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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.  https://www.shouselaw.com/theft-false-pretenses.html
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

communication

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.  https://www.aljazeera.com/ajimpact/emergencies-airbnb-blocks-majority-uk-bookings-200409073140490.html
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

A Guide To Screening Prospective Renters

Now that short-term rentals have gone bust due to the CoronaPocalypse, many Airbnb hosts are either shutting down temporarily, or switching to taking longer term renters, obtained from Airbnb, or standard rental sites such as Craigslist or Roommates.com or other rental listing sites.  I strongly advise that if you have no experience with long term rentals, or are not well informed about local landlord-tenant laws, you be extra careful in considering taking longer term renters.

For those moving to seek longer term renters,  many of us have discovered that the quality of prospective renters has decreased significantly.  Particularly given that many municipalities are now passing some form of “eviction moratorium“, property owners are well advised to be extra careful with whom you take in at this time.  Particularly with low-quality inquiries for long-term stays via the Airbnb platform, keep in mind that the bar to entry is far lower via an Airbnb booking than via a direct arrangement.

For a standard rental arrangement, renter needs to provide you with referrals, employer contact/info, credit score, past rental history, and/or pass a background check which looks into past eviction history and/or criminal history.  Also in order to move in, the renter needs to pay first month rent, last month rent and security deposit.  You have the opportunity not only to see a photo of them but talk to them on the phone or via skype, or meet them in person and thus have more opportunity to get an intuitive “hit” on how you respond to them.
By contrast, when considering a prospective long-term renter via Airbnb, you get NONE of the above!  Consequently, it’s much easier for “bad actors” to gain access to your home via an Airbnb booking, than for them to do this if they approach you directly.  Consider yourself warned!  If someone requests to stay long-term in your home via Airbnb, and you have concerns/doubts or feel like you just dont’ know enough about them, I suggest limiting their Airbnb stay to less than 4 weeks, which means they dont’ legally qualify as a tenant. This will allow you to meet and get to know this person, and if both of you feel comfortable with the arrangement, you can allow them to extend their stay after you’ve had this opportunity to suss things out.
In general, I’ve found that Airbnb renters are of higher quality than those one finds on Craiglist or other sites, but not always, and at this time of upheaval and instability, I’m getting far fewer inquiries via Airbnb, and the ones which do come in are in several cases lower-quality inquiries.

bad renter cartoon

The first step you can take in your screening, comes at the time when you create your advertisement for your rental.  Instead of simply providing information about your rental in the ad, I suggest asking at least one, perhaps 2 or 3 questions in the ad, which you then request responders to answer.  Easy questions like: “What about my ad/rental is of interest to you?”  or “Have you read about my rental on my website?” (if you have one).  or “How is the pandemic effecting you?” In addition to asking questions, instruct interested people to tell you a little about themselves when replying to you.

I advise asking open-ended questions in particular, as this allows the prospective renter to say things about themselves without being clued-in as to what kind of response you are looking for.  Because the more you reveal about exactly what kind of person you are looking for, the more you give a prospective renter the tools to figure out how to lie and misrepresent themselves, so that they can appear to be the kind of person they believe you are looking for.

In particular as regards the question about how the pandemic is effecting the person: this can give you a lot of info.  If they respond by saying that they lost their job, this probably is not a person to whom you want to risk renting to.  If they respond saying they are going crazy and experiencing deep depression, you should be cautious about renting to someone in a state of mental instability.  Depressed person

Putting questions into your ad and a request for respondents to say a little about themselves, will help you accomplish screening even before you have to say anything.  It will allow prospective renters to screen themselves out, by demonstrating that they haven’t even bothered to read your ad.  A surprising number of those replying to ads on Craigslist don’t say anything at all about themselves, and a significant number of others will send “form replies” out, in which they send a pre-written response to all the ads they are interested in.  It’s my thought that people sincerely interested in what you are offering, can at least put in the work to read the paragraph that you’ve written, and respond to one or two simple questions.

Next step, is taking those respondents who have actually said something about themselves and/or answered your simple questions, and begin more in-depth screening.

To begin with, though this may come as a disappointment to many renters, property owners do actually want a renter who can pay the rent.  We aren’t interested in providing free charity housing for all those in need, particularly since we have to pay our mortgage, our property tax, our insurance, our utilities, our repair and maintenance bills.   I have not heard of one single city or government representative talking about forgiving or even deferring property taxes, for instance.
In this time of economic devastation caused by the coronavirus pandemic, many are out of work, or have had their hours cut back, are on unemployment, have lost their business, or have other financial difficulties.  Many property owners are responding to this devastation, either out of compassion or from practicality, by reducing our rents.  This is all we can do.  We cannot offer free housing.
Thus, it’s going to be difficult for people to find a place to rent, if they have no job, and no source of income, particularly during a time when eviction moratoriums are in effect in many regions.

Even for those with significant savings, I would caution property owners about taking in a renter who has no employment, but asserts that they have plenty of savings and thus can afford to pay their rent.  Why? Because the eviction moratorium laws in place in many regions, specifically state that landlords cannot force renters to use their savings to pay rent, if they have lost employment due to the pandemic.  What this means, is that someone could move into your unit after having shown you a bank statement proving that they have adequate savings to pay their rent, and then immediately stop paying rent after they move in, stating that government has said that you can’t force them to use their savings to pay rent, and showing you documentation that proves they lost their job due to COVID-19.  Now you’re up sh#t creek without a paddle, as the saying goes.

