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Unhappy holiday let - advice required


Dan Chase

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Hi Guys & Gals,

I had, for the first time ever, a dissapointing holiday this summer due to a poor house.  I feel I must point out I have had many years of superb holiday lets, some through agents, most through Chez Nous - I have indeed already booked through Chez Nous for next year.  Over these years I have never lost a penny in security deposit and have never complained before - this is a first for me.

The Property in question is in Provence and is advertised as an old, charming house, ouzing with character etc. - this it was, no problems so far.  I feel you should know it slept up 12, 10 comfortably and cost £1500 a week - two weeks stay so £3000 total.

Upon my return I received an e-mail saying how we were superb tennants, very clean and subsequently had my security deposit returned.  All good so far....

I Then wrote to the owners with details of several, very dissapointing shortcomings:

1.  There was a major road immediatly behind the house.  There had been a one liner in details about a road up behind the house which could get busy during festival periods (Fair enough, we all love a festival) - however, this road was a major road, immediatly behind the house and had constant traffic and endless hours of artics thundering past, worst of which were double bodied trucks loaded with timber and not a festival in site!  I took many photo`s of these, as, had I known of the extent of the traffic there is no way I would have booked my yearly holiday there.

2.  Provence in summer is V hot - not a problem as there was a lovely pool with shades in the literature.  Pool was lovely, no sign of any shades.  First thing we had to do was go out and buy some.  Apparently they had been damaged by previous guests and there was no local option (the owners were the previous guests to us and had been there for a month prior to our arrival)

3.  The house sported a lovely petanque court - we love a game in the early evening with an aperitif - however, three dogs from next door had been using the court as a litter tray for some time - I even got a photo of one doing so (I was getting a bit annoyed at this point).  The owner claims that this was due to wild boar and, anyway, we could have just raked it over!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

4.  The house, which sleeps 10+ had a kitchen approximatly 2 meters by 2 meters and was dirty, dirty, dirty, as were the bathrooms (I had to clean hair out of the blocked shower traps) and the electrics were shot - extention cables running from rooms with power, notes over broken sockets, sockets hanging out of walls, exposed wires, exposed choc block connectors over sinks etc. etc.

I wrote to the owner twice, addressing these points, enclosing photo`s to back up each point and requesting a partial refund of £1000 (I felt that £3000 for two weeks is a way to much for a sub-standard villa) - I received two letters back, deniying all allegations and insulting me as someone who should "stay at a Marriot hotel so as to be hidden away from the nasty real world". 

Obviously I am still a little fustrated.  I appreciate there are clients out there who do requests refunds as a mater of course, but I would stress I am not one of them and have never taken this course of action before. 

I have informed the owner I will be taking further action - I will be seeing my solictor soon and taking advice, as well as possibly contacting the regional tourist office and is there such a thing as a French HSE department? 

Any ideas on how to proceed would be appreciated.

 

Thanks,  Dan  

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Good luck to you Dan.  The only comment I would make is why have you waited until November to complain about this?  All the TV programmes like Watchdog say that you really MUST do it whilst still on holiday or at the very least immediately on return.  You appeared to wait til after you had returned and received a letter back from the owners - although maybe that was wise as you may not have got your breakages deposit returned otherwise!  However, was the place not supposed to be cleaned for your arrival?  If so, I would have insisted on the cleaners coming back to remove hair from drains etc themselves - not you (that's something that really make me wretch).  Did you not contact them immediately and bill them for the shades you had to buy to replace the ones that they misleadingly had in their photos?

How many of you were in the group?  Were you with another family, ie are there some other adults that could make a second complaint?  It may hold more weight if more than one of you complains.  Do the owners belong to any organisation like Gites de France that you can complain to?  Were they in any kind of brochure that claims to have personally inspected properties?  This could be another route of complaint to take.

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Ok, I wrote the first letter about 8 days after my return - yes I wanted to ensure that the very least I got back was my security deposit.  The second letter went about two weeks after that, then a third about a month ago - I would love to get letters and comlaints out continuosly but like most of us, I am a busy man and have no experience of the do`s and don`ts of complaining.

As far as I can tell they are only with Chez Nous which is unvetted - I did contact them but they showed no interest.

