The landlord of my vacation rental just flaked on me. What can I do?
April 28, 2016 4:54 AM   Subscribe

Earlier this year, I arranged to rent a beach house for a week in Rehoboth Beach, DE this summer. Yesterday, the owner contacted me to inform me that he was cancelling my reservation because he found a tenant who wanted to rent the house for the whole summer. At this point, my vacation is pretty much ruined, as I'm unlikely to find a comparable rental at a similar price this late in the year. What recourse (if any) do I have with the owners? Did they break any laws by doing this?

Some more details:

I arranged everything via email. We mutually agreed to the terms of the rental, although there was no ink-on-paper signature involved (apart from the one on my $1500 deposit check that covered 50% of the cost of the rental).

I'm acquainted with the owners, and we worked directly with them instead of through their agent (which, in hindsight, may have been a red flag). This is their first time renting this house. As far as I know, they cancelled 4 other reservations along with ours.
posted by schmod to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total)
Did they promptly refund your full deposit plus interest? As for whether they broke any laws, you'll have to ask a lawyer about that --- and I would, this was pretty egregious to break five leases. Possibly get together with the other broken-lease holders to demand some sort of reparations as a group.
posted by easily confused at 5:22 AM on April 28, 2016

I don't have any way of knowing who the other tenants were.

They're offering to refund the deposit -- it doesn't appear that they cashed the check. I have not responded to them yet.

If I got in touch with a lawyer, what exactly would I be demanding? I'd want to have a pretty compelling argument to involve a lawyer before doing so, given the expense and effort involved.
posted by schmod at 5:31 AM on April 28, 2016

What's the likely difference between the price you negotiated and what you'd have to pay now to get similar accommodations in the same area?
posted by jon1270 at 5:37 AM on April 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

I feel like the chance of you getting anything out of this guy without a lawyer is very slim - if he thought he owed you anything, he wouldn't have cancelled. He sounds like a standard dumb, unprofessional first-time landlord, who didn't do the research on how to rent this place and how much work and expense it was going to be to rent it out week by week.

I have no idea whether you're likely to get anything more *with* a lawyer. There's no harm, though, in explaining that X months ago you could have found another rental for this same price, and now you're not going to be able to go to the beach this year because prices are 2X (or whatever), and that you think he owes you.

Even if you make him recognize that he screwed you over, though, he still might not have liquid cash to refund/reimburse you.

I guess you could ask him to guarantee that he will rent you the house for a week at a below-market rent next year (and get it in writing) but then you run the risk of this guy ruining your vacation two years in a row.
posted by mskyle at 5:50 AM on April 28, 2016 [8 favorites]

If I read a review about this guy (on a site advertising his rental) where I thought I might get screwed over too, I wouldn't chance my holiday dollars on it. Spread the word. Not even for revenge, just so it doesn't happen to the next person.
posted by Jubey at 6:05 AM on April 28, 2016 [28 favorites]

Your damages are additional costs you would have to pay to get similar accommodation at this point.

You could file a small claim in court but it's annoying for you due to the distance you have to travel, and there's always the chance he could do things like ask for a continuance and then you might have to travel back to court again.
posted by grouse at 6:08 AM on April 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think if you were to pursue anything legal against this guy, you could arguably get the price differential between what you expected to pay for this rental vs. what you would now have to pay to get a comparable rental so much closer to the the date, plus a token amount for the time spent having to go through the search process again.
posted by drlith at 6:09 AM on April 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

IAAL, TINLA. If you want to go after him in small claims court, don't assume you'd have to go to Delaware. It'll depend on the facts of your situation, but he knew what state you lived in at least by the time he deposited that check. Rules on personal jurisdiction (the term for this) will vary depending on where you are, and I'm not familiar with small claims courts, but there's nothing unfair about using the small claims court in your own state.
posted by lmindful at 6:24 AM on April 28, 2016 [4 favorites]

Definitely review this guy somewhere relevant (presumably they're advertising it somewhere if they've attracted a bunch of rentals). Keep the review calm and factual.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 6:36 AM on April 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I suspect that you don't have much legal recourse. I can't find Delaware's laws on the matter, but if this falls into the category of things like hotel reservations, generally the law allows quite a bit of leeway to the management as far as canceling things. For example, hotels will fairly routinely overbook or bump an existing reservation if a loyalty club member needs a room.

While I'm sympathetic and the owner is a jerk, I suspect your time will be better spent hitting AirBnB and the like to find a replacement rather than trying to pursue anything legal.
posted by Candleman at 7:15 AM on April 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Review it on the website where you found it, if you can. It sucks, but it might be that suing the owner in small claims (and then calling People's Court to hear the case) would make you feel better.

You will have to prove damages, which would be the difference between what you secured the original place for and what you ended up paying for a comparable place.

