At least our first argument about money as hubby-n-wife won't be with each other...
June 4, 2012 2:04 PM   Subscribe

Rented Beachouse problems: What's the best/proper way to handle a situation where a rental house had problems? Some are severe others are just broken promises on the owner's part. Free wedding update inside!

[Feel free to skip down some for the meat, I'm going to rant here a bit, 'cuz I love you guys and gals.]

So, we got married on the beach where we met after 10 years of being together, in sin, sooo much sin, hehe. It was great. My friends and family busted their butts to help as we did alot of the work ourselves. AskMe was great at helping me source materials and vet ideas. The rehearsal featured a delicious crawfish boil, (thanks Uncle F). The ceremony rocked with strangers in adjacent beachhouses setting off an amazing display of [unplanned] fireworks for us after our first kiss. The overcast weather didn't rain but provided great photography lighting and lower temperatures on the sand for our guests. The dancing was great and nobody got splinters on the deck-cum-dancefloor under the house. Only one person got their car stuck in the sand and that was the quite competent bartender we hired through a friend and we got him out without much hassle at all.

Win, win, win. Win all around.

Except for the house which doubled as the venue for rehearsal, wedding, and reception. It had... problems. The owner did make an effort to be accommodating and get things fixed but, all the same, we were quite a bit put out in some quite significant ways.

So, details follow.

First off, the rental contract with the owner is held by MsEld's mother. We have not seen it, though we did pay for a significant chunk of things. This is frustrating but not worth bringing up again. We were there for two weeks and there is no rental company involved, just person to person as far as I understand things.

The ladies of the family had previously went and toured the house months ago to see if it was suitable for our wedding, as we were doing alot of the cooking/prep/hosting onsite and needed it to be large enough to host friends [read: slave labor], cook meals (wedding and daily grub), and provide adequate beach access for the ceremony itself. We did everything aboveboard with the owner, who said he had hosted similar weddings there before successfully. They found it to be a satisfactory location, doubly so since the owner mentioned several things that would be included/upgraded/replaced by the time the wedding rolled around, more on that later.

So, we arrive for check-in and the owner and his wife are there painting. Ummm... Ok..... Thanks but we'd like to unpack? He says it's no problem, they're almost done and we can come on in. We do and they leave saying "they'll be back tomorrow to touch up a few places". *sigh* Oh well, we're easy going people and have a week before the ceremony starts no problem. Some exterior painting to freshen things up is a nice gesture. We ask them before they leave about the random junky wall mount air conditioner core sitting on the side of the wrap around deck "Oh we'll get that out of here tomorrow when we come back". *double sigh*... Ok, no problem, life goes on.

They come back the next day and we tell them the wireless isn't working and that's a pretty big deal as we have people who need to get work done while they're in the house. The owner jumps right on getting it fixed but it doesn't work for the first 4 days of our stay. Trips to town, about a half hour drive away, are a pain but must occur for people that need internet and to make/confirm reservations for the wedding. They also "finish painting" but the A/C core is left sitting, not cool.

About this time the upstairs A/C unit (2 central A/C units for the house) stops working. The thermostat shoots up to 84 degrees, a bit less at night. The owner is concerned and calls a maintenance man out right away. Long story short is that the problem wasn't fixed until 2 days after the wedding. That means the 4 bedrooms upstairs, including the Master where MsEld and I were staying, were practically unlivable. People had to relocate to couches downstairs and/or leave if they could find reservations in a booked up Memorial Day beach town. That was a big IF. We were quite embarrassed and upset but didn't scream and yell because we're not that kind of people and the owner really was concerned and having people come out to look at things (3 visits total) as the problem kept cropping up. Plus we felt a bit trapped, this venue was out plan, relocating really wasn't an option.

Also, the septic system includes a pump that pumps out a cistern type unit that's adjacent to the house, next to the stilts on the dance floor-deck. On day 3, when the house wasn't even full of our guests due to the A/C problem and it being early in the week, it began overflowing septic water onto the sand right next to the house every afternoon. This was scary, really scary since we were planning to have the wedding and everything at the house. Septic water/smell is a deal breaker to say the least. Again, the owner got someone out to fix it but by this time had left town and we had to be there to greet, explain, supervise the worker (as we also had to with all the A/C and internet workers). This was a pain but thank god it got fixed.

In the course of all this, the owner let slip that he hadn't rented the house to anyone besides a 'few friends' who 'didn't even use the upstairs' for almost a year. So basically we're the Guinea pigs finding all the kinks in his house that has been sitting for a year.

