House Rules, Thermostat Settings, Duvets and Keurig

Quiz: what do all these four things have in common?

House Rules
Thermostat Settings
Duvet Covers
Keurig Coffeemakers

Answer: all four of these, when discussed in most any host community group, can result in a firestorm of tumult, tension, heated argument and calls for people to just bow out of hosting because they are sadistic meanies and lower than pond scum. Pond Scum cartoon (2)

In the several years I’ve been part of various host community groups, I’ve noticed that there are a few “touchy issues” which invariably, when they arise, result in somewhat tense disagreements. Generally the reason for the tension or heated discussions that ensue, is that some hosts cannot seem to refrain from judging other hosts and implying that they know better than that host, how that person should run their own private property and/or their business.

Examples of such “touchy” issues — Thermostat settings. Yes, some hosts will insist that you cannot set limits on thermostat settings on your own property, that if you do, you’re the Grinch who ruined Christmas. Coffeemakers. There have been strident lectures delivered to hosts who use Keurig setups, that through proliferation of disposable plastic containers,  they are responsible for the destruction of the planet. Duvet covers, when to wash. Some hosts adamantly insist if you do not wash every duvet cover after every reservation you should just pack up shop and close your business because you’re lower than pond scum. Never mind that hotels do not do this. Screening of guests and asking for photo of guest. Some hosts insist there can be no possible good use of a photo of the guest to a host, and that if you want to see a photo of a guest before they book, and dislike Airbnb’s new policy that prevents that, you’re probably a Klan member or other discriminatory and hateful toad just waiting to reject people on the basis of their race.

And of course, House rules, perhaps the most touchy of all!!

It’s quite common to see some hosts bash any host who has “longish” house rules. Because, apparently, they all know that there can be no possible reason for this except wanting to torture people!! . A surprising number of hosts will be completely dismissive of anyone who has discovered (often to their own dismay) that there is just no way around saying what has to be said. These will insinuate, in a simplistic and demonizing way, “Long rules! Bad host!” Completely failing to realize, apparently, that generally, the only reason a host has “long rules”, is because…surprise..they’ve had bad guests!!  (Or, they’ve wisely become proactive after reading about other hosts who had bad guests).  And they are now trying to protect themselves from more bad behavior.

There’s one article about this here: https://globalhostingblogs.com/2017/04/08/house-rules-why-warum-por-queзачем-pourquoi/

Now most of you who are naturally polite and considerate folks, would think a sign like this has no purpose:

Bathroom rules

After all, wouldn’t this be common sense? Wouldn’t everyone just have common sense and not need to be told anything like this?
One of the most important things a person learns when they open up their home to others to stay in, is how widespread is the lack of common sense and good judgment.
And how surprisingly many people have no idea how to clean up after themselves.

So you can take a couple approaches to this.

One is that you can avoid having signs in your house or longish house rules, and just resign yourself to toilet seats left up,  people wiping their hands on your curtains because they can’t be bothered to reach under the counter and replace the paper towels, or using paper towels in the toilet and clogging it because they can’t be bothered to reach in the cabinet and get another roll of TP.   And resign yourself to coming along and cleaning up afterward, each and every time a guest doesn’t do that.  Because, well, they are busy.

OR:

You can post some specifics instructing people about how actually to clean up if they dont’ know how.

Well if you only have one party of guests at a time, and you’re the only one inconvenienced by someone’s lack of ability to clean up or use common sense, then you may be more disposed to be patient.  But if you have one or two other guests, and the problematic behavior of one is impacting the others, you might be aware that by failing to do anything to either prevent or mitigate these problems, you could get bad reviews from your other two good guests, who will be blaming you for the behavior of the inconsiderate guest.

More detailed house rules is one way of trying to avert such problems…though of course it’s imperfect, as are all ways of dealing with this.

And more and more details sometimes do end up being required, in spite of our own wish that this would not happen.  Because, truth be told, hosts with “long house rules” actually do not want long house rules.  We want short rules.  Actually, like many of you, we wish we could just say “Be cool” or “Be respectful” and then sit back and find that all guests are stellar and we never have any problems.  But repeat problem experiences with guests have made this no longer possible for us.

