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We’ve all heard stories about Cottage renters who, during their stay at a Cottage, have either wrecked something, done something stupid, failed to follow instructions given, left the cottage in a mess or upset the neighbors. Many of these tales may just be legend or embellished over time to make a better story. However, there is no doubt that many such anecdotes are true, but the merest hint that they may be true is enough to discourage many cottage owners from considering renting out their own piece of heaven for fear of what renters will do to it.

Over the years we have experienced our fair share of incidents at first-hand, fortunately, none of them serious, some exceedingly funny and one or two extremely annoying; here is a small sample:

First-time renters, bucket in hand, having been told in the pre-arrival information that the Cottage water comes from a drilled well and is safe to drink:

“We’ve been at the Cottage for over an hour now and we can’t find the well to get water!”

What they thought the faucets were for is anybody’s guess!


New Year’s renters at the end of their rental:

“We loved the Cottage but thought we should have been pre-warned that the roads into the Cottage would be snow covered and icy.”


Last minute renter seeking a Cottage for the weekend in mid-March on being offered a riverside Cottage:

“The Cottage looks lovely on the web site but my husband wants a Cottage on a lake so he can hire a boat and do some fishing”.

“But Madam, all the lakes in Cottage Country are frozen over.”

“Oh, but its sunny here in Toronto!”


And one that really annoyed me at the time and still rankles after 6 years is the rental guests who put their own voicemail message on my own Cottage telephone after deleting some messages already there! Needless to say, it was some weeks after the rental that we discovered that “Mr & Mrs Smith were not available to take the call!”


And finally, at a Cottage that had just had a new second bathroom installed. Just before a rental group arrived, the owner discovered that the new toilet would not flush away properly and covered the toilet in Saran Wrap with a note attached saying “There is a problem with this toilet please do not use it”.

The leading member of newly arrived rental group telephones owner:

“Unfortunately one of our group has just used the toilet that had the note on it saying please do not use and now we have no water.”

The owner, somewhat annoyed as well as perplexed at why the water is no longer flowing, suddenly has an epiphany and replies:

“Could you check the switch in the master bedroom that has a note underneath it that says ‘DO NOT SWITCH OFF' and tell me where the switch position is?”

Yes, you’ve guessed it, the guest, who it transpires could not read any English, had assumed the note on the Saran-wrapped toilet said something along the lines of “This toilet has been sanitized for your protection”. Having used it, he subsequently explored the master bedroom and, having discovered the main water pump isolation switch half-way up the wall, had exercised it a couple of times. When it didn’t appear to do anything he just left it in the off position.


There are many more examples that I could quote but they all have a common theme – COMMUNICATION.

If you don’t tell your renters how things work and what to do when they don’t, or how to leave the Cottage when they depart, and what to do with their garbage, then they will always take the easy option and do nothing.

It is also important to remember that we live in a multi-cultural society and therefore renters may well come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds where English is not their primary or even second language.

Indeed this was the problem with the first and last examples given above and illustrates the need to ensure your guests are given all the information they need in an unambiguous format to ensure both they and you have a hassle-free rental.

Tell them what you are going to tell them; tell them, then summarise what you've told them

This classic rule of training can be applied to your cottage guests with good pre-arrival information, a comprehensive cottage guide, and a phone call to check to understand.

A basic pre-arrival brief should be provided to give the renter the following information:

  • how to get to the Cottage
  • confirmation of the earliest check-in and latest check-out times; access/key arrangements, bedroom and bathroom configurations, including bed sizes (to enable them to pre-plan their sleeping arrangements and bring the right sized linens)
  • what TV/Video/CD/Music System/Internet facilities are available
  • telephone availability and Cottage contact number and owner/caretaker number
  • details of watercraft and safety equipment provided
  • local area information covering nearest gas station; convenience store, supermarket, LCBO, Beer Store, hospital, walk-in clinic
  • Finally, anything else the renter should know before he arrives to help him plan his vacation.

Cottage Guide

The pre-arrival package should also be supplemented by a comprehensive Cottage Guide explaining the operation of all the Cottage systems, what to do if they don’t work and who to contact if there is a problem.

If you occasionally have to bang on the wall to the left of the television to get decent reception, or there's a knack to flushing the toilet, explain this, or better still, fix the problem. Remember your guests may well have been transplanted from a high-rise condo apartment in the middle of Toronto to your piece of heaven and may have no concept of the fragility of a septic system; the significance of screen doors and why they shouldn’t store their garbage outside or leave food on the BBQ. Only by carefully explaining the perils of not following instructions can you hope to stay one step ahead of your renters and a comprehensive, but easily digestible Cottage Guide will go a long way to achieving this. Having made all this information available to your guests, the only problem facing you is ensuring somebody in the group actually reads it!

This brings me to another true story about the father who, having been thoroughly briefed about the perils of abusing the Cottage toilet/septic system and what must not be put into the system– especially sanitary products – then calls to announce that he now had a blocked toilet. What a pity that having been given all the necessary information he was too embarrassed to brief his teenage daughter and her female friend as well! Aaaargh – back to the drawing board.

I am sure all the readers of this blog have similar stories. How do you manage to stay one step ahead and cover all the bases? Let's hear your stories.