I could have complained whilst there - however I was on holiday and as such did noy want to make a fuss in front of my guests.  The biggest issue was the road -  on the third way we contemplated moving to another villa or heading back completly - the only thing that stopped us, apart from the fact that we had already spent afortune on the place, as that we had travelled down by Motorail and as such, were stuck in the area for two weeks unless we wanted to drive back from Provence and waste even more money.

Please note: I am not in anyway attacking private villa rentals and gite owners - as I have stated I have stayed in many excellent villas and have already booked one for next year - but I don`t see why I should let this bunch of charlatans off the hook.

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I quite agree with you Dan but I just think that you have weakened your case by not complaining at the time.  This in itself can be read as implying that the place wasn't THAT bad if you were prepared to stay there for two weeks.  In a way it's like the bloke that eats a whole meal before saying how aweful it was - if it's that bad, surely you can't eat it.  I appreciate you're a busy man - but again, it implies that the importance you have given to the problems you encountered isn't that great.  It obviously really spoilt your holiday but even waiting a couple of weeks to complain lessens the impact.

I'm not attacking you.  I think it is truly criminal when places aren't up to standard - people save for a long time for their holidays and look forward to them and it must be an incredible disappointment when they're not up to scratch but it really is quite a well publicised fact that you should complain at the time.

It happened to us nearly 20 years ago on a belated holiday to an apartment in Ibiza.  The place was filthy - there were crisps in the bed, the cooker was dirty.  My husband wouldn't even put our suitcases inside the door.  The rep tried to placate us and tell us to unpack, go and relax by the pool and she would arrange a cleaner to come by.  We refused and said that we couldn't even change to go to the pool in such a filthy apartment - played it up rather than down.  The cleaner was there within an hour.  Some other people in the development had the same problem "didn't want to make a fuss" and waited two days to get their place cleaned - and also spent two days of their precious holiday chasing up the rep!![:@]

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I agree with St Armour - I think it's a shame that there were quite a few things you found wrong, but even if the owners weren't on site, there must have been someone there (a keyholder?) you could have spoken to about the cleanliness and the electricity cables at the time. I also think a £1000 is quite a substiantial refund to ask for too, considering nothing was said at the time of the holiday. As a gite owner, that would have put my back up immediately! £1500 for a villa in Provence with a pool sounds on the cheapish side to me, my farmhouse sleeping 12  is about the same price as that, and it's in rainy old Brittany, not sunny Provence!

Do you know if they advertise anywhere else other than Chez Nous? If so, you could see if another advertiser is more helpful. I think it has been mentioned on a previous thread that there are at present no 'standards' as such that gites have to conform to (unfortunately), so I'm not sure how you would stand with legal action, especially if they are not listed with the tourist authority or an organisation like G de F. Is there anything in the rental terms and conditions that presumably you had to sign as part of the rental that they did not have adhere to?

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This sort of thing does none of us who rent properties out for a living

any favours at all. Obviously a solictor will be able to advise far

better than I could, but I have to agree that it is a pity you did not

register a complaint while you were in situ. I quite understand your

reasons for not doing so, though.

There could be a case for misrepresentation since the road was

mentioned but not the level of traffic, ditto the lack of shade, though

I have a feeling that in English law (was the agreement made under

English law?) you would be expected to demostrate a financial loss to

gain redress - there are at least a few lawyers who post on here who

would know far better than I.

I would agree that renting a property with owners on hand is far better

than renting one where they are remote, and not just because we live

close to our properties - I don't include a link to our website you

will note.

French equivalent of the HSE - you might try the DDE down there, but whether they handle this sort of thing, I do not know.

Good luck in resolving this and I am pleased that the experince hasn't put you off France altogether.

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Dan, I too am sorry to hear of your unfortunate experience. As JonD says, this sort of thing does no favours to those of us who take a responsible attitude to holiday property rentals.

Dealing with your points in order:

The road is a tricky issue and whether or not misrepresentation took place will depend very much upon the information that was provided to you. If the website or brochure speaks of a quiet or peaceful location then you may have good reason to ask for compensation  but, on the other hand, if the advertising simply fails to say that the road can be noisy then you probably have no claim. Unfortunately you can't do anything about what you weren't told, only if what you were told is incorrect. If things such as noise are important to you then it is important to ask the right questions before you book.

