SCOTTSDALE, AZ — Some short-term rental companies are refusing to offer refunds to out-of-state customers who want to cancel their upcoming trips to the Valley due to the pandemic outbreak of the coronavirus.
In some cases, those companies have also responded to cancellation requests with false and misleading information.
“We haven’t even reached the peak of this yet, so why is it so difficult to cancel travel plans,” said Catharine McConnell, a New-York woman who’s trying to cancel an upcoming VRBO rental in Scottsdale. “We are in a national state of emergency. There is a global pandemic coming on, and there are no controls in place.”
McConnell and 13 other women have an early April reservation for a home in Scottsdale. She was shocked at the response she got from the property management company, GoodNight Stay, when her group reached out to cancel.
“Thank you for reaching out. Arizona is one of the least affected states with only a few isolated cases reported. The streets are bustling and everyone is enjoying the incredible weather, golf, and other attractions,” according to the response. “Just to be safe, we have been sanitizing the entire home after each guest and we do believe that all of our homes are very safe. We were able to speak to the Governor’s office today and their general thoughts were that they aren’t too worried about this virus but all governors are establishing measures to help stop the spread. At this time we are enforcing our cancellation policy, however will return the cleaning fee to you and send you a confirmation if you still ultimately want to cancel. Let us know how else we can help. Have a wonderful day!”
McConnell said the response was received March 16. ABC15 spoke to other customers with different bookings who receive identical messages.
“That part is what sent me into a complete state of disbelief,” McConnell said. “And I was like this isn’t OK.”
In response, GoodNight Stay founder Scott Graden said he is currently offering his guests reduced rates and rebookings for later in the year. He also said he believed this was misinformation being spread by a “disgruntled guest.”
“The statement you sent below was sent over 2 weeks ago and is being perceived incorrectly,” Graden wrote in an email to ABC15. “This has not been sent since the situation was escalated. I’m not sure who we spoke to at the Governor’s office but it was a representative on their general line. At the time it was not a concern and we relayed their sentiments.”
When asked for comment, a Governor’s Office spokesperson said GoodNight’s statement was “not accurate.”
ABC15 also spoke to other customers of different bookings who received identical messages to McConnell. The customers provided emails and screengrabs dated with March 16 timestamps.
Customers concede that they signed contracts but feel VRBO could be doing more to manage the situation and mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
One of those customers is Jenna Rosen, who booked through VRBO with another local property owner.
“The response has been awful,” she said. “The owner is not willing to budge.”
Her upcoming Scottsdale trip was with ten other women. Some of them are doctors and nurses, who are now needed and can’t travel.
Rosen also believes she currently has COVID-19.
“I came in touch with somebody who tested positive,” she said. “I have not been able to get tested, but I did a virtual visit with a doctor, who told me I most likely do have it. I’m on day four of my quarantine.”
Other customers also sent ABC15 inaccurate and misleading responses they’ve received from various short-term rental companies.
“To address your concerns, the current pandemic is just that, a pandemic, defined as bacterium that spreads by way of contact with physical surfaces,” one inaccurate response said.
COVID-19 is a virus, and not bacteria.
VRBO did not respond to a request for comment.
Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at Dave@abc15.com.