This is just one of the many examples of why property owners need to be capable of adequately thinking things through, before deciding to rent to someone.

bad tenant badder landlord

Now it may well be that this individual who says he has plenty of savings to pay rent during this time, is quite sincere and will in fact pay the rent. In fact I think that is likely in most cases.  But distinguishing the sincere and honest person from the desperate one willing to tell a lie to gain a roof over their head, may be difficult for some, so beware and take care.

Another screening point involves asking about where the renter is living now, and why they are moving.  What’s involved in this question, is you wanting to discern whether they are moving and seeking a new place to live for the RIGHT reasons rather than the WRONG reasons.  Right reasons would be things like: “My lease is up” or “My roommate moved out and I want to find a new place” or “I’m having conflicts w/ my roommate over coronavirus issues”  (You’ll need to ask about the nature of those conflicts, to ensure they won’t replicate in your home).  Wrong reasons would be things like, “I got evicted”, or “I found a little spot of mold on the wall and I’m suing my landlord for $100k” or “My roommate pulled a gun on me/was using meth” (Hint: people who have friends with very low functioning type behaviors, tend not to be too healthy themselves), or “I had a nervous breakdown” or “My roommate just tested positive for COVID-19”, you get the picture.

In general, I suggest you be very cautious about renting to anyone who is wanting to move because they are having problems with their current roommate or landlord, unless what they describe sounds like a legitimate “landlord from hell” or “roommate from hell”, or sounds like “Corona-stress”, eg a case of personality conflicts escalating due to stress from people being forced to spend more time together.  What you are looking for and want to screen out, is evidence that a prospective renter has poor judgment, and moved into a place without due diligence, or out of desperation.  poor judgment

Because people can lie when they think telling the truth might disqualify them for your rental, it might be a good idea if you ask “key questions” like these on the phone with the individual, rather than by email. Why? Because if you ask these “tricky” questions by email, they will have plenty of time to craft a lie in response, and you won’t be able to detect a written lie as easily as one told on the phone.  If you “surprise” a prospective renter with a question asked on the phone, they’ll have no preparation time to craft a lie, so you’re more likely to hear the truth this way.

Sometimes prospective renters will say things when you talk to them on the phone, that seem “odd”, or “out of left field” or which seem too invasive regarding your personal private information.  These are warning signs you should consider.  For instance, I once had a prospective renter ask me questions which were clearly oriented to uncovering what my screening process was.  Why would someone be curious about that? Well, I plugged this persons’ name into Google, and found he’d been sued by a previous roommate/partner for allegedly stealing $200k from that person’s bank account, and then I plugged his name into the local Superior Court website, and found an eviction record for him as well.  So a light bulb went on: this person wanted to find out how I screened for renters, because he was trying to come up with a strategy for how to “beat” or game the system, and avoid being screened out, with his eviction history and lawsuit alleging theft of $200k.

Beware the prospective renter who says “you wont’ have any problems with me.”  Because you’re likely to have problems with them.  I’ve found that the normal average honest person rarely says things such as “you’ll have no problems with me”, because they aren’t even thinking that you’d be thinking you might have problems with them.  But those who have good reason to think you might think you’ll have problems with them, are likely to try to reassure you that you won’t.  Make sense?

Beware the prospective renter who is very eager to demonstrate that “we’re friends” because they have interests in common with you.  While it might seem like a positive to rent to someone with similar interests, you need to be aware of something else that could well be involved when a prospective renter seems overly passionate about pointing out their similarity of interests, to the point of announcing “I can’t get over how similar we are!” or “We think exactly alike”.  And that is, that this renter may be subtly trying to influence you, to use not your ordinary methods of screening for renters, but instead rent to someone using THEIR preferred methods, namely, their own public relations stunt and to base your decision upon their presentation as twinsies with you .  If you feel overly influenced by someone’s campaigning for how great a roommate or renter they would be, it’s likely your intuition has something to teach you here, and there is in fact too much PR and too much campaigning.  A good renter simply presents themselves honestly and then lets you make the decision, they don’t try to con you and do a whole sales job number on you about why you should rent to them.

Beware the prospective renter who comes to your house to see the rental, and then makes weird/wacko statements/questions during the tour.  You do not want someone who asks if that spot on the wall/wood/furniture is mold or mildew, or a cobweb.  You might have cause to be concerned w/ someone whose questions seem primarily to point to trivial issues such as what temperature the thermostat is set at, or what day the trash pickup is, particularly if such questions are in combination with any comments that reveal the renter as not particularly thoughtful when it comes to your own needs.  I recently had a prospective renter come to my beautiful house to look at a rental room, and then ask if I lived in my own garage.  I was quite taken aback as to why someone would think I lived in my garage, when I had plenty of space in the house to choose to live in, and also as the garage gave no appearance of being anything other than it was: a normal garage.  People who say dingaling things during a brief tour,  may be helping you out enormously by revealing something not quite right in their mind, and saving you from all kinds of difficulty that you could have if you’d rented to them.

Beware the prospective renter who imposes upon you, isn’t respectful of your time, or does other things that are inappropriate or concerning.  For instance, a renter who makes an appointment to see a rental room in your home, then comes over to your house with one or two friends, not having asked in advance whether it was okay to bring someone else.  Or a renter who doesn’t show up at the appointed time.  Or one who starts snapping photos of your house without asking permission, saying something like “I want my girlfriend to help me decide.”  blabbermouth

Beware the prospective renter with too many questions.  While it’s a good thing for a prospective renter to be clear about what you are offering, particularly if you are not wanting a lifelong renter, who expects to stay at your property for oh the next 10, 20 years or the rest of their lives, someone who asks what seems like an unusual number of questions, particularly about things that you don’t know or don’t have much control over, could be an indication of someone with unrealistic expectations, or who wants such a perfect fit that you may begin to doubt they only want to stay one month, and suspect them of a secret mission to try to stay for 10 years.

