Out-of-state customers are accusing a Scottsdale property management firm of downplaying the coronavirus in an attempt to deter short-term rental cancellations.
New York resident Catharine McConnell said she and 13 friends had plans to visit Scottsdale this month, but canceled due to concerns over the virus.
“I am a healthy, active 30--year-old with a strong immune system but it does not make me immune to this virus, nor does it mean I can’t transmit the virus and unknowingly spread it to my elderly neighbors, to a stranger on the subway, to a clerk at the local bodega,” McConnell said.
“It is for this exact reason my girlfriends and I collectively decided this trip we planned for our friend’s bachelorette would absolutely not go on.”
McConnell’s friend Melissa Lombardo, who booked the short-term rental house through the HomeAway/VRBO app for about $2,500, contacted Scottsdale-based GoodNight Stay through the app to cancel the reservation.
GoodNight Stay is a property management company based in Scottsdale that manages short-term rentals in cities throughout the country.
The company sent a response to Lombardo on March 16 – five days after Gov. Doug Ducey declared a state of emergency – declining Lombardo’s refund request and encouraging the group to follow through with their trip, claiming it had consulted with Ducey’s office.
McConnell and Lombardo provided the Progress with emails and screenshots showing the message was sent by GoodNight Stay customer service on March 16.
The message said, “Arizona is one of the least affected states with only a few isolated cases reported. The streets are bustling and everyone is enjoying the incredible weather, golf, and other attractions…We were able to speak to the Governor’s office today and their general thoughts were that they aren’t too worried about this virus but all governors are establishing measures to help stop the spread.”
The message said the company will still enforce its cancellation policy but will return a cleaning fee.
Patrick Ptak, a spokesman for the Governor’s Office, called the response inaccurate.
“No, this is not what our office is telling businesses and this is not an accurate depiction of our communication with businesses,” Ptak said.
When contacted by the Progress, GoodNight Stay founder Scott Graden said his company only manages properties and has no authority to provide refunds outside of the original cancellation policy.
“GoodNight’s Property Management agreement with its owners spells out that all cancellation policies shall be upheld and we don’t have any authority to make changes or concessions. Our owners have been significantly affected as well and this will cause significant fallout on the owner’s side,” Graden said in an email.
That didn’t answer why his company was pushing the narrative that Ducey was “not too worried about this virus” just a day after he shut down schools statewide.
Graden initially said the message was sent on March 6 – before Ducey declared a state of emergency – and accused McConnell and Lombardo of doctoring the response to look like it was sent on March 16.
But Hannah Critchfield with Phoenix New Times reported that a VRBO customer service representative confirmed McConnell’s account that “GoodNight Stay sent the messages on March 16, as the customer had stated.”
When asked about the VRBO response, Graden backtracked on the initial comment and told the Progress he recently found out that the message was sent out on March 16 due to glitch in an auto-responder.
“We just found that the wrong checkbox was checked in the system and it was sending the message to the platform exactly 10 days after the message from the guest came in. This is why my time stamp in the ‘autoresponder tool’ does not match the HomeAway time stamp,” Graden said.
Graden said the company turned off the autoresponder around March 6 but it still sent responses to messages already in the queue, unbeknownst to the company.
“We really are deeply saddened that a simple checkbox mistake created this issue but it was our mistake. It was not meant to cause any issues, we only wanted to get a response back to guests that were not happy because they weren’t getting a response quickly from us,” Graden said.
Graden’s response still does not sync with what McConnell and other customers have told the Progress.
McConnell said “We weren’t even looking to cancel 10 days ago” – meaning the message wouldn’t have been in the queue when the company first tried to shut off the system.
Another customer named Jonathan, who requested we only use his first name, provided screenshots to the Progress showing he requested a cancellation on March 13 and received a similar response from the company downplaying the situation.
Jonathan, whose party spent nearly $8,000 to rent a house from GoodNight Stay through the Airbnb app for a bachelor party, said the trip was canceled because many of the attendees would have been coming from COVID-19 hotspots like New York and Boston.
“I understand the strain this puts hospitality under,” he added, “and we may even look to stay there in November when we reschedule. Ultimately, it’s up to individuals to realize how serious this is and act accordingly…In all, no gripes at all with AirBnB (assuming I get the full refund) and none really with Goodnight Stay either. It just seems like they didn’t know better.”
McConnell said Scottsdale residents should be concerned about the company’s response, considering it maintains many properties in the area.
“If I were a resident there, I’d be deeply concerned with the message they’re sending their customers regarding the virus,” she said.
Following a request for comment, Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane did not address the situation specifically, only saying, “Everyone is in a tough situation and we hope people will be as responsive as possible.”
A VRBO spokesperson told the Progress “Vrbo worked with the property manager GoodNight Stay to clear this up, and the traveler will be refunded in full for her booking.”