Real Estate Comm. says barred visitors owed refunds

By on March 20, 2020

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Issues over travel insurance remain murky

Dare County’s March 17 restrictions on visitor access left vacation rental brokers in murky waters when it came to tenant inquiries regarding refunds and cancellations due to the COVID-19 crisis. But a March 19 letter from the North Carolina Real Estate Commission’s (NCREC) legal counsel sought to clarify that, stating that with the exception of certain statutory fees, the state’s Vacation Rental Act requires brokers to refund any and all funds when access to vacation rental homes is obstructed.

“In the current situation, landlords of vacation rental units in the affected areas cannot provide access to the units for the tenants who have pending reservations,” wrote NCREC legal counsel Janet Thoren in the letter to Commission Chairman Jeffery Malarney. “As a consequence, we have determined that when access to the property cannot be provided, we find that [the Vacation Rental Act] requires that the landlord and broker refund all monies paid by the tenant.”

The NCREC’s position came just days after the Dare County Control Group decided to restrict access to visitors, with Hyde and Currituck counties soon following suit in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19. In all three counties, visitor restrictions did not include evacuation orders for those who were already here.

Following the NCREC’s clarification, Outer Banks Association of Realtors Chief Executive Officer Willo Kelly told the Voice in an email, “Upon receipt of the letter from the NCREC, we quickly distributed it to our members. We want to ensure our members are compliant with the NC Vacation Rental Act and we thank the NCREC for the clarification regarding access and rental payments.”

Shortly after the restrictions were put in place, Facebook posts and anecdotes came pouring in to local media from visitors who claimed they were being denied refunds from rental agencies. And while protocols for hurricanes and weather-related events have long been in place in regard to travel insurance, that industry was wading into unchartered waters in dealing with the impacts of a pandemic.

NCREC’s Thoren told the Voice that while the commission doesn’t have jurisdiction over vacation rental owners who have already received partial funds for upcoming rentals, she said, “It’s the owner’s responsibility” to return all required funds to the tenant. “The law says they are entitled to a refund.”

Vacation rental agencies have addressed the issue of refunds to varying degrees on their websites – ranging from no mention on some sites to explanations on others. By the evening of March 19, Carolina Designs posted on its site, “We are all concerned about the travel restrictions to the Outer Banks, and everyone’s health and safety during this time. If guests are unable to access their rental home due to the current visitor restrictions to the Outer Banks, and if suitable alternative accommodation dates cannot be found, guests will be refunded in full.”

It continued, “These refunds will be available to guests whose reservation dates are directly impacted by the bridge closure. There is no indication when the Outer Banks will reopen to visitors. We continue to prioritize communication with our March guests and will be in direct communication with guests arriving in the coming weeks and beyond as the situation evolves.”

In a March 18 website post, Hatteras Island’s Midgett Realty stated that it was currently dealing with a 15-day window of reservations certain to be impacted by the current travel restrictions.

“While we understand that folks with confirmed reservations that don’t fall within this window are frustrated and want answers for planning and peace of mind, please understand that we can’t give answers that we don’t have. The travel restriction is the main variable that determines the outlook of your vacation, and as of right now, after the 15-day window, that variable becomes an unknown.”

As for Village Realty OBX, its website noted that it was not currently accepting reservations through April 4. “With the bridge closure announcement from the county having no defined end date, we are using a rolling two-week window to contact our guests. Given that, as of 3/18, guests with\h arrivals through 3/31 have been contacted via email. We are continuing this plan for the coming weeks with respect to this uncertainty,” its website read.

As far as travel insurance goes, Thoren encouraged those with travel insurance to check their policies, but added that she guessed the bulk of the policies have exclusions that would not cover situation such as pandemics. If people have trouble with their travel insurance, she suggested they should contact the North Carolina Department of Insurance.

Department of Insurance Deputy Commissioner for Communications Marla Sink said that insurance companies are dealing with a new and uncertain situation, “But we are continuing to study the issue in light of the current health emergency,” she said.

