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Hilltop Paradise Vacation Rental / Temecula, California

Lusby, MD
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Hilltop Paradise Vacation Rental / Temecula, California

My wife and I rented the Beal's property "Hilltop Paradise" from 7/8/07 to 7/14/07 for a family vacation with our son and his friend. When we arrived we were pleased to see that the property was nicely landscaped and had spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and the valley of Temecula. We were greeted by Mrs. Beals who provided a tour of the property.

At the end of the tour we were presented with an addendum to the rental agreement that she required we sign which outlined how to use the pool/spa and also stated it was not to be used in excess of 2 hours per day, and if it were we would be charged $2.50 per gallon for propane.

Mrs. Beals also requested that we turn off the air-conditioning if we leave, which we thought was odd considering it was the middle of July.

Before she left I asked about the internet access (as advertised it had - http://www.vacationrentals.com/vacation-rentals/485.html), but was informed that there was no internet access, but I could use one of the AOL trial disks they had supplied. She also informed me that I could drive the 5 miles into town and get high speed internet there.

On our 1st day we left to have dinner and when we returned we noticed that the upstairs temperature had reached 85 deg. and the A/C, although it was on and running, was not blowing cool air. This would not have been so bad, considering the cool mountain breeze in the evening but we were unable to open windows as most have no screens (picture of bulletin board - http://home.comcast.net/~rtclib4/bb4.jpg). We called Mr. Beals and he came the next day while we were on a day trip to tour L.A. When we returned late that evening there was a note from Mr. Beals that the A/C was fixed and indeed it was cool upstairs.

On our 3rd day the plumbing in the master bath clogged causing toilet water to back up into the whirlpool bath tub (http://home.comcast.net/~rtclib4/tub2.jpg) and leak through the ceiling unto the kitchen table. We called Mr. Beals, who was away in Las Vegas for the remainder of our stay, and he sent a plumber. However because he was out of town, we had to wait for the plumber which required we change our plans. The plumber arrived, snaked the drain and cleared the clog. Mr. Beals informed us that he was aware that the previous tenants had caused the clog (which the plumber said was from feminine products) and Mr. Beals noted that they had left them in the bathroom and in fact they were still there during our stay. He very kindly said that when he refunded our deposit he would refund an additional $100 for our inconvenience.

I also noticed that the area in which the toilet water was leaking through the ceiling had been previously repaired and painted (http://home.comcast.net/~rtclib4/ceiling_repair2.jpg) and when I mentioned this to Mr. Beals he indicated he had indeed had the same issue once before since owning the home.

That same evening the upstairs A/C failed again and did not work for the rest of our stay. We did not want to again have to wait for a repairman, as Mr. Beals was still out of town and we did not want to again be inconvenienced by having to wait on a repairman (which should be the responsibility of the owner - not the renter), so we suffered without air-conditioning for the remainder of our stay.

After 4 weeks and no letter or refund from the Beals (the rental agreement states this would be sent in no more than 3 weeks after departure), I contacted the Beal's by email and was told that we were not receiving a refund because we were being charged $375 for propane and $35 for electricity for "excessive spa use". Several days later we received a letter (http://home.comcast.net/~rtclib4/certified_letter.jpg) stating we were being charged $375 for propane and $84 for the plumber, contradicting the original email (http://home.comcast.net/~rtclib4/email1.jpg). The Beal's provided no rational for their calculation or proof of the amount of propane that was actually used.

We used the spa less than 12 hours total and did not believe it was possible we could have used this amount of propane so I did some research and discovered a site (http://www.ordinis.com/buyers/heatbuyer.htm) that sells propane pool/spa heaters and on this page they include an example (at the bottom of the page) where in the fall months of the northeast (this place is located in Pennsylvania) you can heat a 16'x32' pool (not spa) for 6 weeks for a total cost of $522. In fairness, this example uses a price of $1.20 per gallon, so if you recalculate using $2.50 per gallon it would cost $1090 to heat a pool this size for 6 weeks in the climate of the northeast in the fall which amounts to roughly $182 per week or roughly $26 per day. So how could we have used $375 worth of propane, in the middle of summer in Southern California, to heat the spa as Mr. Beals claims for 6 days? The answer is that it is impossible. If the Beals would continually keep the spa at an appropriate temperature instead of requiring their guests to turn it on and off and wait 45 minutes for it to come to temperature, it would likely use less propane to maintain the temperature than to have to reheat it from a colder temperature each time it is used. Perhaps this is why they require it be turned off after each use?

