Lessons in Attracting Negative Vacation Rental Reviews


Since we started using Flipkey to invite reviews on our cottage rentals, we’ve had a great response and mostly they show our owners are doing a really good job. It’s been quite a learning curve though as we appreciate it often only takes a minor action (or inaction) on the part of an owner, to generate what can be seen as a major upset by rental clients.

Of course, human nature had us taking a voyeuristic journey into reviews of other properties on Flipkey and it was interesting to note what led some renters to write negative reviews. This led us to compile the following list of actions for attracting 3 or less stars. Tongue in cheek, naturally, but these little nuggets were all found amongst the reviews.

1. Advertise that you provide linens, and then amuse your guests by forgetting to do so.

2. Provide linens but don’t make the beds up.

3. Don’t have any outside lights on so finding the lockbox in the dark is nearly impossible. Take this one stage further by hiding the spare key in an unused outhouse.

4. Ask your renters to locate the breakers and switch for the water pump before they access the property. Do not label the breakers.

5. Advertise you have a TV but don’t mention that its only for watching videos since there is no satellite or local TV stations to watch

6. Make sure the kitchen cabinets are so full of your own half-used packets and jars they have no room for their own provisions. Ramp this one up by leaving some mouldy cheese and mildewed fruit in the refrigerator.

7. Cover most of the walls with yellow post-it notes instructing renters what not to do. The bathroom notice should encourage them to respect your septic system with a bad taste verse rhyming yellow with mellow and brown with flushing down.

8. Don’t tell them what happens if the power goes out. Let them find out that the toilet won’t flush after it’s been used. Oh, how they will laugh!

9. Make sure your cottage directions omit an important turn so they’ll drive an additional hour in the wrong direction before realizing they are on the wrong road

10. Don’t provide any form of seating around the fire pit then complain if the renters use the chairs from the deck

11. Remove any items that will make the renters arrival easier, such as toilet paper

12. Make some promises about things you are going to provide, then forget what you promised.

13. Remove bulbs from various light fittings and neglect to leave replacements

14. Avoid vacuuming under beds or behind furniture until there are dust bunnies the size of tumbleweed.

15. Leave detailed instructions on how you want the property to be left on departure, but don’t supply any cleaning materials.

16. Give your guests the rustic cottage experience by providing 20 year old sagging mattresses and stained pillows. Add value with comforters covered in dog hair.

17. If you live near the property, call the renters frequently to point out that they are breaking your ‘rules’, and drop by occasionally on some pretence to comment on how you hope the place will look after they have left

18. Leave a nearly empty tank of propane on the barbecue, with no spare. This works best when renters arrive after the local propane supplier has closed.

19. Provide 3 incomplete packs of tattered playing cards; a Scrabble set with letters missing and make sure most of your ‘Extensive DVD collection’ are gratuitously violent or sexually explicit.

20. Set the keyless entry/lockbox code to a different one than you give the renters, then leave the country

21. Neglect to supply any information on the local area, such as where the nearest store or gas station is.

22. Decide immediately before a major sporting event that you don’t need to subscribe to sports channels any longer. Don’t let anyone know

23. Let friends and family use the property immediately before your guests are due to arrive and believe they will clean it before they leave. Trust me – they won’t – at least not to your standards.

Each and every one of these items could be enough to garner a negative review. Most are easy to rectify and resolve with a little forethought and over the next few days I’ll be taking each of them and showing how easy it would have been to prevent them from happening at all.


Absolutely excellent post. As a fellow renter I really enjoyed reading it. Giggled at quite a few points but number 7 gave me quite a shock. I will have to bleach my brain after reading that one!!!

Catherine’s last blog post..YET MORE FRUIT

Heather Bayer

Thank you Catherine – it was fun to write too! #7 is regularly seen in Ontario cottages! We are trying to educate owners that offering a sensible explanation of why flushing should be limited is a much better option.

Phil in France

Hahahaha! Excellent, I love #20, a classic gaff! 🙂

Enid Wilson

Made me smile – but not really funny as these sort of owners exist and don’t do the business any favours. It was staying in rentals that had some of these elements (never stayed in one that had all thank goodness) that guided us when we set up our own holiday cottages. The only surprised we want our guestt to get are pleasant ones.

Enid Wilson’s last blog post..Wood – the fuel that heats you more than once!

Dena Rowlands

Excellent post. Really made me giggle!

Reminded me that we have an outside light in a box waiting to be fitted!

On the serious side – it does highlight how much thought has to go into the detail when you are in the vacation rental business! I’m sure some people think we have an easy life just changing bedlinen!


Hi Heather, great to have you back and thanks for your great posts.

I am just wondering if you get cottage owners notified when they get negative or positive feedback? And does the cottage owner have the ability to remove/modify the post she/he does not like?


Heather Bayer

Hi Max

Our rental agency uses http://www.flipkey.com to invite reviews from our guests. We don’t edit these reviews in any way. Our owners have sight of all the reviews on their property and we rarely see negative ones. However we have inspected all our cottages and work closely with our owners to help them create the type of place our renters will enjoy.

It’s a little different with a listing site as you have no control over the quality of the properties listed. However, giving your owners the option to remove or modify reviews defeats the object of requesting testimonials. If your owners are confident they are offering value for money; comfortable accommodation and have been 100% honest in their listing, they should have no worry about the review process.


Heather, thanks for your reply. I just recently had a conversation with the cottage owner who does not like the fact that anybody can create negative review of his property and he has no way to change it.

His point was that if there was some debate or argument between renter and the owner (and we know that not all renters are perfect), the renter can use the review mechanism as a way to damage the reputation of the cottage owner.

