5 On Your Side

Surf or Sound CEO speaks out as renters get relief from homeowners

Posted June 22, 2020 7:31 p.m. EDT
Updated June 23, 2020 10:52 a.m. EDT

— Owners of vacation rental homes are stepping up to help guests after their property management company wouldn't.

When Dare County decided to close access to visitors in March because of the coronavirus pandemic, many vacation plans were canceled.

Ever since, customers who booked through Surf or Sound Realty in Avon have been on a bit of a roller-coaster with their payments.

Initially, Surf or Sound said no refunds. Then, after 5 On Your Side questioned the policy with the North Carolina Real Estate Commission, the commission issued an opinion saying refunds were due.

The rental company then told customers refunds were in process. But at the end of May, Surf or Sound backtracked, emailing customers that they decided not to issue cash refunds. Instead, they offered credit toward another stay.

"I was livid because they had already offered me a refund," Juliet Seymour said.

Seymour and nearly 900 others joined the Facebook group "Surf or Sound Realty Owes Us A Refund Due to the Pandemic." Customers are sharing their struggles and strategies online.

Seymour paid $970 for her rental home last April. After getting that last "no refund" email, she reached out to the property owner. 

The owner texted her to say he was "under the impression they were refunding everyone." He said he would send a check for the portion of the rent that was credited to his account.

"I feel like he's doing right by me," Seymour said, "so I'm appreciative of that."

Others in the group have also reached out to property owners.

Some are appealing through their credit card company, saying that, so far, Surf or Sound has not challenged those cases.

Surf or Sound Chief Executive Dale Petty, who declined to be interviewed, said in an emailed statement that he "understand[s] the frustration felt by our rental guests."

"We understand that our decisions during the Dare County road closure were confusing at times. We apologize those decisions made a difficult time more challenging for some guests," Petty said in the statement.

He said that he "sought to find a reasonable option that would serve the interests of both homeowners and guests" and that he's "committed to finding a resolution for each and every individual."

"That's what they're going to say, but that's not what they're doing," Seymour said. "The homeowner's doing the right thing, but in the end, it's letting Surf or Sound off the hook."

The state Attorney General's Office and the Real Estate Commission are both investigating Surf or Sound. Both say refunds are owed.

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