Also, for a luxury rental, of the 4 bedrooms only the master bedroom had a television and there was a 12 year old rear projection TV in the living room with an antiquated A/V system.

Though the house was very nicely landscaped, and the views are spectacular, the house in general was in disrepair. In addition to the plumbing issue, the burners in the BBQ grill were rotted through so the grill would not heat correctly, which Mr. Beals claimed was the way the grill should operate. Anyone that owns and regularly uses a gas grill understands that this happens and the grill needs serviced every few years (that is why they sell replacement burners for gas grills). The spa motor controls, which according to National Electric Code, that should be located at the spa or within sight from the spa had been "temporarily" relocated to the spa/pool equipment area some 100 ft (approx) away from the fenced in pool/spa area. Additionally the spa wiring which also according to the National Electric Code must be located in conduit was exposed creating a potential shock hazard and also was just hanging and had duct tape around the button (http://home.comcast.net/~rtclib4/spa_wire.jpg) (http://home.comcast.net/~rtclib4/spa_button.jpg). Again, there were no screens in most windows and because of this they request the windows remain closed (see photo of bulletin board).

We have been forced to contact the Southland BBB in regard to this matter and have provided them with supporting documentation. I will be posting a website with complete details and documentation in the near future.

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1. Re: Hilltop Paradise Vacation Rental / Temecula, California

Great review.......wish it could have been more positive.

Where did you rent this place from? Was it a website you can leave a review with?

I don't know if there are enough units to warrent a TA review, but it sure might be helpful to someone...if they can search and find it.

Look here:

tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g1-i10700-k1348822…

Lusby, MD
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2. Re: Hilltop Paradise Vacation Rental / Temecula, California

We rented it from the owner, but found it on this website: vacationrentals.com/vacation-rentals/… which does not appear to do reviews. The property is listed on this site: http://www.vrbo.com/62067, which also does not have reviews but is somehow attached to this site: www.rentors.org/guestbook.cfm?pid=83191 which does have reviews of the property. At the time we rented (we signed the rental agreement in 02/07) the site had 4 positive reviews, however I had not noticed in the fine print that is says: "So far, the homeowner has approved 5 guest-submitted comments to appear in the guestbook" and I doubt since it is left in the homeowner's control they would allow negative comments to appear, so I did not try to submit a review there.

I did submit a Travel Advisor Review complete with pictures but was informed that it did not meet the proper criteria and that I should post it in the forums.

There are many things I neglected to mention in my original post that I will fully and completely document on the website I am creating, but one particularly interesting point I will make now is that unlike any other rental my wife and I have ever rented, the Beal's required that we send 1/2 of the rent and security deposit when we signed the agreement, and then the other 1/2 is due one month prior to arrival. With every other property we have ever rented (a total of 6 before this one) the balance has always been due upon arrival. By requiring the balance in full 30 days prior to arrival, you are denied the opportunity to see the property before hand. They also have all of your money when you arrive and they present to you the "spa addendum" which you are compelled to sign. In complete fairness, on the last page of the 5 page rental agreement that we received in February it does state: "security deposit is refundable if nothing is broken or missing and if not alot of propane is used for over using the spa...", however nowhere in the 5 page agreement does it define what “over using the spa” means, nor does it mention anywhere within the 5 pages that you will be charged $2.50 a gallon for propane if it is used for more than two hours per day. Also worth noting is there is nothing that defines how this “over using” will be determined or calculated.

We sent the Beals a total of $3190 for 6 nights ($2400 rental, $150 cleaning and reservation fee, $400 security deposit, and $240 CA transient tax) so the $400 security deposit is just a drop in the bucket. Frankly we could care less about the security deposit, and the effort that I have put into this already has far exceeded the trouble it would be worth to recover this small amount. This is purely a matter of principle at this point and my wife and I want to try to make sure that this does not happen to anyone else if it can be avoided.

