When people were looking to get away for a little while, it used to be that their only option was to stay at a hotel, unless they were going to stay with friends or family. But in the past few years other options have popped up. People can now use web-based services to rent out private residences.
Those kinds of services have their advantages. They tend to cost less and provide a more “homey” experience than you’ll get at a hotel. The downside, though, is the customer experience will vary quite a bit. For some renters, it can be a downright terrifying experience…
Nicole a manager at a formal wear store in Brooklyn, New York who was feeling a bit burnt out. The 23-year-old talked to a few friends of hers who were feeling the same way and they decided they could use a break from the city.
“I was like, lets rent a house,” Nicole said. “Something with a hot tub, and we can just relax and have some drinks and have a completely chill weekend.” A relaxing weekend getaway wasn’t a hard sell with her friends, who quickly agreed to go in on the rental…
To find a place to stay, Nicole looked to HomeAway, a real estate rental website like the popular Airbnb, with the main difference that HomeAway allows you to rent out an entire home rather than just a single room.
After a bit of looking, Nicole found a charming little farm house in a small Connecticut town. The rental came with on-site massages and had quick access to a nearby marina and theater. Nicole booked the spot right away…
When Nicole and her friends arrived, they got a brief tour from Doug, the homeowner, then drove into town to pick up groceries, drinks, and movies for the weekend. On the way back, one of the women gave her mom a call just to tell her where they would be staying.
“Her mom just got a weird feeling,” Nicole said. The concerned mother wanted to make sure everything would be ok so “She Googled the address, and found the address was on a registered sex offenders list.”…
Doug Spingola, the homeowner who’d given them the tour earlier, had been convicted and sentenced to a year’s probation back in 2009 for inappropriately touching multiple women while giving them a professional massage. Naturally, Nicole and her friends were very uncomfortable.
We Can’t Stay
“We were almost back at the house already, and it was already starting to get pretty late, and there was supposed to be a snowstorm that night, so we were getting pretty anxious,” Nicole said. But despite the coming storm, Nicole and her friends were determined not to stay in that house…
Not Safe to Drive
They quickly packed their things and left but because they were in a sedan, they didn’t feel like making the nearly 3 hour drive through a snowstorm. They called the HomeAway customer service line to explain the situation and to get some help.
But despite telling them it was an emergency, it took 45 minutes for Nicole Mastrangelo to be connected with a supervisor. Even then, they “didn’t seem that understanding,” Nicole said. The supervisor explained that Homeaway didn’t have any sort of vetting process for hosts. The supervisor had the gall to tell Nicole that next time, she “should simply ask the homeowner whether or not they have a criminal record.”…
You Have to Pay
After several hours, HomeAway was able to get Nicole and her friends rooms in a nearby hotel. They refunded her the price of the farmhouse, but still charged them for the hotel and offered no sort of compensation to cover their trip related expenses, like the hundreds of dollars they spent on gas, groceries, and drinks.
Unfortunately, Nicole’s situation wasn’t unique. Something similar happened to Patricia Smith, a 32-year-old lawyer from Atlanta who’d booked a house with HomeAway for a friend’s bachelorette party in Panama City Beach, Florida. When she and her friends got to the property, which was supposedly owned by a woman, a 60-year-old man named Clifford Maloy greeted them…
Maloy claimed to be the property manager and said he had a residence on the top floor of the home. He joked about staying in the house with them while they were there and frequently commented on the women’s appearances.
HomeAway prides itself on offering whole-home rentals where you don’t have unwanted contact with the homeowner. They even had the slogan “It’s your vacation, why share it?” Despite that fact, Maloy “came to the property every single day, and he would let himself in [without knocking]” said Patricia.
Then on the final night of their stay, as the women were getting ready to go out to dinner when they got a knock at the door. When Patricia opened it, she found herself talking to a police officer who’d come by the house looking for Maloy.
“Is everything ok?” Patricia said. The officer informed her that Maloy was a registered sex offender and he was there to conduct a regular check on him. Back in 2004, Maloy had plead guilty to attempted sexual assault of a child…
Keep an Eye
The officer told Patricia and her friends that it was ok to stay in the house for the evening and said he’d keep an eye on them. Still, Patricia said she felt “super creeped out.” When she got home the next day, She called HomeAway to complain.
Rather than getting good customer service, Patricia had to chase down results on the phone for nearly a month.”Every time I would call and follow up, I’d have to tell the whole story all over again to whatever agent I was talking to,” she said. “Nobody even acted shocked by it. They acted like it was nothing.”…
Eventually, HomeAway sent Patricia an email with a hollow apology about her experience with the promise of an investigation. The home she’d stayed at was removed from their listings but she never got a refund because. “They said [it was] because we didn’t call them while we were there, and we stayed the whole time,” Patricia said. “Do you know how difficult it would have been to relocate 10 people for one night when it was already 7 o’clock at night?”
All of this happened because HomeAway, unlike the more popular Airbnb, doesn’t do any sort of background checks. Nicole blasted them for that practice in an email saying “I recently revisited your site to see how easy it would be to list a rental. Imagine my surprise when I realized that I could literally type in any address, upload any photos, and publish a listing without providing any personal information.” Had she known all of that before booking her weekend getaway, perhaps she would have chosen a hotel.