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vacation rental beach sandalsHow many of you rely on user-generated reviews to help pick a hotel or vacation rental? Virtual show of hands. That’s what we thought. And if a vacation rental owner’s property listing had bathroom pics showing only the porcelain spaces not dripping black mold, you might be inclined to tell the world, ex post tripso.

Not so fast.

According to a recent piece by veteran consumer travel writer Chris Elliott, “non-disparagement” clauses are seeping into vacation rental contracts as owners and management companies attempt to vigorously defend their reputations in a user-generated landscape. One scathing review, real or fake, can gut a small business, they say. Consumers aren’t the only ones who need protection.

Blow off the fine print and you could face a heavy fine, which a couple did recently for posting a negative review of an Arizona vacation rental on VRBO.com. Their rental contract said they needed consent from the owner or the owner’s rep, Progressive Management Concepts, to do so. Their credit card was hit with a punitive $500 fine. (The couple eventually agreed to take down the review and got their $500 back, plus $200 more.)

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TJ Mahony, CEO and co-founder of IndependentTraveler.com sister site FlipKey, a vacation rental site, told us he hadn’t heard of this practice yet — but said, “In principle, we would never encourage nor support this.

“The overwhelmingly majority of vacation rental experiences are positive. Moreover, FlipKey and TripAdvisor offer extensive reputation management tools to help homeowners effectively manage their online reputation and address unreasonable claims.”

Mahony said he would personally never sign a contract including such a clause.

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We agree. While there’s little doubt that fake, or at least disingenuous, reviews are a problem, forced confidentiality is not the solution. Online reviews are not some “vast buzzing, blooming confusion,” as travel icon Arthur Frommer recently told the Wall Street Journal. They’re one of many essential tools — which include, yes, guidebooks — used by the savvy traveler.

So, amid the fine print, there’s may be another question to ask when interviewing a vacation rental owner: Are you okay with consumer reviews?

— written by Dan Askin

Editor’s Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, which also owns FlipKey.

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10 Responses to “Vacation Rentals: Don’t Review My Property … or Else”

  1. Debbie White says:

    I believe a person should be able to give an honest review. I often look to the reviews before I book a trip. Especially for home rentals. I learned from experience…the hard way. Had I known some “details” about the property I never would have rented it.

  2. Barb says:

    This idea of repressing reviews would make me a lot more suspicious of the property than one negative review would! I think those of us who are regular users of vacation rentals know how to take reviews with “a grain of salt” and are pretty good at being able to ignore the isolated rant. Certainly one bad review would not eliminate a property from consideration for me. But forbidding a review might!

  3. I would have this as a review. I would like to submit a negative review of this property but under the terms of the contract and threat of a $500 charge to my credit card I am not allowed to. I would be glad to answer any questions on my my hotmail account, however my comments cannot be published.

  4. ParisInsider says:

    That’s a tough call. I’ve seen many ignorant, negative reviews that only hurt the reputation of otherwise reputable vacation rentals. I suppose if I see many, many positive with a few negatives, balance them. But many people do not.

  5. I have to agree with what Barb said here. It’s good if you’re going to let those reviews through because those can be used as something that could improve your services. What you need to do is to address those who left the negative comments as soon as possible. It’s going to be even worse if you’re going to restrict the people from giving a review on what kind of service you give them.

    = Gerald Martin, Resell SEO =

  6. Randwick Real Estate says:

    Visitors looking for a vacation most likely read reviews on their prospective place to stay and you would hope they are real!

  7. Chris says:

    Will be asking owners and property managers if they have such clauses, will not rent from one who does. If a the property can’t stand behind what they are offering by blocking reviews, that’s reason enough not to go there. We pay for the service they are providing and get a say in how that goes. We help other travelers when we do that. Its not about getting back at the owner/management, its about helping others avoid loss of their hard earned money and time on a bad vacation experience. Applaud the couple cited in the original article for bringing the issue forward!

  8. Edgar says:

    As a vacation homeowner who rents property, as well as a traveler I can see both sides of this, but feel s need to speak out in support of these clauses. While as a renter it seems quite reasonable to have the right to post an honest and fair review, let me say that as a property owner it is not always honest or fair.

    There is a small group of renters out there who have seized the idea of sing negative reviews as a means of extortion to reduce their payment. I have had cases where guests stayed their entire length of visit with no issues to report, and only after check out providing a list of complaints followed by demands which could only be rectified in their mind by monetary compensation. If demands were not met, negative reviews would follow, which contained references to things which were exaggerated or simply do not exist at my property. The online services such as Flipkey, Trip Advisor, VRBO or Homeaway WILL NOT get involved and remove reviews, their position being to promote an open review process (which is what you would expect of them, since it is not their business that is being harmed) It has become obvious to me that some of these tactics are premeditated, and simply an attempt to get a discount because it is worked for them in the past.

    Have also seem many cases of guests deciding to cut their stay short, due to any number of reasons not having anything to do with the property itself, yet fully expecting some form of compensation. Many guests are used to being able to do this in a hotel, but are not thinking of their rental in as being a short term lease, similar to leasing a home month-to-month. These guests will book a prime holiday weekly rate, and then stay just a few days and expect the homeowner to refund for nights not stayed. Even though the policy is clearly stated on the rental agreement, it is surprising how many renters do not read their agreements. and I have seen these situations quickly deteriorate and lead to negative reviews, highlighting issues with the property which were somehow not issues before.

    Owners need a way to stand up to defend themselves against such practices, and a non-disparagement clause provides at least some protection and can be used with discretion. I have been including this clause for about a year and no renter has called it out as a reason to not rent our property; If they did, I would be very suspicious of THEIR intentions. In the 2 cases where I had to utilize the clause, I explained my position and offered a refund of the fine with their removal of the improper post.

  9. Dianne says:

    Many of the top online vacation rental sites list a lot of illegal rentals.. so renters beware!

    In the City of Las Vegas, Nevada home owners may apply for a permit to rent their homes as vacation rentals

    However, in the Unincorporated area of Clark County, Nevada it is against the law to rent homes by the day or by the week. Homeowners, as well as short term tenants will pay a fine of $1000 per night for each night the home is rented.

    Many homeowners who are facing financial problems rent their homes out as vacation rentals in spite of the laws. They are not concerned about the liens which will be placed on their homes.. as the homes will likely be going to foreclosure anyway.

    In the meantime, these unethical homeowners are lining their pockets with money from unsuspecting people who are paying hundreds of dollars a night to stay in these illegal rentals.. are then are notified they will be fined $1000 a night on top of it.. to add to their frustrations.. if the home happens to be in a gated community, their cars will be towed away.

  10. Edward says:

    It`s true that some bad reviews don`t have merits, I think a balance of good and bad is in good order. Most renters don`t really leave feedback, but if something fails there you go, do it right away. I`m involved in the rental business and have learned that in over 10 years in the Dominican Republic. Curiously I posted an article on the advantages of using local vs global agencies at the Golden Treasures Rentals Blog. Local agents and property managers have a far better chance to deliver a property as it should be, because their daily or weekly involvement is priceless to the renter that really needs to know what`s the situation behind fancy photos, many which were taken years ago and retouched for effect.

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