Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Dangers of Vacation Apartment Rentals: Don't Let This Happen to You

Did you find this article by googling New York Habitat?  Good work.  Here's what your shower might look like if you rent an apartment in Paris with New York Habitat, a rental agency that's proudly been in business for 20 years.

We rented an apartment in Paris with New York Habitat for $215 per night for this kind of shower

I've never rented a vacation apartment before because I've always been wary of what I'd get.  Absolutely all of my worst rental fears were confirmed after working with New York Habitat.

We rented an apartment for 11 days at 8 rue de Pré aux Clercs from May 16 to 26, 2013.  After complaining to New York Habitat about the cleanliness of the apartment the morning after we arrived, we were told that it wasn't their problem.  To quote them:  "We certainly do not deny client's comments and we will duly follow up with the owner, but this is simply not our responsibility. New York Habitat is a real estate broker whose main function is to connect renters seeking accommodations in Paris, London or New York to property owners."

This is true.  They don't lift a finger after they have your commission.  They didn't confirm the apartment, they didn't answer the phone when we were locked out of the building, they didn't do a thing when we said the apartment was dirty.

Oh, wait, New York Habitat did, in fact, help us a little after we paid 2,140 euros to stay at 8 rue du Pré aux Clercs.  They had the owner bring us ant spray after we said there are ants all over the kitchen counter.  Great, I think it'll help the situation if I spray bug spray all over the kitchen counter and poison my whole family.


So, New York Habitat takes a 26% commission to connect you to an apartment owner and their job is done.  It doesn't matter what condition the apartment is in because once they have the commission, you're on your own. 

Before booking the apartment, I noted that even Airbnb has guest refund policies in place for situations like mine, but New York Habitat says if there's a problem, you can email them.  Yes, New York Habitat will email you back saying the problem is yours and have a great day.  I should have recognized that before renting.




More warnings about New York Habitat and what to consider when you rent a vacation apartment after the jump.  Plus, more pictures!


Somehow, every surface was dusty, grimy, splattered with mysterious liquids or moldy.  Almost every white surface in the bathroom and kitchen was splashed with some dripping brown stuff.  Incredible.




Let this post warn people about New York Habitat and to read between the lines when considering any rental agency, no matter how long they've been in business.  No, rental agencies cannot possibly police each and every apartment (they aren't "building managers," as New York Habitat put it), but an upstanding company that deserves to be in business would have some sort of minimal standards and say this isn't right and respond accordingly.  They'd fix the problem or make sure we weren't screwed over in the situation.  One way they could have done that is by reducing the amount of money we paid and having the owner pay a cleaning person to clean the apartment.  Or they could have put us in a comparable apartment that was clean.  New York Habitat was quick to say, "your problem now" and that's exactly what I was afraid of when I rented with them.  Any rental agency can end up with a sucky apartment, but the ethical company doesn't make its guest suffer for it.

Not my stuff!  I can't imagine renting out an apartment in the condition this place was in.

Kathy <kathy@gmail.com>
May 17


to Quitterie
 
Quitterie,
We just spent our first might at the apartment. I must say that I'm very disappointed with the level of cleanliness of the apartment. There is dust everywhere, ants crawling all over the kitchen counter and

Sent from my iPhone


Kathy <kathy@gmail.com>
May 17

to Quitterie
Quitterie,

Sorry my previous email was sent while I was drafting it on my phone. Anyway, there was also a crusty booger on the shower wall and things like that, which made me feel like the apartment had hardly been even swept before our stay. The host herself is a lovely woman (she bought a bottle of milk for my baby, which was very kind) even though she didn't tell us the door to the apartment building would be closed and locked at night. We spent half an hour outside trying to figure out how to call you or her. She laughed when we to her we were locked out since we didn't have the code to get in.

What are our options?

Kathy

Sent from my iPhone
________________________________
Quitterie Caille
May 21

to me
Dear Kathy

We will not refund our fee or part of our fee because of the cleanliness of the apt at client's arrival. We certainly do not deny client's comments and we will duly follow up with the owner, but this is simply not our responsibility. New York Habitat is a real estate broker whose main function is to connect renters seeking accommodations in Paris, London or New York to property owners. We do not own or manage any property. New York Habitat acts as an intermediary between the landlord and the tenant. We are not liable for the cleanliness of the apartment and it is up to the owner to maintain the apartment tidy and to clean it. We already got in touch with the owner to address the situation and we still can assist and facilitate the communication between both parties. However our contract clearly states that our fee is not refundable. We can offered you a 15% discount for a next booking in Paris, this offer can be extended to Paris, New York or London but this is all we can off
 er you.

