Robbed in Rome VRBO - Any Recourse?

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Apr 18, 2019
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#1
We just returned from our vacation rental in Rome, having spent 9 days and I need some advice from you about whether there is any recourse for what happened to us there. Now, this is a rental that we have stayed at 5 times before, starting around 2005, so we know a lot about it. The main difference this time was that the management company had changed and it is now rented through VRBO - Hostmaker is the company. Prior to that it was a private rental agency in Rome and they did a great job with communication and everything went smoothly. We never had a problem before and always felt safe and secure.

The rental is a 3rd story walk-up with two floors, a living area and kitchen right when you enter and upstairs bedrooms and bathrooms. There is a lock on the street-level door and a very substantial, secure looking apartment door with a big key. The apartment door actually doesn't even have a door handle, it just locks when you close the door and you really need the key to open it at all. So, this is what happened... The person who checked us in gave us only one key to the place and all the other times we've stayed there there were two sets provided. In fact, the recently printed apartment manual states that two sets should be provided, so this made my uneasy and I right away wrote to the management 'host' company to ask for the second set. They claimed that this was the only set they could provide and that they needed the other key for emergencies. I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt and go on with our vacation.

From the start it seemed that someone was probing us to see when we were there. When you ring the apartment doorbell at the street level you can talk to the tenant if they answer a phone next to the door and unlock the door by pressing the button on the phone if you are so inclined. I answered this phone once and it was a woman's voice (more on this later) claiming to be the postal service. I just hung up because there was no reason for postal delivery in a short term rental and I wasn't about to let anyone in. This phone was rung many times and now I suspect it was someone trying to figure out if we were there or not. I made a point to always close the front door whenever we entered because I was already feeling uneasy about this activity.

Well, one evening 6 days into our stay, we got back from being out and about, closed the door, and I placed my backpack that contained cash, clothing, and our passports (I know, bad idea, but I was not leaving them in the apartment at that point because of the phone calls) on the couch downstairs and we went upstairs to read. While upstairs, my son came to me and said "Dad, the doorbell is ringing, should I answer it?" and I said "No son, we aren't expecting any guests" and we left it at that. Twenty minutes later, I went downstairs and realized right away that the backpack was gone and the apartment door was open.

There was no evidence of forced entry and we were in the apartment when this happened. The only way that I can see it this being done is if someone had a key to the apartment. I did call the police and file a police report for what that is worth and I have a copy of that.

I right away notified the management company through VRBO (this is all documented through the paper trail on that site) and the following back-and-forth over the next few days was in my view completely inadequate and uncaring in light of the fact that a guest was robbed. I suggested that the 2nd set of keys was in the possession of the intruder and that they should immediately re-key the locks so that we could feel secure. Also, we noticed that there had been one of those swinging, metal door guard locks like you see on hotel doors, but it was lacking the small latch so it wasn't functional. I requested that they at least fix or replace this so that we could lock the door when we are in the apartment. They didn't do either of these things. The only thing they offered was that we could move into one of two other apartments that they manage. Both apartments were not comparable in our view. They were over 100 Euros /night less expensive than what we rented, lacked the terrace that our place had, and were not in a part of Rome we wanted to be in. We again expressed our desire that they re-key or otherwise secure the apartment for our safety. For the remainder of our stay we resorted to moving a couch and chairs in front of the door at night while we were asleep and balancing wine glasses on the furniture as a sort of rudimentary alarm system.

After a day of virtually no response from the management company, we contacted VRBO and explained the situation and they opened a formal complaint on my behalf in their system and escalated it and it is still active and I have the complaint number so I can call them back for status updates, etc. I haven't done that again since I got back yesterday. VRBO asked me what I wanted as an acceptable resolution to this problem. I reiterated that I at least wanted the door secured but would also like some sort of refund as we had about $1000 in property taken (backpack, clothing, cash, and $550 to get temporary passports made at the US embassy). VRBO said that all they could do is facilitate a conversation between myself and the management company.

