Do you worry when renting your home to short-term guests? You’re not alone. It’s no wonder when you read horror stories about short-term rentals going bad like the ones that appeared in the Huffington Post a couple of years ago. Okay, so thoroughly trashing a home, using it as a meth labor brothel, holding orgies, or refusing to leave are extreme examples of a short-term rental gone bad. But there are lots of others:
A suburban home in Canada used as a weekend bachelor party pad
A Miami host who amassed $60,000 in fines for illegally renting out his 5-bedroom home
A San Francisco hairdresser who got an eviction notice for renting out his apartment without permission
These stories do make me shudder. “Are we doing the right thing by renting our home to strangers?” we ask ourselves. But the extra cash lets us travel without depleting our savings, and we don’t like to leave our home empty when we go away for more than a few days. It’s risky, to be sure. There are so many ways that short-term rentals can go bad. We’ve been lucky so far. One tenant dripped red wine on the duvet cover and another’s daughter nicked our neighbor’s parked car. But, fingers crossed, we’ve never had any serious problems.
Still, things happen. So we read the horror stories closely, to see what we can learn. And what we’ve learned is that when short-term rentals go bad, there’s nearly always an obvious reason.
Lack of Screening
Screening is an effort to answer the questions, “Who are these people? Are they likely to be reliable, responsible tenants who will take good care of our home and respect our neighbors?”
Learn as much as you can about prospective tenants before accepting a booking. Ask for personal information: where they live, why they are coming to your area, whether they’ve done short-term rentals before, how many people are in their party, and more. Look them up on social media. If they have local friends, offer to show them your home. (You can tell a lot about people by the company they keep.) When they send a deposit, ask for a copy of their driver’s licenses or passports, along with contact information for their employers and a couple of references. It’s better to lose a tenant than to worry about your home while you’re away – or to be confronted with a disaster when you return.
See our article, “Screening Prospective Short-Term Tenants” for more.
Lack of Communication
Clear, ongoing communication is the only way to get to know the people who want to rent your home. Communication helps to build confidence, establish trust, and avoid misunderstandings that can be annoying at the least and disastrous at the worst.
Talk to prospective tenants. Be friendly and polite, and don’t be shy. Ask questions. Listen. Listen some more, and ask more questions. Encourage them to ask questions. Tell them what they need to know about your home. Share your expectations, and learn about theirs. Make sure they understand all the rental terms, including deposits, due dates for rent, and the starting and ending dates for the short-term lease.
These back-and forth conversations should begin as soon as you receive an inquiry and continue after you accept the booking. Keep in mind that email is no substitute for a direct conversation on the phone or via Skype. If you can’t talk with your prospective tenant before booking because a listing site blocks the exchange of direct contact information, hold at least one person-to-person conversation once the booking is complete.
Failure to Learn about Rules, Regulations, Ordinances, and Laws
Are you a tenant? Get your landlord’s permission before listing your home for rent. Do you belong to a Homeowners Association or Co-op? Check your documents to see whether you’re allowed to rent out your home. Does your city or state regulate short-term rentals? Learn about the laws. The explosion of short-term rentals since Airbnb came on the scene has raised awareness of related issues to a fever pitch. Neighbors and building concierges alike have begun to keep an eagle eye out for strangers with suitcases. Local councils and state governments across the country (and government agencies in other countries as well) are increasing their efforts to regulate short-term rentals or prohibit them altogether.
Failure to Have Eyes on the Ground
Careful screening and ongoing communication helps you enjoy your trip, confident that you’re leaving your home in good hands. But the fact is that people are not always as responsible as they seem. Avoid unpleasant surprises by arranging for a friend, property manager, or trusted housecleaner to check in with tenants while you’re away and let you know if they spot possible problems.
Failure to Alert Neighbors
The sweetest words we hear from neighbors when we get home from a trip are, “Your tenants were great!” Many of the issues that spark controversy over short-term rentals stem from neighbors’ concerns about a parade of strangers in their building or on their street. Address those concerns by letting neighbors know that people will be staying in your home, giving them the tenants’ names and cell phone numbers, and making sure they know how to reach you if they notice or experience any problems.
Do you regularly rent out your home? What other advice would you give would-be hosts to keep their short-term rentals from going bad?