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Bear with me as I am not an expert on the law, I have a a question regarding private guest-house / airBnB owners and what their rights are and what they may not be allowed to do.

Before I start, I should mention that this is more out of interest, something similar happened to me a while ago, I simply left a negative review and that was it for me. But recently a friend of mine had the same issue and my curiosity got the better of me and I wanted to learn what the law is on this.

Say you book an apartment through booking.com (or any other booking website) and pay the amount in advance (no refund possible at this point). Say you arrive late at night (outside the indicated check-in time) and the owner then asks you to pay extra for the check-in, is he/she allowed to do that? In my friend's case, there was no mentioning of a late check-in fee but you can also not refund the booking so you are sort of forced to pay the extra amount if you don't want to loose the payment you have already made for the apartment. What does the law say on this?

In my case it ended there but in my friends case the airplane got delayed and as a result my friend arrived 2 hours late at the property. In the meantime (while on the airplane), my friend received angry emails (capitalised words, every sentence marked with several exclamation mark, the whole array ...) saying because of the late arrival the late check-in fee has doubled which my friend was then forced to pay (which were equal to 2 nights rent, so it was a significant amount which was not agreed upon before and again, there was not really an option to avoid this fee (other than, again, losing the down payment and looking for a different hotel at 5 in the morning with all your luggage). Again, is the owner allowed to just arbitrary set prices and force you to pay (as the owner knows that you don't really have another option). It feels a bit like exploitation, just wondering if there is a law on that.

OK, so now to the interesting bit. I understand that booking.com (or the website you booked through) is just a facilitator of sorts, so they don't need to mediate between you and the apartment owner (and from experience it seems that's exactly their strategy), but if we look more closely at the problem, effectively you were making a booking through their website based on incomplete information. I understand that this is the owners fault of not providing this information, but is booking.com (or again your favourite website) not, at least, being sloppy with due diligence by pretty much saying "your problem, not ours, we only run this website and don't care if you have to pay extra"? I have a feeling that they are operating within the margin of the law, but that then means that you are pretty much at the mercy of the apartment owner and if he/she wants to drain your vacation funds there is nothing stopping him/her?

And one more thing, if make your booking in country A for an apartment in country B through booking.com, which law should be considered? The one from country A (where you booked from), country B (where you are going to) or maybe where the website you bought it through is registered? (possibly a third, different country)

Oh and just one last thing, thankfully it didn't happened (to neither me nor my friend), but out of curiosity and on that topic, what happens if the owner decides to withhold the deposit you paid? Again, there seems little that you can do. I guess you can take pictures of everything but in the end it will be your word against the owner, it seem pretty easy then for them to just cash in some extra money if they wanted to do so.

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I am not a lawyer, but to me this sounds like it is a case of contract law, and contracts are enforceable worldwide as long as the terms in them are not illegal.

booking.com has a contract with the Trip Providers for offering their trips/hotels. And when you order an airBnB via booking.com you sign a contract with booking.com. In both cases, the booking.com terms and conditions apply. These conditions do include this (emphasis mine):

  1. Prices, crossed-out rates and We Price Match

The prices as offered by the Trip Providers on our Platform are highly competitive. All prices for your Trip are displayed including VAT/sales tax and all other taxes (subject to change of such taxes) and fees, unless stated differently on our Platform or the confirmation email/ticket. [...]

Obvious errors and mistakes (including misprints) are not binding.

This should protect you from sudden fees, but beware, there is also this, that does allow some fees that were not so obvious:

  1. Pre-payment, cancellation, no-show and fine print (emphasis mine)

By making a Trip Reservation with a Trip Provider, you accept and agree to the relevant cancellation and no-show policy of that Trip Provider, and to any additional (delivery) terms and conditions of the Trip Provider that may apply to your Trip (including the fine print of the Trip Provider made available on our Platform and the relevant house rules of the Trip Provider), including for services rendered and/or products offered by the Trip Provider. The relevant (delivery/purchase/use/carrier) terms and conditions of a Trip Provider can be obtained with the relevant Trip Provider. The general cancellation and no-show policy of each Trip Provider is made available on our Platform on the Trip Provider information pages, during the reservation procedure and in the confirmation email or ticket (if applicable). Please note that certain rates, fees or special offers are not eligible for cancellation, refund or change.