I did get a few messages from the management company during the last few days of our vacation, but they all seemed to attempt to discredit us by suggesting that we left the door unlocked somehow. Whenever I brought up (again) the fact that they only provided us with one set of keys they were silent on that matter.

So here we are. We flew back to the U.S. yesterday and now I'm trying to figure out next steps and I would of course welcome any sage advice at this point. Is there any way to get compensation for our lost property or a refund on the apartment which was obviously not able to be secured?

There is other information I have that could be relevant or at least interesting but I want to see what you all think at this point. One thing I will leave you with is that I think I have a photograph of the person that stole our stuff. It was a youngish woman that we saw skulking around our apartment door several times during our vacation when we came back from being out. As we were leaving the apartment for the last time she dashed through the street-level door around my son as he pushed the door open. We were waiting for a cab outside and she eventually came back out and I attempted in my inadequate Italian to ask her if she had keys to the apartment. She claimed to not understand me and gave me the stink eye so I took her photograph with my cell phone just in case I could use it to warn others. Mind you, this didn't appear to be a friendly resident of the building, she was very rude and standoffish. My guess is that she had a key to our apartment in her purse, but this I acknowledge is in the realm of conjecture. It is hard not to play detective when you have $1000 stolen :)

Thanks much, looking forward to any advice!
 

Neil Maley

Moderator
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Dec 27, 2014
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www.promalvacations.com
#2
Sep 19, 2015
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#3
Do you have travel insurance or does your personal insurance cover theft?

I live in NYC — people buzzing the wrong apartment happens often especially with delivery— from the post office to UPS to food. It happened less often when I stayed with friends in Rome (San Giovanni) but did happen.

I have to say if someone had the keys it would be pretty bold to enter when you are there — the person risked you being there to confront them.

If someone was stalking for theft with keys wouldn’t there have been entries when renters were not there to look for iPad, computers, etc?

Most property theft is opportunistic in nature — a purse left on the ground, a door left open, a parked car with luggage visible....

As I said I live in NYC and have had apartments broken into twice — once a careless room mate made it easy by leaving a window unlocked —the other was a more accomplished burglar and the police told me a number of others had been robbed that same day in the same manner.

The problem you have is a lack of proof that it was a key entry for the theft.

And as for the youngish woman — do you have any proof that she did not live in the building? Maybe she dislikes her building having a short term rental and having turn over.
 

AMA

Verified Member
Dec 11, 2014
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#4
Did you file a police report? If you have homeowner's insurance that covers your belongings while you are traveling, you might be able to file a claim. Generally the insurance company will want a copy of the police report, though.
 
Apr 18, 2019
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#5
Ok, so I do have a police report and I will ask about my homeowner's insurance covering the theft, good idea. I agree that what I am providing is circumstantial evidence for a keyed entry, not proof. It would be great to have proof. One piece of info that I left out is that the only other review of this property says that someone accessed their apartment while they were out and "went through all of their stuff". Another thing that happened while we were there is the only other apartment on that floor was robbed a few days prior to ours being robbed. Again, not proof that someone has keys, but obviously the place is super easy to get into for some reason. No evidence of forced entry anywhere seems to suggest keys, is all.
 

Neil Maley

Moderator
Staff Member
Advocate
Dec 27, 2014
17,051
15,556
113
New York
www.promalvacations.com
#6
It’s too bad you didn’t see those reviews before you booked. If there are this many issues showing in reviews- something is wrong at the location. It sounds like you might want to stop using this rental and should post an appropriate review to warn others and you ought to bring this up when you write to VRBO.
 
Sep 19, 2015
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#7
Did the police say anything when the report was made? When reporting one burglary in NY I was told that of the other thefts that same day with the same method.

There are sadly people that go around looking for opportunities to steal. That is what made me get outdoor security cameras for an elderly relative’s home in the suburbs. There are people that follow the delivery trucks to steal packages off the porch, so the idea of someone checking out a building if security is known to be lax is not surprising. In NYC landlords often warn people not to buzz someone in if they are not expecting someone — and often the intercomes have poor sound so it is hard to hear and people buzz in anyway.

