Won’t return deposits for rentals or special events cancelled due to COVID-19

(WSVN) - One of the many byproducts of COVID are cancelled parties, weddings and vacations. Another one? People trying to get back deposits from those cancelled events. How to do it is the subject of tonight’s Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.

When Sandra and Terrance got engaged, they had a plan: to get married at a beautiful country club.

Sandra Covin: “The contract was for the wedding to take place on Saturday, July 4th, 2020, to have 125 guests.”

Everything was arranged for the big day. The dress was made, the guests invited.

Sandra Covin: “I was all prepared, and then COVID hit.”

When Deer Creek Country Club closed, Sandra called to get her $3,000 deposit back.

Their response?

Sandra Covin: “I only had two options: to either postpone my wedding up to one year or schedule some other event there to use the $3,000.”

Sandra wasn’t about to postpone her wedding.

Sandra Covin: “I wanted to be married on that date, the Fourth of July, so I can be with my husband, move into my new home and start my new life.”

But the country club wouldn’t return her $3,000, leaving an unhappy bride waiting.

Sandra Covin: “I think that’s very unfair.”

Well, Howard, the club told us they were open on that date and could do a wedding for 10 people instead of 125. Howard, does that mean they can keep the deposit?

Howard Finkelstein, 7News legal expert: “No. This contract has no clause to protect the company in case of a disaster like this pandemic, and since they can only accommodate 10 guests and not the 125 like the contract stipulates, Sandra and Terrance get their money back.”

Melanie Morrill, “Yeah, yeah, we had a big trip planned.”

On March 16, Melanie and 11 family members reserved an Airbnb house outside San Francisco.

Melanie Morrill: “We put down almost $2,600. The house was really pretty and had enough beds to sleep all of us.”

By May, when it was clear the coronavirus was getting much worse, Melanie emailed the property manager to cancel. She was told the owners were sticking to the strict cancellation policy and would not give refunds.

So Melanie contacted Airbnb to appeal.

Melanie Morrill: “They were almost kind of like a middle man, I felt. They were trying a little bit, but it never really got anywhere. I kinda felt like Airbnb just gave up.”

But Melanie and the family members, who are healthcare workers and first responders, are not giving up on getting their $2,600 deposit back.

Melanie Morrill: “Very upset. There’s a lot of us who are upset.”

Well, Howard, can a vacation rental company refuse to return a deposit during this pandemic?

Howard Finkelstein: “This one is tough for Melanie. Since she signed the contract after the pandemic had started, Airbnb can argue they don’t have to return her deposit, but the contract allows her to go online and file for arbitration, and hope she gets her money back that way.”

We are hearing from many people who booked events — quinceañeras, birthday parties — and the places are refusing to return deposits, even though in most cases they have to. What can they do?

Howard Finkelstein: “Hopefully you used a credit card. Ask for a charge back. If that doesn’t work, if the contract doesn’t have an arbitration clause, take them to small claims court and let a judge help you out.”

Airbnb did return $585. We are still trying to help Melanie get the remaining $2,100.

Melanie Morrill: “Thank you very much. I appreciate it”

And some good news: Terrance and Sandra did get married on July 4th, in their backyard, with just family there. Not the 125 people they wanted, but still a beautiful ceremony.

Sandra Covin: “I was overwhelmed, and I think my husband cried. It wasn’t the wedding that I was planning, but it was very nice, and it was something that I was happy about at the end.”

Sandra is now taking the country club to small claims court. We will be there to see if she gets that $3,000 back, and we will let you know.

Howard Finkelstein: “And if you have a problem that you can’t solve, a question related to the coronavirus you can’t get answered, get in touch with us. We would love to help you out.”

Email: helpmehoward@wsvn.com
Reporter: Patrick Fraser at pfraser@wsvn.com
Miami-Dade: 305-953-WSVN
Broward: 954-761-WSVN

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