BLUE RIDGE, Ga. — A relaxing getaway in the North Georgia mountains ended with surprise credit card charges and what customers call false accusations.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Justin Gray dug into the cabin rental company’s history of trying to get some of its customers arrested and how renters can protect themselves.
Kelly Slothower said the Blue Ridge cabin she rented from Cabin Rentals of Georgia in October was great.
“The cabin was amazing. We loved the cabin; the cabin was well stocked, well-appointed, like everything was perfect. But it was the company that I was dealing with that we didn’t like,” Slothower said.
During the first morning of her stay, Slothower got an email from Cabin Rentals of Georgia alerting her that she violated the rental contract by bringing unauthorized guests.
“The cameras were picking up that there were three cars there. And we were only supposed to have four people, according to them,” she said.
Emails showed that Slothower notified the company about the additional guests more than three weeks before the trip.
That’s when she went online and started reading the long list of negative reviews.
“I was kicking myself because I’m a researcher by trade,” she said. “And so the fact that I didn’t do that due diligence before we signed a contract, I was kicking myself.”
By the end of the visit, Slothower was taking videos of every room in the cabin, showing a meticulous checkout process.
“I’ve never videotaped myself after leaving a rental,” she said. “But I felt like this time I better.”
After Slothower checked out, the company charged her $500 for dog poop left in the half bathroom.
“I write back instantly. And I said, there must be a mistake. We didn’t have a half bath and there was no dog. We don’t even have a dog,” she said. “You have video of me coming and going from this place. Certainly there’s no video of me walking a dog into the property.”
Slothower disputed the charge on her credit card, even though page 3 of the 21-page rental agreement prohibits customers from disputing charges with credit card companies, calling it “theft of services.”
“This isn’t a service they provided; this is an illegitimate fine. And I should be able to dispute that,” said Slothower.
But a Channel 2 investigation revealed that often when a customer disputes a charge, Cabin Rentals of Georgia owner Gary Knight pays $20 to file an arrest warrant application in Fannin County Magistrate Court.
An open records request showed arrest warrant applications going back years. Knight filed five in August.
A judge threw one out, and Knight eventually withdrew three more. But in one case, a judge issued a state arrest warrant for a Douglas County woman.
The Better Business Bureau said it appears that Cabin Rentals of Georgia uses the threat of arrest to scare customers into paying.
“I think it’s somewhat intimidating, the approach that they do try to take,” said Jim Winsett, president and CEO of the Southeast Tennessee & Northwest Georgia division of the BBB.
After Gray’s call and email to the company went unreturned, he went to Blue Ridge to try to speak with Knight.
Knight would not speak to Gray in person, but texted him saying, “we are not interested in fake news.” When Gray refused to talk off the record, Knight replied with a phrase we cannot repeat.
While Knight wouldn’t speak to Channel 2 Action News, he emailed Slothower again demanding that she pay him $500.
“I don’t understand why someone would have to go to those extremes to get $500 out of me. If you’re not making money, raise the price of the cabin. I would have paid more for the cabin.”
The Better Business Bureau has an alert for Cabin Rentals of Georgia posted on its website. In 2013, they met with Knight over his refund policies and the 21-page contract he requires.
“A lot of the rules and regulations are hidden in the detail of the contract,” Winsett said. “That can be deceptive.”
Winsett said that consumers can best protect themselves by researching rental companies and reading reviews before booking; reading the details of the contract carefully, and taking pictures and immediately notifying the company of any issues.
“It’s important to do due diligence, to do your research as you’re planning to make this type of rental,” Winsett said. “Had the people looked at that report first, it’s very possible they would not have conducted business with that agency.”
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