These additional delivery terms and conditions could arguably be cover fees for late check in. However, these would have to be in the Terms and Conditions of the Trip provider, so unannounced fees that were not in the terms and conditions should default to the booking.com Terms and Conditions Part 2.

Conclusion

My layman's opinion based on this: the Trip Provider might be in breach of contract with booking.com and you or not depending on his own Terms and Conditions, which you did not provide. If the Trip Provder breached the contract with booking.com and thus with you is up to booking.com to decide, so you should call their customer support. How to do this is in the above mentioned Terms and conditions of booking.com contain this:

  1. (Further) correspondence and communication

[...] Any claim or complaint against Booking.com or in respect of the Trip Service must be promptly submitted, but in any event within 30 days after the scheduled day of consummation of the product or service (e.g. check out date). Any claim or complaint that is submitted after the 30 days period, may be rejected and the claimant shall forfeit its right to any (damage or cost) compensation.

Due to the continuous update and adjustments of rates and availability, we strongly suggest to make screenshots when making a reservation to support your position (if needed).

We advise you to first notify us of any complaints by contacting our Customer Service. If this does not resolve your complaint, you can upload your complaint via the European Commission's ODR platform. This platform for online dispute resolution can be found here: http://ec.europa.eu/odr.

  • thanks for this long answer, that all makes actually a lot of sense if you think about it, cheers – tom Aug 13 '18 at 1:33
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you arrive late at night (outside the indicated check-in time) and the owner then asks you to pay extra for the check-in, is he/she allowed to do that?

It depends on the terms of the contract (such as the excerpt from booking.com in the answer posted by @Trish ). However, the no-show policy is unlikely to entitle the provider to unreasonable fees which might be unspecified even in the provider's Terms & Conditions.

By way of comparison, a hotel's typical no-show policy is that the customer shall pay as if he actually checked-in unless the customer cancelled the reservation with a specified, minimum anticipation.

In the situation you describe, the provider would need to prove that he is equitably entitled to charge the customer a significantly high fee for late check-in than what a hotel charge would charge under similar or no-show circumstances. Thus, doubling the fee merely under pretext of late check-in is very unlikely to prevail in [an honest] court.

When a provider incurs abusive practices of that sort, the customer should pursue --among others-- a claim of unjust enrichment (or its equivalent in non-U.S. jurisdictions). See Buckett v. Jante, 767 N.W.2d 376, 380 (2009):

To establish a claim for unjust enrichment, the plaintiff must prove three elements: (1) the plaintiff conferred a benefit upon the defendant; (2) the defendant had an appreciation or knowledge of the benefit; and (3) the defendant accepted or retained the benefit under circumstances making it inequitable for the defendant to retain the benefit without payment of its value.

The same applies to the concern that the provider fabricates a pretext for retaining the customer's deposit.

what happens if the owner decides to withhold the deposit you paid? Again, there seems little that you can do. there seems little that you can do. I guess you can take pictures of everything but in the end it will be your word against the owner, it seem pretty easy then for them to just cash in some extra money if they wanted to do so.

It is not that easy unless the customer acquiesces. For instance, the customer could "audit" (in court proceedings, if necessary) the provider's expenses for the alleged damages that the provider imputes to the customer. The customer could also ascertain whether the provider has a pattern or history of doing the same to other customers.

is booking.com (or again your favourite website) not, at least, being sloppy with due diligence by pretty much saying "your problem, not ours, we only run this website and don't care if you have to pay extra"?

The intermediary might be liable for negligence because he knows --or should know-- that that type of controversies are typical in the business in which he operates. The intermediary acts as an agent of the provider, whence the pretext that he only runs a website might not suffice for automatically eluding any and all liabilities related to the provider's abuse.

  • good points as well, thanks for your answer! – tom Aug 13 '18 at 1:33

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