Welcome to renting (I say that sincerely in spite of the bad experience). It sounds like you had some thoughtless, inconsiderate guests.
In general, without an RA, withholding damage deposit for extra cleaning can be almost impossible based in my experience and that of other owners (of course others may have different experiences, so they can certainly chime in). With that said, it seems from what you wrote, albeit terrible, it's mostly dirtiness that you were able to thankfully get cleaned and back in order. So definitely get an RA in place that addresses specifically extra cleaning due to guest negligence.
Outside the RA, if you don't have one already, consider a "guest guide" or booklet or welcome letter at the cabin that has some guidelines to address the issues you experienced; e.g., "To avoid costly damage to the water pump system, do not place/leave logs on the water line in the lake." "Please kindly wipe up large spills in the refrigerator/freezer."
I'm sorry that you had such a bad experience with your second guests. It sounds as though you now know the importance of having a rental agreement and will use one in the future. In the meantime, I like scowol's suggestion to prepare a guest guideline or "house rules." I'd email a copy of your house rules to all of your guests this summer before their stay and also post a copy of it in your rental.
Your post didn't say - are you charging your guests a refundable damage deposit this summer? Even if you had a rental agreement, if you don't charge a damage deposit, you will have no practical way of withholding funds from guests who damage your property or cause you to incur excessive cleaning costs.
We are charging a damage deposit, but since there was technically no damage, I was wondering how slippery of a slope it was for me in this situation now. If i got nitpicky, I was thinking I could have charged them for mileage to get a rug cleaner and charge for rug cleaning solution used to clean up their stains left on the rug...I was really just looking for any excuse to keep any of their deposit I know this isn't realistic, but oooohhhh, I'm still fuming at them!
Even without a written rental agreement, I think that you can charge these guests for the cost of renting a rug cleaner to clean the carpet after their stay. Assuming that the carpet was clean upon their arrival (which I'm sure it was), having to shampoo a carpet after each guest would not be "ordinary wear and tear." Do you clean your rental yourself after guests leave or do you hire someone to clean? My understanding is that you can only withhold money from a damage deposit for actual costs you incur as the result of a guest's damage to your property. This means that if you hire cleaning people and they charge you extra to clean after a particular guest, you can withhold the amount of the extra charge from the damage deposit. If you do the cleaning yourself, you can't do this because no extra expense was incurred (even though it was extra work for you).
Here's the language I use in my rental agreement regarding the damage deposit:
- Damage Deposit: A damage deposit of $300.00 is required. The damage deposit shall be refunded in full within 30 days of the Check-Out Date provided no deductions are made due to:
- damage to the property or furnishings;
- dirt or other mess requiring excessive cleaning; or
- any other cost incurred by Homeowner due to Guest’s stay.
If the premises appear dirty or damaged upon Check-In, Guest shall inform Homeowner immediately.
- Damage Deposit: A damage deposit of $300.00 is required. The damage deposit shall be refunded in full within 30 days of the Check-Out Date provided no deductions are made due to:
Sorry - I know it's super disheartening when situations like this happen. I've tightened up my RA and it's very specific - I say the cleaning fee covers laundry (sheets, bath towels, duvet covers) and 4 hours of general cleaning - anything over that will be charged $25/hr. By being specific it's easier to calculate if a guest is over the limit (has only happened once since I added this) and it made it easy to say how much extra time was used and deduct from deposit.
As far as smoking - you wrote no smoking in the cabin, so cigarette butts outside shows they were trying to follow that rule. If you want no smoking at all on the property then it's good to be really specific (still not foolproof, but it helps clear up any wiggle room).
Here is my rental agreement to get you started. It's a work in progress and you should have it reviewed by a lawyer in your county before using it. I post just to give you an idea (and you may use all or part of it if you like with the disclosure that I am NOT offering it as legal advice - I am a salesman, not an attorney).
FWIW I have retained the entire Damage Deposit of guests who left my cabin messy. No problem so far but I may just be lucky.
You can see how I handle smoking and firewood issues
1. Smoking is allowed outside the cabin only and GUEST(s) must collect smoking refuse. Cigarette butts collected by cleaning staff will be charged back to GUEST in the form of damage deposit retained at a rate of $5.00 each.
