4 mistakes to avoid when renting out your cottage

Hard economic times are forcing more cottage owners to cover the cost of paradise by renting out their properties. Inviting complete strangers to rent your cottage will help cover the mortgage, taxes, and insurance, but turning a family haven into a rental property can also lead to nightmares. Janice Bishop, owner of All Season Cottage Rentals Inc. in Haliburton, Ont., points out some common mistakes to avoid.

1. Don’t skimp on communication.
The worst problems arise from breakdowns in communication. Renters are eager to please, Bishop says, but owners must make their expectations clear. Provide instructions on use of appliances, boat safety, respect for wildlife, pet conduct, clean up, and garbage disposal. Try to look at it from the perspective of someone not accustomed to life in the country. A friendly user’s manual may help guests enjoy a hassle-free stay while protecting your property. Take particular care about informing them what not to flush into a septic tank, which may be unfamiliar to city residents. As an agent for people renting out cottages, Bishop requires renters to sign an agreement outlining their responsibilities.

2. Don’t allow renters to use your motorized vehicles.
This applies to both watercraft and ATVs. If renters use them, it increases safety and liability concerns. Bishop suggests that if they want a motorboat, they should rent one separately. A marina can provide the appropriate training course, boat license, and insurance. Make sure boaters are aware of rocks or other dangers on the lake.

3. Don’t provide children’s life jackets.
Insist that parents bring their own properly fitted lifejackets for their children. Bishop explains, “If we supply children with life jackets, we are assuming liability for the fit.” However, she encourages owners to provide at least two adult life jackets. Grownups will usually think to protect their children but may not consider their own safety. If devices are available and you stress their importance, people will be more likely to wear them.

4. Never leave a dirty cottage.
Cleanliness is one of the most common sources of misunderstanding. Bishop says guests expect, “to arrive at a cottage that is hotel-clean.” If owners cannot check the place between rentals, they should hire a reliable local cleaning person to check in. Guest instructions should also clearly indicate what level of cleaning is expected on departure, with specifics such as whether the fridge should be cleaned out. Bishop warns that good housecleaning is a dying skill. She does not penalize guests for improper cleaning, as long as no damage is done.