How to prepare your cottage for short-term rentals

Updated: January 16, 2019

a-cottage-in-the-woods-winter-night Photo by Tsuguliev/Shutterstock

Short-term rental insurance? Check. A welcome gift? Check. A clear way to communicate rules to guests that are in their best interest? Hmm…

“Our hot tub cover has several bite marks in it,” says Danny Effron, the owner of Whitewater Chalet near Nelson, B.C. “There are grizzly bears everywhere…guests cannot leave trash around.”

Prepping your cottage for short-term renters can be, well, slightly different than a condo in the city. The stakes—and wildlife—are a lot bigger, particularly with rural or remote properties. So if you’re thinking of taking on some very short-term tenants, you may want to consider these cottage-specific issues first.

Secure a caretaker, cleaner, or laundry service

Effron lives in Denver, Colorado, and purchased the chalet a year and a half ago as a vacation property. “I decided to rent it out to help support the cost of owning the place and to give other skiers and outdoor enthusiasts an amazing place to go to experience Nelson,” he told Cottage Life in a phone interview. But since he’s not on site (or in the country), he said the most important consideration when setting up the short-term rentals was a reliable caretaker.

“I guess a common thread for people who own cottages or cabins is that they’re in a rural area, so upkeep is pretty difficult. Having someone who can take care of a strung-together cabin with rural type systems is critical,” he says. To find his caretaker, Effron did a lot of networking in the area and put out a local job listing.

Even if you’re not fully outsourcing the turnaround between guests and caretaking duties, you might still want some help. Ericka Bateson owns two small, bespoke chalets called Bluebird Chalets on her 40-acre property near Salmon Arm, B.C., which she rents out to short-term guests. Though Ericka replaces the supplies, makes the beds, and facilitates the check-ins and check-outs, she takes the laundry to a local laundromat and hires a cleaning service.

Communicate the rules

“You can put the rules down and you can let people know it is your house. It’s not a hotel…we charge for firewood, and the odd person is like, ‘Really?’ But you’re allowed to do it. Most people will pay and follow the rules. You just have to lay it down,” says Bateson.

Effron echoes the importance of clearly communicating expectations to guests, particularly during the winter months, when access to his property is dependent on a 4×4 vehicle. “Over-communicate to guests about how to access the place, how to be there in winter,” he advises. “We have a whole guide, a welcome and information booklet that goes out to people a month before they show up.” To ensure that they read through the most important aspects, Effron cuts and pastes the key provisions in an email and also puts the access code to the property in the booklet, so they must open in. In the cabin itself, he posts signs on how to use the septic system properly and keeps hard copies of the guide handy for guests.

Consider the speculation and vacancy tax

The B.C. government introduced a speculation and vacancy tax this year, applying to anyone owning a vacant home or a second home in certain areas of the province, mainly high-cost urban centres. “So people in smaller communities, those with cottages at the lake or on the islands, will not pay this tax,” said Carole James, the minister of finance, in an announcement about the tax.

“It’s quite controversial in Vancouver, Kelowna, Nanaimo, and Victoria, probably given the number of people that own second or vacation homes,” says Shauna Towriss, a partner and real estate lawyer at Clark Wilson LLP in Vancouver. The tax was designed to help increase the amount of properties for people living and working in B.C., and Towriss says, “the government believes that 99 per cent of British Columbians will be exempt from the tax.”

Exceptions to the tax include islands in the applicable areas that are accessible only by air or water, as well as properties that are assessed at a value equal to or lower than $150,000. There’s also a rental exemption, but don’t go investing in guest towels just yet. “The key thing is that the homes must be rented out in minimum 30-day increments, which will ultimately stop most people from renting out on Airbnb or VRBO, etc. Short-term rentals do not count towards the minimum rental period,” warns Towriss. The tax rate for British Columbians is 0.5 per cent of the property’s assessed value.

Featured Video