In a post-quarantine era, short-term rentals are booming, bringing more opportunities and risks

BOSTON — After months in quarantine, many are looking to getaway. And the summer vacation rental market in Massachusetts is booming despite the pandemic. But 25 Investigates has a cautionary tale of renting in post-quarantine times.

Lauren Zajac was planning a weeklong family vacation in Nantucket this Fourth of July. Instead, she and her 17 family members ended up in Metrowest.

Two days before she was supposed to check in to the stunning property on Tom Nevers Road, Lauren says the owner told her he had double booked it. She was out, another party was in.

“He mentioned that the party was affiliated with the New England Patriots, that he was had just made the connection with these folks and really wanted to keep them happy,” Zajac told 25 Investigates’ Ted Daniel.

She says she originally found the property on the vacation rental booking site VRBO but the property manager asked her to move off the platform and deal directly instead.

Zajac, an attorney, provided 25 Investigates with a Bank of America receipt that shows she wired $18,738 on June 2. She says it was for the balance of the rental.

“It was clear to him that I was first to sign the lease,” she said. “Every time I said ‘you need to do the right thing.’ And he said, ‘Yes, I know I will. I’m going to fix it,’ and that he knew he was in the wrong.

The property is managed by Nick Fiorillo from Shrewsbury and, when contacted by 25 Investigates, he disputed Lauren’s story.

By phone, he told us he never signed a lease with Zajac for the Nantucket rental even though texts Zajac provided to 25 Investigates appear to show he agreed to it.

Fiorillo claims the money Zajac wired was a non-refundable deposit on another booking he says she canceled.

“I was contacted by Lauren in a frantic panic to get herself to Nantucket and I explained to Lauren that her week had been rented and she had defaulted on the contract,” said Fiorillo. " I desperately tried to accommodate her and provide her with housing. We were unsuccessful in doing that.”

Rental experts tell us disputes can arise in a busy rental market where more people are booking last minute.

“One of our hosts actually told me this week, ‘You know, advance planning is so 2019,’” said Omer Rabin, managing director of Guesty, a property management software company.

He says it’s fine for renters to deal directly with owners instead of a reputable rental site, but there should be a level of trust.

“You need to understand that if you are leaving the protection of the big platform, the protection is on you,” said Rabin. “And you need to make sure that you feel comfortable with that. If you are doing something like this make sure that you really understand the cancellation terms.”

Rabin recommends paying with a credit card whenever possible. That will allow you to dispute a charge should the owner misrepresent himself for the property.

Chris Manning from Foran Realty in Dennis tells 25 Investigates renters should also be flexible, as these days check out times are earlier and check-ins are later to provide extra time cleaning.

“A lot of the housekeepers are actually videotaping when they’re done and putting the timestamp by showing what has been done. Because everybody... wants to have a safe environment for the next person coming into the home,” said Manning, adding that some renters are charging extra fees for COVID-19 sanitation.

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