There were other things that were smaller but still really, really not cool. Like the shower that you use before you come back into the house had no handle so you had to use a pair of robo-grips to get the salt water off of you before you came in. Random construction debris in the sand around the house. The wood floors that were showing extreme wear in the kitchen were not replaced as promised. The upstairs toilet tank leaked and caused about an inch of water to flood the upstairs shared bathroom. A small leak that I fixed myself in a few minutes but I didn't really want to be playing plumber/maid/cleanup crew the week before my wedding ya'know? We had enough on our plate. We worked around and even fixed some of this stuff (like the toilet and the debris) because we had to...

So what do we do, we're wanting to talk to him about getting some of our money back, mostly because of the A/C situation and people being forced to stay elsewhere but also because of the general aggravation we had to deal with, oh and the unkept promises?

The contract holder will be calling him here soon with a list of our grievances and we'll see how that conversation goes, but if it goes sour, what are our options? I fear we may have none simply due to the fact that he has our money and that's that, but I welcome any and all input as to what we could/should do in this situation. We also have professional pictures and a HD video that could be quite useful to him when it comes to advertising his house to future rentors... I mean, what we did was, honestly, above average... carrot/stick, blah blah blah.

ps - Did I mention the owner is a retired worker in the legal sector? Yep, a retired judge, but not from the area. Again, he really tried, and was a great advocate for us, but the rust was just too thick and someone had to knock it off the house... turns out that someone was us.
posted by RolandOfEld to Law & Government (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
First of all Congratulations! Always great to hear stories about crap that goes wrong with weddings that didn't spoil the day. I'm sure you'll do fine with married life.

Now, onto your question:

Small Claims Court.

You totally have a right to ask for a rebate on the house given the issues. I wouldn't ask for the whole thing, but about 1/3rd to a 1/2, should be right.

Did you take pictures? Those are always so helpful.

If the owner isn't willing to discuss, then file. Then call People's Court. This is right up their alley, the wedding, a retired jurist. I can see it now:

The case of "It's a Beach House!"
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:17 PM on June 4, 2012

How did you find this place? VRBO?

I think that you should email him and detail all of this stuff in clear bullet points.

Then ask him if they'd be open to refunding some of your money.

But I think that a bad review is probably your easiest outcome.
posted by k8t at 2:18 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Honestly, while these things aren't ideal, it sounds like the owner was responsive to your concerns and seemingly helpful. I'd just move on.

Congratulations on your wedding!
posted by Amplify at 2:19 PM on June 4, 2012

Man, this sounds like a horrible experience! I'm so sorry! A wedding's stressful enough already!

I'm not a lawyer, but....

1) get a copy of the contract - you need to know what was agreed upon. It won't be good to say "Three of our 8 guests had to stay in hotels!" if the contract says only 5 people can stay overnight or something.

2) check into living requirements in the area - in some states there are requirements for temperature rules and things like that.

3) They found it to be a satisfactory location, doubly so since the owner mentioned several things that would be included/upgraded/replaced by the time the wedding rolled around, more on that later.
Write down any of the improvements "mentioned". It's not a contract, and won't hold much weight, but if he said, "yeah, we're painting next week" on March 1st and June 1st he still hadn't started, that's something.

4) Tally the damages. Don't ask for "some" money. Ask for the amount of money the guests that had to leave for hotels spent - double, actually, to repay them and to make up for the fact that you rented essentially "useless" rooms. If internet is included, I think one day is supposed to be a standard given for blackouts (in that companies don't allow you to see damages for a 24 hour blackout) but for the remaining three days ask for compensation of mileage as well as driving time to get to the internet cafe. If you did necessary repairs ask for reimbursement for time and parts. If you had to move the debris in the yard then you can charge hourly for that, too.

Other stuff (debris making the place look "cluttered"), paint fumes still being in the air when you arrived, interruptions of privacy to continue paintings and repairs can be included, but the amounts asked for could be a bit more vague. You can include the septic system overflowing as part of the reason others went to the hotel instead....just in case the 84F is within the acceptable range of temperatures.

But someone in the legal sector should pretty much realize the situation when faced with cold, hard facts. And I guess that's my advice - try to organize this as objectively as possible - "here's where he failed the contract/housing law" and try to distance that from, "he ruined the wedding!"
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 2:28 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Happily, he didn't actually ruin your wedding. A private rental is never going to be perfect and while yours had more than its share of hassles you didn't have to cancel your plans.

My experience of lawsuits and courts is that they are an emotionally exhausting hassle where the money isn't worth the grief but YMMV

Your negotiations are going to be hampered by your MIL being in the middle, so it's even more important than usual to figure out what you really want, and what you'll accept, as recompense.

I think listing & costing out your grievances as Lt Bunny describes is a great first step.

Also, consider whether you'd take something other than money, like to go back in September or next Memorial Day in lieu of cash. If he hasn't been renting it out, that might not cost him much/anything.

