How to Prevent Overcrowding at your Cottage

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Overcrowding in a rental cottage is a fear for many owners thinking about listing their place for the first time. Most of us have heard the horror stories of a friend or neighbor taking a booking for a couple or small family and then discovering that more people have turned up than expected.

This is not an uncommon situation and stems from a perception that once a cottage has been booked, the renter is entitled to invite as many people to share as he or she wants.

Although this is difficult to control if you are not on site to oversee how many guests arrive, there are ways to prevent your renters from seeing your cottage as ‘party central' and having a constant stream of overnight and day guests.

Recognize the danger signals

Sometimes you can be alerted to the potential of overcrowding by the questions you are asked. These may well be genuine inquiries from a group who have no intention to bring more people than specified, but it is worth asking a few questions of your own if you hear the following:

  • How many cars can we park?
  • Do you have any more pullout couches?
  • Can we bring tents?
  • Is there space at the dock for more than one boat?
  • Will we be able to fit campbeds in the bedrooms?

Ask for sufficient details on your rental application

A comprehensive rental application form will ask your potential guests to list all the people they plan to have staying, including children. I'm amazed at the number of inquiries we get for our cottage where the renters conveniently forget they have children. Suddenly that group of six, who would have been ideal, grow into a party of 10 once they are prompted to declare any small people they might be bringing.

Use your rental agreement to restrict occupancy

Once all the expected guests are listed on a rental application, you can then state on your rental agreement that occupancy is restricted to those people that have been listed. This should be the case regardless of how many your cottage will accommodate. For example, if your place can sleep 8 people, but there are only 4 listed on the application, then limit the occupancy to 4. This often prompts a response from the renter if they did have plans to invite friends, and you can uncover the hidden children and potential overnight guests!

Create an Overcrowding Clause in your T & C

A short clause in your Terms and Conditions should cover the consequences of overcrowding. Something like: “The maximum occupancy of the cottage is 6. Exceeding this at any time without notification will result in an immediate charge on your damage deposit of $150 per person, and you may be asked to vacate the property immediately with no refund.” This might sound extreme, but it really works!

Play the neighbor card

We have found the best way to avoid potential overcrowding is to gently suggest that they will be found out if they do invite undeclared guests. This is the wording we use on our pre-arrival letter.

“Cottage communities are generally friendly and neighbours watch out for each other, so don't be surprised if someone politely asks who you are and where you are staying. As a courtesy to our neighbours, we let them know when we have rented the cottage, how many people are in each group and if there will be any pets.”

There is no sure-fire way of preventing overcrowding at your rental cottage, but these steps should help. If any of you have any other ideas, please leave a comment. I'd love to hear them.

Photo by Steve Dinn