Frankly it is a shame, because the home is really a very nice home and as I mentioned the views are spectacular. With just a minimal amount of repair to the house and some upgraded A/V components (the system in the living room is about 12 years old and I am used to watching HDTV) and a couple additional televisions (of 4 bedrooms only the master bedroom has a TV) it would be even that much better. However, our issue is not really about the home at all, it is strictly in regard to the business practices of the owners.

We have never had a problem with any other vacation rental in the past and have never been told by the owners how much electric we could use or propane or how much to use the air-conditioning. If you look at the picture in my original post of the bulletin board that is in the kitchen of the home (http://home.comcast.net/~rtclib4/bb4.jpg), they even go as far as posting a $600+ electric bill with the request to "be conservative with the A/C", which we felt was completely inappropriate. We spent a lot of money to have a nice vacation at a nice property and felt like we were getting the conservation squeeze. I would venture to say that most people go on vacation to escape worries such as electric bills and such, and want to live life and relax and enjoy the amenities they have paid for without worry.

We are headed back to Tennessee next month (Sept) where we will be renting a cabin for the 3rd year in a row (all different properties), each of which has been equipped with a hot-tub/spa which is continually heated, and the one we rented this year and last year both have heated indoor plunge pools in the lower level of the cabin. Most all have had at least one HDTV. So, far, we have never been charged for "over using a spa".

I have some additional information I will be posting here as soon as I have the opportunity.

3. Re: Hilltop Paradise Vacation Rental / Temecula, California

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Lusby, MD
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4. Re: Hilltop Paradise Vacation Rental / Temecula, California

Here is the address to the website I have created which fully documents our experience and contains all the supporting evidence (rental agreement, spa addendum, pictures, etc).

http://home.comcast.net/~rtclib4/index.html

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5. Re: Hilltop Paradise Vacation Rental / Temecula, California

So...I didn't think of this before, but you make a great point about some of these rental sites.

WHY WOULD they not have a review section that does not have to be OKed by the Landlord?

If VRBO does not have an open two way review method, why would I continue to keep recommending it? Or why would anyone else?

How could an average IQ smart American think that a review means anything if THE LANDLORD OKs ITS' publication. We ain't all morons here. (But I'm pretty close)

Did you ever find a rental site that has open reviews & rebuttals? If not, I can tell you someone will pull all the business away from VRBO and its new owners if they did such a site.

Who has the knowledge of such a site?

Lusby, MD
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6. Re: Hilltop Paradise Vacation Rental / Temecula, California

The site that I pointed to actually calls it a "Guest Book", but it is hard to understand the purpose if only positive remarks can be left and all remarks must be first approved by the owner.

I have not had a chance to really look around more for others. I have already spent so much effort on this already. Just scanning all the documents and posting the info online was a lot of work, not to mention taking the time to file complaints with the BBB, CPA, IC3, and NFIC/IFW. I will look around and post to more sites as I have the time especially now that I have the website done, I can really just post the link instead of having to retype the info over and over again.

Thanks for your suggestions...

CT
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7. Re: Hilltop Paradise Vacation Rental / Temecula, California

Regarding reviewing privately owned rental properties, as a homeowner new to renting my property I have looked into www.homeaway.com (primarily because I have used them to rent) and they DO have a section to review the properties. Not many renters take the time to do it...it's the old story, a happy customer is usually quiet...... But here it what it says on their site regarding landlord reviews of submissions, verifying information etc:

. "What is being reviewed in a Listing Review?"

A. Reviewers are asked to rate the accuracy of the property description versus their actual stay at the property. Reviews are not intended to rate the renter experience or the property itself but rather the accuracy of the information contained in the listing.

Q. "How do I protect against false or malicious reviews?"

A. HomeAway is committed to weeding out any reviews which are malicious. You as an owner have the power to dispute any review and have it immediately removed from the site pending further investigation by our staff. Each review is screened before it goes live. Reviews that are inappropriate, malicious, reference other properties, or promote other services are automatically not published.

Q. "How do you assure that a review is from an individual who actually rented my property?"

A. Every owner can dispute a review of their property by clicking "Report Inappropriate Review" next to that Listing Review. If a review is disputed, it is automatically removed from the site. The person who wrote the review is sent an e-mail from our staff requesting proof of rental via e-mail or fax. If they cannot provide proof, the listing review will never go live on the site again.