Finally, don't let the negotiations make you grumpy with your MIL, I'm sure she feels just as embarrassed and unhappy about the whole thing as you do.

Congrats on your wedding!
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 2:43 PM on June 4, 2012

I would do this politely, with facts not emotions, and in writing.

I would not mention the wedding. It doesn't matter why you were there, only that you contracted and paid up front for a fully habitable and functional vacation property, from X day to Y day, and that was not what you received.

At the end of the letter, I would state that according to him, the landlord, your group were the first people to inhabit the entire house in over a year. Under that circumstance, it was important that the landlord see to all of the improvements, repairs, and deferred maintance issues before your arrival. Instead, it was your group, and not the landlord, who discovered, experienced, and assisted with the repairs and deferred maintenance issues. Ditto the construction debris. You contracted and paid for a vacation-ready property, cleaned and ready to inhabit, and this was not provided.

Cite whatever state laws apply to rentals, as I'm sure there are some that do apply to your particular situation. Or you can leave that part out if you think it is too much.

Yes, ask for a set amount, and provide details for the amount you are requesting to be refunded.

Good luck and Congratulations!
posted by jbenben at 3:01 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Agreed that you really need the contract. You absolutely need to see it. You're not in a great position to negotiate if you don't know what it says, and for all you know, it might say "I agree to rent 17 Beach House Drive AS IS in the understanding that work is being completed but here is a bargain rate for you" yadda yadda yadda. It's a really important starting point to know what you agreed to first.
posted by Miko at 4:15 PM on June 4, 2012

Congratulations! For both your wedding and the way you handled the situation.

I am an owner of a venue used for wedding holidays and I am paranoid about there being any flaws in our preparations. I see myself as being in the service industry which I doubt is the case with your retired judge.

Your experience was not acceptable and they should be held accountable. However, if the charge for the venue was small (less than $1500 for 2 weeks), then I'd drop the whole thing. If it was more than $2500 then I'd pursue it heartily.

1) Work out what you want in compensation. Money returned? Time in lieu? If money, what percentage of what you paid to the owner would you think is fair refund? 25% 50% 75%? You won't get more than 100% so pick a fair figure based on your actual loss of amenity (not costs incurred). If you would be happy with time in lieu - a week or twos rental at another time - then go for that one. It's the easiest for both parties.

2) Then contact the owner. The initial conversation should start with a pleasant hello and thanks and then move quickly into gaining agreement that there were problems with the accommodation and that you'd like compensation for the discomfort, inconvenience and additional costs.

3) if he starts to argue after you have presented a fair case and request, end the conversation and move to considering small claims. You have a good case if your claim is fair.

If I were you two, I'd ask for the time in lieu option especially as that beach is special to you and you'd be happy to stay in the house again.
posted by Kerasia at 4:15 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

First off, the rental contract with the owner is held by MsEld's mother. We have not seen it, though we did pay for a significant chunk of things.

You need to find out of you have any standing here at all. I suspect you don't, and that MsEld's mother would have to make any claim.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:39 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I came in to say what DarlingBri said: even though you paid a significant chunk of the rental costs, you probably won't have recourse because you weren't the one on the contract --- MIL will have to be the one to to take any legal action, because she's the one who signed. You can, of course, help her collect things like photos of the problem areas of the house, as well as perhaps statements and receipts from the people who had to find alternative accomodation.

And congrats on your wedding!
posted by easily confused at 5:12 PM on June 4, 2012

Congratulations! It sounds like you still had a blast despite the little tribulations and that's what counts. Woot!

I've thought about the business end and man you really have my empathy. If the judge/owner DOES drag his feet and is unwilling to compensate in any way, the question is do you really want to make that negative part of your wedding experience something that drags on for weeks or months? Personally, I'd let it go, but...

I think you have a solid case because the owner didn't even meet reasonable expectations. You didn't get what you paid for and you certainly didn't pay to be guinea pigs.

As eloquently as you've stated your case, disregarding "living in sin" and "WIN WIN WIN" (Just kidding), I think you would have the sympathy of any court, and the Judge/owner will know that.

(Bonus points if you post a photo of the Bride and Groom!) Huzzah!!!!
posted by snsranch at 5:58 PM on June 4, 2012

Clarification points that might bear mentioning follow, and thanks for the congrats and respectful tone in the responses here.

