Holiday accommodation: your rights
Holiday plans cancelled or disrupted? Find out your holiday accommodation rights for refunds, cancellation fees, double bookings and misleading advertising.
If you’re after a classic Kiwi bach or a holiday hideaway, rental sites such as Bookabach, Airbnb and Holiday Houses promise plenty of options.
Some sites manage bookings and take payments but, in most cases, you’ll usually deal with the property owner – that’s who you pay and who your contract’s with. Property owners earning revenue this way will be in trade and have obligations under consumer law.
So, if something goes wrong, what are your rights?
What happens if I need to cancel my stay?
It’s important to read the cancellation terms before you book accommodation. They vary depending on the rental site and property owner. If you cancel, you may be charged a fee, but this should be clearly set out in the terms and conditions.
Is there a cap on cancellation fees? Or can they charge what they like?
Rental sites and property owners must ensure their standard cancellation terms are fair. If they charge fees that unreasonably penalise you for cancelling, they’re likely to fall foul of the Fair Trading Act (FTA).
We’ve had complaints from consumers being stung 100% of the booking price to cancel. Terms such as this are likely to breach the FTA. Terms are also likely to be unfair if they let the trader cancel at any time but make it difficult for the consumer to do so.
If you’ve been unfairly charged, make a complaint to the Commerce Commission. Let us know, too. We’d also recommend posting a review on the booking listing.
What if I can’t use the accommodation because of something like a pandemic or a storm?
First up, check the terms and conditions of your booking. Look for a clause that states what happens if the accommodation can’t be used due to events outside the control of the parties. These terms sometimes use the words “act of god” or “force majeure”.
Any cancellation terms must be fair. If they’re not, the provider risks breaching the FTA.
In our view, a term letting the company keep a sizable chunk or all of your money is likely unfair and open to challenge.
If there’s nothing in the terms and conditions that states what happens, then you can rely on the Contract and Commercial Law Act (CCLA). The CCLA applies where a contract is “frustrated” – that is, it can’t be fulfilled due to events outside the parties’ control. It gives you the right to request a refund and limits what the company can charge to its reasonable administration costs.
A Consumer NZ member successfully took an Airbnb host to the Disputes Tribunal after the host refused a refund for a booking cancelled because of the August 2020 lockdown.
What happens if the owner cancels my booking?
You’re entitled to a full refund. Some sites give you the option of transferring your payment to another property, but you don’t have to accept this offer.
What happens if the terms entitle you to a refund but your accommodation provider refuses?
Contact your bank to ask about a chargeback (a refund to your card) if you paid by credit or debit card.
Alternatively, you could take the provider to the Disputes Tribunal.
I was never shown any terms and conditions when I booked my holiday accommodation, but the company is now quoting them to me to refuse a refund. Do they apply?
No. Terms and conditions only form part of the deal if they were disclosed to you before making the booking.
Providers can’t just make up terms to suit themselves when circumstances change. The terms need to have been in place when the contract is made. Any attempt to impose new terms on a consumer is likely to breach the FTA.
Other common holiday rental issues
What should I do if my holiday accommodation isn’t up to scratch?
You can claim compensation if your holiday rental doesn’t match what was advertised – maybe the ad claimed luxury accommodation or a beachfront location, and you didn’t get it.
In the first instance, get in touch with the owner. No luck? Contact the website. Some offer dispute resolution processes. If that fails, head to the Disputes Tribunal to seek compensation.
Under the Consumer Guarantees Act (CGA), accommodation must be provided using reasonable care and skill and be fit for purpose. This means the property must be available to guests over the pre-arranged period, reasonably clean and so on.
The FTA also prohibits traders from making misleading claims so they can’t misrepresent the condition of the property.
Can I claim compensation if my holiday accomodation is double booked?
Yes. The CGA requires traders to carry out their services with reasonable care and skill. So, if the property is advertised for rent when it’s not available, you’re entitled to a refund as well as reasonable consequential losses (the extra expenses you incurred).
If you’re refused a refund, head to the Disputes Tribunal. Alternatively, if you paid by credit or debit card, talk to your bank about a chargeback (a refund to your card).