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Laws may get another look after refunds were hard to get for renters hit by Hurricane Florence

December 6, 2018

A look at Surf City on Sept. 16, 2018. (Courtesy of Town of Surf City)

Renters who pay for a vacation home but can’t use it because of storm damage are due a refund, but not all rental agencies are paying up.

In October, Fred Moreno, chief deputy attorney of the North Carolina Real Estate Commission, told WRAL that under the law, after a storm if a vacation home is significantly damaged or inaccessible, regardless of whether the renters bought insurance, they are entitled to a comparable home at the same cost or a refund.

After 5 On Your Side explained the law right after Hurricane Florence, more families reached out to say they were finding that refund hard to get. Nine renters who complained to 5 On Your Side saw a total of $28,729 in rental payments not refunded.

Mark Hogan of Chapel Hill paid $4,700 to spend two weeks in Surf City this fall. He planned to celebrate his anniversary.

After Hurricane Florence hit the area hard, he called the property manager at Treasure Realty and got a confusing response.

Hogan says he was told ”...all rentals have been suspended for the foreseeable future, nobody is allowed. We’re not renting, we’re not doing anything.”

Hogan asked whether that meant his contract was canceled and, he says, he was told that was not the case.

When he asked about a refund, Hogan says Treasure Realty told him that since he didn’t purchase rental insurance, they were not required to refund any of his money.

The North Carolina Real Estate Commission has received more than 100 similar complaints.

When 5 On Your Side contacted the commission about the additional complaints, Chief Attorney Janet Thoren said, “We want people taken care of,” but added, “there may have to be some legal interpretations of the Vacation Rental Act. It may be that we need to make some changes to the language in the act to adjust for the situation that’s occurred here.”

The Florence fallout has since prompted representatives from the Real Estate Commission, Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Insurance to review the law, how it’s written and the disputes. Thoren told 5 on Your Side that some vacation renters “may wind up having to go to court and sue.” At least one of the vacationers who reached out to WRAL has already filed suit. Two others reluctantly accepted substitute vacation rentals. And after 5 On Your Side’s phone calls to the real estate companies and then to the property owners, three renters received refunds, including Mark Hogan. Hogan agrees the law needs clarification.

“There’s a lot of gray area, which, you know, when things are good the gray areas really don’t matter,” Hogan said. “It’s when the chips are down, that’s when it comes out and haunts you.”

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