Because of the uncertainty many people feel when conducting transactions over the internet, it is essential to put everything in writing. Having thorough documentation is important, not only to ease your guests’ minds, but also to keep everyone involved safe from fraud.
When you e-mail your guest a copy of your rental agreement, they are assured of the legitimacy of your business and your professionalism. But before you hit ‘send’, you have to make sure that everything that they need to know is clearly stated.
Here are the top ten things to include in your rental agreement.
1. All of your contact information and the address of the vacation rental property. This is the basic information you need to exchange with your renter. And if you’re worried about disclosing your goofy email@example.com email address, it might be time to change it, or at least create an email address strictly for your vacation rental business. Be sure to include back up phone numbers and contact information for someone who can help them if you are unavailable.
2. Pet and smoking policies and restrictions. Do you like your home to smell like fresh brewed coffee and baking cookies or maybe fabric softener on crisp sheets? How about a bull dog puffing on a stogie? If you don’t want your house to smell like the “Dogs Playing Poker” painting (come to life) you need to stipulate your pet and smoking policies in your rental agreement. It is good to clearly state if the inside and outside of your home is a no-smoking zone and post the rules in your contract, directions, and inside your home, along with the penalties for violating. As for pets, there are many factors to consider when writing your policy, like whether to charge a deposit or a non-refundable fee, what types of pets you will accept, and age, weight, breed, and vaccination requirements. Check out this article for more info on crafting a thorough pet policy.
3. Maximum occupancy. You probably imagine your property as the appropriate setting for a quiet family get-together or a couples retreat, not the scene of a raging house party. Don’t let nightmarish visions of your home as packed as a clown car keep you up at night. Make sure to include the specifics of your maximum occupancy policies in your rental agreement. You can base your maximum occupancy on the number of people your home can comfortably sleep and note any extra charges that may apply if there are extra guests. You can also mention the penalties if renters do not respect your maximum occupancy limitations, especially if you incur damage because of the extra traffic. To learn more about maximum occupancy clauses click here.
4. Check-in and checkout dates and times. You want your guests to have the best possible first impression of your home. What you don’t want them to encounter is your hard-working housekeeper balanced precariously cleaning a ceiling fan blade as dust rains down on their heads. To avoid guests arriving before your home is ready, make sure to clearly state the check-in time, date and day of the week and to reiterate that early check-ins are not allowed. This information could be in your pre-arrival packet (including complete directions and check-in instructions) that you e-mail to guests after you’ve received their payment and in the welcome binder of house information and local attractions that you keep on site. Read the full article on what to include in your check-in policy and welcome letter.
5. Total bill, including all taxes and fees. No hidden charges! Don’t come across as the used car salesman by tacking on unexpected fees. Be totally transparent with your total bill. Let the guests know what exactly they are paying for by breaking it down on their invoice.
6. Payment schedule for deposits and rental payments. Do you accept I.O.U.’s written on the back of a napkin? We didn’t think so. Payment schedules allow you and your guests to stay organized and ensure all monies are collected in a timely manner. Requiring a deposit and signed rental agreement in order to confirm the booking is a good idea. You might want to break the remaining payment of the total rental rate into at least two equal installments and look to receive the first payment a couple of months prior to the renters' scheduled date of arrival. The final balance can be paid a couple of weeks prior to the rental date. Being flexible with your payment schedule can also provide an extra incentive for guests to book your property.
7. Cancellation policy with detailed fiduciary ramifications. The most important clause in your rental agreement is your cancellation policy. Allowing your guests to cancel last minute can put your vacation rental business in peril. But what do you do when a renter says they can’t make it because they have to attend their neighbor’s dog’s 28th (in dog years) birthday party? You can clearly outline your penalties for canceling within specific time frames, and progressively increase those penalties as the check-in date approaches. Your cancellation policy may also include penalties for any changes made to a reservation that would result in a shortened stay. Read this article for some more suggestions on avoiding cancellations.
8. Checkout policy. You don’t expect guests to give your home the white glove treatment on the last day of their vacation. But, you also don’t expect them to keep the A/C on full blast and leave the front door flapping in the wind. A clear checkout policy will provide them with guidance on how to close up your home in preparation for your housekeeper and let them know by what time to depart.
9. Provisions of damage deposit (or security deposit) refund. There’s usually no need to fear guests will damage your property, especially since you’ve been careful to remove your priceless objet d’art and your grandmother’s china. However, accidents happen, so you can include deposit guidelines and refund policies in your vacation rental agreement. When you confirm a booking, you may require your guest to pay the deposit and submit a signed rental agreement as soon as possible. Your rental agreement could dictate which types of violations can result in either partial or full loss of the security deposit and let your guests know when they can expect their refund if everything looks good. This article will tell you everything you need to know about making damage deposits clear in all your documentation.
10. Storm and road condition policies. As a professional meteorologist you should be able to predict and guarantee the weather for your all your bookings. Not! Weather issues can be difficult for vacation rental owners. Potential cancellations and refund requests are the reason it is so important to make your policies explicit. We know hurricanes, snow storms and road closures are beyond your control, but it's probably fair to offer a refund to guests if a mandatory evacuation is given. Here is a recommended hurricane clause to include in your rental agreement.
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