Let's be honest: your vacation rental guests have to earn your trust before you are willing to rent your home to them. After all, we're letting veritable strangers stay in our second homes — homes that represent significant monetary and sentimental value. But we should also step back and remember that our guests view their vacations as significant financial and emotional investments as well.
The point is that trust goes both ways, and we should keep this in mind when establishing the rules for our home. Although you're certainly free to post whatever rules you want, whether those rules are realistically enforceable is another story. By establishing trust in the beginning of your rental relationship, you'll help to ease your mind and your renters' minds. Plus, you should not have to go overboard with your house rules or feel the need to micro-manage your guests' stay.
We've compiled some examples of real house rules, which range from the most basic to slightly unrealistic. Unless you plan to stop by during your guests' stay and inspect the property (which will probably not earn you too many repeat bookings) sometimes you have to just trust your gut when it comes to your guests.
Maximum/minimum temperatures. Sure, you can tell your guests over and over again not to lower the A/C past 74 degrees, but if they're in your home in the middle of a heat wave, there's really not much you can do — UNLESS you install a tamper-proof thermostat to keep that temperature set exactly where you want it.
Hot tub settings. Similarly, if you prefer to regulate the settings on your hot tub, you can purchase a programmable hot tub thermometer so that it will not go above the maximum safe water temperatures.
No long distance phone calls. The easiest way to prevent your guests from using your landline for long distance calls is to purchase a blocker through your local phone company for a small charge. Just be aware that these blockers are not too easily turned on and off once they're set up.
No glasses on the coffee table. Don't want water stains on your coffee table or end tables? Instead of threatening your renters with fines and penalties, just put out a few coasters. Simple as that.
Maximum occupancy. Maximum occupancy is a pretty serious issue for most of us, and we're not saying you should take it lightly. You should, however, recognize the fact that unless you are checking people in yourself, you won't really know how many are staying in your home. The best way to enforce this policy is to clearly state the rules and penalties in your rental agreement and reiterate it over the phone when screening your guests. If your guests have a lot of questions about the maximum occupancy, it could be a red flag that they're looking to break the rules. Otherwise, take your renter's word for the total number in his/her party and move on.
No guests of guests. Similarly, your renters might have friends or family in the area that they'd like to have over during their stay. Instead of banning their friends and family from your home altogether, just remind them of your policies on parties, noise and maximum occupancy. By letting them know that they're welcome to have guests as long as the total number sleeping in your home remains intact, they will likely respect your rules on visitors (without you having to get a physical headcount every few hours).
No pets. Along those lines, you may not be 100% sure whether your guests are bringing a pet to your home unless you check yourself. Your best protection against guests bringing pets is to outline the penalties in your rental agreement and carefully screen your renters. If you hear a dog barking in the background when you're talking to your prospective guest, you might just want to casually ask where their dog will be during the vacation.
No moving furniture. One of the simplest ways to prevent your guests from moving furniture is to make sure it's arranged in a way that does not block walkways and where everyone can see the television. You can also provide throw pillows, bean bags or other cushioned items in case your guests feel that urge to move around. But, short of nailing your furniture to the floor, there's not a whole lot more you can do.
No bath towels at the beach. Unless you'd like an alarm to go off when your bath towels leave the premises, you cannot completely guarantee that your guests won't use them at the beach. If you would prefer to keep your bath towels in the bathroom, then ask your guests to bring their own beach towels, or better yet, provide them yourself.
No smoking inside. This is a pretty common rule and one that most renters will respect. The best way to enforce this rule is to clearly outline the penalties if your guests have smoked while inside your home, such as a specific fee to cover the costs of cleaning rugs, curtains, etc. A small but tasteful “no smoking” sign is probably okay, too.
Nearly Impossible to Enforce
No eating in the living room. You may only allow your own family to eat or drink in the kitchen and dining area, but the truth is you won't really know where your guests will pop open a soda or a bag of potato chips. Developing a relationship with your guests and reminding them that this is your second home should encourage them to treat your furniture carefully. In that case, they would likely report any accidental spills themselves, and you can count on your housekeeper to take care of any crumbs left behind.
No pets on the sofa. If you run a pet-friendly vacation rental but tell your guests that the dogs are not allowed on the sofa, how will you really know? Let's face it: if they're the type of owners who allow their dogs on the sofa at home, are they really going to change their behavior when they're on vacation? Similarly, if you require dogs to be kenneled when the renters are gone for the day, you really have no proof unless you stop by (which may not be appreciated.) So, if you're simply not okay with this, you may want to reconsider your pet-friendly status.
No pots and pans in the dishwasher. If you choose to stock your vacation home with high-end pots, pans and knives, you have to remember that not every guest will take the time to hand-wash. Since there's no real way to guarantee that your guests will not put your good kitchenware in the dishwasher, your best bet is to purchase dishwasher-safe items.
No shoes inside. We understand that many of you have nice hardwood floors or would simply rather keep sand and dirt as far away from your home as possible. But remember, your house will be cleaned after each guest anyway, so is it really that important to post “no shoes” signs at every entryway? And, just to drive the point home once again, you really have no idea whether your guests are wearing their shoes in the house when you're not there, so are all those signs worth the trouble?
You might have other house rules that you find necessary to enforce, perhaps because you've been burned in the past. However, with more practice in screening and developing an overall sense of trust between you and your guests, you'll find that many of your house rules will become unnecessary. In the end, if your vacation home looks fine after checkout despite the possibility that a renter might have broken one of your rules, it probably means that it's not worth posting those signs or worrying about some of those more restrictive household policies.
© Copyright HomeAway, Inc. 2009
Updated: September 16, 2009
HomeAway, Owner Community, Policies & Payments, Rental Agreements & Contracts, How to Create Enforceable House Rules for Your Vacation Rental