How to avoid a holiday lettings disaster – from dodgy landlords to hostile neighbours
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A few weeks ago, when I was thinking about writing this article, I asked Resolver's users to tell me about their holiday lettings nightmares.
My jaw dropped.
The stories I heard went from the sublime to the ridiculous – and downright terrifying. One person told me how she found herself unwillingly staying with a great-grandmother who wouldn't leave the flat (and 12 cats) while another found that her host treated cleaning more as a vague concept than a necessity.
Yet some stories were deeply troubling. One user told me about her overtly racist host, another about the deeply dangerous neighbourhood she found herself in. And huge numbers of people have found themselves staying in apartments – and increasingly in towns and countries – where lettings are banned.
So what are your rights when using Airbnb and other lettings companies, but things go wrong?
· Take out insurance and tell your insurer where you'll be staying. Most insurance companies will cover holiday lettings, but they have to be legit. Check your insurer's advice and rules before booking. There may be different rules for staying in apartments when it comes to things like keeping your valuables safe, for example.
· Research, research, research. It's dead easy to book a holiday on the spur of the moment, but if you're booking a holiday apartment that's owned by an individual (as opposed to a hotel) you need to do as much research as you can. Look at the location on a map (do a street view too if you can). Check online for notes about the neighbourhood. Look into verified reviews from people who've stayed before.
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· Watch the backlash. Tourists aren't too popular in places like Venice and Barcelona these days. Holiday lettings have massively pushed up property prices, so support the locals and book hotels in these places where you can. Check online to find out what countries are banning holiday lettings or restricting them – don't assume the booking company will tell you. We've recently seen a rather worrying number of complaints from people who have been told by their hosts to pretend to be relatives or hide from security or concierges. If you don't feel comfortable or suspect something isn't right, speak to the booking site and ask for help – and complain if they fail to deliver.
· Bag drops. Everyone gets caught out by this one! Unlike a hotel, your letting won't usually allow you to leave your bag when you check out, which usually results in you dragging it around with you on your last day. Book your flights or plan ahead to allow for this. Some cities have luggage lockers – but again, you might not be covered under some insurance policies if you use them. And keep your valuables and passport on you.
· In worst case scenario… From armed police crashing your stay to double-bookings, you might find yourself without accommodation. While your booking website might have a complaints procedure or guidance, I'd take a credit card with you, just in case you need to check in somewhere new at short notice. Get receipts and make a complaint when you're home.
· Beware of scams. There are a lot of fraudsters out there. The holiday lettings scam works when the host offers you a better rate if you book direct (go off the booking site, in other words). You'll be asked to make a payment by money transfer or another non-secure method. Then you arrive on holiday to find that you've been conned. Always book through the official website and always pay using their specified methods of payment. If you pay by cheque, transfer or in cash you've got very little in the way of rights if something goes wrong.
Have you been caught out by a holiday letting disaster? Get it sorted with Resolver – www.resolver.co.uk. Let me know your stories at firstname.lastname@example.org.