Advice for Airbnb Guests

Most of the articles I write here, are directed to Airbnb hosts.  Hosts are the ones who need the most help as they have the burden of learning how to run a business.  For guests, there is far less to learn…but that doesn’t mean there still aren’t some important things for prospective guests to know, that would help them be great guests, obtain glowing reviews, and build a strong foundation for being quickly accepted for future bookings.

So my intention here is to take my 15 years of experience in the property rental business, as well as 7 years of experience as an Airbnb host, together with a great deal of  experience reading posts and stories from thousands of hosts all over the world on a variety of hosting topics and issues pertaining to guests, and distill this into some recommendations for how to be an excellent Airbnb guest.

As you read this, I expect you will realize that this article could only have been written by a host, as there is a lot of information in here that comes only from having real world experience with guests or renters in one’s own home.

There is a lot of emphasis here on house rules, because being a guest who comes prepared to follow the host’s rules is really the key to being an excellent guest.  Following rules is a lot more important when you’re in someone’s private home, which contains the hosts’ private belongings, Grandma’s heirloom china and more, than when you’re staying in a hotel, as I hope to help you understand with what follows. As well, there can be a lot of “psychology” related to house rules, some of it unconscious or not obvious, which I hope to illuminate here, so guests can be assisted to understand many of the things a host will be looking for in guests.

Finally, you’ll notice that a lot of what follows emphasizes what NOT to do as a guest.  Not many guests may realize this, but it’s actually pretty easy to be a great guest, because all this involves is just not being someone who causes problems!  You don’t actually have to go out of your way to do anything “extra” to be valued as a wonderful guest.  However, being someone who doesn’t cause problems when staying at someone’s private home, requires more sensitivity and sophistication than accomplishing the same at a hotel, so this article is here to give some pointers.

Tell the Host a Little About Yourself and Why You’re Visiting Their Area.  Answer their Questions about Yourself.  Have a Profile Photo of Yourself on your Airbnb Account

This is something that a lot of guests do not understand about hosting: hosts want to know about a prospective guest, and most hosts screen guests.  Some guests take offense that a host would want to know anything about them, and argue that they dont’ have to tell a hotel what their line of work is, or why they are visiting the city, so why should they have to answer a host’s questions, which may seem invasive to them?

When guests are offended like this, it suggests that they have not put themselves in the host’s shoes, to try to see things from their side.  Something that bears repeating, because so many guests have a hard time understanding this, is that a host’s home is not a hotel.  Arranging to stay in someone’s private home, or their private property even if it is only their vacation home and not a primary home, is actually a lot more like renting a place on Craigslist, than booking a hotel room.  And if you have ever rented an apartment, you should be aware of how much information the owner wants from you, in addition to generally wanting to interview you in person.

So, to keep things in perspective, realize that the amount of information about yourself you’re asked to share in order to secure a short term rental via Airbnb, is significantly less than that which would be required for a standard rental on Craigslist.  You’re not being asked to provide referrals and contact info from past landlords or your employer.  The host generally doesn’t do a credit check on you, or a background check, criminal background check, investigation about any past eviction records, and does not ask about your income.  And yet they take the risk of allowing you to enter into and stay in their property, which in some cases, you need to realize, has resulted in a hosts’ home being burglarized by a “guest”, or squatted in by a “guest” who refuses to leave.  There have also been hundreds if not thousands of situations of “trojan horse guests” who book a stay claiming there will be 3 or 4 guests, and who then invite hundreds of guests to pour into the property for an illegal out of control party, such as the Airbnb parties that have tragically resulted in people being fatally shot.  Given all these risks that hosts take when they open their homes, they have to be cautious about whom they let in.

Thus, hosts will generally do at least some basic screening on guests, in order to see if they feel comfortable with who you are and what you say about why you’re wanting to stay at their home.

So, when you’re sending a message to a host asking to stay at their home, don’t do as far too many guests do, saying nothing at all about yourself, but simply writing presumptuously, “Looking forward to staying in your home.”  Rather, fill out your Airbnb account completely, put in some information about who you are, what your job or hobbies are,  include a photo of yourself, and be prepared to say what attracts you to this particular listing, and why you are visting that area.

There’s been a lot of controversy about guests feeling “discriminated against” based on their photo.  This has led some guests to feel that it’s their perogative to “trick” hosts into accepting their booking by hiding their photo from the host.  Consider how disrespectful it is to a homeowner, if you’re arguing that they might actually not want you to stay in their home, so that it’s your right to “trick” them into accepting you to stay in their home by intentionally hiding info about yourself in order to gain access.

Again, a host’s private home is not a hotel, and you have no right to demand to be given access to it.

Photos of a guest actually provide a lot of information: they can demonstrate, for instance, if the guest has good judgment.  A guest who chooses to use a photo of themselves which shows them scantily clad, or holding up armfuls of hard drinks in a bar, or making gangster style hand signals, does not inspire confidence in a host.  Most hosts will not be keen to rent to someone who presents themselves looking like a thug in their profile photo.  Use the same judgment for photos of yourself in trying to obtain a short term rental, as you would in job seeking endeavors.  Be professional.  Smile and look friendly, this inspires comfort and confidence.