Beware the prospective renter who does not demonstrate enough respect for your own needs, particularly if they are very reasonable ones such as following house rules, or asking to be paid first month rent, last month’s rent and security deposit as move-in costs.  I mention this because of  two recent visits by prospective renters, both of whom had the opportunity in advance of coming to read what I wrote on my website about payment and understand the move-in costs.  After showing them the house, and beginning to talk about payment, I was quite surprised to find both of them balking at paying more than just one month’s rent to move in.  Each of them wanted to stay for more than a month: 2-3 months for one, and the other about 6 months.  Yet each wanted to pay only for the first month, and one (who had previously argued that she had plenty of money in the bank to pay all 6 months’ rent that she sought)  insisted she could not even pay that 2 weeks in advance of move-in, but only at the very moment of move-in.  Such a stance at the very least shows a lack of respect for the landlord’s own needs, as well as a shocking degree of unfamiliarity with standard rental process, particularly coming from individuals well into middle-age who have been tenants elsewhere before.  There is also the suggestion of bullying or trying to exploit a property owner whom they may view as someone they “have over a barrel” from the results of the pandemic on rental property owners.  In fact one of these prospective renters came out and told me directly, as justification for her insistence on paying only one month rent in advance,  that she knew that “Airbnb hosts are having a hard time now, so…”

Nope!  You NEVER want to rent to anyone who gives any suggestion that they are playing you, or trying to exploit or take advantage of a hardship you or your industry is facing.

As well, I hope all landlords will know this — and if you don’t, you better watch the movie “Pacific Heights” which lays out the problem all so very devastatingly clearly — but you can NEVER let someone into your rental, until you have cash in the bank or in your hot little hand from them.  A check in hand is not good enough.  That’s what the foolish landlords in Pacific Heights had.  But the check was no good, and once the tenant got in, it took them months and huge expense to get him out again.
This means that a renter can pay by check, but they can’t get into your rental until you’ve cashed their check at their bank (which will verify that it’s cleared) or deposited it and verified that it’s actually cleared..which could take a couple weeks.  Gerbil

Beware the renter who reads your house rules and then asks that you make an exception for them.  They read that you don’t allow pets, but they have a cute little kitten who is very well behaved, or a tiny dog that never causes problems and is in its crate most of the time anyway, or a pet snake or pet rabbit or pet bird, whatever.  When you write up your house rules, make sure that those are actually the rules you want: and know why you are making that rule. Dont’ add rules without knowing why you have them.  And if you know why you have a rule, then you don’t’ just allow someone not to follow it, because there was a reason you had that rule.

So for instance, if you don’t want renters with dogs or cats, but are okay with other small animals such as rabbits or gerbils, say so in your rules.  But if you understand that people will ask for an inch and take a mile, and bring a gerbil which somehow ends up morphing into a Golden Retriever or German Shepherd dog, then don’t allow any exceptions.

Finally, I suggest that you get some referrals or documentation from the renter, demonstrating that things they have told you are actually true.  Eg if they say they are employed, get verification of that.  If they are a student, get verification of that.

All in all, when assessing a prospective renter, I suggest you look to see whether their whole presentation is coherent and all the parts of the story make sense when put together as a whole, and that as far as possible, you choose renters who have a clear job/project or set of responsibilities, or clear plan and/or goal, as opposed to a renter whose statements about themselves and their life or interests conflict with each other or who dont’ seem to have a clear trajectory.

People who are lost ships at sea do not make the best renters.  These are the “I’d like to rent for a week, or 10 years” kind of people, who don’t really know enough about their life, their plans, their situation, for you to know if they are a fit to what you’re offering.
Tarot reading 2

So these are some tips which I hope might go some way towards saving you from the difficult experience of a bad renter.  In sum, “listen to your gut” and follow your intuitive hit about the situation.  If in doubt, you might, if you are “woo-woo inclined”, do a Tarot Card reading or get an astrological chart drawn up on whether to rent to a specific person.  I suggest that you do not act out of fear or desperation when considering a renter.  It’s a far worse thing to end up with a really bad or nightmare renter, than to leave the rental empty for a time.

 

Avoid Overextending Yourself Financially in your Hosting/Real Estate Business

As this unprecedented global pandemic descends upon us, it’s accompanied by  a vast and unprecedented economic calamity.  Some businesses will see much more of a devastating hit than others, and those businesses which rely upon air travel, tourism, short term rentals, or are connected with the hospitality or service industries, will be particularly hard-hit.  This includes vacation rentals and short term rentals and Airbnb hosting.

The losses we are seeing now, shine a light on an issue that I’ve been concerned about for some time, which is my observation that many property owners, once they amass a certain amount of capital, seem too eager to reinvest those funds into additional properties, and “put my money to work for me.”  I think what we are seeing now demonstrates that if you send your money out to work for you, your money might get laid off and fail in the task which you sent it out to do.  Your money might disappear.

There are 5 people I’ve known personally who have lost their homes in foreclosure over the last dozen years or so, and each was a terrible tragedy.  None of these losses was inevitable: they could all have been avoided with more financial prudence.

