What Do You Do if Your Short-Term Rental Isn’t As Advertised or Has a Problem?

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If you stay in a hotel room and something is wrong, you can march to the lobby and usually get help at the front desk.

What happens, though, if you’re staying at a short-term rental with an issue? You can’t exactly walk to a different part of an Airbnb or Vrbo and find a customer support agent waiting to help you.

Often the owners are remote as well. And it can be hard to reach local management companies at night or during the weekend.

So what are your options if your short-term rental has a problem? That’s what a listener of the Clark Howard Podcast recently asked.

What Can You Do To Fix Things if You Arrive at a Short-Term Rental With Major Issues?

Getting to a short-term rental after a long day of travel, only to discover it’s different from the photos, things are broken or there’s a disaster of a mess inside, is disheartening.

It can feel even worse when you aren’t sure about what to do next.

A Clark listener reached out while staying in a Vrbo in Hawaii for a month. When her family arrived, the pool — a major attraction in the online listing — was broken.

Said Dawn from Alaska on the Dec. 2 podcast: “I’m in the Vrbo from hell. When we arrived, the place was filthy. There was no trash service, and the previous renters left a lot of trash. The owner did set it up again, but after a week, the trash company repossessed the cans.

“I learned that the Vrbo listing is posted for a few days and then removed for weeks. Right before we got on the plane, two reviews were posted that said the pool was broken during the month before we arrived. The listing disappeared the day after we checked in. Is there any hope that Vrbo will do anything about these issues?”

Dawn also mentioned she made some headway with the property owner, who cleaned the carpets. But 10 days into her 30-day stay, the pool was still broken.

After failing to find an acceptable solution with the host or owner, you have to get aggressive with the platform, Clark says. And you need to put on a full-court press as soon as possible.

“You’re doing what they call ‘eating the evidence’ by staying there. You need to be all over Vrbo, and you want them to find an alternate dwelling for you.

“This is a key problem with both Airbnb and Vrbo. When a property turns out to be not at all as represented, they tend to shrug their shoulders. That’s why you’ve got to be very persistent with Vrbo in this case about the problems you’re having and the failure of them to police their listings. That somebody can go on and off to try to hide how decrepit the property is, is crazy.”

If you can’t get the platform’s attention or help, it may be time to turn to social media. Clark even suggests reaching out to the local news.


“With all the fuss going on in Hawaii right now about short-term rentals, look and see if somebody with the main paper in Honolulu has been writing Airbnb stories,” Clark says.

Preventive Measure: Take Time To Read the Reviews

Christa DiBiase, Team Clark’s Chief Operating Officer, shared some guidelines she uses to filter short-term rental listings before she books.

“I never book listings with less than 50 reviews. Definitely not new listings with zero reviews,” Christa says.

Clark and Christa have also discussed reading reviews closely instead of relying only on the average score. A listener recently suggested reading only the one-star reviews to try to avoid fake reviews posted to manipulate the platform algorithm.

Final Thoughts

Fixing an issue at an Airbnb or Vrbo rental isn’t as easy as requesting extra towels from the front desk at a hotel lobby.

But you don’t have to put up with it if there’s a major issue. It may take some work. And you may have to pull out some tricks to get the attention of customer service at one of those platforms. But it is possible, Clark says.


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