So I thought I’d share an example of why our house rules end up getting longer and longer…

As has been written about elsewhere, (for instance, here: https://globalhostingblogs.com/2017/11/15/mail-and-the-boomerang-guest/      ) allowing guests to receive mail at your home can introduce problems. Not always, or course, but there is the possibility of problems. So for that reason, many hosts myself included will create a rule to help eliminate potential problems.  If guests getting mail or packages at your home is not a problem for you, that’s great, but please don’t dismiss other’s experiences Bee in Bonnet

and other’s reality and come in like a raging fury with a bee in your bonnet screaming at other people about how they should run their own home.  The irony is lost on such folks: they are reprimanding at other hosts, calling them “controlling” or whatnot, but then they themselves are indicating that they seem to need to control how others run their private home.

Okay now for the story of how house rules grow longer in spite of all that we try to do for this not to happen.
When I started, it was a simple two words; “No mail.”

No mail

Then, I discovered people thinking that “mail” did not include packages, and they were ordering packages.  So I had to say “No mail or packages delivered to my house, please.

But then, I found that while not ordering mail or packages, guests were using my address in ways they should not and which would cause trouble for me…eg open bank account with my address.  Guests staying as few as 3 days, were opening a bank account using my address.  Just nopey-nope!!

So then it became “no mail or packages may be delivered to my house and do not give my address to any business or institution, except immigration authorities as required or a cab driver perchance.”

But then, the whole issue of what to do when guests broke this rule arose. Because in spite of having stated crystal clearly that guests could not get mail or packages sent to my house, and actually reminding guests of this  in about 3 different ways, (once in the house rules before they inquire, once after inquiring in the Airbnb messaging with them, and again after arrival in the house rules placed on the table in their room) they would have mail or packages sent to my house!!  (“Oops! I didn’t know!“).

So now, I had to add to the rule, what guests could expect if they did this. Because I had already tried handing them the item they had sent to my home,  and scolding them, only to find this didn’t work…because guess what. They found out that they could keep ordering packages and say “Oops!” Oops! Didn’t know about that rule. Oops! It came here by mistake. Oops! It was Amazon or Pottery Barn’s error, etc.  Endless oops.  Besides…I have a quality in me…some of you may share.  I just don’t like to see guests benefit when they break my house rules.  If I’ve spent time dealing with mail problems and package problems…I want what I say to have some effect.  I don’t like being blown off.

Also, something that is helpful in doing property rentals, is understanding human psychology. I have learned that for some folks, one of the best motivators to follow house rules in host’s home, is that there are some kinds of consequences for not doing so. Such people lack the basic respect which would motivate them just to behave as asked in a property where they are an invited guest. Rather, they are responsive to consequences. This may be fear of getting a bad review, or it might be a fine for rule violation (unfortunately Airbnb and some other platforms do not allow for this…a shame because it would be very effective). Or it might be that they see they are not able to benefit from breaking the rule.

So…now I have to take another approach, and also tell guests about this in advance, so they would not expect that if they violate my house rules they can benefit from that. So….if guests have mail or packages come to my house…I state I’ll return to sender, or throw out. As many of you know or should know, first class mail can’t be thrown out, that you have to return to sender…you can hand it to the postal carrier for instance “Wrong address.”  But packages are not subject to the same legal requirements and there is no obligation upon you to return any package that was not signed for.  (See more on this issue below at the end of this article….)

But then, as you might expect….that wasn’t enough either—- to just say mail or packages would be returned or tossed!!…Because now  — as some of the more astute of you may have guessed   —, when they dont’ get an item that they had delivered to your home in violation of your rules…guess what…not a few will blame YOU for this! Eg….“Where’s my package!!!” So now I had to also state that I will not be liable for any items sent to my house..!!

And so you see how things can just go on and on. Yes if guests could “get it” with a simple 2 word statement all would be well. But the nature of some renters seems to be trying to find excuses or ways around the rules.  Well, yes, there is a different approach we could take, other than lengthening our rules and expanding the details.  We could just throw up our arms and give up and  let guests do as they will. Sometimes this may be the only option, short of evicting someone.  But in terms of trying to prevent a repetition of the issue in the future…well…we may end up with longer and longer rules, continually trying to close the loopholes or sew up the ambiguities and bring things back to crystal clear.