In one case (#1), during the 2008 recession, a neighbor couple who owned two houses was having financial problems.  They sold one house, but somehow still could not pay their bills.  I suggested that they get a roommate or two, as they had space for this.  “I wont’ have someone messing up my kitchen”, one of them countered.  Well, soon enough they had no kitchen, as the bank foreclosed upon their home. Foreclosure

In another case (#2), a friend who owned his house outright, refinanced and took out a mortgage on his house so he would have some cash.  He made foolish decisions with his expenditures, and within a year he lost his home.  He then began living in a van.

In two other cases (#3 and #4), two acquaintances who both owned their homes outright, (million-dollar homes in the San Francisco Bay Area) wanted some extra cash, so they refinanced their homes and took out a mortgage. Unbeknownst to them, the lender they were both working with, had a history of engaging in mortgage fraud.  According to their statements, they paid the mortgages they owed in a timely way, but the lender claimed they had not paid, and foreclosed on both their homes.  One of these friends became extremely distraught and never recovered, and died of a heart attack a couple years later.  The other ended up homeless, living in his car, until he moved to Ohio and obtained Section 8 subsidized housing and now lives on welfare in that area.  mortgage fraud

The 5th property owner (#5) owned a rental home in Berkeley.  She did not choose her tenants wisely, ended up with entitled and hostile tenants, foolishly got involved in a heated argument with them, at which point they contacted the city and complained of code violations.  The city shut her down, refused to allow her to rent out her property until a few issues were resolved that could have been fixed without much expense.  But she was unable to get the tenants, now refusing to pay any rent, out of her home in a timely way, and with the loss in rental income, she became unable to pay her mortgage, and lost the home in foreclosure.

Now, during this pandemic, I’ve read accounts of a number of hosts (#6) who fear losing their properties if they have no income for a few months and are unable to pay their bills.  It’s my hope that government relief will come in to forestall that, but even so, these individuals are revealing that they are operating without enough of a cushion of savings.

The problem that all of these people had, was either that they didn’t actually have enough savings or enough of a cushion for the situation they were in (#5, #6) , or that they mistakenly expected things to turn around and their income to be back to normal soon (#1), or that they borrowed/overextended themselves too much, or from the wrong lender (#2, 3 and 4) to accomplish their goals.

There’s a drive in many Airbnb hosts that I’ve seen, and which I feel quite uneasy about, to not be content with a modest business, but to want to buy more and more, and to build “empires”.  Building a bigger business isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it should not be done out of an unexamined ego-driven urge to just get more and more stuff,  and more and more income.  I think too many of us are unthinkingly propelled by an urge to get more and more, while the things that are of real lasting value in life — relationships with our friends and families, spiritual practices, fulfilling hobbies and all that brings us joy in life — ends up pushed to the side.  No, building your business bigger and bigger is not in and of itself of any value at all.  When we get to the Afterlife, aka “Heaven”, how much money we made and how much stuff we had, will be of no relevance whatsoever, in relation to our Eternal Soul.  Rather, with the perspective that we gain once we are there where all truth is revealed, we will realize we’ve been incredibly stupid if that’s all that we focused on in life.  Let this instance of a global pandemic help put these matters into perspective.

Let’s be content with a modest income and a modest lifestyle, and be happy that we have enough.

Let me tell you a story about my own situation which illustrates how I assess decisions about whether or not to grow a business.
I own one house, my own house, and rent rooms in my house to Airbnb guests. So this is quite a modest business.   Though on paper I could afford to buy a second home and do the same in another house, my own sense of this is that such an investment would be too risky for me as (1) it would take too much of my savings to get started, (2) properties in my area (SF Bay Area) are so high priced in relation to potential rental income one could bring in for them, that only unusually low-priced homes would make sense to use for this purpose, and those are in scarce supply or not near enough to where I live to be practical for me to run.  Eg, if you buy a home for which the monthly operating costs are $3000 to $4000, and you can only expect to bring in $3500 to $4500 a month income at the most via rental income, then this is not a viable business model.

At one point my parents, proud of the rental business I’d created within my own house, offered to help me buy a 2nd home to expand my business.  I still felt uneasy about this. I would still need to put a significant amount of my own money into the pot, and devote a lot of time, energy and finances to this additional house, particularly if it were a more affordable “fixer-upper”.   I did not really see the point of this, when as things were, I was living modestly but comfortably already.  I worked, but had sufficient free time now to do the things I liked to do, which was really important, as the things I liked most and which gave most value to my life, were not related to my paid work or my rental business.  As I saw it, if I bought another house, I’d have much less free time, so much less of my life would be oriented to doing the things I most enjoyed doing.  I’d end up being a slave to my business, locked up in “golden handcuffs”, rather than having a business which supported me to live the life I wanted to have.  golden handcuffs 2

As well, I think one clear lesson of this pandemic, is the value of having adequate cash savings.  Not assets, not properties, not stock or mutual funds investments, but actual plain old cash.  Some people are pretty good at figuring out the best options for investments that will provide a decent return, but I’ve not been so successful at investment.  I tried investing a rather small amount in two different “standard” investment options, and lost funds in both situations.  Given that I’m also a low-risk person generally, it just began to seem a lot more sensible to leave money in the bank rather than risk losing funds in the hopes of a good return.

