Renting to Family and Friends

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I got such a great comment on my Renting 101 post that I wanted to deal with it separately because I think it's an issue many new cottage owners face. This was the comment:

"We are first time renters beginning this summer. What are your thoughts on how to deal with immediate family that wish to vacation at our newly-acquired cottage? Is charging rent appropriate, or would it be better to simply ask them to do things like cut the grass, clean thoroughly and replenish items such as paper and cleaning products to get the cottage through a few more weeks of upcoming renters after they leave?"

I remember when we bought our first cottage and suddenly became very popular with ‘friends' and family. At first I didn't want to charge them, but we had set goals for what we wanted to achieve with renting, and that didn't leave us with any free high season weeks to give away. So, we simply made it clear that we were running our cottage rental as a business and although we'd love to offer a discount in the summer, it just wasn't possible given our plans.  However, we were happy to have family stay in the low season, and all we asked for then was for some jobs to be done.

Here's a brief excerpt from my book, "Renting Your Recreational Property for Profit", that touches on this issue:

"To maximise your income, you'll need to rent the whole of the summer, but that may not be practical if you have family who want to spend some time in the cottage as well. At times you need to be strict, not only with yourselves, but with family and friends who probably see your cottage as an inexpensive way to vacation, particularly if they have done so in the past. Let everyone know that you are renting in a more professional manner and that you may have late availability weeks or weekends that they can have. If you have minor jobs that need doing, you could save a little on property management by asking your non-paying guests to do them. Alternatively, have your non-paying guests, family or friends leave a ‘gift' for the cottage. Why not keep a list of items that may need replacing from time to time and ask your non-payers to choose from the list and take the replacement item with them to the cottage. Include things like new pillows, towels, books and games, additions to the fishing tackle box, etc. They will appreciate knowing their gift is needed, and you will save on some of those expenses."

One word of caution here. Immediate family and friends have the same responsibilities as other paying guests. This means they should leave the cottage in the same condition in which it was found, if you don't provide cleaning services. I don't recommend relying on them to undertake the changeover duties that should be done after each rental by an owner or caretaker. Relationship issues can arise if your family guests have caused any damage or fail to clean up to the right standard. The last thing you want is for your rental guests to call you and complain about the condition of the cottage after family have left.

This can be a thorny issue and everyone will be happier if there are clear boundaries. If you can afford it, set aside a couple of high season weeks – the first and last of the season are good ones – but don't rely on the family to prepare it for the next guests.

Has anyone else got suggestions on how to manage this issue? I'd love to hear them from you.