Why would a host want to know about your reason for visiting their area? One reason is so that they can assess whether you are actually just a local resident who is trying to obtain access to a property in order to have an illegal large party, or some other purpose that could cause them problems.

So be considerate and answer the host’s questions politely, and this will help you be accepted as a guest.  Keep in mind as well, that if your plan is to present false information about yourself in order to try to deceive the host into renting to you, the rental contract can be declared null and void on the basis of this false information, via the crime of Theft By Deception.
Thus, do not tell the host you’re in town for a software conference, if your real intent is to use the host’s home to have a bachelor party or shoot a porn movie.

Read and Honestly Confirm you can Agree to the Listing, House Rules, Cancellation Policy for the Reservation you want to Book

21 house rules

The most important element in being a great guest, is that you understand and agree to the terms of what you are actually booking.  This is not as simple as it sounds, based on the thousands of complaints one can read from so many hosts all over the world, for many years, about “the guest didn’t read my listing description” or “the guest said they read the house rules but didn’t” or “the guest agreed to the cancellation policy when booking, but now wants to be exempt from that policy.”

Booking an Airbnb stay is, arguably,  more complicated than booking a hotel room.  There is just no way around this.  If you want to book an Airbnb stay, you need to do your due diligence to make sure it’s a fit for you: and this isn’t something you need to worry about with hotels.

Hotel rooms, particularly of name-brand hotels, are standard cookie-cutter spaces.  The rules and cancellation policies from one hotel to another are fairly standard.  A hotel obtains walk-by business, as it is located in a commercial district in town, and so (though things are certainly changing dramatically for hotels in a post-CoronaPocalypse landscape) it’s relatively easy for hotels, thus located, to draw in guests.  All of this is different for Airbnb listings.  This is both the charm of the Airbnb stay, and the complexity of it.

One of the major complaints of Airbnb hosts, is that guests who’ve had the opportunity to read everything about the listing before booking, are booking a stay, and then complaining about things that the guest could and should have known about in advance, if they had done as they were supposed to do and read about what they were booking.  For instance, a guest complaining about the stairs at a listing, when the host has clearly explained in their listing all about the stairs.  Or a guest complaining there is no Air Conditioning, when the host made it clear there is no Air Conditioning.

If you do this, book a stay without reading about what you are booking, and then complain about things that the host made quite clear in advance, then you’re likely to end up with a critical review by the host, taking you to task for your failure to do what Airbnb actually requires that you do, namely read the info before you book.

As well, hosts who offer budget listings, don’t want to find that after they’ve put in all the work to be very clear about any shortcomings or lack of amenities, or any other aspects of their listing that guests need to know about, that you’ve booked a budget listing, but are now demonstrating that you expect to get various amenities that were never promised, and that should rather be expected at the luxury listing pricepoint.  In host terms, this is known as the guest who “Books a Motel 6 and demands the Ritz-Carlton.”  You can expect to obtain a critical review from your host if you turn out to be this type of guest.

Be Honest About What House Rules/Policies You Will Actually be Able to Follow without DIfficulty or Resentment 

I believe that one confusion and difficulty guests have in terms of agreeing to house rules, is failing to understand the applicability of these rules to their stay.

Agreeing to the hosts’ house rules means, you are attesting that you can honestly agree to follow these rules, for the duration of your stay, without any difficulty or resentment.  This is something that you’re going to need to be honest with yourself about.  Because it’s really no good if (for example) you are a smoker, booking a non-smoking listing  where it’s prohibited to smoke anywhere on the property, including the yards, porches and patios, and then get there and complain when the host finds you smoking on the front porch and tells you not to do that.  If you need to smoke on the front porch, then it’s  simple: dont’ book a listing where you’re not allowed to do that.  Only book the ones that allow this.
I’ve read hundreds if not thousands of stories from hosts who tell about guests who fully agreed to the house rules, but then showed up and demonstrated that well, no, they actually weren’t up to following the house rules, and complained when it became clear that they were expected to do so.

This kind of dishonesty will not get you good reviews from hosts, and in fact if this pattern continues it may result in hosts not accepting you as a guest at all.

It’s quite understandable that you might miss something in the rules or misunderstand what you’ve read.  This happens to all of us.  And we hosts do appreciate that there may be a lot of info for you to assimilate.  Even so, this is your responsibility to do if you want to book an Airbnb stay instead of a hotel stay.
If an issue arises, and it becomes clear that the error is yours, take responsibility for that, and not try to blame the host for having the rules that you agreed to.

Resentful guests

Do Not Put Hosts on the Defensive to Explain their Policies or Rules, Which You have Already Agreed to

This leads into the next subject, which is guests who, after having agreed to the hosts’ house rules, arrive at the hosts’ home and begin to argue about those rules which they have already agreed to.

