Action 9: Consumers losing big deposits for summer rentals

VIDEO: Action 9: Consumers losing big deposits for summer rentals

Several local families claim they lost thousands reserving summer rentals before the pandemic hit.

Action 9 found anyone who paid big deposits for a home sharing rental could be denied refunds even when they can't travel.

Four local couples thought it would be a summer to remember. They had planned on taking their 12 year old sons to a Hall of Fame week baseball tournament in Cooperstown New York.​

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“Then in a blink of an eye it disappeared for us,” Deanna Coopersmith Marquez said.

She said the tournament organizers cancelled the late July event because of Covid 19 just weeks after the local group had booked a summer rental home to share and paid a $7,000 deposit.

They booked the house through HomeAway, a national home sharing company representing the property owner in Cooperstown.

“Given these circumstances we thought we could get our money back, especially since we had a third party working with us,” Diana Coopersmith Marquez said.

Diana and her husband, Lucas Marquez, said at first HomeAway encouraged the homeowner to provide a full refund. But the couple said that’s all HomeAway would do.

“They're basically an advertising agency. There's no consumer protection. They haven't done much for us,” Lucas Marquez said.

The couple contacted the property owner who in an initial text said. ‘We are going to do the right thing. We need to move funds around.’

That text was sent six weeks ago and since then, nothing.

“I have reached out to him directly and got no response,” Lucas Marquez said.

The timing is bad for summer home rentals. Industry experts say most consumers make reservations and pay deposits before March 15th every year.

And this time consumers didn’t know a pandemic threatened to make travel risky through the summer and jeopardize their trips.​

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Consumer experts say short term rentals always had more restrictive cancellation policies than hotels and the pandemic will make that costly for so many families.

“None of them had policies that necessarily covered something like a pandemic. Many consumers are having difficulties being able to either re-book, cancel, seek refunds,” said Better Business Bureau President Holly Salmons.

Consumer investigator Todd Ulrich contacted HomeAway about the local parents' complaints. The company said its Covid-19 policy now states property owners need to refund 50% cash or future credits, and it's rewarding owners who give all the deposit back.

HomeAway managers said they are reviewing the local parents complaint.

“I want them to do the right thing. I want them to refund the money back,” Lucas Marquez said.

When it comes to new home sharing reservations for the rest of the year, consumer experts say for now it is best to book as close as possible to your travel dates so you can avoid forced cancellations and lost deposits.

HomeAway’s response:

"I wanted to share more information about Vrbo’s COVID-19 Emergency Policy, which states that homeowners/property managers need to either reschedule the traveler or refund at least 50% and Vrbo is refunding 100% of the money we make through traveler service fees. Here’s how we’re enforcing this policy:

  • Vrbo will reward partners (homeowners and property managers) with additional visibility in traveler searches. The more partners do now for travelers, the more we will reward them moving forward (so a 100% credit/refund will count more than 50% refund).
  • Partners who do not abide by these standards (offering a 100% credit/refund of at least a 50%) will be disadvantaged vis-a-vis those who act within our policy.
  • Any intimidation of travelers (such as suggesting that travel is safer for them than staying home or dismissing the severity of the crisis) will result in permanent removal from Vrbo and Expedia Group.

This crisis has been tough for everyone. Despite that, the vast majority of our partners are rising to the occasion and offering credits for future travel or refunds to travelers given these extreme circumstances."

WFTV is committed to bringing you the most accurate information about the coronavirus pandemic in Central Florida.
WFTV is committed to bringing you the most accurate information about the coronavirus pandemic in Central Florida. (Cindy Kelly)