Company Response on 03/30/2011:
My apologies for the lengthy response here but it's rare we have negative reviews and I take it quite personally.
When dealing with a large number of people, such as we do, and offering personal recommendations in foreign environments for limited budgets, I have to accept that sometimes people will simply not be happy with their property and won't share our opinion of what is or isn't good value. I've worked with Casa Alice since about 2004 and have never had bad reviews for them. On the contrary - a search will show some very satisfied guests over the years. I also personally visited the property last week after this complaint and overall still find it to be a great deal. There is indeed a smell from one of the bathrooms that comes up from the very old pipes (the building is probably early 1800's), but it goes away as the water is used in the sink. This is a problem that persists throughout Rome and is not limited to this apartment. However, for the price of 160 euro for 4 people, a couple blocks from the Pantheon with TV, wi-fi, A/C and two bedrooms, two bathrooms - I think most people see that it is still worthwhile and are more than willing to show a bit of understanding for this imperfection.
I am sorry these guests did not find everything to their high expectations and had worked with them since their arrival to resolve their issues. The problem, however, was that they clearly were not aware of what our role was, nor what our policy is. At the time of reserving they were presented with an option of a 10 euro insurance policy which would have covered any losses in the event that they wanted to cancel for ANY reason at all. They declined this option and thus accepted our normal cancellation policy - which they had to "click to accept" to complete the booking, and which was also repeated in their confirmation letter. However, when they decided they no longer wanted to stay at Casa Alice they wrote, "I don't known what your refund policy is with dissatisfied clients, but given that we paid her for seven nights and are leaving after four, I would appreciate some consideration for compensation for the nights we are not using. We will be out of here tomorrow by 10:30 a.m."
In defense of ourselves and the owner I'll respond to some of the actual details: the guest arrived on a Saturday and the following day notified us of the broken toilet seat and requested more sheets. Since they had changed from 4 people to 3 people, the owner did not understand that they needed 3 separate beds (thinking two were a couple). Since this was not specified by the guest, a double bed and a single bed as opposed to 3 single beds is what was made up for them. However, the owner uses a cleaning service that does not operate on Sundays, so she was unable to bring them sheets as quickly as they would have liked. Same for the toilet seat. It was fixed, but perhaps in "Roman time", despite our efforts to move things along quickly. I do not want to downplay the discomfort of a broken toilet seat or sleeping in a sleep sack - if they were important to the guest, then they are important to me. However, by no means would I consider those issues to make the apartment "unlivable". A gesture of good faith from the owner to show she was sorry would have been enough, in my opinion - but this is also a culturally delicate matter. Not everyone in the world thinks of problems as being monetarily compensable. Sometimes a bit of patience to work out imperfections is more useful that any attempt to quantify how much it's "worth".
In any case, at the time, these were the only two complaints that were voiced by this guest, and therefore, the only two things we set out to rectify. On day 4 of their 7 night stay they wrote with a series of other minor complaints and said that they would be leaving and would like a refund (and stating as per the quote above that they didn't know what our policy was in such cases). I responded immediately saying that we could attempt to resolve these new issues, and if we could not resolve them, could help negotiate a discount for them, but that if they wanted to leave, after 4 days, we would consider it a voluntary cancellation and as per our policy it would not warrant a refund.
The guest left anyway despite my warning and persisted with asking for a refund from me - without understanding that we are not the owners and do not have the power to offer a refund. Our policy, which they admitted to not knowing, clearly stated what we can and cannot do in the event of complaints, and clearly stated that refunds were under the sole control of the owner. Regardless, we contacted the owner and pushed for a refund anyway, since we sympathized with the guest and in general don't feel good about anyone losing money unnecessarily. In the end, after repeated efforts (even a visit in person to the apartment), the owner felt that it was unfair of them to ask for a refund as she had succeeded in fixing their problems and didn't understand why, if they were so unhappy there, they hadn't made that clear from the beginning even having seen her in person and not mentioning these problems to her directly.
I communicated this to the guests, along with my sympathies and apologies, and felt that I had been professional, responsive, and quick on acting on their behalf. I tried to delicately point out that it is a rarity as an agent in the property rental business to have someone offer assistance with a guest's stay at all. They responded with a threatening letter.
We have very flexible policies (probably the most flexible around for apartment rentals) and make very clear what we can and cannot do - so that both owners and guests know what to expect of us. If people cannot take the time to inform themselves properly of the commitment they are making, there is little we can do about it officially. If guests want even more flexibility and no financial risk, we will assume that risk for them with just a 10 euro insurance surcharge. I really don't see how else we could offer a better service. It is upsetting when we go above and beyond the call of duty to help someone, and our efforts for a quality, personal service, results in being attacked and offended personally.