When Should You Claim On A Vacation Rental Damage Deposit?

camera 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

Vacation Rentals By Owner

Great tips. I can’t stress the importance of a good contract detailing what you expect of the guest & detailing what will happen if they mess up your rental.

That said. If things are minor, maybe it’s better to just give em a break. I know if someone keeps my deposit I most likely won’t stay their again & who knows what a person will say to their friends and write on message boards & blogs.

Dana Ghermine

I have eco-friendly vacation rentals in AZ and FL, US and blog about green vacation rentals at http://www.vacationrentaltraveldeals.blogspot.com/. I rarely have a problem with damages for 2 reasons: 1. our places are small, so we don’t have to deal with big groups and 2. we have a clear agreement. Here’s what it says:

Guest authorizes Owner to charge credit card for any costs of repair or replacement of damaged or missing items beyond normal use, and excessive clean up, stains, odor removal, late check out, or unscheduled cleaning crew costs. No charges made when the following provisions are met.

a. No damage is done to unit or its contents beyond normal use.
b. All debris, rubbish, and discards are placed in the dumpster and dirty dishes in the dishwasher and dishwasher is run before leaving (you need not wait to unload it).
c. Key is left in the lockbox and the unit is left locked. There is a $100 charge for lost keys.
d. Parks passes are left in the unit. There is a $100 fee for each lost pass. We appreciate that in the past year, no one has lost a pass or keys.
e. No linens are lost or damaged.
f. No items are missing.
g. Excessive cleanup, stain removal, or odor removal is not required. If there is evidence of smoking or of an animal having been in the house, those allergens will be removed professionally at a fee of $580.
h. The water in the spa tub is clean. If foaming substances or excess dirt (beyond normal use) is in the water and requires special service, there is a minimum $200 charge.
i. NO early check-in or late checkout requiring additional costs for rescheduling or overtime for the cleaning turnover crew.

Alison Meacham

That is such essential advice that you need to be very clear about what you expect from guests. Most people are honest and will look after your home and the security deposit is really only to be retained if someone does something deliberately. In over 7 years of owning homes I have rarely every retained any of the deposit.

I had a lovely guest a couple of weeks ago who felt very guilty about breaking a glass on the last day so left the money to replace it. Things like this do help keep my faith in human nature – well more than the guest who walked away with my Play Station anyway!

Heather Bayer

You are right Alison; there is rarely an occasion for a damage deposit to be retained. Having said that, we have just replaced a $250 screen door for the second time because people have walked through it. We now state very clearly in the property manual that care should be taken in using the screen doors, and we will charge for a situation that requires a complete replacement. I’m OK with replacing the mesh, but both incidents looked like an elephant had marched through the door!

David Harris

Hi, I have some info i would like to pass along.. A rental agreement and security deposit is a must but remember that renters don’t always read what they sign and don’t always listen to what you say. I always leave a copy of the rental agreement and cleaning checklist at the cottage and I have found that some renters don’t follow instructions. I have held back deposits because renters did not leave the cottage in the same condition they found it in.. When they complain I remind them that they did not follow the information I provided.. I always get pictures from my cleaning staff to back up my decesions..

barbara travers

I had renter for one week. The closet railing in the master was ripped out of the wall, there were 3 spots where gum was spit out on the beautiful rock patio and melted into the stone, brand new king blsnket had 3 giant holes in it ( this is a brand new home) we are missing 2 steak knifes and 2 spoons, there were knots tied in the brand new blinds at the top making them unable to work, a designer rug was removed from the house left in the rain and it mildewed. Are you telling me I should not take this all out of their deposit? How do you charge for missing cutlery? The renters you do not want back.

Rob with Waikoloa Vacation Rentals

Yes, this is a tough one because 90% of the time they are going to feel that you are unjustly charging them and then you risk the chance of them leaving bad comments on the internet. I think you should just do it when the damage is way excessive.


What about bloodly sheets where the stains were left to sit (can’t be bleached out, so far tried twice) and went all they way through to a brand new $800 mattress? Is this considered normal wear and tear????


What do you do when there is legitimate damage (in this case irreparable water rings left on the furniture and a kitchen appliance broken) and the renter puts a stop on the security deposit check when you try to cash it?

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