Renter on the hook for thousands after hurricane forces cancellations

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — As Hurricane Florence bears down on the Carolinas, some Texans are left trying to rearrange travel plans and short-term rental stays in popular east coast tourism spots.

Leslie Brake was set to be maid of honor this weekend at the wedding of her best friend of 22 years. Hurricane Florence had other ideas. She tried to cancel the five-bedroom home in downtown Charleston, South Carolina for nearly $4,000 on short-term rental site VRBO.

“As soon as the mandatory evacuation was released, we contacted the property owner,” Brake said.
According to messages provided by Brake, the owner said the cancelation policy is “very clear” that no refunds would be offered.

The owner wrote to Brake that it was “very unfortunate that you did not purchase the travel insurance as you would be completely covered.”

Brake’s receipts show the owner later canceled the reservation but only refunded the cleaning fee.

“It’s extremely frustrating,” she said. “We were planning on going to the wedding hell or high water.”

VRBO’s parent company, HomeAway, is based in Austin. A company spokesperson said the team was offsite and not available to grant a request for an interview.

HomeAway posted resources online in an advisory about Hurricane Florence, including information on a disaster relief hotline for customers.

Brake said VRBO customer service told her it would be up to the property manager to decide whether or not to issue a refund.

The company urged customers to “contact the vacation rental owner or property manager to determine if traveling to the destination is safe or accessible, or to discuss rescheduling or refunding the stay” in a  statement on its website.

The advisory also indicated that customer supports teams were “ready to aid travelers in finding an alternative accommodation if the vacation rental they are staying in or have booked in the near future may be compromised by the storm.”

Brake said she’ll consider purchasing the travel insurance for future trips.

“Lesson learned to always purchase the travel insurance even when you’re positive you will be able to go,” she said.

“I hope to either be refunded or if they can somehow make it right as far as accommodating as for the new wedding date,” which was scheduled for June, she said, checking that the home was available for the new wedding date.

Another short-term rental company, Airbnb, shared that it would work with hosts in the areas affected by the storm to open their homes for displaced neighbors and relief workers deployed to help, for free from Sept. 10 through Oct. 1.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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