Q. "Who can write a review about my listing?"

A. Listing reviews should be provided only by people who have visited and stayed in a property. Reviewers must register on HomeAway and provide their name, e-mail address, and date of stay.

This summer, I was lucky to rent primarily thru word of mouth (friends of friends) and a free site specific to my location,I am working on posting with an online service and have read many listings, policies, etc. When booking a private home it is just that! Not a resort, and if certain ammenities are important to you and not listed, ask, ask, ask. I did see the posting the OP referred to did in fact say internet, so there is no excuse for that; but having been on both sides of the equation I have not found TV's in every room standard. The other maintanance issues and posting of the electric bill are also not what any vacationer wants to deal with! Good luck following up with you complaints.

Sorry for the lenght of the post

Lusby, MD
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8. Re: Hilltop Paradise Vacation Rental / Temecula, California

Yankeemom...

Thanks for the input, that is actually one of the sites the property is listed on and I had planned to review there, if it was not subject to the same restrictions as the other rental site. I choose this site as I knew it was a 3rd party site unaffiliated with either myself or the owner of the property.

In regard to the TVs, I was not saying that there was anything wrong or that I was mislead about the number of TVs, only that for what we had paid for the rental I was surprised to only find two TVs in the home. I was told however, that the home had a "$10000" entertainment system and that we would get instructions on its use when we arrived. As I have mentioned, it may have been a $10000 system when it was manufactured in the mid-90's but was highly antiquated by todays standards, and I know that because I am an avid audio/videophile and happen to own a modern $10000 entertainment system.

I was only going by my six previous rental experiences all of which were better equipped for the money, in my opinion, even though this one is advertised as a "Luxury Rental". I guess luxury is really a matter of personal opinion or taste. In fairness, none of the previous rentals were in an area where the real-estate value is as high as in Southern California, so maybe that is an unfair comparison, though this was twice what I had ever paid for any other rental.

Our real issue again is not really with the home itself. Admittedly it is a nice home which although could use some minor repairs, none the less is beautifully landscaped and has stunning views, and overall was nicely decorated and pretty clean for the most part. That said, my concern is with the advertising and business dealings of the owners.

Specifically, the property has no internet access of any kind. There is no mention in any of the advertisements, nor in the rental agreement, anything in regard to limiting the use of the spa to 2 hours per day. The spa "agreement" that was withheld until arrival should have been forwarded with or as part of the rental agreement. There is no mention in the advertisements or rental agreement about having to turn the air-conditioning off when you leave the property. These things you are not made aware of until your arrival at the property. And finally just the fact that we were outright lied to in regard to several issues is just plain wrong.

Anyway, thanks for your comments and suggestions. I can tell you I will never again rent a property that requires full payment prior to seeing the property. A lesson learned the hard way for sure.

Rio Grande, Puerto...
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9. Re: Hilltop Paradise Vacation Rental / Temecula, California

Everyone has made some very valid points for both sides on this issue.

I do agree that if a property is listed as "luxury" I would expect to see modern amenities (granite countertops, high thread count sheets, modern bathrooms, private pool etc...), all the conveniences, and not have to worry about how many hours to use a spa or electricity costs. Perhaps this is where the owners of this property are misleading renters and should not list their property as "luxury". Then again electricity costs in So. CA are extremely high especially in comparrison to many NE states. Howerver perhaps the owners should maybe adjust their prices to take this into account so that guests do not have to worry about this issue.

I also do have to say (IMO only) that it really seems kind of pointless or wasteful to leave the A/C running all day when you will be away from the house. We own vacation rentals/guest house in Puerto Rico and while many people believe that things should be cheap, in reality they are not, as everything needs to be imported. Also because we are a territory of the US all the same labor laws and wage standards must also apply. For example the cost of our electricity is from 0.23-0.30 cents per kWh. (We have had guests from the NE who have told us that their electricity costs about 0.015 cents per kWh and they have been shocked to learn what we pay) Also the homes here are not insulated as it does not get cold, but, we also stress the fact to turn off the A/C when out of the house as it is a waste especially since the homes are not insulated. We prefer to keep our costs down for future guests as oppossed to raising our rates or charging an 'electric surcharge' as some hotels do. For the most part our guests are great about this issue, however a few times we have found the A/C on and all windows open!

