What Your Guests Need to Know About Winter Rentals

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On one of our first winter visits to our Haliburton Highlands cottage from the UK, we experienced a 36-hour power outage during and after a winter storm. It was pretty scary as the road out was blocked by snow; the plow didn't get round until the second day; we'd never realized we'd be without water as the water pump wouldn't work without power, and we only had one flashlight.  Fortunately, we had lots of blankets and a big woodburning stove, so we could at least stay warm, and there was plenty of food and propane for the barbecue.

Since then we've made sure we have a power outage kit in our home, and that there's one in our cottage for rental guests. It occurred to me that once our renters arrive if there is significant snow, they could be stuck there for several days before the plow gets there.

In my book Renting Your Recreational Property for Profit, there is a chapter on What to do in an Emergency and I discuss how to handle these issues. The following is an excerpt from it:

“If you have been at your cottage during a power outage you’ll know what you need to have at hand. Because you'll be familiar with the cottage layout and know where everything is kept, it’s relatively easy to find a flashlight, candles, a radio, etc. But remember that your guests may have just arrived on a cold and snowy night – it’s pitch black outside, and they haven’t a clue where to find anything.

Having an emergency box available for guests in the event of the power going out may prevent unwanted and unnecessary calls, so it’s worthwhile taking the time to put one together. Basic items to include are:

  • Powerful lantern-type flashlight (and separate battery)
  • Box containing half a dozen candles and a box of matches (make sure you also have candle holders)
  • One or two oil lamps together with a bottle of (indoor) lamp oil
  • A sealed 5-liter container of fresh drinking water
  • Small cheap battery-powered radio (keep batteries in a separate container)
  • First aid kit
  • A laminated card with emergency numbers and other priority information such as local radio frequency

Your guests need to know where the outage kit is, so include clear instructions in the cottage guide on where to find it and display this prominently. For example:

If the power goes off, there is a large flashlight on top of the fridge and small ones in each bedside drawer. Emergency numbers are listed at the end of this guide. We have also provided an emergency kit for use only in the event of an extended power outage. The kit contains an additional first aid kit, water, candles, flashlight, oil lamps, and a battery radio. There is also a card listing the numbers to call, and the information to give the power company when reporting an outage. Candles and oil lamps are to be used only under strict adult supervision and must be placed in an appropriate container/on a suitable surface away from other flammable materials. They are not to be left unattended.

Having rental guests in winter does bring more responsibilities, but if you prepare for all eventualities you'll be significantly reducing the problems that could arise.