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How to be a good guest at your next rental house

The vacation rental market is heating up. If you’re planning to stay in someone else’s house, here are 10 tips from the experts on how to do it the right way.

Be our guest, but please be a good one.
Be our guest, but please be a good one.Nelly Kovalchuk - stock.adobe.com

When the couple (who asked not to be named) headed home after renting their North Shore residence on Airbnb, they were feeling swell: They’d gone camping for the weekend, and had had a pleasant e-mail exchange with the 30-somethings who were renting their home. Their mini-vacation had paid for itself, and then some.

When they reached the driveway, that happy glow vanished: The yard was festooned with pizza boxes, empty wine bottles, and assorted garbage, plus a platoon of raccoons who were hosting a late-night pizza party. Talk about a buzzkill.

“One of our house rules was: Leave the trash in the barrel in the garage; don’t drag it outside,” the woman said. “We live in the country. We. Have. Wildlife!”

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A Cape Cod-based host was tidying up, post-rental, when he removed a plastic tablecloth — left behind by his guests — from the dining room table. Underneath it was a giant black scorch mark where a guest had clearly put a hot pan directly onto the wood table. Happily, the guests agreed to pay for repairs, “but it would’ve been better if they’d copped to the damages up front,” he says. “It felt sketchy, like they were hoping we wouldn’t notice they wrecked our table.”

And this one really rankles: According to a recent survey about rental guest etiquette conducted by tourism website FloridaPanhandle.com, hosts say some guests are stealing the extra toilet paper.

Don’t let this bad guest be you.

The vacation rental market is heating up, as travelers stick closer to home, opt for road trips over flying, and feel more comfortable renting entire homes (deemed less risky by the CDC than staying at hotels). “A combination of pandemic-influenced factors, such as the vaccine rollout, booking longer stays, and traveling in the US instead of internationally is causing a surge in demand for summer rentals,” says Alison Kwong of VRBO (www.vrbo.com), a site with more than 2 million online global listings. “Currently, less than half of vacation homes in some top destinations are available in July, reflecting an increase of more than 25 percent in demand, year-over-year.”

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A private vacation rental can be a dandy option for all involved — the homeowner makes some extra cash, while the vacationer enjoys an entire home with no shared space. You can browse the pretty pictures, tailor your rental to fit your budget, and zero in on desired amenities, such as a swimming pool or a big backyard. The average VRBO rental in the US sleeps six people, Kwong says.

Etiquette can be tricky, since expectations and rules vary between hosts. But etiquette expert Arden Clise of Clise Etiquette (www.cliseetiquette.com) says, “Being a good vacation rental guest is not difficult. Many of the rules that apply to being a guest of a family or friend apply in this situation.” With a rental, you’re not dealing with a faceless corporation with a massive staff, but, in most cases, regular folks who just want to share their home, make a little cash, and hope you have a wonderful time — while treating their place like you would your own.

When the FloridaPanhandle.com survey asked hosts to describe their pet peeves, more than a third of respondents said their top annoyance was “failing to follow the house rules.” The next highest perceived annoyance was “bringing extra people or pets without consent,” followed by “throwing a house party.”

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Bad behavior can come back to haunt you, since hosts as well as guests can post reviews on these sites. A review that reads, “Wouldn’t have them back. They left my house in shambles,” will be a giant red flag to potential hosts. And of course, you’d know better than to help yourself to a bottle of wine (unless it’s got your name and a “Welcome!” note on it) or a couple of “souvenir” pillows (this actually happened to a host we spoke with).

Here are the top 10 tips for being a good vacation rental guest, as gleaned from the www.floridapanhandle.com vacation rental etiquette survey and Alison Kwong of VRBO.

Follow the house rules. Most hosts leave a printed list, and post the major rules (such as no pets, no parties) in their online listing. “A common mistake guests make is not reading all the information on the listing pages,” Kwong says. Tempting as it is to book based on photos alone, this will help manage expectations and inform your decision. “If anything is unclear, message the host to get more information.”

Stay home if you’re sick. On the flip side, inquire about COVID-19 safety measures prior to booking if they’re not spelled out in the listing.

Communicate problems with your host when they occur. It’s better to communicate up front than to leave a bad review or a disaster behind. This way, “hosts can do their best to help resolve issues during the stay, some of which may be easily addressed, such as providing new batteries for a TV remote or more towels,” Kwong says. “When in doubt, reach out!”

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Clean up after yourself. No need to leave things white-glove spotless, but try to replace items where you found them, and don’t leave food waste laying around.

Be honest about the number of guests you’re bringing. If you need a place that sleeps 10, rent one; don’t treat someone’s home like a clown car.

Respect the neighbors by keeping the noise level down. If that late-night cornhole fest gets rowdy, a neighbor will rat you out, the police may come, and suddenly, it’s spring break in Daytona all over again.

Arrive and depart at the agreed-upon time.

Leave an honest review after your stay. This will give the host valuable feedback, and help future guests.

Read the check-in instructions. In addition to trash disposal and dirty laundry notes, hosts often provide useful local intel, like good takeout restaurants and where to find beaches, grocery stores, and so on.

Understand what’s out of your host’s control. “I’ve had people leave bad reviews because it rained all week,” one host told us. “Hey, it rained on us, too, and we were camping.”

“Remember that hosts are people just like you. “Both guests and hosts should treat each other with respect,” says Kwong. “Guests should act responsibly, follow house rules, and be respectful of the property, the surrounding neighborhood, and the community,” she adds.

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If it helps, pretend it’s Mom’s house. On second thought, don’t. She’d probably send you off with some Fruity Pebbles, a jar of those olives you like, and a jumbo pack of Charmin.


Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at bairwright@gmail.com