If you have concerns about any of the host’s rules, or don’t understand the rationale for them, the time to raise such concerns, is before you book a reservation with the host.  Most hosts will be able to answer any questions that you have.  What is NOT okay to do, is first agree to follow the rules, and then argue about them after agreeing to follow them.

Unless you are in the property rental business yourself, there may be things about that business which are hard for you to understand, and which lead to rules that you dont’ understand.  Getting an explanation about these things can help put your mind at ease.  But also, it’s important to bring a “good faith assumption” to your view of hosts, and don’t assume that they are creating rules just to cause misery for guests.  Hosts want to host guests, they aren’t out to upset them!
Quite often there are reasons for rules that you may not understand, and in fact, may be hard for you to understand unless you also have had 20 years in the property rental business, AND you have a similar personality and needs/boundaries as the host, or similar past experience as the host.  For instance, a host who’s had problems with guests leaving a mess in the kitchen,  may have rules reflecting that, whereas a host who didn’t have that experience, may not.

Also, keep in mind that the host gets to run their house in a way that works for them, which may not be the way that you choose to run your house.

Don’t Assume You Know the Reason for Certain House Rules, and Then Make Exceptions for Yourself.  Rather, Follow Rules Exactly as Written on their Face. 

One of the other problems I’ve seen arise many times with guests, is when they assume that they know why a host created a certain rule, and then excuse themselves from following it under certain circumstances: all without any communication with the host about this.  This is in essence a problem of entitlement: and it’s good to be aware that hosts dislike problems that result from entitled guests.  entitlement

As an example: the host has a rule that guests may not use the kitchen after 10pm at night.  The guest may inappropriately assume that they know why this rule was written, and that it’s only to make sure there are no late night disturbances/noise in the house.  Well that may be part of the rule, but it may not be the only reason for the rule. The lesson here is not to assume you know why rules were written and under what circumstances you can break them, but just follow the rules on their face exactly as they are written. 

For instance, in my house I generally have more than one guest staying at a time.  I may have 3 guests.  If one (Guest 1) of those feels free to break a certain house rule, and the other guests (Guests 2 and 3) observe this first guest doing that, this can lead to more problems.  Now, Guests 2 and 3 may feel that since Guest 1 is breaking this rule, they are free to do so as well.  So the host may now find 3 guests using the kitchen after hours.  Or, Guests 2 and 3 could become resentful, perhaps assuming that the host gave Guest 1 permission to do something that they themselves haven’t been allowed to do.  Or, as I have also experienced: the host observes Guest 1 breaking a certain rule, and when he confronts Guest 1, this guest states he feels “picked on”, because he also observed Guest 2 and 3 breaking the same rule, and implies they were not confronted by the host.

What guests often don’t fully appreciate, possibly because most of them to do not have 15+ years experience renting rooms in their own home AND having a similar personality/needs as the host, are the problematic consequences of other guests observing one guest break a rule or rules.  There’s a whole chain of possible consequences to this, which actually have the potential to grow quite serious in certain circumstances.

Managing guests who look around for ways to argue that they don’t actually have to follow the rules that they agreed to, is not as easy as it sounds, so please do not be one of these guests.

Avoid Lending Support to any Other Guests who Are Not Following Host’s Rules

This rule pertains only to situations where you’re booking a stay in a home where there may be one or more additional guests also staying at the same home.

Guests can be put into a difficult situation, if they observe another guest doing something which clearly violates the host’s rules.  What I find is that when I have more than one guest in my house, guests often like to chat with each other, and may enjoy having a meal together or going out together.  Especially when guests get to know each other like this, they are likely to not want to “snitch” or report a guest to me, for doing something that violates the house rules, even if it it something that could cause problems for other guests, such as leaving the bathtub dirty or being loud late at night.

But keep in mind, there is a difference between simply being reluctant to “report” this guest to the host, versus actively giving support to something they are doing which violates the host’s rules.  As an example, consider a host who has quiet hours, and asks guests to try to be quiet after 10pm, and not use the kitchen after 10pm.  Now suppose that there are 3 guests staying at this home, along with the host, and 2 of those guests go out together to a show, and get home late, and begin making dinner in the kitchen at 1am.  As the 3rd guest, you may not want to “snitch” and report them to the host, but neither should you join them, or stop by to chat with them as they use the kitchen 3 hrs after the kitchen is officially closed to use.

Not only does supporting rule violators show disrespect for the host, but it can also get you into trouble along with them, and this can show up on your review.

