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Vrbo promised to cover my rental bill in Hawaii, so why won’t it?

When Cheryl Mander’s Vrbo rental in Hawaii is uninhabitable, the rental platform agrees to cover her new accommodations. But then it backs out. What happened?

High surf breaks on Oahu's Windward coast in 2020.Eugene Tanner/Associated Press

Q. My family and I recently rented a house through Vrbo for a vacation stay in Hawaii. When we entered the home, we were immediately hit with a strong smell of mold. Upon further inspection, we noted and took pictures of black mold located on the smoke detector, the pictures hanging on the walls, the shower stall, and the windowsills.

One of the members of my party is a 17-year-old who has severe asthma. She has been hospitalized in the past on several occasions for this and continues to be under the direct care of a respiratory specialist. So, I immediately contacted the homeowner, who was very kind and suggested that we get in touch with Vrbo for assistance. The homeowner offered to cancel the reservation if we did not feel comfortable staying there.


I contacted Vrbo, and a representative assured me that we were covered by its “Book With Confidence Guarantee.” Vrbo sent us an email authorizing us to spend $15,138 for a new place, which was double what we originally paid. The new place was $21,014, but we had no choice, since there was an extremely limited inventory available on Oahu for seven people at the last minute. A representative assured me that Vrbo would cover the entire amount.

I just received a follow-up email from Vrbo this morning, stating that “upon research into this matter, it has been determined that the requested reimbursement is not available through the Book With Confidence program due to the temporary nature of the cleanliness issues reported.” Can you help me get Vrbo to cover the new rental, as promised?

CHERYL MANDER, Surrey, British Columbia, Canada

A. I’m sorry to hear about your moldy rental. You did the right thing by contacting the owner first and then Vrbo. And you really followed the Elliott Method by getting almost everything in writing, including Vrbo’s promise to cover you for up to $15,138 in additional lodging expenses. This is a reasonable offer, given that it was a last-minute reservation in Hawaii.


Vrbo’s Book With Confidence Guarantee promises if the property was materially misrepresented in the listing, it will help you book a new reservation. The Vrbo agent with whom you spoke said it would apply to your situation, and I agree.

Unfortunately, you didn’t get the second promise to cover the additional $5,876 in writing. The agent told you that over the phone. So, when you sent your expenses to Vrbo and it saw a bill for $21,014, the system most likely rejected it.

Your case is a reminder to always get everything in writing, especially when it comes to promises about covering your extra costs. At a minimum, you could have asked the Vrbo representative to make a notation in your record that you were authorized to spend $21,014.

If Vrbo continued to reject your invoice, you could have reached out to one of the Vrbo executives I list on my consumer advocacy site, Elliott.org. In the end, it took an effort by both of us to get this resolved.

You wrote to the executives, and I contacted Vrbo separately. The company apologized and agreed to refund you $15,138 and cover the two nights that you had to spend in a hotel. You accepted its offer.

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy (elliottadvocacy.org), a nonprofit organization that helps consumers solve their problems. Email him at chris@elliott.org or get help by contacting him at elliottadvocacy.org/help.