The bottom line is that this owner asked me to remove all his three listings from our site just because of the independent reviews feature…


Yes. With up to 7 homes, for 6 years, we have been exposed to an occasional “bully guest,” and they do exist. And there is potential for them to leave an undeserved SCATHING Review.

I have experienced this a couple of times, both times when there is an event in town the entire town is booked up to 6 months prior to the event. People are desparetly booking Vacation Rental Homes without proper dilegence.

I had an unfortunate incident occur where a guest decided that they wanted to stay in the “host hotel” (I later discovered); rather than our 4/4 bedroom home. They complained that it wasn’t clean enough, so I IMMEDIATELY re-hired the cleaners to return, and the idea was that the cleaners would clean according to their instructions!

There would be no room for complaints about the cleaning when people have different ideas about what should be cleaned.

The unfortunate thing about this was the guests left when the cleaners came, so they were not able to instruct them how they wanted the place clean! Hmmmmmm. not participating in the solution.

When they got back, and the place was cleaned a second time ($200 later); they said they didn’t like the linens. Now this is a 4 bedroom home with about 6 beds. The owner immediately purchased $353. worth of NEW linens and towels. They didn’t like those either. We also recleaned the carpets because they thought they were not clean enough, all this within 24 hours and an unplanned extra expenditure of about $700.

But there was no pleasing these people.

They had made a decision to break their contract, and even though they signed the contract that said “no refunds for early departure, no refunds unless prior to 60 days,” and even though we had done everything to make these people happy legally, morally, ethically, they had their mind made up to move to the “host hotel,” where the rest of the social group was for the sports event that their daughter was participating in.

I had about 30 other calls prior to rent the place during the event, but of course it was booked. I was not able to recover the opportunity to re-rent. I was not able to recover the extra cleaning charge and extra carpet cleaning charge. The linens were OK as they could always be used.

This is an upper end home in one of the nicest areas of town owned by a doctor. It had a gourmet stainless steel kitchen a hot tub jacuzzi, a gym, a deck, a view of the city, 4 bedrooms 4 bathrooms, and it had been cleaned twice, and we even cleaned the carpet a second time.

In speaking to my attorney he said, that the house was habitable, there was heat, electricity, water, roof, and it was sanitary and safe and secure; and that since we made every effort within 24 hours to rectify any problems…imaginary other otherwise, that they were in breach of their contract, not us, and not due a refund, no refund, no refund. According to the law.

The sad thing is by the time the whole ordeal was over they had thoroughly convinced themselves that our place was filthy, etc. So if they were to write a review on any site (which they did not), we would look terrible!

The really unfair thing that happened, in the end they got a refund from Mastercard for the weeks rental! Even though my attorney coached me to provide the paperwork, and testimonies of the hospitality manager, 10 pages of documentation, they got a refund from Mastercard, who took it out of my Pay Pal account. And there’s not talking to those people, apparently they are above the law.

This same kind of thing has happened twice both for large events where there was a social component, one of the guests actually complained about skylights in our condo! The skylights were in the ad, and we were bragging about them! We even brought over eyemasks so that he could sleep in (because of the light from the skylights) and that wasn’t good enough either. The bottom line is that he was offered another place to stay closer to the event and he grabbed it and wanted his money back. So out came the microscope, and the white glove inspection. His main complaint was the skylights and too small of towels which were corrected in the same day.

Now most of the time most of our homes can and do pass a while glove inspection. Our hopitality manager hires and supervises cleaning, and is so obssesive with cleaning he actually cleans AFTER the cleaning people clean. He is MILIARY and there isn’t anyone much more of a perfectionist that he is.

He even cleans on top of door sills! Still homes are homes, they are not “corporate beige predictable,” so if you look long and hard enough, a guest might will fine something to complain about if they are intent on leaving. We even do allergy cleaning If they pay extra. These guests did not pay extra for allergy cleaning, but that is the way they got their money back. Their daughter was had “an asthma reaction to the home.”

That was a hard lesson to learn. Because this scenario, and because of so many “rookie guests” are entering the Vacation Rental Venue, trying to save over the hotel room, we have produced a proactive solution to this potential behavior.

Of course, screening is super important, but also so is setting a professional tone, so guests won’t consider you a push-over, and get the idea that since you aren’t a big multi-national corporation, that he/she can break his contract with you without consequences.

But how do you do this? You are like this one man show, with subcontractors, website, and laptop, and these kinds sense your kindness for a weakness.

One Solution: I have created a GUEST ETIQUETTE E-book, that Vacation Rental Owners may e-mail out with their guests check-in informaton, and may also leave a copy in the home. It explains the vacation rental venue is different that the hotel venue and defines common courtesty in this environment to the guest who may have some very unrealistic expectations of vacation rentals.

If guests start to get an idea about leaving early, (and exepcting to get an unmerited, undeserved refund) to go to something “better, cheaper, closer,” at the expense of tying up your home, the Ettiquette booklet they have been given prior to arrival and upon arrival has already set the tone for proper guest ettiquette and consideration! Vacation Rental Home Owners are People, too!


Hi, I recently experienced a terrible cottage rental experience – we paid top dollar and everything was grossly misrepresented. After paying a cleaning lady to clean up (after I had already cleaned) they are now withholding our $500 security deposit – due to windows being left open, and alleged pillow cases be stolen – PLEASE! Is there a forum that will garner a lot of attention and a large audience so that I can air my grievences? We paid $2500/week and everything was broken and nothing worked and yet they are holding on to our deposit! I feel like I’ve been scammed. I’d appreciate your help!

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