Don’t be the Guest who Has to be Reminded To Follow House Rules 

As I’ve pointed out, staying in a private home is quite different from staying in a hotel, in that  it’s more complex. One way that this complexity can show up, is in terms of “extra” things that guests need to know about rules, how to take care of the house and the things in it (eg how to use appliances, dishwasher, hot tub), what not to put in the toilet, and so on.  If you book a stay in a private home, at a listing that has certain rules, it’s important to bear in mind that this means you are representing yourself as capable of following all the house rules and operating procedures, 100% of the time, from the moment you arrive to the moment you depart, without the host having to do any work to “remind” you.
Reminder note

Hosts dislike having to remind guests to follow the rules, much less confront anyone who’s broken their rules multiple times.  This is stressful for hosts, and it’s also stressful for guests.  All this stress can be avoided if you take the time to familiarize yourself with what’s expected of you, and follow through.  If you tend to be a forgetful person, that doesn’t mean that the host has to accomodate your forgetfulness.  Rather it means you should book at a place where there is not as much you need to remember, because you’ll do better there.

House Rules are Not Something that Can be Overridden by Majority Rule of Several Guests, Against One Host: Don’t Try to Subvert Hosts’ Authority

This  bit about house rules is something that you can read because I am a host who has a certain kind of experience, and insights on it, which are actually not that common among hosts in general.  So consider yourself fortunate here to gain this insight from what I can share here.

Something can happen in a hosts’ home, when they open it up to more than one guest, which can at times be an unpleasant experience.  It’s a sort of bullying, but it’s generally quite unintentional.  The real term for it, is subversion of authority.

This is what happens when a single host has more than one guest, or a single homeowner has more than one roommate.  Quite unconsciously (because this generally is an unconscious process and not an intentional one), the guests, who may begin to befriend each other and bond with each other, particularly if they are both on longer stays, may begin to come to “agreements” with each other about certain things in the house, which are really not their perogative to decide upon.

Again, let me provide some examples for clarity.

(1) The hosts’ house rules state that dishes will not be left in the sink, but the 2 or 3 guests in the host’s home, “decide” that they aren’t bothered by each other’s dishes in the sink, and so they “agree” that it’s okay to leave dishes in the sink.
(2) The host states that no one may use the kitchen after 10pm, but 2 guests decide that, since the host’s bedroom is further from the kitchen than theirs, and is less likely to be bothered by late night noise there, that they “agree” that it’s’ okay to use the kitchen late at night.

Regardless how well-intentioned and innocent such things may be, guests banding together to make these kinds of “agreements”, demonstrates disrespect for the host, and involves inciting others to rebellion, and subversion of the homeowner’s authority in their own home.  This should not need to be stated: a homeowner’s house is not a democracy where the majority rules, or where guests are permitted to enact a coup d’etat or mutiny, overrule the homeowner and install a whole new government of guest rule in the host’s home.   The hosts’ rules cannot in any case be “overruled” by two or more guests “voting” against him or her.  This may seem pure hyperbole to many of you, but rest assured, what I write here comes from my experience and that of other hosts: this kind of subversion of hosts’ authority has happened to many, even if generally in a minor rather than a more extreme form.
More to the point, if a host finds guests banding together to “agree” to violate his/her rules in some way, it’s likely he or she will feel either quite angry or quite threatened, and all guests who’ve colluded in this kind of disrespectful action may experience the fallout from their act of “rebellion.”
Again, real respect for the host involves following rules exactly as they are written, and most definitely does not involve forming alliances with other guests in order to subvert the homeowner’s authority in their own home.

If you know enough about yourself to be aware that you have “parent issues” or that you resent authority, this means that it’s probably best that you do not book a stay with an in-home host, particularly someone whose rules seem to make you itch with an urge for insurgency.  You would probably do best booking an entire place listing where you never even see the host!

Don’t Be the Guest Who Requires Host to Write a New House Rule

When hosts commisserate about problematic guests, one of the things that comes up from time to time, is that guest who causes the host to have to “write a new house rule.”  This is not a positive result of a guests’ stay.  What it means when the guest causes the host to have to write a new house rule, is that the guest found or invented a new way to cause problems, beyond all those the host already thought about in advance, and already had written down, based on their years of experience.  You don’t want to be that guest.

For instance, a host who offers a farmstay, does not want to have to add the rule, after your stay, “Please do not chase the peacocks and try to pick them up.”  A host does not want to open their bathroom door after you depart, find the tub or sink has been stained purple, and have to write the new rule, “Do not use hair dye in my bathtub or sink: in fact, do not dye your hair at my house.”  Hair Dye

Hosts do understand that guests may have accidents, dishes might be broken, sheets might be stained, but a good guest takes responsibility for what they’ve damaged (even if the damage was accidental) and good guests have good judgment. This means that they avoid doing things at the host’s home that will cause the host to have to write yet another rule.  We don’t like having to add more rules, and neither do future guests, who will now have more they have to read and assimilate, because others found more ways to create novel problems.

