Vacation Rental Damages: How to Make Sure You’re Covered

Vacation rentals get damaged. 

Not always, and hopefully not often, but even when the guest isn’t being willfully inconsiderate, vacation rental damage is inevitable over time.

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.

And then, of course, there are the guests we all fear: the ones who cause damage willfully and without regard for the owner. Vacation rental damages of this type can far exceed your insurance coverage or the deposit you asked of the guest before booking.

No matter what kind of guest you’re facing, you’re definitely going to want to get reimbursed when damage occurs.

Which means every professional in this industry should have a plan for how to: 

  • Track when the damage took place
  • Communicate with guests who have caused damage
  • Get reimbursed as quickly as possible 

Here’s the step-by-step guide for what to do when your guest causes damage.

Get Before-and-After Proof

When you tell your guest that they’ll need to pay to repair damage at the property, what’s the first thing they’ll say? 

It wasn’t me. 

Some of your guests might even believe that it’s true! Not every guest notices when they’ve left a water ring on wood furniture or a stain on the carpet.

Which means you’ll want to have photo evidence of what the property looked like when they arrived, and what it looked like when they left.

If you do, there’s really no doubt when the damage occurred, and it’s very difficult for the guest to claim it had nothing to do with them.

After your cleaner finishes every room, ask them to snap a quick photo of their work. That way you have a time-stamped photo of what the property looked like after the cleaner left, and just before the guest arrived.

After the guest leaves, ask your cleaner to take a quick tour of the property and take close-up photos of any damage they spot. That way, you have time-stamped photos of what the property looked like after their stay, too.

While it’s possible to track your photos using text messages and Google docs, we always recommend using the Properly app to track vacation rental damage.

In the Properly app, your cleaner’s photos are time-stamped and associated with the property they just cleaned. You can even see the photos for each room or task over time, making it super easy to track exactly when damage occurred. 

Check For Missing Items 

Missing inventory should also fall under the category of “vacation rental damage.” After all, you’ll need to replace the missing item just as surely as you would if the item were damaged or broken.

In addition to a wide shot of each room, we recommend asking your cleaner to take photos of:

  • The inside of the kitchen cabinets and drawers
  • Bookshelves and mantelpieces
  • Closets and the interior of bedroom drawers

With these photos, it will be easy for your cleaner to see at a glance if any items are missing from the property. 

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. You’ll be able to see inventory photos side-by-side with the same inventory 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.

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.

For example, if there are candlesticks missing from the mantelpiece the cleaner may find that they’ve simply been moved to the dining room table. If they wait to report missing items until the job is done, they’ll have found those items and returned them to the correct spot already.

Teach Your Cleaner How to Note Damage 

Tell your cleaner ahead of time that you’d like them to check for any vacation rental damage before they start their cleaning. A quick walk-through of the property should show them any obvious damages before they begin – five minutes well spent! 

While the initial walk-through should reveal any obvious problems, cleaner may find additional damage in the course of their cleaning.

A couch cushion may have been turned over to hide a stain, 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, so the earlier they take a picture, the better. 

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. This is particularly helpful when a small amount of damage would require replacing a large part of the property – for example, if a stained couch cushion would require replacing the entire couch.

Reach Out to the Guest

You may use a deposit to cover damages during a guest’s stay, or you may ask them to purchase short-term rental insurance that covers vacation rental damage up to a certain amount.

You may also have rules in your rental agreement about being able to charge the guest’s credit card for exorbitant damages.

Regardless of what you’ve already communicated to the guest, it’s always best to tell them what you intend to do about the damage.

Reach out to the guest immediately and let them know that damage has occurred.

Be friendly and professional about it – damage happens, as we know, and even if you believe the damage was willful, the exchange will be much easier if you keep a neutral tone.

Remind them of any terms they have agreed to in your rental agreement that pertain to damage.

You don’t need to quote chapter and verse, but you can say “per our rental agreement, I’ll need to charge you for the damage” and link to the agreement they signed when they booked the property.

Let them know when and how you’ll be following up.

You may retain the entirety of their deposit until you get a quote, for example – that’s information they need to know. Make sure they know when and how they will be charged, and when they can expect to receive the remainder of their deposit back.

Keep Your Photos in Reserve

At this point in the exchange, there’s no need to send your photo evidence. In fact, it can be helpful not to show your hand too soon.  While photos are pretty clear proof, a guest can often find a way to work around the photos if they have time to examine them.

Instead, wait until the guest pushes back on your statement that you will be holding on to a portion (or all) of their deposit.

If they say they did not damage the property or that the damage was there when they arrived, let them know you have before and after photos. You should also communicate that you will be happy to show them to the listing site or the insurance company as proof.

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.

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. 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 – and review sites like Google Reviews – will remove bad reviews that are retaliatory in nature. If you have email evidence that the bad review is in retaliation for retaining a vacation rental damage deposit, you are extremely likely to win the dispute.

When Not to Charge for Vacation Rental Damage

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? Odds are, you’ll get a loyal customer out of the deal, and wind up earning far more than you lost.

Want to track before-and-after photos for every property in an easy-to-use app? Properly provides visual checklists that make turnovers easy and ensure your cleaner takes the verification photos you need to protect your property. Learn more about Properly here or set up a demo with our team to see all Properly’s capabilities for managers.