Is our summer vacation still on?

Renters ask questions, but answers remain up in the air.

Renters are wondering whether to come to the Island or take the financial hit of a lost deposit. - Photo illustration Lexi Pline

Tim Glynn of Maplewood, N.J., deposited  $1,800 for a June rental in Vineyard Haven and has another $2,200 payment due soon. What should he do?
Lincoln Chapman of Tiverton, R.I., who is looking forward to two weeks in Oak Bluffs with his family, is in the same boat. Should he make that final payment on his August booking?

The questions come as Massachusetts remains under a state of emergency through May 4. But Gov. Charlie Baker, in announcing that schools will be closed through the end of the school year in June, said he’ll make his decision to reopen the state based on the data and in consultation with other governors in the Northeast.

“This is a little like the third or fourth quarter and we’re holding our own here,” he said. “Don’t let the virus win the game. Play it all the way to the end.”
Both Glynn and Chapman understand the situation. But neither of them wants to lose their deposit money and they’re both hesitant to write the final check only to be told they can’t come to Martha’s Vineyard for their family vacations.
Nancy Gardella, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, is getting similar questions on a daily basis. For now, the answer for short-term rentals is that there is no definitive answer. So much rides on when the state reopens, and to what extent.

“Right now our message to snowbirds and seasonal property owners is: If you really need to come, bring all of your groceries with you and self-quarantine for two weeks. That way we don’t run the risk of overburdening our limited health care,” Gardella said. “We want to be respectful of what hospitals are putting out.”

The number of cases of COVID-19 patients at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital has remained low and none are hospitalized on-Island. “That could change in a heartbeat. We’re doing the right thing now,” Gardella said. “Those snowbirds and seasonal homeowners, of course, they want to be here. We want them to be here, but in the safest way possible.”

For rental properties, it’s complicated.

“Short-term rentals and seasonal workers? We can’t even begin to think about that yet,” Gardella said.

Anne Mayhew, broker/owner of Sandpiper Rentals, which lists 700 homes and is looking at about 1,200 leases this summer, told the Times that she’s hearing from renters that they want to be here this summer. She said for those who are up in the air or who want to cancel, it’s a matter of working things out between the property owner and the renter. 

“For the most part, we’re in ‘waiting to see what’s going to happen’ mode,” she said. “We’re really kind of dealing with it on a case-by-case basis.” 

There have been some leaseholders who have asked to move their vacations to 2021 and the property owners have agreed. Keep in mind that for some of the property owners, renting their houses for several weeks in the summer is how they afford to have property on Martha’s Vineyard, and others have already spent the deposit money. “I think that it’s just a difficult time all around,” Mayhew said. “There’s a trickle down effect that affects everyone.” 

Mayhew said rentals have been slower than usual, of course, for this time of year. But if the governor finds a safe way to open the state, she expects an uptick. “I think there will be a high volume of last-minute bookings,” she said. “I’m getting a sense that people will want to have vacation but be closer to home, and there’s always interest in the Vineyard.”

Patty Leland, owner/broker of Martha’s Vineyard Vacation Rentals and Real Estate Sales, declined a request to comment. In an email to The Times, she wrote that too much is in “flux” to comment.

The Massachusetts Association of Realtors has provided an addendum to lease agreements that take into account the pandemic. In this case, the property owner would agree to hold the deposit in escrow and return the money if the rental is canceled at least 10 days in advance.

That doesn’t help Glynn and Chapman or hundreds of other renters who plan their trips well in advance, some of them booking right after they finish their Vineyard vacations, Mayhew said.

Both Glynn and Chapman complimented the people they’re working with on-Island. Though they have few concrete answers to provide, they’ve been responsive.

Glynn said the rental agency he booked his Vineyard Haven rental with sent him an email Tuesday offering to move his reservation to September. He’s hanging onto the June date for now because it works better for his college-age children.

“At this point, they’re following the renter’s agreement, if I cancel and they can’t rebook, I’m on the hook,” he said. That would be a difficult financial hit given what’s happened to his business in this economy.

Glynn said as long as some restaurants and shops are open, he’d be willing to keep his reservation. He just wants to be able to fish, kayak, and hangout with his kids. He’s booked a charter fishing trip and isn’t sure what’s going to happen with that.

“We’re simple people. Happy to grill. We rented a house that’s on an inlet. If we’re stuck at the house, we’ll deal with it,” he said.

Along with spending money on the deposit, Chapman has his ferry reservation booked for mid-August. “We’re preparing for the worst, but hoping we can get there because we really do love the Vineyard,” Chapman said. He and his wife have been coming to the Island for 11 years and spent the past nine years in the same house. They now bring their children who are 6 and 3 years old, so their decision will be based on what’s open.