Many people usually just see the bottom line of what these owners are bringing in per week but some things people usually don't see or realize are...property taxes (they may be very high in the state you are renting), local city and state taxes for short term rentals, utility costs, business licenses, business liability and insurance (very high in CA), maintenance and repairs (rentals take far more abuse and use then your own home), replacement costs for wear and tear and theft(again rentals take much more use and abuse so I know we are always replacing linens, towels, soap dispensers, toilet seats, BBQ burners etc...), labor costs (housekeeping, gardening, maintenance, repairs), supplies, advertizement, mortgage payments etc...

As far as your payment, the policy of 50% down and balance 30 days prior to arrival is fairly standard for rentals. If your previous rentals did not have you pay your balance until arrival then this is pretty much an exception. You have to remember that hotels and resorts have hundreds of rooms. If one person cancels on short notice it is a drop in the bucket to them if anything at all. However a vacation rental owner usually only has one or maybe a couple of units and most vacation areas have a limited vacation "season" (depending on the location some properties may only be rented 15-25 weeks out of the year). A short term cancelation can be financially disasterous and they will never be able to re-rent the unit on the same day. The same applies to the costs of doing business. A resort or large hotel with hundreds of rooms can spread their costs out.

Renting a home or condo is a big trust issue for both parties. You as a renter have to trust that the owner is giving you accurate information, photos and property perspective, while as an owner you have to trust that your renters will respect your home and property, not steal, not break or ruin things etc...

Each vacation rental owner will have different policies, rules, ammenities, and we always stress to our potential guests to ask many questions, and to chose an accommodation based on the things that are important to them. By establishing open communication during the inquiry process it can only be a win win situation for all involved.

As far as reviews, I think they are a great tool for other potential renters along with great learning tools for ourselves. The flip side to this is however that TA does allow any review to be posted and though it is hard to imagine, there are many fake reviews which get posted. A disgruntled employee or competitor can easily post a scathing review several times under different names and believe me this does happen. TA does not have any check or balance for this. Kudos to the rental site another poster mentioned as they seem to have a good system in place.

As this other poster mentioned, the sad fact is that many people do not take the time out to go back and write a review or sign a guest book of a place they have stayed unless it was a negative experience. So if you look at a property that has had say 400 guests over a period of tme and say 380 of them have had a great experience and thought the rental was wonderful, but only 5 of them took the time to post any comments. Then lets say out of the 20 who were not satisfied 10 of them posted negative comments. If you were to look at this property for a potential rental and saw only five positive reviews and ten negative reviews would you honestly rent?

We also try to screen all of our potential guests. For example if they start asking about pay per view movies, spa services, restaurants on site, transportation services, we can generally see that they would be more comfortable and happier in a resort or different type of accommodation then what we try to promote. We will always attempt to steer them to an establishment that would better meet their needs as opposed to taking their reservation anyhow and having them be unhappy or let down.

Anyway sorry that this is so long but as an owner of a guest house business and a vacation rental I just wanted to offer a different perspective. Vacation rentals can be a great and economical way for families and groups of friends to travel. The important thing is to ask lots of questions, ask how old the pictures on a web site are, ask about specific ammenities that are important to you and ask about specific policies or hidden fees up front.

I do agree that you should have been refunded all of your damage deposit along with some of your rental costs for all the inconveniences. Hopefully you will be able to work something out with this owner. Let us know how it ends up.

CT
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10. Re: Hilltop Paradise Vacation Rental / Temecula, California

Villa Sevilla has presented a very thorough post with things to take into consideration when booking a private home or condo. While I do not diminish the risk a renter takes with their hard earned cash, it pales in consideration the risk an owner takes renting their property out. While a bad rental may put a renter out of pocket thousands of dollers, a bad tenant is residing in your home worth of hundreds of thousands or miliions of dollars. If they choose to do damage or act irresponsably not only does an owner have to fund the repairs, it could take the rental out of the market for any length of time.