Having enough savings to be able to go 3 to 4 months or longer, without any income, would provide a lot of protection now from stress and panic.  Many hosts are anxious that they will lose one or more properties or perhaps even their own home, during the economic tsunami that is hitting us now.  Few people in my opinion have enough savings.  I have a friend who is a homeowner, and is over 70 years old, but he cannot retire because he has no savings.  He goes to work every week, (by bus, since he has no car and doesn’t drive) and lives virtually paycheck to paycheck.  He literally does not have enough money to tide him over should he come down with an illness that requires him to stay at home for a month.  Yet he’s spent a lot of money on foolish things: building an elaborate treehouse in his yard, building a large greenhouse, adding solar panels to his home, buying lots of cute patio furniture and garden decorations that he doesn’t really need.  At one point, in order to obtain more cash to spend in more foolish ways, he refinanced his home and now pays an even higher mortgage than previously.  I’ve urged him to take in one or two roommates so he would have some additional income in case he can’t work, but he’s refused, as he enjoys living alone.  When a shelter-in-place was announced in my area, he was angry and insisted he had to go to work because “who’s going to pay the bills?” a question which he fails to see the irony in, since as he ages, it’s less likely he will be able to continue doing the work he is doing and pay his own bills.

There’s a lot of value in being able to see “the big picture” and look beyond the present moment, and in having sufficient imagination to understand that things might not always be the way they are at present.
Even in ordinary times, the vacation rental and short term rental business is built on unstable ground, as STR regulations have been lacking in many areas, and new regulations have continually been passed which prohibit doing this business in many places.  The result of that has been that many vacation rental and STR owners have ended up operating illegally, which is certainly a very risky way to do business.  Vacation rentals are oriented to those with disposable income, who can afford vacations and trips, and in times of financial downturn, there are fewer such people.

All in all, I would encourage people to be content with a modest income and avoid feeling compelled to “build an Airbnb empire.”  You don’t need an empire: what you do need is time in your life to pursue those activities and passions which bring deep meaning and contentment to your life.  Making more and more money is not this.

Why Coercing Airbnb Hosts into Being Unpaid Travel Insurers is Wrong

Since nearly the beginning, Airbnb has had a policy called “Extenuating Circumstances“, whereby guests who would not normally be eligible for a refund when cancelling a reservation (the contract they enterered into has a cancellation policy that doesn’t allow that), are issued a full refund, at the expense of the host, when the guest’s situation fits within a list of approved “extenuating circumstances.”  As most hosts are now aware, Airbnb has now expanded this policy to cover virtually all Airbnb reservations, anywhere in the world, from mid-March to mid-April, and perhaps longer, as the pandemic could last until August or beyond.

https://www.airbnb.com/help/article/2701/extenuating-circumstances-policy-and-the-coronavirus-covid19

https://www.forbes.com/sites/johnkoetsier/2020/03/15/airbnb-coronavirus-cancellations-guests-cancel-for-free-hosts-pay-the-costs/#1201c7b2131b

Even worse, Airbnb has now actually begun to go back to past, completed reservations, those which ended in February or January, and override hosts’ cancellation policies for those and issue unwarranted refunds for those past cancellations.  See these videos for info about that:

And

My argument from the get-go, for many years, has been that this policy is wrong and unfair to the host, and that Airbnb should be selling Travel Insurance to guests, rather than essentially coercing hosts into being unpaid travel insurers.

During this Global Pandemic caused by the coronavirus, which is causing travel and tourism to come to a complete halt, many hosts who feel obliged to fully refund their guests who have to cancel their stays, are saying “If this isn’t extenuating circumstances, then what is?”  COVID 19 image

Of course it’s true that if there is any Extenuating Circumstances policy, then this situation most assuredly fits within that policy! However, this is the wrong argument.  Rather than saying that coronavirus fits Extenuating Circumstances, and that therefore it is correct for Airbnb to fully refund every Airbnb reservation, anywhere in the world, that was set to begin during mid March to mid April, and perhaps for many months beyond mid April, we should be aware that what’s happening now with the devastating tsunami of Airbnb clawbacks of all hosts’ income for a month or more, exposes more clearly than ever before the fundamental unfairness and illogic of the Extenuating Circumstances policy.

The application of  Extenuating Circumstances policy has completely destroyed many hosts’ businesses already.   It has placed the entire economic burden of the global pandemic on hosts, while completely protecting guests so that they dont’ have one penny of loss.  Further, it’s made it virtually impossible for Airbnb hosts to have confidence in keeping any reservation that is on their calendar for the next few months, as all those may end up being fully refunded as well.

These posts on Airbnb’s own Community Center highlight hosts’ great anger with Airbnb’s approach to this pandemic

https://community.withairbnb.com/t5/COVID-19-Discussions/Airbnb-completely-threw-their-hosts-under-a-bus-regarding-Covid/td-p/1257864

https://community.withairbnb.com/t5/Hosting/Airbnb-completely-threw-their-hosts-under-a-bus-regarding-Covid/td-p/1263191

And their concern about whether future reservations still on the books represent illusory income:

https://community.withairbnb.com/t5/Hosting/Will-we-get-to-keep-our-future-reservations/td-p/1261053

Anger expressed by a host on Twitter — this one seems rather overdramatic — perhaps it’s really satire:

https://twitter.com/weeaboo/status/1241555854446518272

The Extenuating Circumstances policy was already unfair in “normal times”, and has become exponentially unfair in these unprecedented times.  Airbnb has in essence taken the types of situations for which Travel Insurance is designed — flight cancellation, needing to cancel a trip due to illness or a death in the family, even in many cases disasters like hurricanes, earthquakes, fire and floods, acts of God   — and has, through coercion and rhetoric, forced hosts to financially cover such situations in guests’ personal life, all without being paid any of the premiums that travel insurers are paid.  Bully boss

The rhetoric from Airbnb, which ripples through the host community as well as hosts berate other hosts they view as not “hospitable” enough, is that if hosts really cared about their guests they would have no problem providing these full refunds for guest in the instance of a death in the family, an illness, a sudden gust of wind, a hangnail.  So, hosts are being set up to be seen as “haters” if they are not on board with supplying full refunds for what, in practice, has at times been a policy abused by guests enabled by Airbnb to come up with a fiction that they need to cancel for health reasons, when in fact they are cancelling because they found a cheaper place to stay.