Best
Quitterie


After days of back and forth with New York Habitat, I was tired of it (note that my first email was on May 17 and their final email saying they couldn't do anything was on May 21.  There were emails in between of me asking when I could get a response, etc.).  I wasn't in Paris to stress constantly about this, which I did anyway, and email the agency about this every free moment I had.  I was almost six months pregnant, just wanting to enjoy my last vacation before our second baby came.  When New York Habitat finally sent me was the above email saying the cleanliness of the apartment they rented to me is not their responsibility.  They didn't ask for details, they didn't ask for pictures, they didn't show any concern and they didn't take any action at all whatsoever.

The thing is, I feel like I did everything I could to protect myself from a negative experience like this.  I asked questions, I read the reviews, I googled the company and saw that it had an A+ with the Better Business Bureau.  When I asked if there had been any complaints about the apartment, they said that the only complaint ever was that there was a lot of stuff in the apartment.  I was OK with that.  You can see from the pictures of the apartment on New York Habitat's site that there's a lot of stuff.  Also, on March 14, two months before our trip, I asked a manager of New York Habitat, Isabelle Fleury, how New York Habitat customers are protected.  Their response of "email us if there's a problem" and "we've been in business for 20 years" should have raised red flags, but it didn't.  I wanted to trust that this company would do the right thing if there was a problem.  Actually, I didn't feel good about the situation, but I went forward with the transaction because I wasn't knowledgeable about renting vacation apartments.  I didn't trust my gut, and I should have.  I hate booking hotels, airline tickets, etc. and I wanted it all done with so I could move onto the fun part of actually planning our vacation.


Isabelle,

What happens if we are unsatisfied with the apartment for some reason like the elevator doesn't work or the oven doesn't work?  We are using an agency instead of going direct to an owner so that we have some sort of insurance and recourse.  What does New York Habitat do for us if we find problems with the apartment?  It concerns me that you said that once we pay the agency fee to you, you are sort of out of the picture and I handle everything directly with the owner.  I realize you said you are still there if we have questions, but what's your interest once the commission is paid?  To me, we're paying a commission for more than just finding the apartment...it's for full representation throughout our stay in Paris.  Do you agree?  If not, please explain. 

Thanks,
Kathy

_____________________________

Isabelle Fleury <isabelle.fleury@nyhabitat.com>
Mar 15

to me, Quitterie
 
Dear Kathy,

I understand you may be wary about renting an apartment.

We do have a department taking care of customer service in addition to the care that will be provided by your agent.

I am not sure that our Quality assurance department was aware of this negative review so I alerted them about it. As you my understand since New York Habitat has been in business for over 20 years we do have a lot of reviews in a lot of sites and we do not always catch all of them.

Best regards,

Isabelle
__________________________________





Let me back up and give you some insight in how we ended up working with New York Habitat.

We wanted an apartment over a hotel for several reasons:
-We were going with my mother-in-law, who we wanted to be close to.  We haven't seen her in a year and this trip was an opportunity for her to hang out with her grandson, my 23-month old.
-We wanted to save some money since we would be in Paris for 11 days
-Since it was my third time to Paris and my husband's second, we thought it'd be fun to stay in an apartment so we could cook and spend time there as if we lived there, not as touristy.

Finding an apartment was challenging for a few reasons:
-We wanted a large one-bedroom with a sofabed in case my mother-in-law couldn't make the trip.  She planned on going, but she didn't have a ticket.  We wanted the price of the apartment to be something we'd be willing to pay on our own if she didn't make it to Paris.
-The bathroom needed to be outside of the bedroom, so that all of us could comfortably share it.  A lot of the Paris one bedrooms I looked at online had bathrooms in the bedroom.
-We didn't want to feel like we were on top of each other for 11 days, so we wanted a larger apartment.

Despite the fact that I didn't love the pictures of the apartment, we went with 8 rue du Pré aux Clercs because:
-Location
-The reviews on New York Habitat were great and they said they never had any problems after renting the apartment over 35 times.
-Size of space, something like 1,200 square feet
-Elevator (needed that for our stroller)
-The pictures made the place look artsy, eccentric and charming (not dirty, moldy and dusty)
-Light (a lot of apartments I saw online were dark)
-The New York Habitat agent told me that the apartments had all been inspected/vetted by employees
-I crossed my fingers that working with an agency that's been in business for 20 years was a safer bet than working with a random apartment owner.  I was so wrong.  In fact, I think because the business has been around for a long time, they are completely lazy and don't earn their money.