There should have been parasols around the pool if they were shown in the brochure photos. Assuming you left the ones you purchased behind when you left then I would say it is reasonable to expect the owner to reimburs you the cost - upon presentation of the receipts. If you took them with you when you left then it might be more difficult to justify a claim.

Dogs in the boules court - welcome to France !  I agree this is very unpleasant but roaming dogs are a real problem all over France. Although most annoying there is probably very little the owner could have done about this.

Cleaning - there is absolutely no excuse for this, but sadly I am not surprised. We often hear from people who have a very strange idea of how long it takes to clean a house. From personal experience I can tell you that it takes around ten man hours to clean a house that will sleep twelve people properly. You really should have brought this to the attention of the owner as soon as possible after your arrival.

Unsafe electrics - again this is not acceptable but should have been brought to the owners's attention when you arrived. The fact that you put up with it for your two week stay might appear as if you were happy to accept it. Nevertheless, you were right to bring it to the attention of the owner even after your stay  but as no one in your party  was injured and it did not prevent you using the house then it is difficult to see why you should be compensated.

A peak season rental charge of £1500 per week for a house sleeping 12 with a private pool isn't a particularly high amount. You could probably find similar properties at up to 25% to 30% more than that.  It is quite possible, especially if the owners are resident in France, that the contract that exists between you is subject to French law in which case you might be wasting your money speaking to an English solicitor. If the owners have a UK address and you paid the money to them at this address then it might be worth making a claim under the English small claims procedure. Realistically however it would probably been seen as unreasonable to claim much more that the cost of the parasols plus around another couple of hundred pounds for compensation for the cleaning  etc. In the end you have to decide whether it is worth all the effort. It might just be better to put it down to experience. If you have photographs then you could setup a web page entitled "my holiday at ???????" (be careful only to include the photos and leave viewers to draw their own conclusions - you mustn't say anthing that could be libellous). You could get satisfaction by emailing a link for the page to the owners and tell them that you have submitted it to the search engines so anyone doing a search for their holiday property may well come across it. This might be enough to get them to agree a compromise with you in return for you withdrawing the web page.

I sincerely hope that you have a much more pleasant experience next summer.  As someone else has already said, seriously consider choosing a place where the owners live on site or very nearby.

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[quote user="Eslier"] seriously consider choosing a place where the owners live on site or very nearby.
[/quote]

I don't live on site or nearby, but if you had been renting from me, and you had complained to me at the time, then I would have done my utmost to rectify any problems you would have had. I have a good local support team who can react to any problems as well as any resident owner could have.

So please, don't assume that all absentee landlords are uncaring...

However, although I do consider myself to be an "owner who cares", in fact I would go so far as to say that I am an "owner who cares very very much", if someone left my property, then over a week later wrote to me requesting a refund, then I very much doubt that I would just roll over and say "ok then", unless there were very strong reasons why I should do so. If I am not given the opportunity to rectify any problems at the time, why should I subsequently be penalised financially when a simple phone call could have sorted out any problems. (although I agree that some of your particular problems probably couldn't have been sorted out very simply).

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Unsafe electrics - again this is not acceptable but should have been brought to the owners's attention when you arrived. The fact that you put up with it for your two week stay might appear as if you were happy to accept it. Nevertheless, you were right to bring it to the attention of the owner even after your stay  but as no one in your party  was injured and it did not prevent you using the house then it is difficult to see why you should be compensated.  Says Eslier

Surely this is a health and safety issue ?  People pay a lot of money to be safe. Regardless of whether or not an accident happened in that particular period of time, it could have.

On another thread I wrote of my own experience with a gite last month - similar electrics amongst other things.  The owners were on site and OH did point out the unsafe electrical sockets the day after we arrived.  He was just told 'They were aware of it' but no attempt was made to rectify this.  We know we were unlucky on this occassion, we left early and put it down to a bad experience - but then our gite didn't cost nearly as much as the original poster's on this thread.  

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Thanks for the tips,

I guess it was the rude and dismissive responce from the owners which really got my back up.  The suggestion of the "reallity" website is, in my mind, a good one.  If the solicitor gives me the same advice (ie. I should have walked out and cut the holiday short) and that my responce was to late in coming I think I shall host a new website for them - detailing only comparrisons between advertised details and actual photo`s we took.  The whole reason for complaining was never about money - only that we felt we had been lied to and ripped off and the owner could have dealt with complaint in a much better way.

 

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