By law, you can get a refund if Hurricane Florence ruined your vacation rental

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— Among the costs of Hurricane Florence: vacation properties damaged to the point they can’t be rented.

5 On Your Side’s Monica Laliberte has been hearing from people who can’t use their vacation rental because it’s damaged, yet are being told they won’t get a refund.

On Topsail Island alone, many homes are at least temporarily uninhabitable, including one rented by Catherine Oliva for her wedding.

“It had about two feet of flood marks and all of the furniture knocked around,” Oliva said.

The damaged home is one of three she rented through VRBO to accommodate family for her wedding, which was supposed to happen on Topsail Island last weekend.

Oliva says right after Florence moved through, the church, reception venue and two property managers reached out and apologized “that they would not be able to fulfill their obligation due to Hurricane Florence and offered us a full refund,” she said.

SeaShore Realty, the local management company for the third home that she paid $1,293 to rent, communicated only after she emailed requesting a refund. She was stunned by the response. “Basically telling us they had canceled our reservation, and that they were not obligated to refund our money,” she said.

The email acknowledged the mayor’s proclamation that only property owners and disaster recovery teams can access the island and that vacation rentals were not allowed. The email added “if the guests did not purchase travel insurance, they are not entitled to a refund from Seashore as specified under the NC Vacation Rental Act.”

5 On Your Side looked into that claim.

According to North Carolina’s Real Estate Commission, that’s not entirely accurate.

The commission’s chief deputy legal counsel tells 5 On Your Side, if you are already in a vacation home and then have to leave because of a mandatory evacuation order, you are entitled to a pro-rated refund. That is unless you were offered travel insurance when you booked and declined it. If you did, you are out of luck.

After a storm, if a vacation home is left significantly damaged or inaccessible, regardless of whether the renters bought insurance, they are entitled to a comparable home at the same cost or a full refund.

Given the situation on Topsail Island, a substitution was not an option for Oliva.

“I paid for a service (that) they are not able to provide, paid for a property that’s uninhabitable, on an island that’s uninhabitable. I want my money back,” Oliva said.

5 Your Side called SeaShore Realty which pointed us to, the company they say Oliva actually booked through.

The good news is, contrary to the email she received from Seashore, RedAwning told 5OYS “our policy for anyone affected by mandatory evacuations during the hurricane, or bookings affected by the aftermath of the storm is a refund in the full amount.”

Oliva’s account was credited, and VRBO refunded the service fee.

The takeaway for everyone is that declining travel insurance when it is offered may cost you money if your vacation doesn’t happen.