Be Available for Communications and Communicate Clearly about Arrival Time


One of my pet peeves about guests who book a stay at my home, which is something many hosts have experienced, is what I might call the “vanishing guest.”  This is the guest who, right after booking, suddenly becomes unavailable for communication.  I can’t reach the guest by email or phone. When I finally do reach that guest, all too often I hear a story such as this: “Oh, I don’t use that email very much, I don’t check it often”, or “I don’t have the Airbnb app on my phone.”  If you want to be a great guest, please don’t set up an Airbnb account with an email you rarely use, and if you’re using your phone more than your computer, please put the Airbnb app on your phone.  It’s simple to do, and it helps ensure you wont’ miss important messages.

If you’re going to be unavailable for a while, it’s best to let your host know, because the time just after booking and just before and after arriving, are times that it’s particularly important you are available for communication.  As well, during your stay, the host may need to convey important information to you, such as about a plumbing issue that develops, so please regularly check the email and phone number for your account.  Hosts rate guests on only 3 things, but one of them is communication, and it’s easy to get 5 stars in communication if you are simply available to communicate.

Don’t Pry: Have Good Boundaries, Don’t ask Invasive Questions or Snoop around Hosts’ Home 

The primary way in which an Airbnb stay is different from a hotel, is that, particularly if you book a private room, or an entire place that also serves as the host’s own residence at times and has their belongings there, you’re staying in someone’s private home.  This leads to a certain importance of having good etiquette with “boundaries.”

In a psychological/social sense, boundaries refers to the invisible lines around people and their private lives, private matters, their belongings, which marks out their need to have space or privacy from others. For instance, introverts will have more “boundaries” around their social time with others, as they need more “private time” than extroverts do.  People who are more protective or private about their belongings or spaces, will have stronger “boundaries” around these spaces, than people who  readily share all their things with others.  snooping

The important thing to know about boundaries, is that people get to have whatever boundaries around their own lives and belongings that they need or want to have.  People’s boundaries are never “wrong” or “rude”, they are just what those people need.  Boundaries go two ways in Airbnb hosting: because both hosts and guests have boundaries.  As a guest, you would not want your host just opening your bedroom door and walking in on you at any time: that would be a boundary and privacy violation.  Likewise, the host doesn’t want the guest just opening his or her bedroom door and walking in.  Do not be the guest who did as one of my guests did:  open my door and walk right into my bedroom without knocking.

That’s an obvious one, but boundaries aren’t always obvious, because people have different needs and different boundaries.  In general, as a guest, you want to make a “conservative” assumption about your hosts’ boundaries, and not expect to cross lines which could be considered important boundaries, rather than assume that a host has less need for privacy than you yourself might have.

Some concrete examples may help illustrate.

Don’t assume that you can borrow/use host’s personal belongings. In fact the host might be offended if you ask to use something that they consider quite personal, such as their computer.  Asking if they have a spare umbrella is reasonable: asking to use their personal coat or computer is not.
Don’t ask about details of the host’s life or business which would be regarded as private information, such as about their income.  Things you should never ask: how much the host paid for their home.  What the hosts’ annual income from hosting is.  How long the host has been married.  Or how long they’ve been single.  Or ask why they have certain books on their bookshelf.
Don’t go around the property opening random closets and doors to see what is in there.  This will be regarded as snooping, and it’s rude.
I recently had a guest pop out the back door of my house and come out to see me when I opened my garage door, saying he wanted to see what I had in my garage.  Don’t do this kind of thing.   It’s rude.  It’s none of your business what is in the host’s garage, and you should certainly never make a point of demonstrating that you’ve been “waiting in the wings” just to pop out and peer into a private space when the host opens it.
This guest asked for an extension, hoping to stay longer,  but because he had also already broken a few house rules during his short stay, I did not accept his request to stay longer.

Don’t Extrapolate Your 2-Day Experience to Make Assumptions about 365 Days A Year

Something many guests don’t appreciate fully enough, is that their 2 or 3 day experience at a host’s home, may not allow them to accurately understand what goes on in that environment for the remaining 362 days a year.  Again, let’s use an example to help clarify.

I have a neighbor who has a loud birthday party at her house once a year.  If I have a guest who happens to stay on the one night when my neighbor has this party, this guest may assume that my neighbor is always playing loud music, when in fact, she only does this for one night out of every year.  birthday

Thus, when you are a guest, do not extrapolate your experience to the entirety of the year and make assumptions about what commonly happens in the host’s home or the neighborhood.  All you know is narrowly about what occurred during the brief time you were there.

Be Sensitive to Waste of Natural Resources: Help Conserve Resources

Be mindful that hosts are often in a bind when it comes to use of energy and natural resources.  They  want you to be comfortable, and as happy as you can be, however, they also want you to have appropriate expectations for the price point at which you paid for the accomodations.  In my own hosting, I’ve found that guests appreciate budget accomodations.  But what not all of them understand, regarding budget accomodations, as well as mid-priced ones,  is that the price point is economical,  because there are limits as to what the host can provide.  Maybe there’s no hot tub. Or there’s no air conditioning.  The thermostat is pre-programmed, and the host will not allow you to arrive in mid-winter, and heat the unit to 80 degrees 24 hrs a day.  Or maybe not even 75 degrees for 24 hrs a day.

