When Outer Banks officials restricted access to visitors this week, many vacationers with houses rented in coming weeks were left with no way to get their money back, or a lot of unanswered questions about what insurance and realty companies might do to help them recoup losses.
Local real estate companies, too, were flooded with calls, emails and messages, with no clear direction on what happens when a pandemic closes down access to vacation homes.
The North Carolina Real Estate Commission on Thursday afternoon posted an opinion on its website essentially saying real estate companies need to return vacation renters money.
“The NCREC has historically required North Carolina licensed vacation rental brokers to refund any and all funds held in trust, less certain statutory fees or earned commissions, where access to vacation rental homes is obstructed,” the statement reads. “Because these are not evacuation orders under N.C.G.S. 42A-36, we focused our analysis on the remaining landlord/tenant laws in the Vacation Rental Act.
“In the current situation, landlords (landlords are vacation rental homeowners) of vacation rental units in the affected areas cannot provide access to the units for the tenants who have pending reservations. Moreover, access to the property is an integral part of its use and enjoyment and tenants have the legal right to the use and enjoyment of the leased property. As a consequence, we have determined that when access to the property cannot be provided, we find that N.C.G.S. 42A-17(b) requires that the landlord and broker refund all monies paid by the tenant.”
In cases where the realty companies have already disbursed up to 50 percent of the vacation rental funds received to the home’s owner, the realty company must return to the renter what funds they still hold, the statement said. The homeowner is responsible for returning the rest to vacation renter.
“A landlord who refused to return money to a tenant may be subject to a civil suit by the tenant,” the statement reads.