Many guests and observers will argue that “Hotels allow a full refund for a cancellation within 48 hrs of arrival.”  But hosts are not hotels, which is a concept that many guests, the general public and Airbnb may have trouble comprehending, or in fact not wish to accept.  With the exception of a highly unusual situation like a pandemic, hotels could easily get replacement guests.  They have high occupancy levels and walk-by business.  Hosts in private homes are not in the same situation.  A guest who’s been holding a spot in the calendar for many months, has prevented that host from getting other bookings, should not be allowed to cancel at the last minute and get a full refund, depriving that host of needed income.  Again, travel insurance could protect both the guest and the host in this situation.

Doing the Math

The situation arising now in the global pandemic, readily exposes the unfair math of this policy of Extenuating Circumstances.

Take the hypothetical host who runs one standalone vacation rental property which brings in $8000 a month in income, and which involves $5000 a month in operating expenses for mortgage, property taxes, insurance, utilities, maintenance, cleaning, and supplies, and for which the average guest stay costs about $1000. Let’s assume the host has about 8 guest stays per month averaging 3 days each.

During this pandemic, which began for the US in mid-March, and is estimated to last until mid-August, this would involve 5 months of lost income for this host, which means $40,000 lost.  During this time, his expenses would be $25,000 for the property, perhaps a bit less such as $22,000 if no utilities or supplies are used and no cleaning is needed.  Some of those expenses may be deferred as the government sets up economic relief plans for the nation, but they will not be forgiven: these are costs that one way or another, will eventually have to be paid.  At the same time, consider that this host likely cannot live on the profit from one vacation rental, and has another job, and that he may have been laid off from that job during this time, for instance a job in retail or the restaurant business.

Compare this $40,000 loss of necessary business income for the host, needed to pay their bills, to that of individual guests, each using the discretionary funds they had available for vacation, each losing about $1000.  Doing the math 2

Why is it viewed as more laudable and proper, for one host to assume one huge loss, rather than for 40 individual guests to have many smaller losses, particularly as these guests are using funds that are “extra” or discretionary, vacation money that is not necessary income they need in order to survive?

Even a 50/50 refund, where guests were refunded only 50% of their payment, would have been far more fair than refunding them fully.

One of the problems with the ways that Airbnb policy is formed, on this and many other issues, is that this whole business is viewed by the public and by news media, through a heavy bias towards the guest.  It’s guest complaints about interpreting a decline as an instance of racial discrimination, not host complaints about guests using racist language, which are featured in the news media.  It’s guest complaints about not getting a refund, which are given prominence in online blogs and media, not hosts’ complaints about being forced to accept guests whose real name and photo are being intentionally hidden from them.  It’s guests’ complaints about having to pay a high cleaning fee, not host’s anger that they were not reimbursed for damages or vandalism by the guest, which the news media seems to prefer reporting.  So the whole way the hosting business is perceived and represented to the general public, unfortunately plays into a bias towards guests, and supports Airbnb creating policy reflecting that bias.

That said, keep in mind that one focus of identity politics and the “social justice” movement, is to expose “unconscious bias” and various types of bias.  Are some types of bias deemed acceptable, such that we’re not only not expected to question them, but we’re expected to support these biases?

Over the years I’ve observed many hosts making illogical arguments about this and other Airbnb policies.  Their arguments do not come from an objective assessment of what seems right or wrong, but are arguments based on what these hosts think is reasonable to expect that Airbnb will do.  Such arguments are wholly illogical, and are much like saying to Sally, who’s complaining that she’s been abused by her elementary school teacher, “Well you’re only a student and he’s the teacher and has more authority so what do you expect? Just shut up because it’s not reasonable to expect an adult to change their ways based on the complaint of a child.”

So here’s a clue for those who dont’ see the flaw in this argument: unethical acts  are not automatically right and justifiable just because you think you don’t have any power to  change them.  

List of logical fallacies:
http://utminers.utep.edu/omwilliamson/ENGL1311/fallacies.htm

These are some of the illogical or fallacious arguments used to support Airbnb’s Extenuating Circumstances Policy

 #12, Appeal to Tradition (“Extenuating Circumstances policy has been in place from the beginning therefore it must be right.” )

#14, the Argument from Consequences   (“If we didn’t personally refund the guests, they might have a medical emergency and not get their money back, and that would be wrong” )

#17 Argument from Inertia (“It would be too hard to drop Extenuating Circumstances now, therefore it’s only logical to continue it”)

#19 Argument Ad Baculum  (“You have to agree with our Unfair and Unethical Terms and Conditions, or you can’t use our platform” is an example of this illogical argument.

#23 Bandwagon Fallacy (“Most hospitality providers will issue full refund for last minute cancellations, therefore you should.”)

#27 Blind Loyalty (“Airbnb policy is that Extenuating Circumstances apply, therefore they apply!”)

Perhaps by examining the list of logical fallacies, you can find even more that pertain to this issue.

