Małgorzata Kwiatkowska: Counsel, the holidays are approaching – the longed-for moment to which we count down the days. Unfortunately, even during the holidays we face legal traps that we would rather avoid. Let’s start with the fact that when looking for a holiday accommodation we often use the services of travel agencies. Can we check their credibility and how?
Michał Koralewski: Running tourist services requires an entry in a special register kept by the marshal of a given province. To facilitate the viewing of these data, a portal was created that includes basic information about this type of entities. This is the Central Register of Tourism Organisers and Entrepreneurs Facilitating the Purchase of Related Tourist Services (Centralna Ewidencja Organizatorów Turystyki i Przedsiębiorców Ułatwiających Nabywanie Powiązanych Usług Turystycznych), which can be found at: www.ewidencja.ufg.pl. Therefore, we should start checking the operator from this portal. Importantly, we can also find out there information about operators that have declared bankruptcy.
MK: Recently, we have been suffering more and more from the increase in prices, progressing almost from week to week. When and why can the travel agency change the price of the trip?
MK: A price change is possible exclusively when it is provided for in the tourist service contract and only on the terms and to the extent indicated therein. What’s more, even if the relevant provisions are contained in the document, it is forbidden to change the amount less than 21 days before the start of the trip. In addition, in the event of a price increase, the organiser must prove that he incurred additional costs. Only they can have an impact on the increase in fees for the purchased service. It is also worth remembering that if the trip organiser changes the amount by more than 8%, we can withdraw from the contract without incurring additional costs.
MK: Besides, can the tourist office hide any additional costs from us?
MK: It shouldn’t be happening. However, you ought to pay attention to all information labeled “with additional charge” or “additional services.” They mean that the given attractions were not included in the package purchased by us. Therefore, before accessing them, it is worth checking what costs are involved.
MK: It sometimes happens that we have to change our plans. When and on what terms can we opt out of holidays booked with a travel agency?
MK: Firstly, it should be clarified that if we have concluded a contract via the Internet or outside the entrepreneur’s premises (for example at a fair), we may withdraw from such a contract within 14 days without giving any reason. Otherwise, the method of resignation is determined by the content of the document signed by us. Usually it is possible at any time, but the later we do it, the higher the possible fee. For example, many operators allow a free cancellation at least 60 days before the date of the trip. When we resign in a shorter period, it is associated with a fee. In the event of independent reasons, such as illness or a random event, a significant number of contracts provide for preferential terms of resignation. However, on each occasion you should carefully read the content of the signed documents.
MK: When concluding a contract, we are often persuaded to purchase the cancellation insurance. Is it worth taking advantage of such an offer?
MK: Yes. This is because most tour operators charge extra fees for canceling the tour. The insurance will cover the costs associated with such a decision.
MK: And in what cases and how can a client file a complaint?
MK: It is worth submitting it in each case when the provided tourist service did not meet the conditions specified in the contract. The case could be, for example, that the hotel – or even the hotel room – does not match the description, or that there are no attractions promised in the offer. In the complaint, you should indicate the deficiencies found, as well as your request, for example, a price reduction by a certain percentage or its reimbursement. The travel agency has 30 days to process our request. If the complaint is not recognised, we can use the help of the poviat (municipal) consumer ombudsman, and even submit a complaint to the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (Urząd Ochrony Konkurencji i Konsumentów.).
MK: It is often the price that determines the choice of a specific vacation offer. Are last minute offers completely safe?
MK: Yes. These are the same travel services as those purchased on standard dates. However, due to their “last minute” purchase, there are usually limitations in the choice of, for example, rooms or seats on the plane.
MK: We often go on a holiday trip by car. If we are renting it, what should we pay attention to?
MK: First of all, let’s pay attention to the condition of the vehicle so that any existing damage is not attributed to us. It is also worth checking the amount of fuel in the tank and records describing the condition we should return the car in. Some rental companies require the car to be washed and refuelled. Another aspect that should be carefully investigated is how fees are billed. Sometimes we only pay a lump sum, and sometimes the fee is a multi-component one and includes, for example, the rental time and the rate for the kilometres traveled. There are also additional costs – for not washing the car, exceeding the return time, sending a ticket and the like.
