stop losing money to misrepresented occupant count
Hosting a short-term rental is tough enough without having to worry about the guest count. This number will seem trivial to a guest but is clearly very important to you, the host. The two situations that will be discussed here occur when a “lead guest” (the person that booked your home) brings more people than they said they were going to or exceeds the guest limit for your home. In both cases either purposely or accidentally misrepresenting the str occupancy count. Whether an accident or not, the misrepresented count will lower the bill and cause additional wear and tear on your home that was not anticipated. It can also lead to complaints or bad reviews. Oftentimes, guests may not realize how hard on your bottom line this particular misrepresentation is. You are going to encounter other problems, but handled properly, this one may well be fixable (read: preventable).
Here are a few things you can do that may satisfy this issue.
Before the Guests Arrive
Before a reservation is ever made you need to make your major policies crystal clear. In doing so, you may just prevent this problem before it ever occurs. Let’s take a look at what you can do before they arrive:
House rules are going to be important, but so too are listing details which is what they will see first. Keep descriptions and expectations short in your listing, encouraging people to read them. Bulletize everything. When they go to book, use those bullets again in summary and then again in your house rules. Be sure to mention your str occupancy count policy and max occupancy in each area.
House rules normally include limits on noise, smoking, pets, garbage, parking, check-out time, etc. Again state your limits and expectations regarding occupants.
Inside your house rules, use the same bullet points used in your listing description, but this time link them to lengthier explanations. The bullets will guarantee main concepts will be read, for the third time at this point, and the linked explanations will provide detail anywhere it is needed. Make it clear that guests cannot bring any additional people, this is something that cannot be overstated. Reinforce the rules; cite that parties are forbidden too.
House rules can be enforced by you for direct bookings, your short-term booking site, or by a 3rd party if necessary.
The person that made the booking is ultimately responsible to abide by your house rules and disseminate them to other guests which should also be mentioned. The house rules should include language that clearly states the possibility of a penalty if the rules are violated.
who is staying
When a guest rents your home on VRBO, Airbnb, direct, through Expedia, and any other place, a rental agreement is typically generated. If hosting direct, you need to do this yourself to protect all parties in case of a discrepancy or dispute. Knowing all the names of every occupant can be advantageous as well and will also verify your str occupancy count.
Rental agreements differ by host and business, but normally cover the maximum occupancy limitations, check-in/check-out terms, minimum stay requirements, house rules, rental rates, and additional fee information, and resultant penalties should the rules be violated. It is excellent practice to provide a minimum of 3 ways to contact an appropriate party within the rules.
Some people may invite local friends to your property that are not staying the night. It may be in your best interest to allow your guest to have enough freedom to do this but if you allow it once, be consistent with all future bookings as you are setting a precedent.
Violating house rules of any kind should result in consequences and one way to ensure a monetary consequence will be met is to require a security deposit. This can be applied to damages, str occupancy count misrepresentations, etc. It cannot and will not cover normal wear and tear of furniture and amenities.
The desire to get this refundable deposit back is likely enough to prevent any major house rule violations.
additional Guest Fees
Just like on Airbnb, if you book direct, or on another site; hosts should add a fee for travelers beyond a standard minimum number of guests. The amount is totally up to you.
This only works for future reservations. The fee cannot be applied after check-in has taken place. Clearly stating this is paramount if you are to make a correction in billing later as a result of a guest misrepresenting this number. THIS WORKS IN REVERSE TOO. A great host will recognize when a guest has brought less than what was stated and adjust accordingly. This is something that you need to weigh for your business against your own moral compass.
Okay, so what if they lied
During the stay
Cameras have come down in price, often have internet capability, and now they can be attached right to your front door in the form of a smart doorbell allowing you to see who is coming and going with some type of recorded backup on “the cloud”.
No matter where you are, you’ll be able to see motion-activated footage at your front door, again allowing you to verify the str occupancy count.
