When Billie Muckley cancels her Vrbo vacation rental because of the pandemic, she expects to get her security deposit back. But she doesn’t. Who has her money?

Q: Last year, I booked a Vrbo rental in West Chester, Pennsylvania. I canceled the reservation because of the pandemic and received a partial refund. But I still haven’t received the $500 security damage deposit. I need your help getting it back.

I’ve been in touch with the property owner, Vrbo, and the company handling the payments. They all are blame-shifting, and no one will refund the money, even after three months of trying to get it back. We didn’t make the trip. Therefore, there was no damage to the property.  Can you help me get my $500 back? — Billie Muckley, Hartville, Ohio

A: It doesn’t get any simpler than this. If your deposit was refundable, you should have received it by now.

So what’s going on?

Security deposits are an important part of the vacation rental system. It works exactly like a security deposit on an apartment. You pay a deposit, and when your rental ends, the owner returns the money. If there’s damage to the rental, then the owner deducts the repair expense from the deposit.

With Vrbo, the deposit gets returned quickly — usually within a week of your last rental day. But what if you never used the rental?

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I’ve waded through the correspondence between you, Vrbo and VacationRentPayment, which handles the payments. It looks like you filed an unsuccessful dispute of the $500 deposit on your credit card. That, combined with the pandemic, slowed things down — a lot.

Your case raises an interesting question. How long do you wait for a refund before filing a credit card dispute under the Fair Credit Billing Act? A month? Three?

I think you were patient enough for normal circumstances. But these weren’t normal circumstances. We were dealing with a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. 

Usually, you should give a merchant at least one month or two just to be safe, before calling your credit card company. During a pandemic, refunds can take much longer.

I notice that you tried to reach out to VacationRentPayment and the owner to get your refund. But the refund was up to Vrbo, and it looks like it had to be authorized by the vacation rental platform.

I list the names, numbers and email addresses of all the Vrbo executives on my consumer advocacy site, Elliott.org. I might have reached out to one of them by email before filing a chargeback.

I contacted Vrbo on your behalf. It refunded the $500 security deposit.