The Investigators: You may lose money if you cancel your vacation rental during the COVID-19 pandemic

The Investigators: You may lose money if you cancel your vacation rental during the pandemic

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Beaches and vacation rentals are now open in Georgia, Alabama and eight counties in Florida, just in time for Memorial Day.

However, one local family says they wished they knew the cancellation policies for the vacation rental they booked for Memorial Day weekend.

“We used to take a big family vacation often, and then as the kids have gotten older we’ve had more challenges,” said Amanda Kucinski.

Kucinski’s daughter, Reagan Strange, was recently on The Voice, which took her family on the road. While her sister’s husband was recently diagnosed with cancer. They also have a daughter with special needs.

Even if beaches weren’t open and restaurants were closed, the family wanted to get away together as a treat from Kucinski’s mom.

“By the time we got to mid-April, we all felt more comfortable that we wanted to try and make this happen,” she said. “We saw some of the vacation rentals come back online and so we decided to bite the bullet. My mom said it was a risk.”

Even with the risk, Kucinski’s mom booked a four-bedroom, four-bath home in Perdido Key, Florida April 18.

Late Monday night, three days before their vacation was supposed to start, Kucinski’s mom got an email saying their reservation through VRBO had been cancelled by the property management company, Vacasa.

“It broke my mom’s heart,” said Kucinski.

Behind the headlines with Andrew and Jessica: Vacation rentals during the pandemic

Florida’s governor had shut down vacation rentals back March 27.

By Monday, the vacation rentals had not been allowed to re-open.

“When we did not have an update on Monday evening, we made the decision to cancel reservations for the upcoming week so guests would have at least three days notice," a Vacasa spokesperson said in an email.

When Kucinski’s mom tried to re-book the property Tuesday morning, it was already taken.

“When [the ban] was lifted on Tuesday, we reopened our vacation homes in the area to guests on a first-come-first-serve basis, and unfortunately, the home Ms. Payne had reserved was immediately booked by another guest,” a Vacasa spokesperson wrote. “It was an unfortunate situation and was simply due to the cadence of events that preceded her reservation being cancelled. We have apologized and issued the guest a full refund.”

“The person from Vacasa said ‘we had to do what we had to do'. It just doesn’t feel right,” said Kucinski.

Using local property records we found the owner of the home, who lives in Louisiana.

“It has nothing to do with me or Vacasa,” said Brian Belzer, the vacation rental owner. “It has to do with local and state governments. I’m sorry their reservation got cancelled but guess what, this whole world is screwed up because of this.”

With both VRBO or Airbnb, it’s book at your own risk right now.

VRBO has a similar policy.

However, outside of the time frame specified by the companies, it is up to the property owner if you get a refund.

Kucinski doesn’t want to displace another family so she said her family will book another vacation another time.

The Investigators reached out to Airbnb. A spokesperson released the following statement:

“Guests should be aware of hosts’ cancellation policies and it’s worth noting that we now offer a filter guests can use to identify flexible cancellation policies."

“In Florida, we’ve communicated to hosts and guests with existing and upcoming reservations informing them of the shelter-in-place order. We have updated the platform to advise guests to check local travel restrictions before booking stays, we have also sent communications widely to our host community encouraging each to check local orders with a link to our travel restriction directory page.”

The Investigators reached out to VRBO for comment but the company said it needed another day to investigate before it issued comment.

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