Thinking of Renting Through VRBO? Think Again

Nell and I recently booked a three day rental cottage through VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner, an competitor of Airbnb) Our only other experience with VRBO was good involving a condo rental in Traverse City, Michigan. This was our second go with VRBO. The pictures of the cottage on the VRBO site were excellent, so we booked.

My first indication that things were heading south was when one of the railings leading up three stairs to the front porch, came off in my hand, a clear safety liability issue, and ominous portent.

The day before we arrived, we got an email message from the owner saying instructions for opening the front door will be above the doorframe. Okay, so far, so good, except there were no instructions. But then voila!, as it turned out none were needed because the front door (the only door to the place) opened when I pushed on it.

I soon realized that the door frame was very warped and the door wouldn’t close, and because it wouldn’t close, it couldn’t be locked. This means we had no way to secure our belongings. Nell said she wouldn’t stay where she didn’t feel safe. I should have listened to Nell, but I wanted to look further. The thing about guys is that sometimes they just don’t listen.

On entry, we were greeted by an overwhelming smell of mold musk…a smell so clawing it never went away.

I immediately noticed that three of the five bulbs in the fixture over the dining table were burned out. Later I discovered half the free-standing lamps had no bulbs. Evidently, someone took advantage of the unlocked door and stole two out of every three bulbs…or maybe there was a shortage of bulbs in Northern Michigan.

The carpet was dirty and badly stained: Nell refused to walk barefoot on it.

The bathroom was an after-thought stuck on the back of the cabin. I couldn’t sit on the toilet because it was too close to the bathtub and my knees banged against the tub. The shower was a high-walled, old fashion tube with a shower curtain hung around it. These tubs are quint, but their best use is stuck on end in the ground sheltering a statue of the Virgin Mary. The tub had no anti-slip material so it was a serious hazard if you slipped: If you fell there was nothing to grab except the curtain; which of course would bring the entire curtain and assembly down on you. Nell refused to use the shower.

When Nell tried to remove a cooking pot from a cupboard, she retrieved her hand coated with grease. I was going to say something cute, but shut-up for fear she would wipe her hand on my shirt (as she has been known to do when pissed). Nell refused to use the kitchen.

I called several hotels with no luck. Because we had no other place to stay, we were forced to remain the one night and leave in the morning. I was able to book a hotel room starting the next day. I got a really nice hotel suite: It’s the kind of gesture that helped us survive fifty years of marriage.

Back at the VRBO rental, there was supposed to be a queen-size bed, but it was a double bed. The mattress was something the owner got from a county landfill: old, worn, and with zero support. A backbreaker if ever there was one. Written instructions sent to us said we had to strip the bed of linens before we left…this, in addition to the $200 “cleaning fee” I now suspect was used to gather the dead, rotting, housefly carcasses we found populating the inside windowsills so thick you’d need a trowel to scoop them up.

I called the number I was given for the rental, got an answering machine, and said we were leaving in the morning, which is what we did. We stayed at a Baymont hotel in a clean, lovely suite tended to by friendly efficient staff.

Later I received a text from the VSBO rental owner saying she was sorry we didn’t like the place, and that she would contact VRBO to see if she could arrange a refund. She said she was new at the rental game and would I please not give her a bad VRBO evaluation if she could arrange the refund. I knew that for small operators a bad VRBO review is the kiss of death, so I told her I would wait to see what would happen with the refund.

I wondered how much experience one needed to know that a rental property ought to have a fucking front door that locked.

I got another text from the owner saying she could rebate all our money except VRBO’s cut (which was about $200), so I agreed to not register a review specifically with VRBO, which was no big deal since I had researched VRBO’s customer service and discovered it had a one-star rating out of a possible five stars. In addition, I discovered most VRBO properties are not inspected, and are not required to meet municipal rental regulations. Reviewers said complaining to VRBO was like pissing into the wind.

That’s it for our use of VRBO or any other owner rental service. At this point, I think our getting anything close to what is being advertised on VRBO is a coin toss. We’ll stick to hotels where we know what we get is usually in line with what we expect.

And no, we did not strip the bed.

For more information on owner rental services, please see:



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Joseph Abramajtys

Old Man, Retired Prison Warden, Social Critic, Recovering Catholic, Pain in the Ass.