Some travel insurance policies, she said, have “cancel for any reason” coverage. “This is usually more expensive than normal travel insurance and may have restrictions. Consumers would need to read specifics in policy,” she wrote in an email response to the Voice.

Sink also stated that “a travel insurance policy will not cover the cost of your trip if you want to cancel because you are AFRAID to catch COVID-19. You must be sick for coverage to be triggered.”

The exception to that, she noted, is if you have a policy that covers cancellations for any reason. But with NCREC’s March 19 position on refunds, she added, “The thing with the Outer Banks that is good to know, is you are going to get your money back.”

 


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Comments

  • Life long Local

    There seems to be a very high # of blockade runners down here? doesn’t seem to be working.

    Friday, Mar 20 @ 3:13 pm
  • Pink Floyd

    Close down to beach to all tourists long as it takes. A 2 possibility should not even be on the books. Hold the line, man the bridges, blockade continued for at least 2 month. We dont need thousands of walking biologicals walking around especially from highly populated areas where theres massive infections. This is unprecedented folks. STAY AWAY, HUNKER DOWN IN YOUR HOMETOWN. What are yall going to do in cases of outbreak or civil unrest in your area or reroute. NO TOURISTS OR OUT OF STATE HOMEOWNERS. No offense and some of you have been saying we hate tourists. That’s completely irrational. How would you tourists like it if thousands , hundreds of thousands of people possibly infected were crammed into your hometown? Crammed into a beach. Restaurants are shut down along with businesses. We don’t need lots of folks buying up dwindling suppliers either. Sorry but drastic times call for drastic measures. Hope you do get a refund. Homeowners please stay away also…this is not a refuge in the event of economic collapse or widespread infection, etc. PLEASE!!!!

    Friday, Mar 20 @ 3:36 pm
  • John

    There’s no way renters should be refused a refund even if there is no legal compelling reason. It isn’t like somebody else could have come along and rented the property. Homeowners/rental companies weren’t going to get that money in any scenario. These are strange time and require a bit of flexibility on everyone’s part.

    Friday, Mar 20 @ 3:39 pm
  • obxmike

    Is it true, that owners of rental houses are meeting their renters in Currituck and then taking them into Dare County? I hope not!

    Friday, Mar 20 @ 3:58 pm
  • Hank Williams

    I’m glad the prospective tourists are getting a refund. Visitors along with out of state homeowners should be banned indefinitely till the virus us under control. No offense but there are homeowners from heavily infected areas up north coming down. NC has close to 150 cases and rising. One has it as close as Elizabeth City. We need to be proactive here. I cant believe people would want to travel in these times. Completely irrational. People, especially from heavily populated areas especially up north should shelter in place. Folks, this us a new era…unprecedented in fact. I little inconvenience will be worth it in the long run. We dont need a lot of folks from other areas crammed into the island with populations changing weekly. It would become one big petri dish. Continue and expand the blockade to include others beside just tourists. Delivery drivers should be checked. Speaking of…we dont need alot of people buying up supplies either. Coming unprepared. OBX voice this is our viewpoint and it needs to be printed not censored. Please keep Freedom of Speech intact.

    Friday, Mar 20 @ 6:31 pm
  • Kurt

    I am an out of town homeowner. How do I not have the right to come to my second home?

    Saturday, Mar 21 @ 3:40 pm
  • Bill

    curious how a county can shut down a United States federal highway without the President of the USA not doing so. ?
    US158 is a federal highway not a state highway .
    This is according to the United States Federal Highway commissions office .I had spoke with yesterday.

    This was streaming live as of last week when cars was being turned around from being a federal us highway ….. shocked

    .

    Tuesday, Mar 24 @ 9:50 am
  • Melissa

    Bill: The same way they do with hurricanes. Never needed an ok from the president to do it then

    Thursday, Mar 26 @ 9:22 am
  • Audrie

    Hi,

    I am a non resident home owner who purchased our second home in February 2020 in the OBX. Although, disappointed we cannot go to our place. We understand and respect the reasons why. See you when it is safe for all who enjoy the OBX.

    Tuesday, Mar 31 @ 10:13 am