There is a strategic and likely quite intentional reason why Airbnb has a bias towards guests. This becomes more obvious when one listens to hosts wishing there were another Short Term Rental platform they could join and support, which was more fair and gave hosts more power to run their own business, develop their own policies, and not have their business contracts meddled with or overidden by a third party.  Imagine there were another STR platform seeking to compete with Airbnb, which promised hosts a lot more power to run their own business.  So that one was not as heavily biased towards the guest.  Now, between that new platform and Airbnb, which one do you think most guests would prefer to use?  And therein you see the problem.  Unless there’s a real boycott of Airbnb and a move towards another viable platform, guests will tend to prefer the platform that gives them the most.

Yet with hosts’ businesses being destroyed around the globe by this pandemic, it just may be that one result is Airbnb ending up with less power over hosts than it had before, as hosts will be increasingly unlikely to want to fill their calendars with bookings that may well represent illusory income.

Airbnb Automated presents his thoughts that this pandemic could “very well be the end of Airbnb”

He thinks that if hosts take Airbnb to task for clawing back all our income for recent cancellations, this could bankrupt them if they are ordered to pay us back.

UPDATE:  On March 30 2020, Brian Chesky, CEO Of Airbnb, addressed hosts and said that Airbnb would be giving hosts 25% back for their cancelled reservations which were cancelled in accordance to Extenuating Circumstances applied to the coronavirus pandemic from March 14 and later.

The problem for many hosts is that Airbnb did not even follow its own updated Extenuating circumstances policy, and gave full refunds to guests who cancelled BEFORE March 14 2020.

Airbnb Guests who are Afraid of the Earth

As those of you who are hosts will have realized by now, Airbnb and other short term rental guests can have a lot of fears and anxieties that unfortunately it can become our duty to try to mitigate.

Some are afraid of public transit or cabs, and so are asking us to drive them around instead of getting an Uber ride.

Some are afraid of pets, and though we dont’ have any, they want us to ask the neighbor to put away her dog or cat.

Some are afraid of other kinds of people, and if they come to our neighborhood and see those, they might next be seen running to the phone calling Airbnb, asking to cancel and get a full refund, alleging that we failed to disclose that we live in a dangerous neighborhood.

But perhaps the most difficult type of guest fear or anxiety, is the one that has to do with the Planet Earth.  Namely, the guest who is afraid of Nature itself: of plants, animals, insects, falling leaves, the sound of rain, all manner of things that unfortunately do exist on Planet EarthPlanet earth

Now some of you may think I’m being a smartass here, and that no one could really be afraid of the Earth itself, or Nature.  Well, if you think that, perhaps you have not been an Airbnb host for sufficiently long.

Here are some of the situations I have had with guests:

(1) A guest who insisted that I come to her aid because there was “something” on the bed in her room.  From the sound of it she thought it was a dangerous bug.  I went in, discovered that there was a dry leaf on her bed, which had fallen from the houseplant on the wall nearby.
(2) A guest who insisted that I help her, because there were “spiders” in her room.  I went in, cleaned the entire room a second time, finding no spiders.   Then, she complained there was “dust.”
(3) A guest who complained to Airbnb that the room was not clean, sending them a photo of a tiny spot on the baseboard in the corner, and a photo of a spiderweb located outside the house, in the yard.
(4) Several guests who complained that there was wildlife in the yard of my house, animals which normally exist in nature.
(5) A guest who complained that, when it rained, she could hear the “pitter pat” sound of rain falling.
(6) A guest who complained about a bush in my yard, that it had not been adequately pruned.
(7) A woman who complained that, in fruit season, there was fruit on my fruit trees, some of which fell off these trees.
(8) A guest who complained that, in fruit season, there was wildlife in the yard, wildlife of the kind that is normally drawn to fruit trees in fruit season.
(9) A guest who, seeing flies in the yard, complained that “a bunch of flies will land on my food” and bought poisonous insect spray and began spraying it around in my yard without my permission, a yard where I grow organic produce.
(10) A woman who complained that part of a bush touched her body when she walked down the walkway.
(11) A guest who, when she checked out, explained about the books she had left all over the floor — books from my bookcase in the room — saying “there was a large spider in the room, that’s why the books are on the floor.”
(12) Two guests who lied and claimed that local wildlife, which I’ve only ever seen outside my house in the yard, were inside the house, in their rooms, no less.

Bee Not Afraid

Some of you may find some of these incidents hard to believe, but I assure you this is some of what hosts are dealing with, with some Airbnb guests.  One can very well understand a fear of things that really are dangerous or which can be signs of infestations, such as poisonous animals, bedbugs, roaches.  But none of the situations in my house or with my guests involved such things.  It was rather their encounters with one or two harmless insects inside the house, or with wildlife outside the house, that caused them so much consternation.  The situations in my house, involved creatures which were naturally present in their natural environment.  .  Insects.jpg

And more, I live in a mild urban area, where the amount and type of wildlife is pretty mild in every sense, not in one of those areas of the world that really have critters, like Alaska or Australia.

We are put in the very awkward position, that we are expected to to some extent, make nature not exist, for those who are afraid of it.  Even if a host were able to “guarantee” that “you will not encounter any insects, animals or wildlife” at my house, do you really want to try to do that?  Do you really want to be forced to go to war with Nature, to kill off natural creatures, use poisons, have no fruit trees, or even, have no yard, just because you have a guest who has an irrational fear of the Earth?  And more, if you dont’ want to try to provide a “natureless experience” for those who are afraid of the earth, do you want to risk losing your income, if the guest lies to Airbnb and claims that there were “dangerous” animals or you had a “dirty” house because there was nature in the yard, such that she argues, she should be entitled to extenuating circumstances and get a full refund?

