Home » The Masked Manager » The Masked Manager | Vacation Rental Opinion | Legal Eagles

By The Masked Manager

Another month slips by and we have added more safeguards to our business, to combat what appears to be a small collection of people who see accommodation bookings as a game and a larger proportion aligning their expectations with hotel service.

I know some people play games with hotel chains, to get refunds and upgrades and perhaps this is infiltrating the rental world on a greater scale than previously anticipated.

This last month, we have seen complaints about “curtains not straight” and “pigeon poo on the window”. We have had complaints of insufficient coals for more than two barbecues and people breaking hot-tub locks as they thought “this was in the price” despite explanations, notices and more. All expect and/or demand a refund or compensation in some way. City windows can get dirtier quicker than villas in the desert, curtains were straightened, and the cleaners have been fired! Supplying endless BBQ fuel was not, we thought, expected but they did kindly leave it filthy along with the beer and wine bottles.

On a more serious note we have had demands for full refunds due to access issues, despite the fact that all the photographs show a number of steps and all correspondence explains this before booking. This is the tip of the iceberg and over the years we have seen more and more attempts to extort money with threats of local trading and licencing authorities, Trip Advisor and more. None have succeeded despite the aggressive stance. Those we feel have a real problem are all treated fairly. Those who have seriously damaged things often deny it was them and there seems less honesty than in previous years. Managing this trend of Google educated backroom barristers and new wave bookers is interesting to say the least!

There are many more issues that now need covering as the industry becomes more hotels focussed in attitude, particularly at the consumer end! As these two industries collide we will see higher expectations and guest attitude due to this blurring of accommodation responsibility. How do we avoid these issues and game players?


Terms and Conditions


 

These are the primary safeguard at booking time and monthly we tinker with ours to cover the extra issues that arise in a fair manner. We find a growing issue with cancellation expectations and security deposits. No surprise there as hotels are in the same space. Signing an agreement is important via an automated method or manually. A tick box is sufficient 99.9% of the time but we did find one guest who navigated this and got a full refund, when she didn’t bother to turn up. I won’t publish how she did this, but it cost us $1,800.

A recent complaint was that the pool in one property was not clean, in fact was spotless and had been treated that morning and every day in fact. The problem was that some leaves and insects had ended up in the pool over the afternoon. The cleaning net could have been used easily, but this was not a hotel where it is done hourly, it is a rental. Guess what: we want some money back! This was their only complaint, but wanted compensation for doing that. Guess what is now in the instructions.


Credit Cards


 

Vacation rental business insight

Credit cards are a wonderful two edged sword. Guests will use cards for three reasons: a) as a holiday fund b) for convenience c) to protect them and make claims. Owners and managers use them to get a booking confirmed and ensure the payment is forthcoming. OTA’s use them as a tool to get bookings, retain cash and to help keep the “guest secure”.

The “recharge” element and an arbitration decision made by a third party is the problem. A guest can make a recharge at any reasonable time on a purchase, but clearly they need good cause (or we think they do). Merchants and card suppliers also have two clients and it depends on which is considered the most important. Traditional merchant account suppliers who have volume transactions and small numbers of re-charges will likely defend their manager; after all they provide thousands of valuable transactions. Others who have a more guest centric transaction situation and are consumer brand fronted, e.g. PayPal are notorious for siding with the guest. Amex is also in our experience more likely to refund and argue later. One interesting thing to note is that payment via PayPal with a credit card does not cover the consumer, as PayPal actually handles the money and is an “agent”.

Always, be vigilant combining terms and conditions, documents, telephone calls and correspondence and remain calm as when the recharge comes you will be prepared. If damage is done, you may need photographs and managers reports. If cancellation terms or extra expense are questioned, then it’s documented. Proof and documentation are invaluable. Hearsay is no use.


Data


With concerns over global money laundering, storage of information and tax avoidance we will see much more legislation on data controls. We are already being asked for data on guests and owners from financial (and that means Govt.) institutions. We are all legally obliged to follow the guidelines on this and heavy penalties can ensue. Everybody needs to ensure all data they hold is compliant with the rules and that all staff are aware of this.

Those in or dealing with the EU may want to read more about upcoming changes to data regulations here


Cover


It goes without saying that every homeowner needs holiday rental insurance, needs to comply with local regulations and needs all utilities tested and checked. Contents insurance is also valuable for those very expensive insurance claims, should they arise. Don’t be caught out by the rental equivalent of whiplash injuries!


Marketing


More recently we have received many calls from potential guests who see prices on the large marketplaces that do not reflect our actual prices as they all move to online booking. We explain carefully this is not our fault, simply the way these sites show the price and they should read the sites fine print or complain to the relevant authorities about the site. I have not seen any legal challenge to this yet, but misrepresentation and consumer rights are often quoted! You may like to add some words on your listing description to cover yourself for the future!

I note Alan Egan has mentioned advertising properties in locations where the local authority has banned it! It will be interesting to see the legal results of this dilemma. Accepting money to place ads where it is illegal to do so, seems rather at odds with consumer rights.

Some destinations need to show the license number on their marketing and website ads. This is still not possible on many sites, but can be in breach of local laws.


Contracts with OTA’s


 

This is worthy of a whole post, but in short, you pay for a service and their T&C’s invariably allow them to do anything at any time, so unless there is a class action, you stand no chance. Laws don’t apply to marketplaces!

Some OTA’s do live in an even more controlling world where if you use them, you agree to comply with their terms, even if their terms are questioned by International authorities.

Booking.com for example insists on price parity with the supplying website. If you disobey then you are out. If you cancel for any reason (flood, volcano, or terrorist attack) you will be charged the commission. These companies have armies of lawyers and lots of money! You will lose I assure you!


Summary


In summary if you intend to continue renting your home, address the potential issues and plug the holes before they let water in. Also spend a little time considering the implications of marketplaces and use of money management services and how you are represented online and with cash and data management. It is only a minority of guests that cause issues, but global consumerism and the ease of access to legal information will ensure more backroom lawyers and booking game players combined with more “hotel like” service expectations.

Only a minority are issues currently, but we expect more need for compliance as the OTA’s raise questions on tax, promise things that are not possible and we see more people try to use the systems to their advantage!

The Masked Manager

The gloves are coming off, so drop by every first thursday of the month to hear what the masked manager has to say.