2. People other than those in the GUEST party set forth in the online booking may not stay overnight anywhere ON the property, including in tents, hammocks, RVs, campers, cars, etc. If other persons are found to be staying on property, rental is void, GUESTS must vacate the premises and no refund shall be given. All visitors are the sole responsibility of GUEST.
3. The cabin and land are privately owned; the HOMEOWNERS are not responsible for any accidents, injuries or illness that occurs while on the premises or its facilities. The HOMEHOMEOWNERS are not responsible for the loss of personal belongings or valuables of the GUEST. By accepting this reservation, it is agreed that all GUEST(s) are expressly assuming the risk of any harm arising from their use of the premises or others whom they invite to use the premise.
4. GUEST agrees to keep the property and all furnishings in good order.
5. GUEST agrees to only use appliances for their intended uses.
6. PETS are permitted only with prior approval and the Pet Addendum must also be signed.
7. UNDISCLOSED PETS: Pets not disclosed in advance WILL VOID THE RENTAL AND NO REFUND WILL BE MADE. If a GUEST arrives with a non-disclosed pet or pets, the rental is void and the GUEST will not be permitted access to the cabin or property. At the HOMEOWNER’s sole discretion, GUEST may be offered the option to kennel the pet(s) and return.
8. Parking: Parking is limited to four (4) vehicle(s). Vehicles are to be parked in designated parking areas only (gravel areas). Parking or driving on the lawn or fields is not permitted.
9. Housekeeping: There is no daily housekeeping service. While linens and bath towels are included in the unit, daily maid service is not included in the rental rate. We do not permit towels or linens to be taken from the cabin.
10. Fireplace: The fireplace is a wood stove. Do not use May-September and only use if familiar with how wood stoves operate. Split hardwood is supplied. GUEST agrees to only use split hardwood in the woodstove.
11. Fire Pit: The fire pit will burn anything – including expensive split hardwood intended for the wood stove. GUEST agrees to NOT use HOMEOWNER supplied hardwood in the fire pit. GUEST is permitted to gather and burn downed limbs from the property but is expressly prohibited from cutting any living tree(s).
12. CANCELLATION POLICY: GUESTS who cancel at least 30 days before check-in will get back 100% of the amount they've paid. If a GUEST cancels between 14 and 30 days before check-in, they'll get back 50%. GUEST initiated cancellations less than 14 days prior to check in will not receive any refund. In all cases, HOMEOWNER will issue full refund if property rents to another party for all or more than the original dates reserved.
13. Water and Septic: The cabin/property is on a well and septic systems. During a drought, the well water may have an odor (but this has never happened yet). The septic system is very effective; however, it will clog up if improper material is flushed. GUEST agrees to NOT FLUSH anything other than toilet paper. No feminine products or condoms should be flushed at anytime. If it is found that feminine products or condoms have been flushed and clog the septic system, GUEST could be charged damages of up to $200.
14. Storms: No refunds will be given for storms, weather-related access issues, or power outages. It is the GUEST responsibility to bring flashlights and candles in the event of a power failure (HOMEOWNER provides emergency lights only).
15. Possession: If premises cannot be delivered to GUEST(s) on the agreed date due to loss, total or partial destruction of the premises, malfunction of major infrastructure such as septic field, well, indoor plumbing, major appliance, flooding, etc or failure of previous GUEST(s) to vacate the premises either party may terminate this agreement. It is acknowledged that neither party shall have any liability to the other except that GUEST will be refunded 100% of the rental amount including service charges and cleaning fee.
16. Fireworks/Guns/Explosives: Are strictly forbidden at H’Owl at the Moon Farm EXCEPT GUEST(s) are allowed to bring weapons for personal safety and defense. See (3) the HOMEOWNERS are not responsible for any accidents, injuries or losses that occur while on the premises or its facilities due to GUEST transportation, storage, or use of weapons. Target practice may be allowed with prior authorization and GUEST must abide by HOMEOWNER’s restrictions on time and location for target practice. If granted, GUEST is responsible for retrieval and disposal of all targets, casings, and associated refuse. Should cleaning staff need to pick up refuse, it will be billed back to the GUEST in the form of damage deposit retained at the rate of $5 per item.
17. Security Cameras: HOMEOWNER warrants and affirms that there are no recording devices inside the premises. There are two external security cameras that are decoys (fake). No camera is recording, transmitting, or capable of either.
18. Governing Law: The laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia shall govern this Agreement. Any actions brought under this Agreement shall be limited for venue purposes to the courts in Albemarle County, VA.