And then…as if that were not enough….some guests also seem to have an expectation that you explain the “why” of all your rules…as if not realizing that this would increase the amount of required reading for prospective guests by a significant amount.

And then we have…to our own dismay….” the yellow pages book of rules”.

Yellow pages

More about packages….and your responsibility (or not) for things that end up on your porch

So to continue a subtopic introduced in this article…if you don’t allow guests to get mail or packages at your house, what do you do with said items if they arrive at your house anyway? I refer to situations in the USA, where I live…I can’t speak to other areas.

As most are aware, for first class mail delivered by the US postal service, laws apply that state you need to “return to sender” those items, rather than just throw them out.  However this only applies to first class mail, as third class and junk mail, cannot be returned to sender.  Those can be thrown out. Also, some may not realize it, but as common sense would dictate, you cannot be held liable for opening mail that you did not realize was not addressed to you.  See here for information about that:

https://thelawdictionary.org/article/what-is-the-federal-law-for-opening-mail-not-addressed-to-you/

A reader sent me this explanation of his approach to mail:

“Now I don’t know about you but I am farsighted.  This means that unless I have my reading glasses on, (which are really thick and unsightly)  Thick glasses
I can never see the name (or address) of any envelope I am opening.  And since I forbid guests from getting mail at my house, naturally I expect everything in my mailbox to be for me and open all of it.  Generally I do this without my reading glasses on, because they are sitting on a distant counter and I’m too lazy to reach for them, and besides, without the right glasses on, I might not even be able to see them.
At the same time that I’m opening my mail — without my reading glasses on, mind you —  it’s my habit to shred all the envelopes to use for nest material for my pet ferret.   If I discover something isn’t for me after I’ve opened it by mistake, it’s too late to return it, as it’s now been opened, and the envelopes all vaporized.”
That solves the mail problem.

Now for package problem…. the same laws do not apply as apply for mail.  As far as I can tell (but I am not an attorney so none of what follows can be taken as legal advice) you are actually not legally obligated to try to return any packages to your home that should not have come there, though as a matter of courtesy most of us would try to return packages that for instance should have been delivered for instance to the house 2 doors down or 3 streets over.

As well,  particularly if like myself you’ve already told each guest 3 times in various ways not to have packages sent to your home, and they do this anyway, you may find that you completely lack any energy or desire to put in the work that may be required to return those packages.  Because in this case, it’s not a simple matter of saying hello to a deliveryperson who comes to your home every day like the USPS does.  You would at the very least have to make a phone call, possibly an appointment, or even drive the package somewhere to return it.

What is your legal obligation, if any, with these “misdelivered” packages?  ( The term misdelivered is appropriate because they went to the wrong address….your address, one that was not permitted to be used)   I found that this was hard to figure out as there is not that much online about this particular type of misdelivery issue.  The discussions that do exist online are mostly about different scenarios, eg, a company sends something to you (with your name and address on it) that you didn’t order.  Or a company sends something to someone else at another address, but it ends up on your porch. Or someone else who used to live at your address, but doesn’t any longer, orders something and accidentally forgets to update the delivery address.   But in the case of hosts that prohibit guests getting mail, it’s not  any of these.  It’s a package with someone else’s name coming to your address….and there was no “accident” by that buyer, rather a use of what was not theirs to use.

There is another aspect to this issue of guests getting mail or packages at your home. For all guests (or roommates) renting a room in your home, as opposed to a whole separate unit, as far as I can tell, there is NO legal obligation for you to provide them mail service/privileges.  While there is a legal obligation of landlords to provide mailboxes for standard long-term tenants renting an entire, separate unit, this seems to not be the case for roommates, and is certainly not the case for short term guests.  Such individuals cannot demand any “right” to receive mail at your house if you refuse them this privilege.  They can be told, as my guests are, that they need to use a post office box or UPS box, etc, to receive mail or packages.  In fact, you as a homeowner are not even required to have a mailbox at your house for your own mail. You could remove it and get all your mail at your PO box.  And if you do have a mailbox at your house, you can make it clear that this is for your mail only, and no one else is entitled to use it.  Any mail that is delivered into your house or your address, that is not for you, can be “refused delivery.”  While it is more difficult to “refuse delivery” of items that have already been delivered, this can still be done.