During my student days when budget was tight and crime was higher a number of my classmates were also had things stolen from apartments - most of the burglars avoided confrontation and ran. We were actually more afraid of the ones that were more bold - think push in robberies and such.

Sorry this happened.
 
Likes: VoR61
Apr 18, 2019
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#8
The police came to the apartment when I called 113 (Europe's 911) and asked me about the details of the case. One thing I noticed right before the police arrived was that there happened to be a security camera on the opposite side of the street that was pointed at another door, but also happened to be sort of pointing at our building's door (this is a very curvy, medieval section of Rome and the other door was oriented 90 degrees to our door on a corner). I showed this to the two cops and they just dismissed it like it wasn't worth considering. Actually, one of them insisted that it was broken even though it had a wire connected to the wall. I later asked a man who entered that door if the camera was working and he said it was, though I really don't know enough Italian to exploit that information in this case. It really is something that requires local assistance and I didn't have that. Oh, wait, there is that management company that I rented from - Hostmaker - that could have helped me out here and they didn't help me at all. Almost forgot about that.

I did see the one review of our apartment before we rented. Keep in mind that I've rented this place 5 times before, so a single review saying that someone had their stuff gone through didn't make me shy away from the place too much. I won't be fooled again, though.
 
Apr 18, 2019
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#9
I'm trying to decide whether to write a letter to send up the corporate ladder about this. My thinking is that the management company fell way short by not taking seriously the security issues in the apartment that I reported while I was there, starting with the one key issue when there should have been two. Neil, are you saying that you don't think I have a good case to make and that a letter to corporate is unlikely to result in anything?

If you do think I should move forward with a letter, what do you think would be reasonable as an outcome in a case like this? I feel that if an apartment isn't secured, then some kind of refund is in order, either full or partial, but I would like your opinion on this. My thinking is that I could build a case that the management company didn't do anything substantive to resolve this and therefore we were left with an insecure apartment. The existing paper trail describing the key scenario is central to that argument. Please let me know what you think.
 
Sep 19, 2015
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#10
I'm trying to decide whether to write a letter to send up the corporate ladder about this. My thinking is that the management company fell way short by not taking seriously the security issues in the apartment that I reported while I was there, starting with the one key issue when there should have been two. Neil, are you saying that you don't think I have a good case to make and that a letter to corporate is unlikely to result in anything?

If you do think I should move forward with a letter, what do you think would be reasonable as an outcome in a case like this? I feel that if an apartment isn't secured, then some kind of refund is in order, either full or partial, but I would like your opinion on this. My thinking is that I could build a case that the management company didn't do anything substantive to resolve this and therefore we were left with an insecure apartment. The existing paper trail describing the key scenario is central to that argument. Please let me know what you think.
I think one of the challenges is that if the second set of keys is with the management company the scenario that you propose then someone from the management company would have to have been the thief.

Many building in NYC require a second set of keys to me with super etc in case of leaks or emergencies.

would someone from the management company be lurking around the property waiting to use the key to slip in when the renters are present?
 
Sep 19, 2015
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#11
The police came to the apartment when I called 113 (Europe's 911) and asked me about the details of the case. One thing I noticed right before the police arrived was that there happened to be a security camera on the opposite side of the street that was pointed at another door, but also happened to be sort of pointing at our building's door (this is a very curvy, medieval section of Rome and the other door was oriented 90 degrees to our door on a corner). I showed this to the two cops and they just dismissed it like it wasn't worth considering. Actually, one of them insisted that it was broken even though it had a wire connected to the wall. I later asked a man who entered that door if the camera was working and he said it was, though I really don't know enough Italian to exploit that information in this case. It really is something that requires local assistance and I didn't have that. Oh, wait, there is that management company that I rented from - Hostmaker - that could have helped me out here and they didn't help me at all. Almost forgot about that.

