No, You Can’t Stay at My Vacation Home

A few years ago, a childhood friend asked to use my vacation home for a solo long weekend. I said yes without hesitation. I trusted her. When the date arrived, however, her social media feed filled with photos of her and two coworkers lounging in my living room.

“I’m not as uptight as you are and didn’t think it would be a big deal” was her slightly insulting response when I questioned her about the additional guests. She left behind dirty sheets and towels but not an apology or a thank-you note.

I realize it’s a privilege to have a home to lend, and I happily hand off my keys multiple times per year without issue. But that situation gave me pause and had me questioning good houseguest etiquette.

Home-sharing platforms such as Airbnb and Vrbo have made short-term rentals (STRs) more popular than ever, with the accompanying horror stories making clickbaity headlines. But according to Sheila Rasak, an STR consultant and owner of Dream Stay Vacations, they are the exception not the rule. With some guidance, travelers can set the right tone for positive home rental and home borrowing experiences.

Report problems right away

“I’ve worked with plenty of rental owners who wish that their guests had communicated problems during their stays,” says Rasak. “If anything doesn’t meet guests’ standards or needs owner attention, there should be an opportunity to make things right ASAP. Guests are our bread and butter, and our goal is always guest satisfaction, which translates to amazing reviews for both the guest and host.”

Good reviews are the gold stars of home rentals. Hosts count on them to boost their appeal to future renters, and guests rely on them for accurate intel from previous guests. Angry and negative reviews should be a last resort and reserved for the worst-case scenarios, says veteran Airbnb host and guest Christina Ammon.

“Unless the host was very, very negligent about something, it’s good etiquette to keep negative comments to emails or texts,” Ammon says. “Writing a negative public review can devastate a host.”

Susan Ito, who uses Airbnb multiple times per year for vacations and family get-togethers, concurs. She always reviews her stays based on a host’s reaction to a problem, not on the problem itself. “If a problem gets addressed quickly, I give a five-star review,” she says. “That’s a sign of a good caretaker. I do not leave bad reviews for things like street noise or bad weather.”

full length of friends talking while sitting on sofa in living room

When sharing a space, it’s important to establish boundaries from the beginning.

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Pack your manners

Ilana DeBare owns a house in a coveted beach town and occasionally loans it out to friends. She doesn’t accept rent or expect gifts, but kind gestures and a thank-you are noticed. “It’s nice when guests leave something that fills a gap in the house — for instance, adding a new board game or jigsaw puzzle to our stash, or a serving dish that fits our decor,” she says. “But a handwritten note is also wonderful, especially if the stay was really meaningful.”

For Ammon, who has rented out private rooms in her house for years, sharing her space has been mostly positive, and she loves the new energy guests bring to her home. Some guests leave gifts, but for her, good manners mean respecting her time by being on time and not abusing common areas of her home.

“Most guests have an intuitive sense of boundaries,” Ammon says. “What I don’t appreciate is when guests throw yoga mats down in the middle of my living room or take over my dining room table to make Zoom calls. It’s a balance.”

As a worldly Airbnb guest and house sitter who spends 15 weeks per year caring for other people’s homes, Matthew Felix is ​​big on being considerate, even when he’s alone, and packs his own set of household rules.

“I’m very aware of people’s homes being private, personal spaces,” Felix says. “I always ask permission to have friends over, especially to spend the night, and I respect certain boundaries, like not going into the main bedroom and not taking or posting interior photos.”

multiracial male and female students doing chores in dorm

As a guest, understand that tidying up is proper houseguest etiquette.

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Embrace cleaning and chores

The ire over cleaning fees and owner-imposed chore lists is as heated as a political debate. According to Rasak, guests should expect cleaning fees, which cover things like laundry and deep cleaning of bathrooms, kitchens, appliances, and floors. However, she considers lengthy chore lists inappropriate to give to guests and an invitation for a bad review.

Rasak says minor chores shouldn’t be a big deal. “Dishes piled up in sinks rather than being rinsed and placed in the dishwasher can also lead to pest problems or infestations,” she notes, “and disposing of perishables is key to ensure the owner and next guest don’t walk into a hornet’s nest of sorts.”

Debunk the misconceptions

When it comes to large groups, particularly bachelor and bachelorette parties, a stereotype continues to exist that they’re the worst guests. Katy Rose, founder of Plan the Hen in the United Kingdom, says the bad reputation mostly stems from pop culture. She helps around 500 groups per year gather. Rose advises that the lead booker make contact directly with the host prior to reserving, show past positive reviews if possible, and be up front about the plans for the weekend.

“More often for these friends, it’s a rare opportunity to hang out, relax, and cook and eat together — not dance on the tables,” Rose says. “The more groups that stay at holiday homes and act respectfully, leave it in a tidy state, and cause no problems with the neighbors, the more hosts will be comfortable with groups.”

happy young friends in backyard at night

For groups, it’s especially important to follow house rules.

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Communicate, communicate, communicate

Vacation homes aren’t limited to four walls. Alex Orazietti has been using the online platform Goboony to rent his VW van for four years. “I haven’t had any disappointing experiences,” he says, “and that’s all down to good communication.”

Rasak adds, “I firmly believe in being proactive and problem-solving before a problem presents itself. When owners and guests communicate with each other and set expectations early on, it’s going to benefit everyone in a positive way.”

As for that childhood friend of mine who invited her colleagues to party at my pad? Well, we aren’t such good friends anymore, which is too bad. Communication, honesty, and some good manners would have altered that outcome.

Kimberley Lovato is a San Francisco-based writer who has contributed to The New York Times, National Geographic Traveler, Saturday Evening Post, Condé Nast Travelerand Afar. Follow her on Twitter @kimberleylovato.

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