consumer asserted that he did not know about a non-disparagement clause because payment had been made before the contract was final. That in itself is a red flag worthy of further consideration.

    If a property owner tells you "the contract will be posted shortly, but I need the money now," you should reply that payment will come only after you are satisfied with all the terms, and that means full disclosure.

    Sometimes, the problem is not rooted in the property owner's attitude, but rather the laziness of the renter.

    It's important to read everything, not just click a box that says you've reviewed the information. Often, it's tempting to assume the contract is standard and fair. But the extra minutes invested in reading everything prior to issuing payment could save much conflict later.

    Another tip: avoid booking on platforms that aren't established or simply connect you with an owner. HomeAway.com and other established sites have a vetting process for owners who list properties. That doesn't guarantee a good experience, but it certainly discourages listings from scam artists.


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  • 03 of 05

    Payment Must be Wired to an Individual

    Some vacation rentals require a wire payment from the bank of your choice.
    Danita Delimont/Getty Images

    The Federal Trade Commission warns vacationers that wiring money is the same as handing someone cash. Later, you might not be able to trace it or even prove you made the payment. The FTC warns you to be especially leery of Green Dot cards or other payment arrangements that leave you with few options should something go awry.

    For many, this will sound like obvious advice. But each year, thousands of travelers are pressured into handing over banking information or wired money to someone they've just met. A few weeks later, some will find out they've been scammed.

    Travel scams are not difficult to avoid if you can see them coming. But some are well-disguised and nearly impossible to detect ahead of time. Payment arrangements do not fall into that category. Paying with a credit card usually affords time (30-60 days) to contest the charge if it later proves fraudulent. 

    If you run into problems with U.S. transactions, file a complaint with the FTC.

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  • 04 of 05

    Exorbitant Cleaning Fees

    Vacation rentals often require cleaning fees.
    (c)Mark D. Kahler

    When you book a hotel room, the cleaning costs after your departure are built into the nightly rate. The property employs a housekeeping staff.

    Vacation rentals don't operate on that management model. The owner frequently must hire someone to come in and clean the place. Since local rates for such services vary, the cleaning fees attached to your rental can be minimal or quite significant.

    Don't automatically dismiss a higher cleaning fee as a rip-off. In a beach environment, for example, thorough cleanings might require more work and come at a higher price. It's only fair that the owner passes the cost of this work to the people generating the need.

    But there have been cases in which an exorbitant cleaning fee is simply a way to add revenue. As you shop, be certain to factor in the cleaning fee with the rental charges. If you don't see a cleaning fee, ask about it. Some owners won't list it in their initial promotional copy, but you'll see it buried in the contract.


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  • 05 of 05

    Terms for Receiving Deposit Reimbursements

    Final departure from a vacation rental requires checking everything twice.
    (c)Mark D. Kahler

    In many places, you will be asked for a deposit in addition to the rental charges. This covers the potential cost of damages to the property, and it certainly is not an unreasonable arrangement.

    But some owners will be very slow to return the money, and a few might even blame you for damages you did not cause. 

    As you're packing up the luggage, take a few pictures of the place to show its condition at the time of departure. If there is damage, be honest about it and take pictures of that as well. Find out what you can do to repair the problem, with the owner involved in the conversation from the beginning.

    Within the contract, look for wording that states how soon the deposit will be returned if everything is found in good order. If there is no such stipulation, ask about it. You don't want your money sitting in someone else's bank account, earning interest for six months as you waste time asking for it to be returned.