Hi Everyone,

destin, florida after the oil spill
I have been getting conflicting reports about the oil spill. The TV news makes it sound like the entire gulf coast is covered in oil. The county reports say there is no oil sheen but there are “tar balls” in some areas. So ultimately, I decided to take a trip down to Florida’s Gulf Coast so I could see for myself.

I flew into the new Panama City Airport (ECP) Sunday evening. I was pretty happy to see our flight was fully booked. Knowing the majority of the tourists go to Destin and Panama City Beach from Saturday to Saturday, seeing a full flight on Sunday was promising.

The new airport is really nice.  I could smell the newness of the paint and the carpet as I walked onto the jet way. But I couldn’t help think it’s pretty sad that this is the first new international airport in the United States since Denver’s airport, and the grand opening never even made the news because it was foreshadowed by the oil spill.

As I drove down Highway 98, the traffic started to thicken as I approached San Destin—a good sign that tourists are, indeed, in town. I arrived in Destin just as the sun was nearly setting, so I hurried out to the beach to see if there was oil. I’m not sure what exactly I expected to see but the beach looked the same as it always has. No oil or tar balls in sight. No machinery on the beaches, no workers in Hazmat suits or blue gloves. There were many families turning golden brown from a full day on the beach - and some even lobster red! This was quite a relief.

I also learned that the Doobie Brothers will be playing a free Rock the Beach Concert on Sunday, June 27 at 5 pm to be held adjacent to the Boardwalk on Okaloosa Island.  Be sure to promote this great activity to your guests!

photos of destin florida following deepwater horizon oil spillThe photos you see here are photos I took myself. I’ll be sending them to my guests and telling them so far so good.  Feel free to send your guests a link to this blog post too!

I also had the opportunity to sit down with an adjuster this morning at one of the BP claims offices.  Here are the questions I asked, along with the answers from the adjuster.

Q: Can I file for projected losses in rental revenue, as well as actual losses for past dates that have gone without rentals?
Yes, you can. BP views projected losses in the past. For example, if you had a week in June that was not rented but normally would have been rented prior to the oil spill, you can file a claim after that date has passed – in this case, at the end of June. This does not mean that you only have 30 days to file; the dates just have to have passed in order to be considered a projected loss. All claims are dealt with on a monthly basis.

post-oil spill photo from gulf coast of florida
Q: So if I have an upcoming week that is still open, let’s say July 3 through 10, I can’t file until the end of July?
That is correct. The date has to be in the past.

Q: What do I need to provide in order to file a claim?
Documentation of your unit name, address and any description, cancellation documentation (emails from renters, contact numbers to reach them), reservation deposits (refunded or kept, credit card statements), list of costs incurred from renters, and 2 years of tax returns. You must have your warranty deed, which may not be listed on the claims document or your claims adjuster may forget to tell you, but they cannot pay a claim without it.

Q: For tax returns, do you need the full tax return?
Yes, including the Schedule E. Not just the first page.

Q: When it comes to costs…If my home goes un-rented for 3 weeks, I still need to have a housekeeper come in to clean. Can I file a claim for those costs?
Yes, you can, if that is something you can prove that you need to do and have done in the past. Again, provide documentation.

Q: I heard you wanted documentation from the county? Do you need proof that we paid sales tax?
We need proof that you are the owner, so we require a copy of the warranty deed for each property.

Q: How do I prove what rates I would have received for weeks that go unrented?
Provide documentation of your published rental rate. We want to see a copy of your listings for at least the last 12 months. We want proof that your listing has been active for a full year.

Q: How do you prove rate increases?
Last year was a tough year economically so very few people raised their rates. But after a good rental year, they raised rates this year. It's just more documentation to provide.

Q: What about people low balling rates? Some owners might accept a deal instead of letting their home sit empty.

You can file for the difference between your typical rental amount vs. the discounted rate you accepted.

Q: For what dates do you need proof of ownership/proof or rental history?
We need 2008 and 2009 tax returns and a Profit & Loss statement for 2010.

Q: Most homeowners have filed their sales taxes for 2010, so would that be considered proof if you show that receipt?
You can bring that in and include in your file. Anything you can bring to prove documentation of your loss will be to your benefit. There is never a situation where you have too much paperwork.

Q: Do you need copies of inquiries, proving that I’ve tried to rent?

No, we just need copies of your ad.

Q: If I have an ad on multiple sites, do you want copies of all the advertising?

Wouldn’t hurt.

Q: Homeowners are trying to work a lot harder to get bookings. A lot of time, phone calls, administrative costs. Is there any compensation for my time or if I hire someone to assist?

That’s a hard one to say for sure. Doesn’t hurt to try.