 

shipping

In researching this issue, I did find this:

https://www.consumerreports.org/consumerist/amazon-sends-me-someone-elses-order-why-dont-they-care-if-i-send-it-back/

In this case, we have something more similar to our host situation:

Bobby, who didn’t realize until after the box was opened that one of the Amazon packages they received this week was actually intended for someone who had previously lived at their address.

So Bobby had a package delivered to his house, with his address on it, but it was for someone else.  This actually isn’t exactly our situation either, since in Bobby’s case, the person who ordered it obviously made an error in the delivery address they had on their account– they didnt’ enter their updated residence address.  In our case, the issue was different: the buyer entered the address he thought was correct, but he did not have permission to use that address.  So this would be a bit more like someone who decides that instead of having their items delivered to their own home, they’ll have them delivered to their neighbor’s house or the local UPS pick up store, without ever asking permission to do that.

Bobby was a good Samaritan so he tried to return it.  Yet what happened  next as he tried to do this, will demonstrate how even those hosts who want to try to return packages that guests have delivered to their home, may have difficulty doing that.

Bobby contacted Amazon’s chat customer support, and gave the rep the order number of the items involved. The customer service rep then tried to generate a UPS return label for the package, but because the ordered items weren’t associated with Bobby’s account, the links to print out the return labels did not work.
Instead, Bobby got a message reading, “Error Occurred: This Amazon account is not associated with the return label or authorization you are trying to access.”
At this point, the rep told Bobby to just keep the items.
“I’m sorry but since it’s from different account we are not able to access it,” reads the transcript shown to Consumerist. “You can just keep the items or donate. Since you are not been charge. Thank you for trying to return the item.”
So is this just a case of a rep not wanting to figure out how to send a shipping label that Bobby could actually use? Probably not, as federal guidelines say pretty clearly that Bobby has every right to keep unordered items — and that Amazon could get into trouble for pushing a customer to return something they didn’t order.

So…..as you can see from Bobby’s experience, Amazon’s own policies made it impossible for him to return the misdelivered item!!  Apparently, bizarrely, Amazon has not incorporated the concept of the misdelivery into its whole way of doing business.  And that in fact they may be blocked in doing so by “federal guidelines”.

The link to FTC guidelines on this contained in that article, doesn’t seem though to really address Bobby’s situation, or our hypothetical hosts’ situation.  It simply states this:

Unordered Merchandise
Whether or not the Rule is involved, in any approval or other sale you must obtain the customer’s prior express agreement to receive the merchandise. Otherwise the merchandise may be treated as unordered merchandise. It is unlawful to:

(1)Send any merchandise by any means without the express request of the recipient (unless the merchandise is clearly identified as a gift, free sample, or the like); or,
(2) Try to obtain payment for or the return of the unordered merchandise.
Merchants who ship unordered merchandise with knowledge that it is unlawful to do so can be subject to civil penalties of up to $42,530 per violation. Moreover, customers who receive unordered merchandise are legally entitled to treat the merchandise as a gift. Using the U.S. mails to ship unordered merchandise also violates the Postal laws.

This article is also helpful and has lots of comments about people who’ve experienced getting “misdeliveries” of various kinds, and their decisions about what to do about them:

https://lifehacker.com/what-to-do-with-amazon-packages-you-didnt-order-1825205083

I think this one comment on that article  is spot on:How to return package not (2)

So, as to “the package problem”, what I glean from the above information can I think be summed up this way:
(1) If anything other than standard first class mail is delivered to your home, you are under no legal obligation to return it, and in fact, returning it may be quite difficult to do.  In some cases, it may be impossible.  (For first class mail, see my gentle reader’s approach, as above. )
(2) Anything that is “misdelivered” to your home — whether items with your name that you did not order, items with someone else’s name and another address, or items with someone else’s name and your address — can be legally considered, under FTC law, as “a free gift” to you.