So start looking for a new place, if you find one that suits for the same money, call the guy names to anyone who will listen, and maybe swing by and TP the joint, but if you're not out anything...oh well.

If you find one, but it's more money, sue for the difference, check out Stamford CT for me.

It is my dream to have a case heard on People's Court.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:50 AM on April 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

For example, hotels will fairly routinely overbook or bump an existing reservation if a loyalty club member needs a room.

When this happens, they will get a room for the displaced customer at another hotel for the same period. This is known as "walking" the customer, and is inconvenient but not financially costly to the customer. They usually don't just leave the customer out on the street.
posted by grouse at 8:09 AM on April 28, 2016 [7 favorites]

Presumably because they've rented the house for an entire season, they appear to have removed it from the website where it was listed.
posted by schmod at 8:39 AM on April 28, 2016

I'd send an email saying "I'm quite disappointed, please send me my deposit" and move on. Yes it sucks but better to use energy/time into finding another vacation alternative rather than trying to find a recourse.
posted by Ftsqg at 8:58 AM on April 28, 2016 [10 favorites]

When you mutually agreed to terms, did those terms include what would happen if either party breached the agreement?
posted by craven_morhead at 9:55 AM on April 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

I can't see how you have any legal recourse if you don't have any pre-agreed terms that cover cancellation consequences. Take this as a lesson as to what happens when you do these things informally and try to find a new rental there or somewhere else. If the owner cared about anything other than money, he wouldn't have inconvenienced you and other people.

If they already took the page down and you're still upset, set a reminder for next spring to leave a bad review on the property/owner.
posted by permiechickie at 9:58 AM on April 28, 2016 [3 favorites]

Oh, and if you can, you might want to put a stop payment or cancel the check you sent, just in case.
posted by permiechickie at 9:59 AM on April 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Presumably because they've rented the house for an entire season, they appear to have removed it from the website where it was listed

Contact the website and let them know about this person's bad actions, if nothing else they'll be banned from the site.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:05 AM on April 28, 2016 [8 favorites]

I would start by finding comparable accomodations, which, yes, are likely to be more expensive. I'm familiar with that market and it's both very expensive and many people rent the same weeks year after year so there tend to be pretty slim pickings when the run-up to summer comes around. That said, I've reserved very nice accomodations with about the same amount of notice, so there are houses still available. Once you've located a comparable (location, size, ameneties) available property, I would politely but firmly ask (by letter, certified with return receipt) for the price difference to be added to the return of the deposit. Include the information on the new property so he/she can see that you're not blowing smoke.

As a coda, I would only work with someone who didn't have an agent if I personally knew them. Because they do tend to be such amateurs. Also, I found that it was only really worth being in downtown Rehoboth if you were in the first few blocks of of homes and could therefore walk to the beach without having to park. Once you drag everything into the car and cruise for parking, it doesn't really matter if you're .5 mile from the beach or 2.5 miles in the new condos, where there is a lot more availability). This depends on how much you value that authentic funky beach house ambiance, versus having three bathrooms and a pool.
posted by wnissen at 10:08 AM on April 28, 2016 [2 favorites]

This might seem a bit vindictive (but at the same time it would be belpful to others in the future), but if this is a rental in a small area like a smallish beach town, you might call the top few vacation rental offices. Ask if they represent that certain house (or if they know who does), and if they do, let the office know what transpired, that they did it to FIVE SEPARATE PARTIES/FAMILIES, and what the owners are most likely going to put this rental office through in the future.
posted by blueberry at 1:19 PM on April 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

While you might not be able to get any monetary gain from this situation, I'd say that the next best thing is justice via the court of public opinion.

While this guy's actions are not illegal, they are straight up stupid and scuzzy. Some online reviews and a call to some local agencies as blueberry has mentioned is a good thing to do. Make sure no one else gets psuedo-scammed by this guy. This whole situation is wickedly unprofessional of him and if he hasn't learned his lesson yet, he better learn quick or get out of the rental business.
posted by InkDrinker at 10:30 PM on April 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

They're "offering" to refund your deposit? You mean they didn't just •automatically• send you a full immediate refund?!? Sketchier and sketchier by the minute....

Yes, if they haven't already deposited your check, put a stop on it right now --- you'll probably have to pay something like $30-40, but that's better than waiting for them. If they HAVE deposited it, demand a full refund within a week --- I know that's not much time, but even if he spent YOUR money, this landlord has the all-summer replacement renter's deposit to cover refunding yours.

As to a review: you say that he's taken down his property's posting for the year, since he has that full rental.... Fine. In that case, keep an eye out for as soon as he REposts the place for future rentals, and make your review then.
posted by easily confused at 5:07 PM on May 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

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