MK: Recently, there have been a few changes in Polish law regarding traffic offences. Which of them should we pay special attention to?
MK: Indeed, in January 2022 significant changes in the amount of fines entered into force. Fortunately, the catalog of offences remains unchanged. However, it is worth remembering that the maximum amount of the fine has increased tenfold, from PLN 500 to PLN 5,000. And if we commit several offences at the same time, the amount to be paid may be even higher, reaching PLN 6,000. However, we will lose the most if we do not indicate the perpetrator of the offence. Then the issued fine can raise even to PLN 8,000.
MK: And if we are going to travel by car abroad, what should we take care of and how to prepare?
MK: It is necessary to check the speed limits in force where we are going, because they are usually different than in Poland, as well as restrictions concerning vehicles, for example in the scope of entering city centres. Let’s also check fuel prices in individual countries to choose the optimal refuelling points. Another issue is motorway tolls. In some countries, it is necessary to buy a vignette, which must be affixed to the windshield. When visiting cities, let’s remember about paid parking zones. The fees for the lack of a parking ticket are very high in Western Europe.
MK: Some people during the holidays try to earn extra money by renting apartments to tourists. What do you have to pay attention to in this case? Should a contract always be signed with the landlord?
MK: The lack of a contract is a big mistake because it does not allow us to show the rental period, agreed fees or additional conditions. If we cannot conclude a transaction in writing in person, there are many other ways, such as signing the contract by e-mail or even via MMS. It is enough for both parties to exchange and accept the terms in this form.
MK: And what issues should such an agreement regulate?
MK: As with any lease, we must specify the subject of the lease (flat, house, room), the amount of the rent and possibly other fees. We should also remember to clearly indicate the period. One should know that if the lease is concluded for a specified period, its termination is possible only in the cases specified in the contract. Therefore, they should be listed. The most common cases are: arrears with rent and payments, as well as the lack of proper care of the premises and failure to follow the household order adopted in a given building.
MK: Under what other circumstances can the owner terminate the lease?
MK: As I mentioned before, when a contract is concluded for a definite period, its content is decisive. Therefore, it may happen that such an agreement will not provide for the possibility of its early termination. Contracts for an indefinite period may be terminated within statutory periods, which depend on the dates of rent payment. Thus, when the rent is payable at intervals of more than one month, the lease may be terminated at the latest three months in advance at the end of the calendar quarter; when rent is payable monthly – one month in advance at the end of the calendar month; when the rent is payable at shorter intervals – three days in advance; when the rental is daily – one day in advance.
MK: Is using an agent when renting a flat or an apartment a good or a bad idea?
MK: I must admit that I use the services of real estate agents myself. This not only saves time, but also increases transaction security. Agents try to arrange meetings only for customers who are actually interested in renting, and not for the so-called “viewers.” Moreover, the agent will take care of the correct content of the lease agreement.
MK: And what if we are looking for a flat to rent?
MK: Leaving aside the issues of the standard of the premises and its location, we should make sure that all fees are clearly defined. It happens that the actual amount is higher than announced by the landlord. If a deposit is charged, let’s specify what it can be collected for and on what dates the landlord should settle it. In the case of a lease for a fixed period, let’s verify the conditions entitling us to terminate the contract before the deadline. It is also worth looking at the obligations of the parties to maintain the condition of the premises and repair any damage. If we plan to stay with a pet, it should be clearly stated in the contract so that there is no conflict with the landlord. It may be a cliche, but let’s read the contract before signing it. Unfortunately, it still happens that we reach for it only after a dispute with the owner has arisen.
MK: We discussed a lot of issues, and I hope that this information will help our readers enjoy a good rest. I would like to remind you that in the event of problems, employees of companies that use the ICAS EAP Employee Assistance Program may request individual legal consultations on an ongoing basis. Thank you very much for the interview.
MK: Thank you and I wish you all a nice holiday.