Some of the reasons we didn't go with Airbnb because:
-Some owners didn't respond to be promptly (it might take 3 to 5 days, which I found unreliable)
-There weren't any reviews for several apartments I liked
-The apartments I liked were already booked


Quitterie,

What happens if we are unsatisfied with the apartment for some reason like the elevator doesn't work or the oven doesn't work?  We are using an agency instead of going direct to an owner so that we have some sort of insurance and recourse.  What does New York Habitat do for us if we find problems with the apartment?  It concerns me that you said that once we pay the agency fee to you, you are sort of out of the picture and I handle everything directly with the owner.  I realize you said you are still there if we have questions, but what's your interest once the commission is paid?  To me, we're paying a commission for more than just finding the apartment...it's for full representation throughout our stay in Paris.  Do you agree?  If not, please explain. 

Thanks,
Kathy

Quitterie Caille <quitterie@nyhabitat.com>
Mar 15

to me
Dear Kathy,

I'm sorry you about the review you found.

If there is a major issue during your stay I will help you to sort it out. If there is something that broke during the stay we will help you with the owner to replace if possible get a discount in the rent if it's a major issue.


Best
Quitterie

______________________________


Quitterie Caille
Email: quitterie@nyhabitat.com
General Phone: +1 (212) 255-8018 ext. 106
Fax: +1 (646) 619-9584
New York Habitat

 
In the end, New York Habitat left us with a horrible feeling, which is not what you want when you're on vacation.  We still enjoyed our vacation because we weren't going to let the apartment ruin something we had been looking forward to for six months, but things could have been so much better.  This was our big vacation of the year.  I hate that we worked with New York Habitat for it.
I just have such a sick feeling when I think that there are companies like this that stay in business for 20 years, doing the wrong thing for their customers, just getting a commission and telling their customers to screw themselves.  They offered me 15% off the commission the next time I book with them.  When I said I'm unlikely to book with them because of my horrible experience and could I be compensated from what I've already paid, they said no.  If they're willing to stand by this apartment, how can anyone do business with them?  Atleast I can help someone else avoid New York Habitat by sharing my experience honestly.

If I ever rent an apartment through an agency again, I will think about these things:
  • What is the policy to protect the renters from an unsatisfactory apartment?  If there is no policy, you're screwed and you shouldn't work with them.  "Email us your problems since we have a customer service department" is not a policy.
  • How does the agency earn their commission?  If it's like New York Habitat where you pay them a 26%, a hefty commission, and you're on your own, move on!  When I think commission, I want to know I'm getting a vetted and inspected apartment, confirmation of the apartment before my trip, the handling of communications to get the keys, etc.  We did all that on our own, so why did I pay a commission?  It's insulting how much people pay New York Habitat for them to not lift a finger.
  • If the agency can only say they've been in business for a long time when you ask smart questions, move on.  
  • If you don't have a good feeling after each interaction with the agency, online or on the phone, move on.  At no point did I have a good feeling about talking to anyone at New York Habitat.  I normally listen to my instincts, but I didn't this time.
  • I will ask myself why I'm not using services like airbnb and vrbo when those companies have guest protection policies in place.

I'm going to send this review to New York Habitat and if there's anything to update, I will.  Also, they said that I'll be able to review the apartment within three weeks of staying there.  So, we'll see if that's true.
All the reviews for the apartment were similarly glowing like these above. 


3 comments:

  1. They take 50% commission for new york apartments

    ReplyDelete
  2. This is stil nothing compared to the room I rented in a hoarder family apartment. I had to leave after a few days before - I was getting sick (they even washed dogs' plates with the dishes of the kitchen). The hoarder gave me back only a part of the security deposit and they did not reimburse me the days I left earlier in that month, I lost lots of money.

    I am completely disappointed with NYHabitat for not backing me up when I needed (to get my money back) and for putting me in that horrible place, I can`t believe the reviews of that room are that positive as showing on the NYHabitat`s website.

    The room is in Queens Sunnyside, code NY-5510, the old lady named AMP is a hoarder who ruined my staying in NYC.

    ReplyDelete