There is also the matter of the earth and conservation of natural resources to consider.  Some guests are less understanding of the finitude of natural resources, and that we all need to do more to conserve resources, which means not wasting electricty, gas, water.  So to be a mindful guest, follow the hosts’ requests about not taking long showers or turning up the thermostat beyond a certain point.  (Remember, you can ask about any such limitations in advance, so make sure you do if you have concerns or specific needs)  Bring adequate clothing so that you don’t expect the houses’ central heating system to make up for your having come ill prepared for the season, and only brought short sleeve shirts in midwinter.  If you want more heat or more amenities, select a listing that provides those things.

Clean up After Yourself

One of the things that helps most to make a good impression on hosts, is the guest who is diligent about cleaning up after themselves in common areas.  Also, though it doesn’t necessarily have any impact on the host or other guests if your room itself is not kept clean during your stay, keep in mind that hosts will generally feel more comfortable with guests who keep their room relatively clean.  If the host walks by your room and sees food or trash on the floor, this may cause them to cringe and feel reluctant to invite you to stay again.

Check out image
Checkout Means You’ve Left the Property and Turned in Your Keys, Not that You Have Vacated the Room and Are Spending the Next Few Hours in Hosts’ Kitchen

You can probably guess what experience led me to realize I needed to state the obvious.  Yes, a guest who packed up all his things and vacated the room by checkout time, but then sat in the kitchen and communicated that he expected to stay there a few hours until a friend picked him up later.
That’s not how checkout works.  Checkout time is not a suggestion, it’s a requirement.  It’s the point at which your paid reservation expires, and at which, if you are still in the listing, in the legal sense, you are now considered to be officially trespassing.  The host might allow you to “hang out” in the kitchen or elsewhere in the house after checkout, but ask about this, rather than assuming that this will be allowed.
Some hosts will allow you to leave your luggage after check out for later pickup.  If the host allows this, make sure not to impose by expecting to return for the luggage and then take a shower or cook dinner in the host’s home after having checked out!

Don’t Leave the Hosts’ Home with More than Your Own Belongings

This is something that shouldn’t really have to be said…but then, those of you who are great guests by nature, considerate and thoughtful by your very nature, probably need very little help at all to continue to be the excellent guests you already are!

Most everyone will realize that you’re not a great guest if you steal the host’s property.  However, even “borrowing” their belongings, and taking them off the property, is not something you should ever do without asking.  So for instance, if the host has put books in your room, and you find an intriguing novel there, you should not assume it’s okay to take that book with you to the beach.  Always ask first before taking any of hosts’ belongings out of their home.  What they’ve put in your room is for you to enjoy while ta their home.

Also, when checking out, please do not take with you extra supplies that host has provided for guests at their home.  Too often, guests assume that since there is toilet paper or shampoo provided for their use, that it’s okay, on check out day, to depart the premises with 12 rolls of toilet paper, 3 extra mini bottles of shampoo or hand soap, as well as various bulk kitchen condiments provided for the guest during their stay.  The host will be angry when they find you’ve done this.  If instead of just using some of the coffee beans for your 2 day stay, you’ve absconded with the entire 1 pound bag of coffee beans, you will not receive an excellent review.

Be Positive and Grateful

What I’ve noticed over many years as a host, is that when I sense a guest has a positive energy and an attitude of gratitude, this has a very positive effect upon me.  And this alone in the guest, can make up for other shortcomings.  So, even if you find it hard to be a “perfect guest” or “Superguest” in some ways, rest assured that if you carry a positive attitude with you and convey gratitude for your stay at the hosts’ home, this will likely have a powerfully positive effect on the host!

Hosting During a Pandemic??

As the Coronavirus or COVID-19 pandemic spread out across the globe, most all Airbnb hosts found themselves heavily impacted, with many cancelled reservations, and empty properties.  This article is not directed at those Airbnb hosts or other short term rental operators for whom their income from short term or related property rentals is “extra” or discretionary income, but rather those for whom this is essential if not primary income.

One of the biggest and most pernicious and ugly problems in the host community, and one of the most ubiquitous, is hosts who judge other hosts, because the others aren’t doing their business the way these hosts think they should be.  I’m not referring to hosts who have concerns about the mega-hosts who run many dozens if not hundreds of properties via rental arbitrage, as this model quite arguably isn’t actually “hosting”, it is more properly termed a large vacation rental business/corporation.  Rather I’m referring to hosts who can’t seem to let other hosts set their own thermostat, write their own house rules, decide their pet policies, or do their own type of screening, without feeling a need to lecture to them.

So let’s cut to the quick here: if you can’t stop yourself from judging other hosts and insisting that they run their business the way you say they should, then stop right here and do not read further.  Because it’s quite likely that if you can’t leave others to run their business as they see fit in normal times, you’ll have an exceptionally difficult time allowing them that right in a pandemic.

