Holiday rentals: your rights

If something goes wrong, what are your rights?

If you’re after a classic Kiwi bach or a holiday hideaway with all the mod cons, rental sites such as Bookabach 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?

Cancellation terms are essential reading before booking. 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.

Is there a cap on cancellation fees? Or can they charge what they like?

Rental sites and property owners – when you’re dealing directly with them – 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.

We’ve had complaints from consumers being stung 100 percent of the booking price to cancel. Terms such as this are likely to breach the act. 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 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 should I do if the property isn’t up to scratch?

If the property isn’t a patch on what was advertised – the ad claimed luxury accommodation or a beachfront location and you didn’t get it – you have grounds to seek compensation.

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, accommodation must be provided using reasonable care and skill, and be fit for purpose. In practice, this means the property must be available to guests over the pre-arranged period, reasonably clean and so on.

The Fair Trading Act also prohibits traders from making misleading claims so they can’t misrepresent the condition of the property.

Can I claim compensation if the property is double-booked?

Yes. The Consumer Guarantees Act 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).

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