First of all, the MIL will be the one doing any contacting of folks, MrsEld's name is also on there so she has some standing as well but the MIL is the one who wants to be on point for this and I can respect that. I realize that and always have. I also appreciate it. That means this AskMe is a bit on the academic side, it was just something that I'm curious about and wanted to hear from other people regarding how legit (legally and fundamentally) our feelings are. I should have mentioned that from the beginning. I may forward this thread to her, but she's a grown up who isn't unfamiliar to legal situations herself, I have full faith in her but just didn't know what else others might have to say beyond: ask calmly for a set remediation amount based upon facts or go to (small claims?) court to settle things. We're reluctant to do the latter, but not for any certain reason, we'd much rather continue to be civil (pun?) about things.

Regarding price, of course if this was a $1500 for two weeks or something we'd chalk it up as live and learn but, please don't take this as bragging as I'm just responding to people's comments here, we're talking a (very low but still) five digit price-tag here. That's alot, alot of money for us, so let me explain. Our thinking was that, by getting a nicer/larger house and purposing it as venue and 2 week vacation for as many people as could come down it really makes the price tag more reasonable. That's where the vast majority of our budget went. The rest went into DIY. That and alot of planning, some help from friends, and our sweat equity paid off in spades. That's why we're not so happy campers here. The house was beautiful, just not ready.

Regarding the pic request from snsranch, let me see here..... How about this one? As I stated in MetaTalk recently, anyone that wants the Youtube link to the ceremony can feel free to memail me, I'm a bit squinchy about how much I've said about this already and if I've done something silly from a legal/don't talk about things on the internet standpoint and since the video includes the house/setting a bit more I'll not post a link here for the world to see. Just drop me a line though, I'm not THAT squinchy.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:43 PM on June 4, 2012

... and again, we were above board about everything with the owner [and local authorities for that matter]. He knew we were doing a party with X number of people. We also didn't try to cram in boarders to pay for the house or anything, we didn't even come close to the Y value in the advertised "This house sleeps Y number of people" so that shouldn't be an issue either.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:56 PM on June 4, 2012

Oh you guys, that looks like a wonderful wedding! I am all weepy. I hope you live happily ever after :)

OK so for a 10K rental with a judge on the other side, I would go see a lawyer - not to correspond with the judge but to draft your letter, for two reasons. One, while you can in theory ask for anything you want, what you're likely to get is what the owner legally is on the hook for. Where I live, there would be zero refund for your time. The WiFi thing, had everyone kept receipts for the WiFi you bought in town, I'm sure you could get those refunded (who would bother?) However, you could for sure get a refund for four out of X bedrooms being uninhabitable, and that could actually be 40% or more of your rental. This is why you need to consult with a lawyer, so that what you're asking for is legally sound and solid.

Two, quite often there has been some magical phrase (most recently, in a contract dispute, "assigned agent") I've never heard of that has laid out the correct legal footing on which you are standing whilst firmly and pleasantly making your demands. You don't want to have inadvertently run roughshod over your own case in the event you get to small claims court.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:04 AM on June 5, 2012

At the moment your thinking on this is based on assumptions and emotions, not facts, because you have not seen the contract. Unless you see the contract and see what the guy contractually agreed to provide (condition of the house, amenities, response time to and resolution time for any problems during your rental period) you cannot possibly work out what you can reasonably complain about and how much of a refund you may realisitically ask for. Even with contract you probably need assistance in defining what is reasonable as others have said.
posted by koahiatamadl at 5:12 AM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, again I'm still not clear if you know what the contract says, and that's essential because it's your starting point. It's not unreasonable to be upset that the house wasn't ready, but the contract may contain some kind of language giving the owners protection if it isn't, or if they need to do maintenance or upkeep, etc. IF they have given themselves a contractual "out" you may not be able to show that the conditions you experienced were unacceptable - because you agreed to them.

It all, completely, hangs on what the contract says. That's your only legal agreement with the landlord and the only thing the two of you legally have to abide by in your transaction. If you're not sure what it's saying, definitely show it to a lawyer.

Even if the contract doesn't give you the language you'd need to bring a suit, that doesn't mean you can't ask for a goodwill refund or vacation time or whatever. It just means it's a request, which the owner isn't under any obligation to fulfill, but might wish to do to maintain the reputation of their business.
posted by Miko at 6:57 AM on June 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

He knew we were doing a party with X number of people. We also didn't try to cram in boarders to pay for the house or anything

Still, you need to know what your contract says. I had an apartment and, in my first meeting with the landlord he said, "you can't have dogs, but we wouldn't mind if you got a cat," and I expressed that I might be getting a cat. When I read the lease, however, it said having any pet - specifically cat or dog - was grounds for eviction. I asked him to sign a paper saying he had verbally amended that part of the contract.

I don't want to make it seem like YOU were doing something wrong - I just wanted to stress that, in my experience, contracts sometimes have things in them that you'd never expect, or that go expressly against what the landlord or the law states. So having a copy of the contract would be fantastic.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 4:13 PM on June 9, 2012

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