April 25, 2024

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Help! I Canceled My Rental Because of a Wildfire. My Contract Says No Refund. Is That Fair?

3 min read

It is worth noting that the Turners’ house is also listed on Airbnb, as are all Evolve properties. During the Caldor fire, Airbnb activated its Extenuating Circumstances policy, which “takes precedence over the reservation’s cancellation policy,” and allowed for refunds or credit for certain reservations during the Caldor fire. Or so they told the news site SFGATE at the time — they did not respond when I asked them for comment.

Their policy might not have applied to your rental, since the house was not in the evacuation zone. But if it had applied — presumably in the form of a credit — that would have been far easier to use than Evolve’s credit, given Airbnb’s six million listings.

But let’s look at the larger issue: Should you be forced to take a vacation adjacent to a forest fire? And if you, understandably, don’t want to, who should pay the price in cases of force majeure? Renters like you? One of the Middlemen? The Actual Owners? I suppose some would argue that the big corporations should pay and the sympathetic travelers should be made whole, but what if Mr. and Mrs. Turner had been renting the place out themselves, instead of going through Evolve? Should they have to return your money even though you signed an agreement saying they wouldn’t have to?

Because hotels often have more generous refund policies, allowing you to cancel 24 to 48 hours before your trip, they are generally a less risky choice than vacation rentals. But not always, especially if you get a discount for making a nonrefundable reservation.

Wait, what is that voice offstage? Why, it is travel insurance — potentially our hero, but in reality, just a bit player, because you declined Vrbo’s insurance. Generali’s policy would have covered you if you had been staying in an evacuation zone, and, according to Patrick Turner, a company spokesman, it’s possible that if you had been able to document why you couldn’t go — say, an email from the local government urging you not to come, or a letter from a doctor saying it would be too dangerous for your family, then it might have covered your situation. It’s impossible to say, but though I’m generally not a fan of travel insurance except for medical coverage and cruises, I might have to add vacation rentals to the list.

One final element was bugging me here: Where is your money, right now? Ms. Marvin, the Evolve spokeswoman, told me that your money, around $2,240, is still with Evolve, awaiting your use of the credit. I wondered what would happen if you didn’t use the credit, would Evolve get to keep it all? What about the Turners, our Actual Owners?

So I got in touch with them. Over Zoom, Mr. Turner told me that he had received $1,887.60 for your rental. So it looks like Evolve had both paid the homeowner and was willing to take a loss if you use your credit, something the Evolve spokeswoman, Ms. Marvin, later confirmed, calling it a rare exception.

Seth Kugel

2023-03-10 10:00:17

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