19. GUEST agrees and acknowledges that ALL information and correspondence from the online booking platform made in conjunction with this agreement is hereby incorporated by reference - including but not limited to number of guests, dates of check in/out, acceptance or denial of special requests/exceptions, etc.
GUEST Name (Printed):
GUEST Signature – I have read all 19 paragraphs
ALL PETS MUST BE DISCLOSED PRIOR TO BOOKING AND THE GUEST MUST ALSO SIGN THE PET.
1. All pets must comply with the following specifications (documentation from an accredited veterinarian must be provided by GUEST upon request):
a. May not exceed 100 lbs in total combined weight unless specifically authorized in advance
b. Must be at least 1 year or older
c. Must be spayed or neutered
d. Must be up-to-date on rabies vaccinations and all other vaccinations. Heartworm preventive is highly recommended.
e. Pets must have nails trimmed such that they cannot be heard when walking on hard floors
2. All pets should be leashed at all times.
3. GUEST is responsible for cleaning up any/all pet refuse AND indoor hair and paw/nose prints left on floor/glass.
4. Pets are not allowed on furniture at any time. Any evidence of pets on furniture may incur extra cleaning fees in the form of damage deposit retention of $50 per day.
5. All pets are to be treated with a topical flea and tick repellent three (3) days prior to arrival. If GUEST pet causes a flea infestation, actual extermination fees will be deducted from damage deposit.
6. Pets must not cause damage to premises or furnishings. If damages are caused, the cost of the damage may be deducted from damage deposit.
7. Pets will not be left unattended for an undue length of time, either indoors or out.
8. All Pets must be crate trained and the crate must be used whenever the GUEST leaves the property.
9. HOMEHOMEOWNER assumes no responsibility for illness or injury that may incur to pets or humans while on the premises.
10. GUEST acknowledges that there are (or may be) other animals on the property including but not limited to livestock and guard dogs. HOMEOWNER is not responsible for interaction between resident animals and GUEST pets.
The GUEST shall be solely responsible for the pet while on the property.
GUEST Name (Printed):
GUEST Signature – I have read all 10 paragraphs
Thank you so much for sharing your RA, it is extraordinarily helpful! I had way too much trust in humanity to start this without an RA, but we rushed to get it out there for the remainder of summer, and we're keeping our fingers crossed we can survive until the end I like what you stated about your firewood, but these jerks used some logs we had placed for soil erosion! It's wild to me that we have to spell out "pick up your own cigarette butts".
Anyway, how do you go about having guests sign the RA before their stay? Or do you just email it to them? How does that work?!
There are many digital signing services out there. Everyone does it differently. Some people email or mail them back and forth but nobody has faxes or scanners anymore... I use SignNow.com. It's reasonably priced and my guests report that it's easy to use - and mobile friendly. I've been getting my signed RAs back as soon as 15 minutes after they are created and sent.
I thought this would be true until... until that Mom in Iowa who had to drive 10 miles from her farm to the nearest library to print and scan my document and she could only do that on certain days of the week, because she had to work on the farm most days. That's when I realized that I was adding "friction" to completing the booking process and wanted to eliminate that and $100/year (they raised their rates again as they've added new functionality) for SignNow was a small price to pay for improving/speeding my booking process.
Interesting guest. I wonder if she never uses the word processor on her computer to type a letter to anyone? If she does, driving 10 miles to print something out at the library to save the cost of having a printer/scanner at home seems like a false economy. Personally, I wouldn't be without my printer/scanner. I use it all the time. There's certainly nothing wrong with subscribing to a digital signing service. I just haven't found the need for it.
I had the same situation that feibus had, so I jumped onto an e-signing service. It's relatively cheap, easy and the guests actually comment on how "professional and easy" we make it. After the first e-signing, the savings in time and elimination of the hassle paid for itself.
We don't "need" smartphones (you can use a computer at the library), and we don't "need" cars (you can take a bus), and we don't "need" a credit/debit card (you can pay with cash or an old-fashioned check). So sure, you don't "need" to use an e-signing service, but ultimately sending a PDF to download, print, scan, upload and email back is going to be akin going to the quickcheck line at the supermarket and pulling out your checkbook and slowly writing a check and filling out the register to record the check. I haven't witnessed that in a decade (but I live in a tech town, so maybe that's unusual).