What is the plan forward from here? I want to explore a number of approaches to this question.

These are some of the options hosts are taking now, and I’ll talk a little about each
(1) Keep my listing/s empty and hunker down, wait this out, until it’s safe to start up business again.
(2) Rent out my listing/s to essential workers, travel nurses, or others with situations that requires them to be in the area in temporary housing.
(3) Shift to taking long term renters.
(4) Take short term rentals as they come in, if my state/region allows this.

With each of these options, hosts may be able to draw unemployment income and/or obtain pandemic loans to ride them through these difficult times.

First Option: Keep Listing Empty, Wait it Out

As to the first option, that of keeping your listing empty and waiting it out.  This is arguably the most conservative and safe approach, but it’s also the most simple-minded and approach in one key way.  We can see this when we begin asking, what does it really entail?  What this approach implies is far more daunting than might be seen at first glance.  In fact, in many cases this approach may ultimately prove quite impossible.  The reason for this is that the pandemic and the virus don’t simply cease to exist at the expiration of your government’s shelter-in-place order.  Unless you happen to live and host in one of the rare nations like New Zealand that either has had virtually no virus intrusion, or has taken very strong measures from day one of the first virus case, involving contact tracing and required quarantine, so that the virus can be declared “stamped out completely”, there will be plenty of virus still around when shelter in place orders are ended.

Case in point is the United States, with more virus cases than any other nation, closing on 1,200,000 confirmed cases, and more in one city alone — New York City — than in any other nation in the world.  If the shelter in place orders all expire at the end of May, this means that from the time guests first began a flurry of cancellations, hosts would have gone 2.5 months with no business, no income.  If the shelter in place orders expired one month later, at the end of June, hosts following this approach of keeping their listing empty, would have gone 3.5 months with no guests and no income.   The key question here, is how long can hosts go with no income whatsoever from their rental property.  Again, this article is directed to those hosts for whom their rental property income is essential if not their primary income, so please jump right off this page and get lost  if you are starting to feel a need to lecture hosts that they should never run a short term rental business as a primary business, but only as a “hobby.”  If you can be a hobbyist with your rental property, you come from a place of relative privilege and it’s wholly inappropriate for you to lecture to others in a less privileged situation.

There is a difference between what we have to endure, versus what we choose to burden ourselves with in the name of safety.  Hosts who are under a government mandated shelter in place order that requires they close their short term rental during this time, have no choice but to stay empty.  Yet as I’m beginning to suggest, it would be misguided to think that there is a black and white difference between what one can safely do during a shelter in place order, and in the days and weeks subsequent to the expiration of that order.

Whenever a shelter in place order expires, say at the end of May or the end of June, that still leaves us with thousands if not millions of active cases of coronavirus across the US.  Any one of those cases, has just as much chance of spreading the virus, as did the very first case of Coronavirus that arrived in the US early in the year, or possibly even in December of 2019.  Just because the shelter in place order has ended, does not mean that any prospective guest who would like to stay at your Airbnb listing,  isn’t a carrier of the virus.  Any guest could be a virus carrier this week, next week, next month, or 6 months from now, a year from now.  Until we develop widespread testing, there’s no way to ascertain who is and who is not a carrier, for many are asymptomatic, and until we develop a vaccine, there’s no way to be completely safe from carriers of the virus.

So the question then becomes: not whether a host can weather 2.5 months or 3.5 months of “lockdown” and no business during shelter in place orders, but whether that host can go 6 months, or a year or 18 months, with no income from their rental property, until the point where there is either widespread routine testing and/or a vaccine.  And I know very few people indeed who could confidently and contentedly say that they can afford to go 12 to 18 months with no income from their rental property.

So this is the major shortcoming of the “wait it out” approach: the fact that to be completely safe, you’ll need to wait it out not for 2 or 3 months, but more likely for a year or more.

Second Option: Rent to Essential Workers, Travel Nurses

This option is in my view more workable than the first, but it probably will not work for those renting out a room in the home they themselves live in, because hosting front-line workers or essential workers would be the position of greatest risk to in-home hosts.
These workers are much more likely than others to become infected and spread the virus, because of their greater exposure, particularly the case with medical workers.  For instance, I rent out rooms in my home, and had a FEMA worker inquire about staying at my house for a few months, but I could not entertain this option because this worker would at times possibly be in close contact with some persons infected with the virus, and even with PPE, this made this kind of worker a much greater risk to my home than most others.

On the other hand, this approach could work well for those renting out entire units, (which is where I think FEMA workers and travel nurses should be seeking to stay, not in rooms in hosts’ homes) particularly if the essential worker wants to rent for a longish stay, which then means that it’s more do-able to leave the space vacant for 72 hrs after they depart, in order to safely enter it to clean it for the next occupant.