It is always a good idea to disclose that you have a camera of any type and in some states, you have to by law. This knowledge alone may be enough to prevent unpaid additional guests plus it will give you the evidence to charge them extra if needed (provided it was clearly stated before they booked). Go to the last section to see how you might address this with a guest.
A good property manager should do all of this for you. They will either prevent misrepresentations of guest count, stop it when they see it, and correct payment when applicable.
Finding a good property management company that does all of this is no easy task. Add to that, working with your cleaning company to manage all inventories, speaking to guests throughout the entire booking process, etc; then suddenly the task becomes that much more difficult. We’ll dive into that in a future post. To simplify, you could start by asking a potential property manager “how do you deal with the misrepresented guest count?”
In the event that a guest breaches your rules, you should report them to whatever platform they booked on. Make sure to gather as much evidence as possible. Answer the questions they could ask you. How did you discover the additional guests? Have you confirmed the extra guests spent the night? How did you determine they stayed the night and were not simply there for a quick visit? Keep screenshots of anything pertinent; texts, platform messages, and video footage if you have it.
From there, a platform will open a case and take the necessary steps, be that charging your travelers an additional fee or taking part of their deposit. In the case that your guests write a negative review against you, be careful how you respond. According to recent policies, Airbnb will now remove any unfair reviews which were written by guests out of anger and retaliation but you must remain professional and non-confrontational. More on that HERE.
What If I’m self hosting?
If you’re not listing on Airbnb or some other official hosting site, instead opting for a direct booking, you can still implement house rules including str occupancy count requirements and a security deposit. You can still keep an eye on your guests during their stay using cameras, smart doorbells, or your property manager. Likewise, you can still take part of or all a deposit provided the fees were clearly mentioned and are applicable.
What is the best way to address an occupancy discrepancy?
Reported Incorrect Number
Be direct but not intrusive. Use direct communications that do not accuse, but ask. Frame your questions not about the violation itself but the reason for the violation after stating what the violation was. Utilize the communication system for whatever platform the stay was booked on when possible. Scenario…you have a guest that booked for 4 people but you see a total of 6 enter and stay. This is clearly not a violation of max occupancy as your home sleeps 10 but they didn’t pay for two guests. It would do no favor to contact the guest and say “hey, please pay for the 2 guests we know are there that were not included in your booking request.”
Instead, try “We hope you are enjoying your stay! It has come to our attention that, while you booked the space for 4 people a month ago, it seems that 6 are staying. Is that accurate? If so, we can certainly appreciate a last-minute change. But, if confirmed, even as a simple oversight, we will need to make an adjustment to the number of guests in your booking details which will change the price as outlined in our listing, booking summary, and house rules.
Thank you again for your business. Please let me know if there are any questions or concerns I can address at this time.”
Over Maximum Occupancy
It is likely that any host can tell you if you have a booked group exceeding your max occupancy, it isn’t an oversight. This could be done because a larger more suitable home could not be found for their vacation, a larger house was not in the budget, or they have exceeded the limit intentionally to throw a party. Clearly, there could be more reasons but none of them justify having more people than the max in your home. This causes MANY problems. Additional wear and tear on your home’s amenities; dishwasher, washer, dryer, hot water heater, furniture, etc, more people are louder and are more likely to cause more damage, intended or not. The solution is simple; do not allow this. The options are simple. Your guest will have to reduce occupancy to max or leave.
How do you do that?
“Hello guest X, thank you for having booked your stay with us! We noticed that you checked in yesterday and with the help of our front door camera have confirmed that you are potentially 4 persons over our house’s maximum occupancy of 8. Can you please confirm the number of guests staying? If you have more than 8, please make other accommodations for the additional members of your party. Or, if you are unable to do that, we can happily assist you in trying to locate a more suitable accommodation. Thank you for understanding.”
Remember to state in your house rules, your host site listings, on your website, and on any external listing sites your rules and consequences for unauthorized visitors. By following these essential tips, you can finally prevent guests from disrespecting your maximum occupancy and guest counts.