Dealing With Damage – Do You Have a Plan?

No matter how well you screen your renters, talk to them before their vacation, and educate them with your cottage manual, there is a risk of damage. Some damage we can accept and will write off, but there are other situations where we must take a practical approach and put the responsibility for payment firmly in the renter's court.

Last summer, we replaced screen doors on seven occasions and seemed to do it every week on at least one door. Six of them just required new mesh, but one was damaged beyond repair and had to be replaced entirely. We accept pets at our cottage, and some of the damage had clearly been done by a pet scratching to get out (or in). Mostly, it looked as though it was the common screen door challenge – people forgetting they need to be opened before walking through the door. We've found this is a more common issue with people from UK and Europe who are not used to the screen door concept.

Just last week, the glass table on the patio was smashed because the renters had left the umbrella out in a storm, despite instructions to take it down when not in use. And at the weekend, the rental group trashed the hot tub leaving beer caps and cigarette butts in the filter basket and a grey soupy mess in what had been sparkling clear water when we left on Friday.

It seems we've had more than our fair share of damage recently, but since we have a PLAN, it makes dealing with it much easier.

    • Decide what you will accept as ‘wear and tear.' This should cover minor breakages such as glassware or dishes; minimal carpet stains that are easily removed, and any other small costs you are willing to cover.
      • Be very clear in your cottage guide what you will accept and what you will not. For example here's what we say in ours:

We do understand that you are on vacation and accidents happen, so if you break a glass, chip a plate or crack the coffee pot; don't worry about it – just let us know so we can replace them for the next guests.

If you spill something on a carpet, use the spot cleaner provided immediately. If it is a larger spill, let us know so we can take appropriate action.

We charge for any damage to screen doors as replacing screens is costly and time consuming. Please take extra care when using these doors and prevent pets from scratching at them.

Damage that is clearly not accidental, or results from lack of due care and attention will be charged. For example, broken kayak paddles, or cracked windows.

We don't make indiscriminate charges but ask you to appreciate we are proud of our cottage and maintain it to be a delightful vacation home for all our guests. Please ensure that all members of your group respect the cottage guidelines we outline in this manual, and treat our cottage and its surrounds with care.

There are other notes on leaving the cottage in the same condition in which it was found, and I'll write a separate blog post about handling this.

  • Take a digital camera on changeovers to record any damage, and date stamp all photos
  • Be realistic with any charges. I recall a cottage owner who seemed to have a claim on a renter's damage deposit every week. She wanted to charge $75 per hour for additional cleaning because a carpet had not been vacuumed to her satisfaction. From my perspective, this was not in the spirit of responsible renting, and I politely suggested that she might reconsider her decision to rent at all.
  • Create a damage claim form that you or your caretaker can complete if you find an issue that needs attention. The form should include the date and time of checking the cottage; the nature of the damage; time and cost taken to rectify; and reference to any photographic evidence collected. This is your formal record of the claim and backs up any phone call you may make to the renter following the vacation.
  • If you are holding a check for the damage deposit, you can cash it immediately, and then let the renter know how much you are charging together with your damage claim form. Then send a cheque promptly for the difference.

Renters will invariably respond to a damage claim with a counter-argument so be prepared for this defensive response. Handling damage can be a little stressful but if you are clear on your policy and have a PLAN, managing it is much easier.

Jennifer Jilks

I have a problem. We are having a hard time with our insurance company. Brian, my husband, phoned them and our insurance broker said there are big issues with this. Our current policy holder does not want to insure us for rentals.

I noticed on your blog that you said,

“Do not start to rent without insurance that will cover you for renting the cottage. Talk to your broker first and if your current insurance company will not assist, you may need to talk with a specialist such as Ross Robertson (for renting up to 60 days), or Mason Insurance, who have a year round rental policy.”

We are worried that the price increase in insuring the house/cottage as a rental may cost us more money than it is worth. Not that we have any potential renters yet…!

Any thoughts?

Heather Bayer

Hi Jill

I hope you’ve found an insurer by now. This is a tough issue sometimes as many brokers just don’t want to know if you are renting out. Get several quotes and you may be suprised. You may need to change your provider, and I know of some owners who have been with the same broker for years yet had to find a new one in order to get covere for rental. Let me know how you got on.

Jennifer Jilks

I am still working on it! They are incredibly busy.

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