Third Option: Shift to Taking Long Term Renters

Many hosts who normally do short term rentals, may want to shift to taking a longer term renter at this time.  This is difficult for hosts who got into short term renting precisely because doing long term rentals didn’t work for them or involved too many problems.  So to be bounced back into that problematic type of business is painful.  However, when you take stock of what your losses will be if you can’t fill your property, or get adequate unemployment income or a pandemic loan to help you during this time, this might be the route that many hosts need to go.  See my article on screening renters to try to avoid mistakes and taking in the wrong type of person.  Taking in a long term renter is most fraught with potential problems for hosts renting out entire units in areas that have rent control and eviction control, but is complicated for most all of us now due to all the “eviction moratoriums” that are being put in place around the nation and the world.  It could happen that you take in a renter who pays the first month’s rent, but then declares they have no job or income now and can’t pay any more, and isn’t willing to move out, either.  But ironically, having a nonpaying renter during the pandemic in some ways is less of a problem than having the same in normal times.  To look at the positive side:  in a time when it’s difficult to get any renters at all, carrying a nonpaying renter actually is less “costly” for property owners now than it would be during boom times.

For both long term and short term renters, a host or property owner would do well to screen these renters in terms of whether they are less likely or more likely to have been exposed to the virus.  I’ll explain more about that below.

Fourth Option:  Take Short Term Rentals as they come in

It may seem that there are no short term rentals happening now.  That isn’t actually the case.  It depends where one is.  Some hosts in more rural, remote areas are actually reporting that their business is booming, as people are fleeing urban centers now (though sometimes violating shelter in place orders as they do so) seek a rural area to stay in for a month or two, where they feel safer.
Also, not all parts of the nation have banned short term rentals.  As well, some hosts are taking short term rental bookings even though strictly speaking the shelter in place policies dont’ allow these in their area at the present time.  Most regions which are prohibiting short term rentals, still do allow such rentals for “essential workers”, which leaves one to wonder who is going to police what kind of work your guest is, or isn’t doing.
In some areas, Airbnb itself has blocked calendars on hosts’ listings, preventing them from taking reservations at this time, due to the dangers created by the pandemic. For instance, this article reports that Airbnb blocked calendars of most all hosts in the UK for this reason.
This article does mention that “essential stays” will still be allowed, but I can’t see how an essential stay can be booked on a calendar that has been intentionally blocked.

This approach of taking short term rentals as they come in, and if they seem to be safe, will be one that hosts just have to experiment with and see if they get enough inquiries and if it feels sufficiently safe to them.  Particularly if they rent out an entire place listing, they are safer than renting a room in their own home, and even more so if they can keep 72 hrs between each reservation, thus assuring time for the virus to dissipate in the air and be cleaned off surfaces with disinfectant.

Though the USA has more virus cases than any other nation in the world, the distribution through the nation is not even, and so hosts in areas which are less impacted might rightly feel safer in taking in guests, than those from more heavily impacted areas.  For instance, California as a whole has had 52x fewer deaths from coronavirus,  than New York City, and the SF Bay area has had 85x fewer deaths than NYC area.  California has a population of 37 million and has had 2000 deaths,  the SF Bay Area has a population of 7.7 million and has had 280 deaths, whereas New York City has a population of 8.5 million and has had 24,000 deaths.  This makes it much riskier to take in guests in NYC, or take guests FROM the NYC area, than to take in guests in California generally. And some areas of California, like Modoc county, have ZERO cases of the virus in their region.  This doesn’t mean no cases will ever arrive there, but it does present a comparatively safer area.  All of which is just to point to the fact that the virus situation differs from region to region across the nation, and hosts should be able to decide for themselves what they think is sufficiently safe for their own business.

On that note, let’s talk about screening prospective renters in terms of the virus risk they may introduce into your home.  This should be something all hosts consider, especially if they are bringing renters into their own home in which they live to share common spaces.  If you are renting an entire place, this may not be a concern of yours, particularly if you can leave several days’ (at least 3 days) space between reservations to allow any virus on surfaces to die or be cleaned away.

One way of screening such renters would be on the basis of where they are from and/or where they have recently traveled.  Are they from a virus hot-spot such as New York City, Italy or Spain? In such a case you might err on the side of caution by declining them.  What work do they do, in what kind of context? People in work that puts them in hospitals, or in medical care, or in nursing homes, or in homeless shelters, or in prisons, in any other congregate living facility, or in other work with populations who have a higher risk of infection, you may want to avoid hosting if you rent rooms in your home.  Those who can do their work remotely from your home pose the least risk, those who work in grocery stores or other places such as banks where they come into contact with others may pose an intermediate risk.  Also, assess whether you feel confident that the prospective guest would take the shelter in place rules seriously and would wear a mask outside, stay 6 ft away from others, avoid large gatherings or visits with friends, etc.

Regardless what approach hosts take, it would be prudent to draft a set of rules for guests about what you expect of them in order to keep your house and property safe from the virus during this time.  Such as that they follow shelter in place rules and wear masks when out, and go out only to conduct essential business.  Masks on