Q: If I have a cancellation and I’ve processed the original rent through my merchant account or PayPal, and then I refund the money, I still get charged transaction fees. Can I file for these costs?
Yes, provide copies and proof of transaction fees.

Q: I have rental agreements with every renter that say 'no cancellations, no refunds,' etc. My renters sign and agree to it. They also have to decline travel insurance and agree to my cancellation policies. If I didn’t want to refund their money, do the travelers have the right to file a claim?
Anyone can file a claim. There is no guarantee what will happen, but they can try.

Q: Let’s say I have a rental from June 5-12, dates that have already passed. I didn’t refund their money. Can those travelers file a claim and get paid even though the beaches weren’t closed?
We haven’t had that situation occur yet. If they chose to go somewhere else and you didn’t refund their money, I’m not sure if they would get paid from BP. There are other circumstances for cancellations. It depends on when they booked. They have a right to file, but I'm not sure if any renters have gotten paid.

Q: Define oil coming to shore? Does that include tar balls?
Yes, that includes tar balls. BP is keeping track of where the oil has hit. Tar balls have hit every beach.

Q: How are most homeowners handling the cancellations?
Most homeowners are refunding the money and filing the claims themselves. This upholds your relationship with the renter, and hopefully they’ll come back.

Q: If a homeowner doesn’t refund, are you advising that they tell travelers to file a claim?
No, that is their choice.

Q: How do you calculate the projected losses? For example, normally I would book the last 2 weeks of May. This May, I wasn’t booked the last 2 weeks, but I was booked the first week. That was an anomaly. Does BP then think, well you got 2 out of the 4 weeks?
BP will generally take an average on the month. It does not mean that the “bonus” booking you received will be null and void.

Q: Are they also taking into account the rate increases? This year my rate was higher.

Yes, as long as it is shown on the VRBO listing.

Q: Let’s say I rent for $1500 and I charge a $200 pet fee. In the past, 90% of my guests have pets.  Will the pet fee revenue be included in the claim?
That’s part of your revenue; just prove you’ve done it in the past. Show how many people have had pets.

Q: I have privacy policies with my guests. What about past guests? Do you have to have their email addresses?
If it states the rental amount and pet fees on your contract, that should be sufficient.

Q: What about people new to renting and don’t have 2 years of tax returns?

The people who are new are going to have to get as much documentation they can get. Anything to show your expenses.

Q: Would it also be advantageous to get in contact with other homeowners and get their rental histories, to prove rentability of that property?
You don’t have to do that; we’re only going to go by your rental rates and what you had advertised. You have to have started renting prior to April 20.

Q: What is the process for filing a claim? Do you personally have to go through BP or do you have the authority to make the decision here in this office?
Up to $5000 is all that we pay out at a time in this office each month. Any larger claims in a given month have to be reviewed.

Q: Is it better to come into the office to file a claim or mail it in?
If you can come in, do it. May be quicker. And you can talk to someone face to face and get questions answered. Plus, you have reassurance that everything is received.

Q: Let’s say I have a cancellation and I wasn’t able to re-rent. If I came down to file a claim, and I’m staying in my own place, does that still count as an unrentable week?
Yes, still file a claim for those dates.

Q: How many claims do I need to file?
You file one claim per property. Once you start the filing, and you prove your past rental history, you just have to do a new file each month for lost revenue. As of right now there is no cap on the amount you can claim. However, claims over $20,000 go to large loss claim units.

Q: How do property managers handle the claims?
If your home is rented through a property manager, PMs can only file for their commission losses. Homeowners must file the rental income losses themselves.

Q: What about loss of property value?
Everyone is asking. At this point, they’re only paying immediate loss of income claims, no prospective business value/property value claims are being made.

Q: How many claims offices are there, and how are the adjusters assigned?

There are approximately 30 claims offices to date. The adjusters are doing their best to assign local adjusters to each claim. If you own in Walton County, but you call the national claim line, if you can’t come down, they’re trying to give you a Walton County adjuster, not someone in the Keys. Make sure to write down your adjuster’s name and contact info because they are going to be your lifeline.

Q: If President Obama and the administration change the claims process, what will happen?
We’re not sure.

I’ll keep you posted as I travel up and down the Gulf Coast this week.  I'm renting a small plane tomorrow to take some aerial shots - stay tuned for more photos!


The information in the articles, blogs or other posts by Christine Karpinski are provided to assist vacation property owners or managers generally and are based on Ms. Karpinski’s personal experiences or the information she has been able to gather. This information is meant to help the owner community; however, please note that any particular situation of any owner or manager may differ and all owners and managers are encouraged to seek professional advice to determine what course(s) of action will be most beneficial for them. Neither HomeAway, Inc. nor Christine Karpinski can provide any guarantee or warrantee that this information is complete or accurate at any point in time or that any particular outcome will result if action is taken in response to this information.