Q: We recently used Booking.com to reserve a property on Maui that was managed by the company HelloRelaxation. It was titled “3 Bedroom House 5 mins from Beach.” It was a property that required a nonrefundable prepayment.
We were sent a rental agreement, which we signed based on the information provided on Booking.com’s website. When we arrived, there was not a key in the lockbox on the door. I contacted HelloRelaxation (based in California, I believe), and the company indicated that it would be sending someone local over to open the property. When the representatives finally arrived, about 30 minutes later, they opened the property, and we encountered dirty floors, dead cockroaches throughout, unmade beds which exposed dirty mattresses, a filthy bathroom and moldy food in the refrigerator. There was a dirty kitchen with blinds fallen off the window and, as I mentioned earlier, trash piled in the front yard and rotting yard waste.
The local representative told me that they have had ongoing issues with this property owner not maintaining the property in an acceptable condition. The local representative asked me to call HelloRelaxation again and explain to them my concerns about the condition of the property. I called and spoke with them, and they asked me to give them an hour to get it cleaned up, which I refused.
I have contacted both Booking.com and HelloRelaxation and provided both companies with the pictures I took of the conditions and explained my issues with the property. Both have since indicated that they would not issue a refund. We paid $2,719 for this property for what was supposed to be a nine-night stay. Can you help me get a refund?
— Vivian Mello, Albuquerque, New Mexico
A: Booking.com has no business renting that kind of property to anyone. It should immediately have offered a refund, no questions asked. Instead, it deferred to a management company that, of course, didn’t want to give up any of your money.
Does Booking.com offer any kind of quality assurance? It does not. Its terms are clear: “By making a reservation through Booking.com, you enter into a direct (legally binding) contractual relationship with the Supplier with which you make a reservation or purchase a product or service (as applicable).” From the point at which Booking.com makes your reservation, it acts solely as “an intermediary.” Here are the unfortunate details: www.booking.com/content/terms.html
I couldn’t find any guarantee on HelloRelaxation’s website beyond a vague promise that it has a “wide selection” and — I’m not making this up — “something for everyone.”
To avoid future misunderstandings, you’ll need to check not only the “intermediary” but also the management company when you’re renting a vacation home. If you had, you might have seen the warning lights glaring at you from behind the computer screen.
Since Booking.com took your money and acted as your travel agent (that’s industry-speak for “intermediary”), it ultimately was responsible for your rental. I contacted Booking.com. It agreed that the rental was uninhabitable and refunded your money.