Expedia Group, which owns Vrbo, issued a statement after this article was published saying that they are doing manual reviews of all new reservations in the DC area through late January. Anni Murphy, a spokesperson for the company, told BuzzFeed News, "No one who is staying in Washington D.C. this week at a Vrbo is known to have been involved in the siege. We cross-reference Vrbo reservations with arrest records multiple times per day, and we are in contact with D.C. Metro and multiple law enforcement agencies including the FBI."
Additionally, after publication of this article, Ben Arfmann, who had canceled his stay in DC by choice and was denied a refund, was contacted by a rep from Vrbo who said leadership had reexamined his case and approved him for a refund.
Vrbo will now offer refunds for any traveler to DC who chooses to cancel their trip due to safety concerns, and will credit the hosts.
Short-term rental platform Vrbo is not following Airbnb’s lead in canceling and refunding all stays in the Washington, DC, area for the week of the Inauguration.
After being contacted by BuzzFeed News, Vrbo issued a blog post Friday afternoon, stating, “If you mistreat people, there's no space for you on Vrbo. We reserve the right to remove anyone from our marketplace who violates these principles, and we are encouraging hosts to cancel bookings during this time if they believe a guest intends to violate these policies.”
Local officials have urged people not to come from out of town to the inauguration.
Airbnb announced this week that it would cancel and refund all reservations for the inauguration, as well as block any new ones in the area for those days. The announcement said, “Airbnb will cancel reservations in the Washington, D.C. metro area during the Inauguration week. Additionally, we will prevent any new reservations in the Washington, D.C. area from being booked during that time by blocking such reservations.”
Ben Arfmann, a video game writer for Marvel Comics, had planned to travel from Pasadena, California, to attend President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration. He booked three nights in an apartment on Vrbo for a total of $900.
However, after the events at the Capitol, he changed his mind. “Friends and family reached out and told me, ‘You can’t go to DC, it’s crazy, it’s not going to be safe,’” he told BuzzFeed News. When he reached out to Vrbo to ask for a refund, the company told him that it was up to the property owner to refund him. The owner refused, citing her 30-day cancellation policy.
Arfmann was resigned to losing the money until he saw Airbnb’s announcement. He thought Vrbo should do the same. He started tweeting about it, and eventually a representative from the company called him. According to Arfmann, the Vrbo official told him, “Unlike AirBNB, Vrbo will not be discriminating against people's political beliefs.”
Dave Barman, a DC resident, told BuzzFeed News that he and his neighbors have been alarmed by a woman on their block who drives a red Mazda Miata with a license plate the references the QAnon mass delusion, wears a Captain America–inspired spandex jumpsuit and red-and-blue wig, and makes a commotion.
Barman and his neighbors believe she is staying in a building on their street that has multiple Vrbo rentals. He overheard her name when she was being questioned by local police; when he looked her up, he found recent posts on her Facebook page in which she talked about being involved in the mob that stormed the Capitol. One of her posts describes being dragged away by police. Her Facebook page is devoted to QAnon, and her profile photo is a screenshot of a YouTube livestream where she is standing on top of scaffolding at the Capitol waving a “Q” flag. The woman did not respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment over email or Facebook.
Barman said that he has been complaining to Vrbo, which said it was investigating.
Other DC residents are also alarmed by the influx of extremists whose accommodations are facilitated by Vrbo. Patrilie Hernandez, a community advocate who lives in Northeast DC, started an online petition urging Vrbo to cancel reservations. (Last week, she also petitioned Airbnb to do the same and was pleased with its announcement.)
“I’m thinking of the safety of immediate neighbors, not what’s on the Capitol but in our small neighborhood. Are we going to be able to walk outside our door without being targeted by a white supremacist?” Hernandez told BuzzFeed News. “A lot of these Vrbo rentals are in residential neighborhoods with families, with a lot of residents that aren’t part of DC proper or don’t work for the federal government. We live in a city, so we’re accustomed to things that look a little different or strange, but we draw the line with people who are willing to harass or attack our neighbors.”