Headache for Rent

Richard Quinn

FOR THE PAST SIX years, we’ve rented a house in Florida for a month or so. We used VRBO, and all went well. Even minor problems with a house were quickly addressed by the owners or their rental agents.

Not this year.

In September 2023, we rented a condo on the beach in Hillsboro Beach for February 2024. In December, I received an e-mail from the rental agent, Houzlet, Inc., saying the owner had financial problems and was selling the place, and thus all reservations were cancelled. I was offered a few other places, none of which was acceptable, so I requested a refund of my $5,000 deposit.

I received an e-mail from Houzlet confirming I’d receive the refund within 45 days. You guessed it, time goes by and no refund. Repeated calls to customer service went nowhere. I received repeated promises my refund was on the way. Customer service wouldn’t give me anyone else to speak with. All I heard was that they’d advise the accounting department. Weeks went by and still nothing happened.

I called VRBO and explained it all, and also pointed out the firm was the agent for this rental. The phone rep promised to escalate the matter. Bottom line: After repeated e-mail requests, VRBO never got back to me again and did nothing to help. It appears VRBO has little, if any, oversight over who posts rentals on its site. VRBO did, however, refund its booking fee within a few days of the cancellation.

Now, I was getting mad. I started researching Houzlet. I found many other similar complaints with virtually the same story as mine, except more money was involved in some instances. Many cases were reported in detail to the Better Business Bureau—in fact so many that the site has added this alert:

“According to BBB files, this business has a pattern of complaints concerning service issues. Consumers state their bookings were cancelled by Houzlet and in some cases, they were offered to re-book at higher priced properties. Consumers indicate that they want their original booking fees refunded in full. On January 26, 2024, BBB sent written notice to Houzlet, Inc. identifying the pattern of complaints with a request for a business response. As of February 23, 2024, we have received no response from Houzlet, Inc. BBB will continue to monitor and update the company’s report as needed.”

Did we get our money back? We did. Thanks to my wife, we were once again saved from financial disaster. “Call the bank,” she said. Why didn’t I think of that? I reported what I called a fraudulent charge.

The bank immediately applied a full credit to my credit card. A few days later, the bank sent me a letter saying Houzlet had 45 days to contest the credit. Not surprisingly, it never did and the bank confirmed the credit was made permanent. But by then, we were on our way home from Florida after spending a month in a hotel, because we couldn’t find another suitable rental.

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