If you’re planning to stay in a vacation rental this summer, you’ll have to follow a few basic vacation house rules — some written, some not.
A new study by Europ Assistance and its subsidiary Generali Global Assistance concludes vacation rentals are a top choice for most travelers. The research found 78% of travelers prefer rentals over hotels, and will continue to do so after the pandemic. Almost 9 out of 10 people (86%) said they would book a rental in the next 18 months.
Why? Vacation rentals are more private and thought to be safer than traditional hotel accommodations.
But there’s a catch: Vacation rentals are not hotels. They are homes, and each has its own vacation house rules. You can read some of them in the guest folder in your rental. Others, you just have to know.
I talk to vacation rental guests almost every day through my nonprofit consumer advocacy site. But, as a full-time digital nomad, I also deal with many vacation rental owners. And I can tell you that for every written vacation house rule, there’s an unwritten one. The published rules cover everything from the maximum number of guests to pets. The unwritten ones cover amenities, courtesy, and timeliness — among many other things.
You’ll want to know both before you stay in a vacation rental this summer.
Here are the vacation house rules you need to know
“When booking, travelers must agree to the host’s rules and policies, which include the cancellation policy, damage policy, and house rules,” explains Alison Kwong, a spokeswoman for Vrbo. “House rules help hosts avoid surprises during the stay and can protect the vacation home.”
When you rent a home, the house rules will be displayed on the listing page and the owner might send you more detailed vacation house rules once you book. Typically, they’ll also be in the guest folder when you arrive.
Here are the items most frequently found in vacation house rules
Maximum overnight guests: Hosts can specify the total number of guests allowed to sleep at the vacation home.
Minimum age requirement: Owners can specify whether the primary renter must meet a certain age requirement.
Events: Not every host allows family reunions, get-togethers or parties, even if some event attendees are not staying overnight.
Pets: One of the top 10 search filters on Vrbo is for pets. Hosts can indicate whether they allow pets, how many, what types, and any size restrictions.
Not sure about the written vacation house rules? Ask your host before you book the property to avoid any misunderstandings or extra vacation rental fees.
There are unwritten vacation house rules, too
Many rules aren’t written anywhere, and they might not be the easiest to figure out. For example, what do you do with your used linens when you check out?
“Here’s a pro tip,” says Zander Buteux, head of organic growth at VacationRenter. “Even if there are no specific checkout instructions in the welcome folder, if there is a laundry room present, it’s courteous to leave all your dirty towels either in the washer or stacked in a pile close by.”
How about your dishes? If your rental comes with a dishwasher, run all your dirty dishes before leaving and then let the host know when you check out.
“Bonus rental guest points,” says Buteux.
That’s meant figuratively and literally. Some rental platforms allow owners to rate guests. I discovered that when I had a little misunderstanding with an Airbnb host about a house key. I quickly resolved it, but I also learned that hosts could ding you for misbehaving. And that could affect your ability to rent from one of these platforms in the future.
Be on time
A vacation rental isn’t a hotel, where the front desk is staffed 24 hours. Often, the owners live nearby and have to make arrangements to let you into the property. Owners say you should try to be on time for check-in, and especially for checking out.
“Sometimes we only have six hours to turn the property over,” explains Justin Marino, who owns a sustainable products business in Alexandria, Va., and is also an Airbnb host. “To do this, we have a tight schedule with our cleaning crew and have to get all of the laundry done and make the place sparkle. If a guest checks out late, it makes it more difficult to get everything done for the next guest. You wouldn’t want a cleaning crew to be rushed cleaning a place for your stay, so it’s definitely something to think about.”
Bring these vacation rental essentials
Vacation rentals don’t always come with everything you need. For example, owners routinely lock the toilet plunger in a pantry where you can’t get to it. That means if you have a plumbing problem on a holiday weekend, you’ll have to head to the nearest hardware store to fix it yourself.
“Assume you are not going to be able to reach the rental office for help on a holiday,” advises frequent vacation rental guest and customer service expert Chip Bell. His emergency kit includes not only a plunger but a wrench, extra candles and a flashlight. Vacation rental insiders also say you need a sharp knife for cooking because, for some reason, every knife in a vacation rental is dull as dishwater. I can vouch for that.
Take before and after photos of the rental
“Don’t get blamed for something that was already broken or nonfunctional when you arrived,” says frequent renter Brett Sorge.
He always takes photos of his rental as soon as he steps inside. Every room, every appliance, every table, chair and sofa. And then the same thing before leaving.
“Also, call the rental agent as soon as you arrive if anything is awry,” he adds. “They might try to fix it and, sadly, probably already knew it was broken.”
This is one of the most important vacation house rules, and I’ve learned it the hard way. Unfortunately, a few years ago, one host blamed me for pre-existing damage and I couldn’t prove my innocence. When it comes to vacation rentals, you are guilty until proven innocent.
Make friends with the owner or manager
Get to know the vacation rental owner before your visit and keep a line of communication open. That’s the advice of Darcy Vierow, who publishes a travel planning site. “Establish and maintain good communication with the owner of your vacation rental from the day you book your trip up until the moment you check out at the end of your vacation,” she says. “That way, if something goes wrong — no matter whose fault it is — you’ve already built a relationship that will go a long way toward smoothing over any bad feelings if problems should arise.”
It’s nothing personal. Owners are usually wary of new guests, probably because of the behavior of previous guests. I’ve received all kinds of interesting questions from hosts. “What’s the purpose of your visit?” is probably the top question. Translation: “Are you planning any loud parties?” Also, “How many occupants will be in the rental?” Translation: “Are you planning any loud parties?”
I get it. Renters are … well, renters. But Vierow is right, putting a face to a name and being friendly can take you a long way when something goes wrong.
Most vacation rentals don’t allow parties. But how do they know you’re having a party? Because they’re listening. Services like Alertify, Minut and Partysquasher can keep tabs on noise levels and occupants without violating your privacy. Vacation rental owners swear by these services.
“We implement noise monitoring to make sure our guests are able to be respectful of the households within the community that they’re visiting,” says Emir Dukic, CEO of Rabbu, a rental asset management company. “We’ve found it makes all the difference. It’s important that we care for the people around us, and the kinds of guests that we like to host are the ones that are happy to make that a priority. Noise monitoring helps us put the necessary guidelines in place so that we can help our guests be the kind of considerate, accommodating, and unobtrusive neighbors they want to be during their stay.”
Don’t forget your manners
That’s the top gripe from vacation rental managers. Some guests just forget to pack their good manners. It’s an easy mistake to make, but it can really bother your owner.
“Guests should be pleasant and attentive listeners so that they understand that they are, yes, guests,” says Jim Prugh, owner of a vacation rental company in Lindsborg, Kansas. “Pick up after yourselves, let us know if anything is accidentally broken, take the trash to the receptacle and don’t leave it in the vacation rental.”
You probably won’t find this in your guest folder. How do you even ask someone to be an attentive listener, anyway? That’s something your parents should have taught you. And pick up after yourself? There, too, you can thank your father and mother for teaching you that (or not). But common courtesy will take you a long way when you rent a vacation home.
And here’s the thing: If for some reason something goes wrong — let’s say one of your kids breaks a vase in the living room — you can bet that the owner will be far more understanding when you use your “pleases” and “thank-you’s.”
Have a great stay
Vacation rentals are a great way to experience your destination like a local. But you need to remember that many of the vacation house rules are not written on paper. These pro tips, a little courtesy and common sense will help you figure out the rest.
Of course, that assumes you can find a vacation rental this summer. Many destinations are already sold out, so you may have to wait until later this year to put these pro tips into practice.