I've received a lot of emails recently about damage deposits for vacation rentals, and what circumstances should occur before a charge is made. This is a thorny issue and one that needs some thought and reflection before making a decision. Where do you draw the line on additional cleaning? What constitutes normal ‘wear and tear'? Is the situation bad enough to accept the invariable stress that will follow? There are no hard and fast rules here – this is a judgment call on the owners' part, but there are a few guidelines here that may be helpful.
Tell your guests what you expect
It's important to be clear about what you want your guests to do. If a cleaning service is included, then be specific about how you want the place to be left. If you want the property left in an ‘as found' condition, provide a cleaning checklist for them as a reminder. If you leave your guests in no doubt as to their responsibilities it makes it difficult for them to challenge you in the case of a dispute.
Keep a digital camera to hand to record damage
Any claim for additional cleaning or damage will result in an argument. On every occasion we have had to deal with a claim, the guests have argued the details, and refuted any suggestion they did not comply with the Terms and Conditions of the Agreement. Taking pictures with a date and time stamp is the best way of proving your case should it come to court.
Assess the cost of replacement items fairly
Renting out a vacation home comes with risk. During the course of a rental, there is the potential that a glass or two will be broken and a plate or mug might be chipped. This is acceptable wear and tear in my estimation. If you have left your best crystal glassware or heirloom china for the guests to use, don't expect them to be cared for in the way you would.
Get an immediate quote in cases of significant damage
Where there is major damage, get a quote for repair or replacement as soon as you can. Get everything in writing; have photographic evidence and contact your own insurance company to discuss a potential claim. The damage deposit should cover the deductible with your rental insurance taking care of the rest.
Be objective at all times
It's easy to get very upset, particularly when a rental group has abused your trust in them by leaving the place in a mess. It may cost you extra in your own time, or money for additional cleaning, but if you balance that against the other times when the property is left in immaculate condition, you might just want to write it off to experience and simply decide never to rent to the people again.
It would be wonderful if each changeover was easy and without incident, but that is unlikely in the vacation rental business. Taking the rough with the smooth and accepting that standards of cleaning do vary will help you when assessing whether you should claim or not. My yardstick is simply this:
If it will cause me more stress and aggravation to make a claim rather than just accept it as a disappointing episode and move on, then I'll take it on the chin, and look forward to better guests next time.
Photo by Vibrant Spirit on Flickr