So…as a host you might take the approach that if guests break the no-package rule, all well and fine…more free gifts for you! 

But if you feel uncomfortable with that, and still feel like you’d rather diligently and dutifully try to return the items…

Supposing you do wish to return the items,  with packages delivered by UPS, one is able to drive a package to a UPS office and drop it off, saying “I refuse delivery” . Ditto with packages delivered by Fedex.  As with packages delivered by USPS.  But Amazon is now using its own special contracting service with a delivery service called “Logistics” to do some deliveries.  And they have no office you can drive up to and return items to.  I actually called up Amazon and asked specifically about this issue of how to return items that someone had delivered to my house without permission.  What I found is similar to what Bobby found, in that basically that there is no way to return any package directly to Amazon if you are not the one who ordered it and bought it!!

Here’s what I recommend that you do. 

First I’ll mention what I think are less optimal solutions to this problem of what to do with packages that the guest orders in violation of your rules.

(1) If you just give the package to the guest, perhaps with a scolding, they will be happiest, but you may have a lingering frowny face.  They benefit from breaking your rules, and you experience yet another instance of your authority and rules being blown off.

(2) If you say “Mail? What mail?” or “Package? What package?” when the guest asks about their goods, they may snort that Amazon sent them a photo proving it was delivered here! (Yes, some Amazon delivery services do that now) So now where issssss it!!!?!  Particularly in urban areas like mine, where package thieves have a huge business— every week there are posts on my neighborhood group about stolen packages….this is another problem for hosts and reason why it may be better for you not to allow package delivery.  In fact as this article describes, and this one shows in an that sometimes it’s the Amazon delivery people themselves who are the ones stealing the packages they deliver!!  Here is a video showing an Amazon delivery person “caught in the act” of stealing the very package he is supposed to deliver! Note how he first places the package behind the gate, photographs it in place to “prove” it was delivered, then takes it away again, stealing it! Amazon driver steals packages

Nevertheless, guests may blame you if they don’t get an item that was “proved” to have been delivered, or which in fact was stolen.  “Where’s my package!!!!”where my package

(3) If you tell the guest you’ll be returning to sender any packages that come for them, you will find this burdens you with a lot of work, and they will resent you and say “Why didn’t you just give it to me if it came here for me…I won’t do it again.”  Okay but I’ve had now about 100 people do this and each  one said they wouldn’t do it again.

And if you realize you don’t’ want to be burdened with returning all the guests’ darn goods…

(4) If you tell guest you will either return or throw out any packages that come for them, and suggest it is arbitrary which option you choose, they may be furious, insisting (in spite of the fact that guests are not really able to book a reservation without checking a box stating that they have read the house rules!) “I didnt’ know” and then if they think you’ve shredded the whatnot and put it in the garbage, this appears as a hostile gesture.  They may say “you stole it” and imply you did something illegal.  Which in fact, as you see if you examined the information above, is false, because legally you are allowed to keep any misdelivered packages as a “free gift” to you.

So here is what I think is the ideal solution:  
In addition to stating that guests may not have mail or packages sent to your home,  I recommend you say is something to this effect:  “any items delivered to my home in violation of this rule will be either returned to their sender or disposed of , in keeping with applicable law”

This way , you are not clearly stating that you would throw anybody’s 📦 stuff away,  you are stating that you would follow the law which applies to your situation. And the guest does not need to know that in the case of packages , you are (almost) never required by law (in the USA) to return them to sender.!! (As far as I am aware, the only instance in which you’re required to return it to sender if it is a package sent through first class mail, which is delivered by USPS and no one else, and which is placed in your mailbox or very close to it)

Value of this approach : it can be more diplomatic and copacetic for the guest to assume that you’re just returning everything even when you’re not.

If they try to get into discussion about it eg “Where is my package??  How long till you return it?? The company says it was not returned!!” etc. you can just reply that also in accordance with your policy you will not be getting into discussion about this matter:

No mail, no packages, no discussion, end of story .”

End of Story

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