As long as some of the things that are important to them are available — restaurants doing takeout, parks and beaches are open, they’ll come. “If we’re in a situation where all of that is pretty much shut down, I don’t think we would come,” he said, envisioning being inside all day in a small Island house with two small children.

“We absolutely love it there. The kids love it. The park. The bowling alley. A lot of normal things we do will be in question right now. It is understandable,” Chapman said. “There’s an economic piece of this, not just for me, but the local businesses — the restaurants and shops that rely on that income from summer visitors.”

There is no Larry Vaughn, mayor of the fictional Amity Island in “Jaws,” telling everyone it’s safe to go back in the water. 

So what is the chamber telling renters who call them? Hang tight, watch what the governor does, and understand that regardless of what happens, the Vineyard experience will be different this year. “It’s not going to be the summer you may have anticipated or you had last year,” Gardella said. “There are not going to be the same experiences as you had last year. There won’t be any big parades. It’s going to be a different kind of experience.”


  1. Of course they are still coming. The queries are…how many and when? They figure this will begin to wind down by the end of May. And they mistakenly look at the numbers here and salivate, feeling the island is safer than anywhere. They’re back in June in my opinion, if the May 4 “state of emergency” is indeed lifted by then. Some will not come. Most will.


  2. As an annual summer visitor to the Island I trust that we would only be permitted on the Island should it be safe for both the year round residents, and summer visitors. However, with that we must also put trust in the property owners and rental agencies that they will do right by the folks like us who have already paid a substantial amount of money to secure rentals well before this pandemic. I hope that even if Baker lifts restrictions for short term rentals- the Island makes their own decision that does right by both owners, rental agencies and the renters. I’d love nothing more than to have our July vacation and help the local economy- but only if we are wanted and welcomed visitors. Likewise, if we aren’t “welcomed” then we’ll gladly take our money and put it on a rental in 2021 when it’s safer for all.

  3. No way can they be trusted to Stay in the House` self-quarantining for two whole weeks (their entire vacation) once they get here. Who is kidding who?
    Plus – ‘Stay on Mainland,’ Gov. Baker Tells Residents With 2nd Homes on Nantucket, Vineyard …. That would obviously include renters coming here and being carriers.
    Even if everyone was tested for a fever before getting on our boats that is useless as a great many who have had the Virus had no fever!
    Seeing TV clips of people in Florida etc etc not wearing any masks and not obeying the 6 foot self distancing rules. Why would any of them practice caution here?
    Stay Away until next year or until a vaccine is found!

  4. This is just unbelievable to me, the audacity to even bring your family to the island, during this crisis of seismic proportions.Do you think the virus is going to take the summer off, just so you and your family can come down. The world has just past 3 Million cases.The island, which is my Native home since the 1800’s and so many cousins and uncles all live here as well. Is nearing 20 cases and that’s without the barrage of tourists.
    Stating you’e not going to leave your rental and just hang out, sounds great and it’s a great selling point.We both know that won’t be possible at all and social distancing is going to be near impossible during summer months. If tourists don’t care and just come down in flocks and the island will never heal.
    The island is the 57 largest island the US and it has one main hospital, the influx of people would overwhelm the hospital and the island would be more shut down than it already is.So with that being said, save your money, stay for a month next summer. Let the island get a handle on this virus and start respecting the people that actually live here and not just care about if my summer vacation is over. The key word is “Our” summer vacation, let the island heal, if you really do love MV.
    If something isn’t done to contain all the tourists, the government will continue to take over and lock the island completely down..

  5. Hey, MV-Born, calm down. Things are getting better. Turn off the TV news, go for a walk on the beautiful land bank properties. People are going to come to the island no matter what. Nothing you can do to stop them, Ranting and getting your blood pressure up in not a good look. Neither is your ownership of “our” island.

    • Firstly, if steps aren’t taken to contain the virus at hand, it’ll end up over taking the island. Being in denial about the situation and avoiding the realty of what’s actually going on. Is the reason why the cases of Covid-19 continue to rise, due to thinking along the lines of your comments. The Governor will soon put a cap, on how many people will be able to come down to the island and that’ll help contain the virus. Making statements, like go for a walk and being snide isn’t a solution for anything productive.

      I don’t where you’re getting your facts from, things aren’t getting better. The world is at 3 million plus and the US alone has over a million cases already. The island gets flooded by over 100K of people and trying maintain social distancing would be an impossibility and who comes here to get quarantined.

      Things will only get better if people stop thinking like you and start taking this seriously..

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