How to protect your cottage when renting it out

snowy cabin lit from within Photo by Shutterstock/Tsuguliev

When you rent out your cottage, the majority of guests you host will be a breeze. They’re responsible, and they play by the rules. They’re just looking to experience the beauty of cottage country too. But there is a small per cent that can slip through and cause trouble that you may want to protect yourself against.

“There’s the less likely, but big damage scenarios, and, of course, stolen credit cards, fake IDs, and parties,” says Roy Firestein, the CEO of Autohost, a guest screening company for rentals.

“Guests may not respect the person limit on your septic system, which can affect the lake. They may leave garbage out or feed wild animals, drawing them into populated areas. All of that affects your cottage neighbourhood.”

Renting out your cottage isn’t just a matter of handing over the keys. You should have precautions in place to protect against any unforeseen circumstances. Otherwise, you may end up with angry neighbours, bylaw fines, and stricter municipal restrictions around rentals. Here are a few suggestions on how you can be a responsible host:

Buy insurance

Most cottage owners will have some type of homeowner’s insurance to protect their property against acts of God, such as floods, fires, or trees falling on the building. But according to Firestein, if you’re renting your cottage out, that means you’re operating it as a business. A business that requires vacation rental insurance.

It’s a fairly new concept, but Firestein says there are providers out there who are offering specific policies for vacation rentals. These are written as business policies, meaning they cover your cottage’s contents, in case anything is stolen or damaged; they provide commercial business liability, so you’re covered in case one of your guests injures themselves while staying at your cottage; and they offer business income insurance, meaning that if your cottage is hit by some kind of disaster and you can’t rent it out, that loss of income is covered.

If you live at your cottage and are only renting it out on specific dates, it’s also a good idea to look for a vacation rental policy that includes personal liability insurance. That means you’re still covered against any incidents when you’re the one occupying the cottage.     

Vet your guests

When we say vet your guests, we don’t mean pick and choose who you want to host based on their age, ethnicity, or whether they look friendly. Firestein says the key to vetting a guest is looking through their booking information for red flags that could indicate trouble.

“Things you should look out for is relatively simple stuff—verify that the reservation information matches the billing information, and that matches the actual person who walks through the door,” he says.

What Firestein means is look for inconsistencies. If things don’t add up, there’s a chance someone else may be booking for them, meaning you don’t know who you’re hosting.

It’s okay to reach out to the guest and ask for more information. You may want to ask for the names and contact information of everyone who will be staying at your property. This protects you, keeps guest behaviour more accountable, and also will let you know that the guests are sticking to the maximum number of people you allow.

If you really want to drill down and look for signs of a risky reservation, Firestein advises looking at the guest’s booking details. Guests who book within 24 hours of their check-in time could be using a stolen credit card and are trying to use it before it gets cancelled. A one-night booking at your cottage, especially on a weekend, could be a sign of a party. Finally, guests booking a cottage that’s way too big for them—say, a couple booking a five-bedroom property—probably aren’t telling you everything.

These aren’t reasons to immediately cancel the reservation, but Firestein says you should reach out to the guest to gather more information about their plans.

Be transparent

These precautions are designed to protect you and your property, but you want to make sure they’re not scaring off guests. For instance, some property owners use noise sensors or doorbell cameras to monitor their cottages in real time. While this is a legal security measure, most guests don’t take kindly to being surveilled, especially if they’re unaware.

“Rule number one is always make sure that it’s very clear to guests that there are these types of devices on the property before they make the booking. That’s one way to set expectations,” Firestein says. “Because as soon as someone complains to a rental site that there’s a hidden camera, you’ll get blocked.”

To ensure a happy stay, you need to be transparent with your guests. Put any rules or security measures you have upfront in your property’s listing. This serves a dual purpose, Firestein says. Guests will be aware of expectations before they make the booking, plus is should scare off any guest who are looking to cause trouble.

“If the customer is aware that this is part of the process from the beginning, it just seems less suspicious and less awkward when it comes up,” he says.

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