Some form of vacation rental damage is bound to happen the longer you rent out your property, but where exactly do you draw the line when it comes to charging your vacation rental guests? And how do you tactfully let them know when these charges occur? Read on to find out what to do in these seven common scenarios, as well as helpful tips on guest messaging and insurance claims.
- Broken dishes or glasses
- Stained sheets and/or towels
- Appliances that stop working
- Smoke damage
- High energy usage
- Stolen items
1. Broken Dishes or Glasses – DON’T Charge Your Vacation Rental Guest
Accidents are bound to happen, especially with so many people frequenting your vacation-rental property over time. If something gets broken that is cheap and easily replaceable, like a plate or wine glass, there’s no reason to charge your vacation rental guest. Just chalk it up to the general cost of running your vacation rental business. Charging guests for broken tableware likely is not going to make them feel generous when it comes time to review your property.
Pro Tip: Stock your vacation rental with versatile dishware (think bowl-plate hybrids) that can serve multiple functions. Fewer dishes = fewer dishes to replace (which means more money in your bank).
2. Pets – It Depends
Pet damage can be a costly affair, resulting in the need for deep cleaning and possibly repairs. Regardless of whether or not you allow pets in your home, you’ll want to make sure your policies are crystal clear in your listing description, house rules and rental agreement contract.
If you do allow pets, make sure you’re very specific on the rules or restrictions (dogs under 30 pounds, no cats, areas in the house that are off-limits, etc.). It’s also highly recommended to collect a pet fee if guests bring a pet (a standard amount ranges around $150-250). You can typically do this after the booking but before the check-in
If you have a no-pet policy, and you discover that a guest has brought an unauthorized pet (either via exterior camera footage or neighbor report), you’ll need to decide what to do. Options include:
- Kicking out your guest for breaking your house rules (you likely will lose the rent for the nights not stayed)
- Contacting your OTA and letting them find them a pet friendly rental for the ejected guest
- Giving the guest the option to pay a pet fee to cover the cost of additional cleaning, and giving them a very limited window to approve the additional charge (30 minutes or less)
- If you find out about the unauthorized pet after the guest leaves, documenting proof of cleaning issues and/or damage, and trying to get your booking platform to cover additional cleaning costs
Important Note: Even if you have a no-pet policy, guests are still allowed to bring service animals. Just make sure to communicate any health or safety concerns respectfully to your guests.
3. Stained Sheets Or Towels – DON’T Charge Your Vacation Rental Guest
Sheets and towels are something you’ll want to replace every couple of years anyway. Plus, you should have backup sets on hand in case your linens go missing or get stained. (A good rule of thumb is to have three sets for every bed and three towels for every guest, per occupancy.)
Pro Tip: Provide designated makeup towels and washcloths in a darker color. Also, ask guests to leave sheets on the bed when checking out, so they’re easier to inspect for stains.
4. Appliances That Stop Working – DON’T Charge Your Vacation Rental Guest
This should probably go without saying, but we’re saying it anyway. Professionally operating a vacation rental (or many) means focusing on guest experience. Guests shouldn’t have to experience a fridge on the fritz, or a janky toaster that burns everything to a crisp. And they definitely shouldn’t be charged when an appliance, plumbing or heating/cooling system stops working during their stay. Even if they burned out the blender motor with excessive margarita mixing.
On top of that, Airbnb’s new rebooking and refund policy gives guests 72 hours “after discovery” to report “travel issues” that impact their stay, and request not just a refund, but financial help toward booking a different stay. And guess what? Those travel issues include “special amenities or features described in the listing that are not present or do not function (e.g. pool, hot tub, bathroom – toilet, shower or bathtub, kitchen – sink, stove, refrigerator or other major appliance, electrical, heating or air conditioning systems).” Temperamental jacuzzi tub? You may be looking at significant loss of income.
That said, general wear and tear is just part of managing a vacation rental business. And the upkeep of appliances should be factored into your budget. Old things break, and smaller appliances need to be replaced often. So know what’s going on at your rental. And make sure your cleaning staff reports any broken, missing or malfunctioning items.
