Families fight for refunds after event halls cancel celebrations due to COVID-19

Three local families claim an events venue refused to refund their money after celebrations were canceled by the pandemic.

“This was supposed to be my husband’s big surprise 60th birthday party. I wanted to do something very special for the one I love,” Arline Summey said.

That’s why Summey paid to rent the Crystal Ballroom of Veranda and her daughter signed the contract.

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The family needed room for dozens of guests for the spring celebration. Many were supposed to fly in from New York, a COVID-19 hot spot.

The pandemic changed everything, so when the Crystal Ballroom was closed by state COVID-19 regulations, she expected a refund.

“Now they don’t want to talk to me at all. They are just blowing me off,” Summey said.

She paid nearly $5,800. She said the company only offered a different day later this year or in 2021.

Later this year seemed impossible and next year is so uncertain.

“We don’t even know what’s going to happen toward the end of the year,” Summey said.

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Two more families reached out to Action 9 with similar complaints. They had big events planned at other Crystal Ballroom locations and fear losing thousands of dollars.

Lakesha Miles and her future husband signed a contract for their wedding at the Casselberry event hall.

COVID-19 restrictions made that impossible, but they claim it’s refusing a $3,000 refund.

“I’ve been calling them. No contact. No nothing,” Miles said.

Both families claim Crystal Ballroom said its contracts include a no-refund policy for unforeseen circumstances.

“They didn’t mention worldwide pandemic. Who would have imagined a worldwide pandemic,” Summey said.

Consumer attorney Jared Lee said no-refund clauses are standard for event planners, to cover bad weather and natural disasters when customers can postpone for a few months.

Now, a pandemic threatens events for a year or longer.

“These clauses have not been determined in Florida in the context of a pandemic yet, so there will be a lot of cases,” Lee said.

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Many civil cases deal with disputes triggered by consumers seeking refunds and event halls trying to enforce contracts.

Crystal Ballroom managers told Action 9′s Todd Ulrich that Summey’s daughter was offered full credit for a future event, even though its contract has an unforeseen event no-refund clause.

The company also said it has moved 45 events to help their its clients due to COVID-19.

“They had no compassion,” Summey said.

Consumer experts said you should negotiate with the events company and attempt to reach a compromise before considering legal action.

It will be up to the courts to determine if standard no-refund contracts also cover a pandemic.

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Read Crystal Ballroom’s response:

“This ballroom has successfully postponed and moved over 45 events due to Covid-19. Despite the hardship this epidemic placed on us and our clients, we have worked to make the necessary changes as free of stress as possible. Arline is an exception. First, she is not our client and does not appear anywhere in our contracts. Furthermore, her complaints do not seem to represent what Shakiya Jarett, our actual client, has asked of us.

“Shakiya Jarett (our actual client) has been in contact with us and made a request to change her date to 28 August 2021, a date we have available and agreed to offer her. However, last week she changed her mind. She has also asked for us to transfer the event to another Crystal Ballroom site, but all other ballrooms are dealing with the same epidemic we are. We have emailed her back and are waiting for a response from her. As it relates to Arline, we have an obligation to work with our client and cannot make contractual agreements with another person, even if they say they are speaking on our clients behalf.

“As you can see from the contract the ballroom does have a non-refundable policy and under the terms and conditions signed by the client the pandemic falls under ‘unforeseen events’.

“As the pandemic is completely unforeseen, we offered all our clients affected by the pandemic the options to save their investment in several different ways.

“We offered Shakiya the options to pick a new date free of charge in 2020 so she would not lose her investment but as stated in her emails, her guests and family would prefer 2021.

“Under the contract terms we did not have to do this but we did not want her to lose her investment and continued to offer ways to help.

“We offered Shakiya a full credit that she could use towards another event and as stated above she is looking into this.”

Todd Ulrich

Todd Ulrich, WFTV.com

I am WFTV's Action 9 Reporter.