Brace yourself: You may not be able to use the winter vacation home you rented

Dec 8, 2020

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By now, it’s no surprise when the pandemic disrupts your best-laid plans. In fact, I’d say the opposite is true and I’m pleasantly surprised whenever plans any more complicated than making spaghetti for dinner go off without a hitch.

As it has become clear that we’ve entered another very serious, escalating phase of increased COVID-19 case transmission, any travel plans you may have optimistically set into motion a few months ago when things seemed more stable are now … potentially in jeopardy. With more restrictive stay-at-home-orders, additional testing or quarantine requirement restrictions, hotels that may close a second time (or delay reopening), there’s plenty that can go wrong.

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But today’s issue at hand specifically has to do with vacation home rentals that may become unavailable or unusable as parts of the country re-enter more restrictive lockdown rules. Back in March, we saw many areas around the country temporarily ban short-term vacation rental housing in an effort to support shelter-at-home initiatives.

Now, many months later, vacation home rentals are largely back on the market — but with a big potential catch. As we enter the winter months, even a house built for 22 people may only be eligible to be rented by one household.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Related: What happened when I tested positive for COVID-19 on a trip

Big Colorado ski houses can only be rented by 1 household

While this situation is not limited just to Colorado, for example, we see similar restrictions in California, with ski season and Colorado’s restrictions ramping up at the same time, winter ski trips to Colorado may be greatly impacted.

If your travel group turned to whole-home rentals to be more self-contained than you could be in hotel rooms, your perfect ski home bookings may sit in the crossfires as Colorado looks to regain progress against rising COVID-19 caseloads.

In Colorado, counties are given a color ranging from green (good) to purple (very, very bad) based on the number of new cases, the percentage of positive tests in the county and the impact on hospitalization rates. Currently, no county in Colorado is green, only one is at the second-best level of blue and most are on the bad end of the spectrum in orange or red.

This matters to home rentals because once a county reaches the red (second-worst) COVID-19 designation, short-term rentals cannot be occupied by more than one household. Note that the rule is not more than one “family” (aka, siblings, cousins, grandparents, etc.), but more than one actual household that shares the same physical address.

Already, several key ski counties, Summit (home to Keystone, Breckenridge, etc.), San Miguel (home to Telluride) and Clear Creek (home to Loveland) have hit the red destination.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

The popular ski counties of Eagle (Vail, Beaver Creek) and Pitkin (Aspen) are just one step below that at the orange level. Even at the orange level, social gatherings of all kinds (including sharing home rentals) are technically limited to no more than 10 people from no more than two households.

In practice, what this means is that if your group bought ski passes and planned to share that big six-bedroom home rental in a Colorado county that has now hit the red designation (or will before your travel date), you can’t legally share that rented lodging, even if you’ve all quarantined before travel, taken COVID-19 tests, etc.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Related: What it’s like to ski with COVID-19 restrictions 

Winter travel plans now up in the air

For me, this isn’t just a theoretical problem.

We have a ski rental home booked in Telluride for later this winter, still several months away.

The plan was to share the home with a small number of family members who aren’t a part of our household. Through the use of pre-travel testing, being cautious, etc. we’ve successfully taken a few trips this year where we shared a home rental with our travel bubble. While there is admittedly still some risk involved, getting the kids out on the snow this winter sounded like a fun, distanced, outdoor activity.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

However, as Telluride’s San Miguel County entered the red restrictions this past week, the owner of the home reached out to verify with me that only one household will be staying in the home rental. Unfortunately for all involved, this large multi-bedroom home that rents for around $1,000 per night all-in during ski season, was to be used by more than one household.

Hopefully, the situation in the Telluride area will improve before our planned travel dates. But, as it stands, the options are: Keep the rental just for my family of four and spend $1,000 per night for an excessively large home (leaving others in the family to secure their own lodging), cross our fingers that things improve by later in the ski season or cancel now.

This particular home rental owner is willing to provide a refund right in light of the new occupancy restrictions. However, that does not mean that all other related expenses (such as ski passes) are refundable. In fact, they aren’t.

Related: How to use points for vacation home rentals 

Bottom line

I’ve canceled several upcoming trips simply because the surge in cases makes those near-term trips feel unwise, but I still had hope for an outdoor-focused trip several months out.

And while I haven’t fully given up on the dream of spending time safely on the mountains this winter, exactly how that will be accomplished is now a more layered problem. Extended family could all rent multiple ski-friendly hotel rooms. But with less space and often no kitchen, that introduces new problems of its own.

Due to the time it takes for a county to move to less-restrictive designations and current trends, it seems all but certain some Colorado counties will still be in the red zone as we hit the upcoming peak winter holiday weeks.

Those with shared home rental bookings scheduled in that timeframe in impacted counties may need to make alternate arrangements to comply with public health orders. Would-be travelers with potentially impacted lodging bookings later in the winter might still be able to take a wait-and-see approach — and cross their ski mittens that the severe impacts of COVID-19 start going in the opposite direction in a hurry.

But again, this is not a Colorado-specific situation, so keep a close eye on local regulations wherever your future vacation home rentals may be.

Featured image by Tyler Stableford/Getty Images

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