I did see the one review of our apartment before we rented. Keep in mind that I've rented this place 5 times before, so a single review saying that someone had their stuff gone through didn't make me shy away from the place too much. I won't be fooled again, though.
Unless the person who answered you was the super or 'portiere' of the building they may not actually know if the camera is working or not. Or the person may have said it was working thinking you had bad intentions and said working as a deterrent. Unless one has access to the video feed (monitor or online) one does not know if the camera is actually working.
 
Sep 19, 2015
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#14
Yes you mentioned that in your first post but also said you wrote to them and

“They claimed that this was the only set they could provide and that they needed the other key for emergencies”

So that means you had one set and management had another. Which gets back to my question do you think the management company is behind this?
 
Likes: Neil Maley
Apr 18, 2019
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#15
I don't think I need to go out on a limb here to suggest that. All I'm saying is that what they are telling me differs from what their own manual says and also a lot of the other statements they have made are either evasive or unsupportive. I think it is worth remembering who was robbed here.
 
Likes: agnostic

Neil Maley

Moderator
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Advocate
Dec 27, 2014
17,051
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www.promalvacations.com
#16
Mention that in your letter to VRBO. It seems odd that someone rang the bell which was obviously to see if you were home. It’s too bad your son didn’t say something at the door when the bell rang that would have discouraged whoever it was to not try the door if they knew you were there.

No one heard the door open and close when your son came upstairs?

On your previous rentals did you always have two sets of keys? If you did, I would point that out. You always had two sets of keys and suddenly with the new managers there was only one, even though the manual said there was supposed to be two. Who else had the other set of keys?

Have you written to VRBO yet? Your case should be about the keys. I am leaning to your way of thinking. And thinking about the scenario- someone had the audacity to enter the place while you were home- the theft of the bag was the best case scenario. It could have been far worse.

If VRBO doesn’t get involved I’m not sure there is much more you can do. But you should give it a try.

Have you been in touch with the actual owner?
 
Apr 18, 2019
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#17
Yes, the other five times I've rented this unit we were given two sets of keys every time. I'm sure the rental company always had another set in those cases to, but they don't need to state that in the manual of course. They have lost track of one set of keys, I guess, and the lost set could be being used in this way. When I have asked the management company directly about this discrepancy with the manual they have offered no response and this is documented in the paper trail already.

All four of us were upstairs when this happened. My son was also upstairs, he just asked me about the door buzzer ringing. He never actually went downstairs. Yes, I feel fairly certain that the intruder would have stayed away if we had answered.

I'm encouraged that you think I might have a case here. VRBO gave me a phone number to call to get status on my case, but do you think I shouldn't even call about that and just move ahead with sending a well written e-mail to maintain the trail?
 
Apr 18, 2019
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#18
Oh, I haven't been in touch with the actual owner. On VRBO, there is only a button to send a message to the management company. How would I find out how to contact the owner?
 

jsn55

Verified Member
Dec 26, 2014
7,915
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#20
Many people contact us with a headline referring to "disaster, horror, trauma" and they they describe a major annoyance. What happened to you is a true disaster in my opinion. A disaster in the context that there seems to be absolutely nothing you can do about the robbery. It doesn't matter that you've always had two keys in the past and this trip only one set; there's no way to know how many keys to your apartment exist, much less who has them. Nobody is going to come forward, because there's literally no way to determine what happened and "who did it". For example, the management company could eventually catch an employee doing these robberies. But they're not going to share this information because they don't want to be liable for all the robberies. They'll just terminate the employee, perhaps make an effort to confiscate some of the stolen goods, and move on. VRBO is useless, they're just a booking service that brings landlords and tenants togethe., despite their marketing.

I urge you to keep the pressure on the management company and VRBO. You'll never see your belongings again, but you may receive some compensation from VRBO in the form of a future rental credit or something. The only way that this kind of thievery will stop is for victims to stand up and keep yelling about it. In a polite way of course. It's a sad piece of advice to keep all your blongings safely concealed in a locked apartment (or hotel room for that matter) and secrete cash, as it is never covered by insurance. The best advice, of course, is don't take anything valuable with you on a trip. This is reality. I hope your homeowner's will help.