Vacation Rental Damages: How to Make Sure You’re Covered
By Astrid Lindstrom / Dec 5, 2018
Vacation rentals get damaged. It’s simply a fact of this industry.
Often, it won’t even be the result of willful inconsideration on the guest’s part. They might stumble into a piece of furniture because they’re not familiar with the layout of the room, or drop a water glass because it’s a different size and shape from the ones they use at home.
You’ll also deal with guests who have catastrophic accidents or willfully cause a great deal of damage that far exceeds their deposit or the insurance coverage.
While every professional includes a rental agreement that addresses damages, it can be difficult to get reimbursed if the guest claims the damage didn’t happen on their watch.
Which means every professional in this industry should have a plan for how to track when damage occurred, communicate to guests who have caused damage, and get reimbursed as quickly as possible.
Track Property Status in Advance
One of the most important safeguards you can put in place is a system to track when the damage occurred. It’s not enough to know that scratch wasn’t on the floor when the guest arrived – you’ll need to be able to prove to the guest and possibly an insurance company that the scratch occurred during the guest’s stay in the property.
The simplest way to track when damage occurred is to take photos after every cleaning. That way, you’ll have a record of what the property looked like before the guest arrived and after they left.
You can even take pictures of the insides of your kitchen cabinets, bookshelves, closets, and any other areas where you’ve stocked items for guest use. At a glance, you’ll be able to see if any items are missing or damaged after a guest’s stay.
Without a system for tracking what condition the property was in when the guest arrived and its condition when they left, you’ll have a difficult time getting reimbursed for the damage. All the guest needs to do is claim the damage was there when they arrived. Prevent such arguments by keeping a record of the property’s condition before and after each stay.
Ask your cleaner to take pictures of each room when they arrive at the property, and a second set of pictures after they’ve finished cleaning. If you and your cleaners use an app like Properly, those pictures will be stored with all your other property information, and can be referenced anytime you need to check when damage occurred.
Train Your Cleaner on Noting Damage
Be sure to communicate with your cleaner ahead of time that you’d like them to check for any damage before they start their cleaning. A quick walk-through of the property should show them any obvious damages before they begin, and it’s a good opportunity to take “before” pictures, as well.
The cleaner may find additional problems in the course of their cleaning. A couch cushion may have been turned over to hide a stain, for example, or a scrape on the wall may only come into view when the cleaner stages the property.
Ask the cleaner to stop cleaning when they encounter damage and take a photo. You want to be able to show that the damage occurred during the guest’s stay, rather than after the cleaning took place, and the best way to do that is to show the damage before you’ve turned over the property.
If the damage is to a small part of a larger piece of the property (a scratch on the wood floor, a stained couch cushion), ask your cleaner to take both close-up photos of the damage and a wide shot that shows where the damage occurred in the house. If you need to make a case that the entire couch needed to be replaced after the cushion was damaged, it will be easier to do so if you can show the cushion was a central portion of the couch rather than an easily-replaced throw pillow.
Be Sure to Check Inventory
Missing inventory should also fall under the category of “damage.” After all, you’ll need to replace the missing item just as surely as you would if the item were damaged or broken.
While some cleaners will happily count the plates and linens for you, it can be much easier to simply ask your cleaner to take photos of the interior of your cupboards, closets, and other storage areas after the cleaning has been completed. Don’t forget bookshelves and mantelpieces if you have knick-knacks, books, games, or other items for guest use on them.
Again, using Properly will save you a ton of time in checking inventory. Your cleaner can take a quick photo of the storage areas, and you’ll be able to see that photo side-by-side with the same storage area as it looked after the last cleaning. At a glance, you’ll be able to see there are only 7 plates in the cupboard, not the 8 there should be, or that the mantelpiece used to have two candlesticks on it that are now missing.
The reason the cleaner should take damage photos BEFORE the clean and inventory photos AFTER the clean is that the damage should be shown in context. Inventory is often only easily seen after the cleaning has taken place – in the example of the missing candlesticks, for example, the cleaner may well find that they’ve simply been moved to the dining room table, and will return them to correct spot during the clean.
Reach Out to the Guest
Some property managers use a deposit to cover damages during a guest’s stay, while others have the guests purchase short-term rental insurance that covers damage up to a certain amount. You may also have rules about being able to charge the guest’s credit card for exorbitant damages.
If you intend to retain a portion of their deposit or charge their card, you should reach out to the guest immediately as a courtesy.
Be friendly and professional, rather than accusatory. Guests who feel attacked by the accusation of causing damage are very likely to object, and that’s the last thing you want. Your contact should go something like this:
Hi, [Guest]. I hope you enjoyed your stay with us. I wanted to reach out and let you know that my cleaner reported some damage to the property when she went through after your stay. I’ve attached photos of the property before and after your stay for reference.
Accidents happen, and I’m sure it wasn’t intentional, but unfortunately we can’t cover the cost of repairs out of pocket. Per your rental agreement, we’ll be retaining a portion of your deposit to cover the cost. I’m working on getting the best price possible for a repair, and I’ll follow up shortly to let you know the final cost to repair the damage, and the remaining amount of the deposit that will be refunded to you.
Take a neutral tone and let them know you’re not accusing them of being a bad person or causing willful damage, but that they will need to cover the cost of repairs. If you can, include the cost of repair or replacement in that first contact, but if not, reach out promptly to let them know the cost of the repair that will be taken from their deposit, and that the remainder of their deposit is on its way back to them.
If you use an insurance company to cover your losses, there’s no need to reach out to the guest. Instead, send your before-and-after photos to the insurance company along with receipts for the cost of repair or replacement. They’ll handle reimbursement, and the guest doesn’t need to be troubled.
Be Firm on Pushback
Sometimes, the damage is so egregious that it’s plain the guest willfully caused damage to the property. In these cases, you can take a far sterner tone in your communication with them, but it’s best to keep your emotions out of it. While it can feel like a personal attack to see bad damage, you want the problem resolved, and the best way to do that is to make sure you behave professionally at every step.
Tell the guest the property was badly damaged and that per your rental agreement, you will be retaining the entire deposit and/or charging their card for the cost of repairs. Again, send photographs of the property before and after – this should prevent the guest from thinking they can get away with contesting they were the ones who caused the damage.
If the guest objects to paying for damages, politely but firmly tell them that they agreed to be charged for damage in their rental agreement, and that if they choose to contest it with the listing site or their credit card company, you will be able to show that the damage occurred during their stay.
Guests may threaten a bad review if you charge them. Conduct your communication in writing so that you can report the threat to the listing site in question. Listing sites will remove bad reviews that are retaliatory.
When Not to Charge
Was the damage minor and clearly accidental? Was the guest otherwise easy to have in your property? It might be worth letting the damage slide. If the cost to replace or repair an item is less than $20 and the guest is one you’d be happy to host again, chalk it up to the cost of business. After all, if you accidentally dropped a plate in a rental property, wouldn’t you want the host to tell you it’s no big deal?
Be sure to protect your investment, but it’s okay to let the small stuff slide.
Want to track before-and-after photos for every property in an easy-to-use app? Properly lets you do that along with scheduling each clean, finding qualified cleaners, showing visual checklists to ensure every step is done perfectly, and much more. Set up a demo with our team to see everything Properly can do today.