Could just be a market thing... I wouldn't hold a reservation that long, but I know some owners whose entire market of guests is within 100 miles of their VR, so mail turnaround is a day or two. Mine is more like 3/4 of the US + Canada + UK, and until I have a signed agreement, I don't have a confirmed reservation.
I think it's demographic. In the high season when I get mostly families, no one seems to mind an e-sign service. My golfers and snowbirds usually email but sometimes they want to send it in the mail. Many send it overnight so they are paying extra. I require a 48 hr turn round for the RA probably why they overnight it. Some just tell me they have mailed it and I give them a day or two. I get a lot of repeats, I trust the RA is coming soon. I get renters from all over, Canadians and Europeans e-sign.
I had guest trouble with it the first probably 10 times. Turns out it was all about my messaging, so I cleaned that up and now I have a pre-sending email telling them it's coming and the email SignNow sends includes clear instructions for what needs to be initialed and what needs to be signed (it's all of 3 sentences). That eliminated 99% of my issues... and the fact that there's a way to do it from the web or from a smartphone app helps most people to use the device they're more comfortable using. Once a year now I get someone who tries to insist they're too dumb to figure it out (or they're just being a diva, one of those), but I just provide a little encouragement and they always get it.
The biggest mistake that long term rental owners and as you have learned, Short term vacation owners make is haste to make money.
If all the ducks are not in a row, you will be in trouble.
You will need to, if you are around, greet the rest of the guests to let them know you will be near by.
I did as you suggested and lucked out. My Real Estate attorney has her own rental property on VRBO and she was kind enough to share her agreement with me (I must have caught her in an exceptionally good mood).
At any rate, it's all buttoned up, all legal, and a full two pages longer
Thanks for the nudge.
Welcome! I am sorry your guest were so inconsiderate. Unfortunately, we all get an inconsiderate guest from time to time. As others have mentioned, get a rental agreement in place, have very specific rules and the penalty for breaking those rules clearly stated. Charge a damage deposit. I will add that you should have your rules summarized in your house rules section of your listing and include a summary of your rules and booking requirements when you initially respond to an inquiry or booking request. For example the following is included in each initial response I send to a potential guest.
No smoking - No parties or events
Occupancy is 6 people including all adults and children ages 0 and up. We require the name and age of everyone who occupies our home to be included on the Rental Agreement.
Primary guest must be at least 25 years of age to rent and be present during the entire stay; minors under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. No third party rentals or sublets.
Rental Agreement signed by primary guest and copy of valid Gov. issued photo ID is required to book. There is a sample of the agreement on this site for you to review, a personalize agreement will be provided if you decide to book. If the required is not returned within 48 hours from booking acceptance, we reserve the right to cancel your booking and issue a refund.
60 day cancellation policy (full refund if reservation cancelled by renter 60 or more days before their scheduled arrival). We strongly recommend obtaining Trip Cancellation insurance for your trip
Your personal key code, driving directions and arrival instructions will be provided about one week prior to check in.
Deposit refunded within 7 days after check-out if there are no damages or excessive cleaning required
Arrival is 3:00 pm or later and departure time is 10:00 am or earlier.
Yes, STVRing, is a business and you must never take anyone or anything for granted.
A solid, well written with everything possible you can cover is a must before anyone steps foot on your property.
As you are learning, business with no rules, will attract, a similar type of vacationers.
I would add that everyone of the "6" guests must be named and their ages listed.
No one, that is not listed on the contract may occupy the home at any time.
There is so many details that the contract should include......
Too late to help with these awful, disrespectful guests, but I would suggest a couple of things beyond a contract:
Vet the guests upfront. After they book (if you use IB or before you accept if you don't), reach out personally to than them for booking, reiterate important rules, ask about what brings them to town, details about their group, etc. Make sure they understand consequences for breaking rules, too. I use a "let me help you help me" approach ("We want everyone to have their perfect trip to Mammoth, and we know our upscale, quiet vibe isn't for everyone ... ").
Install, use and notify guests that you use exterior surveillance cameras.
Create and post 'check out procedures.' Include time of check out, list of required tasks (empty trash, load and run dishwasher, whatever)
Stay in contact with guests during their stay. Send a quick welcome text at check in, mid-stay, and the night before checkout. This personalizes your place and makes guests more respectful, IMO.
Compare your rates to your competition and consider raising your rates. Low rates bring in low quality guests.