Family frustrated over vacation rental deposit

January 28, 2011 7:18:02 PM PST
If you've ever rented a vacation home, you know security deposits can run in the hundreds of dollars. So, you'll want to take good care of the place to get that money back. However, one Bay Area family left their rental unit immaculate and still couldn't get their $500 back.

Karen DeMartini still raves about her family's summertime vacation in Hawaii.

"The place was beautiful. It had three bedrooms, we enjoyed the facilities, two pools and access to the beach right out the back," she said.

Karen, her husband and their three children stayed in a large rented villa at a beachfront resort on Oahu. Everything was idyllic, she says, until they got back home, and Karen's aloha spirit faded fast.

"I was frustrated, and mad," she said.

The DeMartinis paid $5,064 for 12 nights at the villa including a $500 security deposit. The rental agreement said the deposit would be refunded within 45 to 60 days if there was no damage to the place.

"After the 45th day, I said 'Oh we'll be getting some money back because I knew we'd left the place in very nice condition,'" she said.

However, 60 days passed and no check arrived, so Karen e-mailed the manager of the villa.

"He said, 'Oh you're at the top of our list we're going to mail you the check in a couple of days,'" she said.

Weeks later there was still no refund, so Karen contacted "Vacation Rentals by Owner," the website where the villa was listed. They agreed to intervene, but still no results.

"So now I'm starting to get worried because $500 is a lot of money to us," she said.

Months went by and the DeMartinis kept calling and e-mailing the villa's owner William Howard Paul and the manager John Greenwood.

"I take care of your place and you turn around and think you can keep my money?" she said. "So I was so frustrated and I was watching Channel 7 one night and I was like 7 On Your Side."

We took the case again to Vacation Rentals by Owner, the company again contacted the owner and this time it worked.

"Three days later, we get a letter from the man who owns the place saying we're so sorry here's your money," Karen said.

Neither the owner nor the manager responded to our requests for a statement about what happened in this case. However, Vacation Rentals by Owner said, "When we were informed of the DeMartini's issue in October, we immediately took action to assist them by reaching out to the homeowner. We assumed the situation had been resolved. However, after hearing from ABC7, we have reopened the case and have taken appropriate action."

The company would not say what the action was. However, the unit is no longer listed on the website.

"I was so happy that seven on your side was able to get my money back. The trip itself was fabulous, it just makes it even better because the right thing happened," Karen said.

Most states, including California and Hawaii, have strict laws about returning security deposits. Landlords who keep the money for no good reason may have to pay you damages on top of the deposit amount.