5. Smoke Damage – DO Charge Your Vacation Rental Guest
Smoke damage can wreak complete havoc on your property. A lingering, unpleasant smell, burn holes, stained walls, damaged or destroyed furnishings—it’s definitely a case where you’ll want to impose a vacation rental damage charge. Not only will you likely have to hire professionals to deep clean your smoke-damaged property, but you may have to replace your furniture and carpet as well.
Just make sure you’ve made it extremely clear in your house rules that smoking isn’t allowed. And make sure to take pictures of any smoke-related damage to add to your claim.
6. High Energy Usage – DON’T Charge Your Vacation Rental Guest
Utilities are another thing that should be factored into your short-term rental budget, especially if your home is in a climate with more extreme weather. You want your guests to stay comfortable! You can, however, ask guests to stay within a designated temperature range in your house rules. A few other tips to keep costs down without charging your vacation rental guest:
- Invest in energy-saving appliances, make sure your home is well insulated, and change air filters regularly.
- Install double-pane windows or solar panels.
- Unplug appliances and turn down the heat/air between guest stays.
Pro Tip: Install a smart thermostat and control the temperature of your vacation rental remotely!
7. Major Stolen Items – DO Charge Your Vacation Rental Guest
Although a rare occurrence, it is possible that guests will leave your vacation rental with more than good memories. In most cases, pilfered items are minor (beach towels, a blanket, a cute butter dish, a yoga mat, a few extra bars of soap), and not worth going after reimbursement for. But major items like electronics and designer furniture do get stolen sometimes, and can cost a pretty penny to replace. So you’ll want to make sure you’re protected. A few tips:
- Create a detailed inventory checklist with all the items at your property. Take photos and keep receipts for evidence in case you need to go through insurance
- Reach out to your guests and give them the benefit of the doubt. (Never start the message with an accusation.) Ask them politely about the missing item and if they’ve taken it by mistake.
- If the guest refuses to return the item or reimburse you, file a police report with your proof.
Pro Tip: Consider adding a logo to your household items. People are less likely to steal when something has been personally branded. And in the case they still do, at least they’ll still be marketing your vacation rental business!
Guest Messaging Tips for When You Do Need to Charge
Before you file a claim, reach out to your guests to discuss the details and the total amount of the vacation rental damage or loss cost. A few things to consider:
- Share any evidence and documentation that you might have of the damage (i.e before and after pictures or outdoor surveillance footage).
- Keep your cool and respectfully discuss the situation openly with your guests so they understand your reasons for the claim—it can help decrease the likelihood of a dispute.
- Maintain a record of your conversation via a secure messaging platform.
When should you file an insurance claim? And what exactly is Airbnb AirCover?
In late 2021, Airbnb rolled out Airbnb AirCover—a new protection program for vacation rental owners. Essentially a makeover of Airbnb’s Host Guarantee, the new plan expands coverage to $1 million in liability insurance and $1 million in damage protection. It also makes it easier to file claims for regular damage, deep cleaning, and smoke/pet damage.
While the extended coverage is great, you’ll still want to have your own vacation rental insurance policy. Airbnb AirCover only applies to the Airbnb platform, and you’ll need coverage for other listing sites as well as your own.
So when exactly do you need to file an insurance claim? If your security deposit or property damage projection waiver doesn’t cover the extent of the damage, then it makes sense to go through your insurance. (Think bigger occurrences like guest theft and extensive smoke damage.)
Your vacation rental insurance plan should also cover guest liability in case anyone gets injured while at your property. And it’s not a bad idea to get employee liability insurance while you’re at it if you have a housekeeper or local host. That way, all your bases are covered!
Elizabeth Holbrook is a writer, editor, and grammar geek who loves all things content and travel. Combing her two passions, she’s covered everything from news stories for the national broadcaster of South Korea to the latest in the short-term rental industry in the U.S.