Like most short-term rental hosts, I’ve put a lot of thought into helping guests enjoy their stay in my home. But until recently, I never considered whether it’s okay to ask them to water the plants or do other simple household tasks. So I started wondering what other hosts do.
Airbnb superhost Dana McMahan thinks it’s okay to let guests leave a mess. She even posts signs like, “Dishes? You didn’t come to Louisville to do dishes. Just rinse ’em and leave them in the sink and we’ll take care of them.”
On the same side of the discussion, Author Matt Landau says that hosts who ask guests to do tasks aren’t treating their short-term rental like a business: “A guest should NEVER be required to do ANYTHING other than enjoy his or her vacation experience.”
So who’s right?
Like so many other discussions, no one is right, and no one is wrong. From the comments on STR community boards, opinions on the topic are certainly divided! Some hosts think guests should never be asked to do anything except not cause damage. Others expect their guests to keep the place tidy and clean up after themselves.
My husband and I stay in short-term rentals when we travel, and one reason is that we like the feeling of being in a home instead of in a hotel. We keep our temporary homes relatively clean and don’t at all mind watering the plants or stripping the beds and putting the dishes in the dishwasher before we leave.
How do you decide? I think it depends partly on the perception you want guests to have. Do you want them to think of your place as a spacious hotel room with a kitchen, where they know there is someone right behind them to clean up their messes? Or do you want them to consider it a home-away-from-home?
I prefer the latter. But that doesn’t mean I expect guests to wash the floors or scour the tub.
What we ask our guests to do
In all the years we’ve been renting our home (our primary residence) and our condo (our second home), not one guest has complained about being asked to do a few tasks. In fact, many of them have left the home in even better shape than they found it. One guest even went around the house tightening loose bar racks and re-aligning shelves.
Here’s a short list of the kinds of tasks we usually ask our guests to do:
- Water the indoor plants
- Bring in the mail (in our experience, asking the Post Office to hold or forward mail only leads to trouble)
- Move the garbage can to the street on garbage day (this is a big one but it has to be done)
- Wash the dishes (or put them in the dishwasher) and empty the wet garbage when they leave
- IF they have time (and only if) before they go, strip the beds and putting the used sheets and towels in the washer
You can see that it’s not a very long list. And being asked to do a little work hasn’t stopped several guests from returning more than once.
About cleaning fees
Host discussions on this topic invariably mention cleaning fees. I was surprised by the amount of disagreement about whether to charge a cleaning fee and what the cleaning fee should cover.
Dana McMahan sums it up this way: “Hosts will debate the merits of the fee; some feel paying the fee makes guests feel entitled to leave a mess [and] others think not having a fee will lead to a perception that the place is not clean.” Matt Landau finds cleaning fees “…annoying yet …acceptable.” In some cases, he says, “the owner should tack on the price of cleaning to the nightly rate.”
This argument doesn’t make much sense to me. We always pay a cleaning fee when we stay in a short-term rental. If a host didn’t charge a cleaning fee, I would assume it had been added to the rent, as Matt suggested. That’s what hotels do, but short-term rentals aren’t hotels (did I say that already?). It seems deceptive to tack fees onto the rent without revealing what they are.
We not only charge a cleaning fee, we go a little farther. In our rental agreement, we include this line: “An additional [cleaning fee] may be deducted if unusually extensive cleaning is required after guests depart.” We’ve never had to charge that extra fee, but we suspect that it helps to encourage people to clean up after themselves. We would feel perfectly justified if guests left the place so dirty that we had to pay our cleaners more to get it back in shape.
We disclose the cleaning fee in our first discussion with our guests about the amount of the rent and the refundable deposit. Guests not only seem to expect it, some seem relieved to find that they need to do a little more than pack up and walk out the door when they leave.
It’s all in your point of view
Hosts who see themselves running a short-term rental business are likely to have a very different point of view than part-time hosts like me. All my husband and I want is a to make a little extra cash so we can afford to travel and to have someone care for our home while we’re away. We’re not interested in competing with hotels.
So…is it okay to ask your guests to water the plants or do other household tasks? It’s completely up to you.
What do you think about asking guests to do some household tasks? Please share your thoughts in the comments or on our Facebook page.