This has happened to many hosts  — an ant in a corner, even a tiny speck in a photo that you can’t quite tell what it is, a smudge or an ant — guest sends this photo to Airbnb claiming some great danger — bedbug, black mold — and gets a full refund, apparently no questions asked about their lies.

The situation is potentially worse for those hosts who have rural homes, ranches or farms, as guests who are uncomfortable with or unfamiliar with how to deal with nature, will have an even harder time in those surroundings.  And though you might think that people would use common sense and not book in a place where they will not be comfortable, that is not the way things work in the Airbnb world.  Instead, too often people book based on a fantasy that may be prompted by one of the photos, and ignore the reality in the listing description.  And so, Airbnb guests have been kicked and clawed by large domestic fowl, have booked at working farms and stolen produce, complained about farm animals when on a farm stay.

How can hosts protect themselves against this? One way that might help, is to be very clear in your listing description that NATURE is present at your home, and that you do not want guests at your home for whom this is a problem.  And then provide some details about NATURE and list the kind of nature they might encounter.

 

 

Perhaps all Airbnb guests who possess an unnatural, paranoid fear of the earth, should have a special badge that appears on their Airbnb profile, warning hosts away from allowing them to book a stay with a yard:

Airbnb guest afraid of the earth finished

Better yet, these guests could be required to bring their protective gear with them, everywhere they stay:

Boy in big bubble

Evicting a Short Term Rental Guest

There may come a unpleasant time in the course of being a short term rental host, when you have to evict a guest.  This is probably the kind of situation that is hardest for hosts and which all of us hope we never have to deal with.  The guest may have engaged in absolutely unacceptable, even dangerous or criminal behavior. The guest may have vandalized the premises or had an illegal party.  They may have booked for 3 people, and brought 100 people into the property.  The guest may be a squatter, trying to overstay their reservation.

Note and disclaimer: I am not an attorney, and nothing written here should be construed as legal advice.  When engaging in any eviction, even of a short stay guest, I strongly suggest that you first consult with an attorney well versed in laws about transient occupants in your particular area of the world.  

If the guest is one you got from one of the STR platforms, such as Airbnb, I strongly suggest that you involve the platform, eg, call Airbnb for help.  They wont’ send someone over to evict your guest, of course, but they may speak to the guest and help encourage them to leave. This is the very best way to resolve this kind of situation that will put you at least risk.

In terms of evicting guests, the important distinction to be aware of, is the difference between a “tenant” and a “guest“, aka a “transient occupant“.   A tenant is someone who has a legal right to the property, which in the US generally occurs because the term of their rental period is 30 days or more. In some places in Europe, if a person is renting a room in a private home, they never have “tenants’ rights”, but in the US generally they would if they are renting for more than 30 days.  In contrast, a hotel guest or transient occupant,  is someone who is staying less than 30 days, and this type of person does not have “tenant’s rights”, including the “right” to stay in the unit beyond the check out date.

There are other criteria too which may serve to distinguish a tenant from a guest, such as:  (1) the renter receives mail at the property (this can establish tenancy), (2) the renter is the one paying for utilities directly, (3) the renter has no permanent address elsewhere (this then suggests, in terms of screening, that you do not accept guests who are in the process of moving, as they may claim to have “moved into” your unit) , (4) the renter has a “substantial amount” of personal belongings at the property (this then should lead hosts to have rules limiting how many belongings guests can bring in, eg, at most 2 or 3 suitcases…no furniture, no appliances, etc) .  By contrast, things that suggest the renter is a transient occupant, include that (1) owner has keys and right of access, eg to clean the unit, (2) owner is responsible for cleaning the unit.  (3) the renter is paying occupancy taxes for their stay, which are only charged for short term stays, not rentals of 30 days or more.

See these articles and some of those below for more information about the distinction between tenant and transient occupant:

https://journal.firsttuesday.us/transient-occupancy-and-temporary-stays-no-tenancy-involved/54666/

AND:

https://www.floridabar.org/the-florida-bar-journal/what-are-you-a-hotel-guest-tenant-or-transient-occupant/

Something that many of you will note when you do research on this topic online or look for legal information, is that the laws on this matter were written before Airbnb hosting became a big thing, so you’ll find that laws keep mentioning “hotels and motels” and you’ll wonder where you fall into that, since you are not a hotel.  This is confusing, and these laws really need to be updated to clarify that they apply not just to standard hotels/motels, but also to private homeowners who are operating “like a hotel” in the sense that they have people paying to stay for short term stays, and/or that these guests are paying occupancy taxes, which do NOT come into play for standard tenancies or long term stays.  Unfortunately, things are made much more difficult for short term rental hosts when they cannot find out information about what laws apply to them.

Generally, when the guest does not have tenant’s rights, then the host/innkeeper may do what is termed a “self-help eviction”.  This may not be true in all locales, so please check with an attorney in your area to see if it is permitted in your area.

A “self-help eviction”  means that you can evict the guest without having to go to court.  And it should be obvious that any hotel or motel would be at risk of being quickly put out of business, if they had to go through a long, drawn-out, expensive months-long process to evict every guest who paid to stay 1 or 2 days, and refused to leave.  So, a 2 day reservation does not get to magically turn into an opportunity to freeload for many months while the slow wheels of the court system grind ’round.

Rather, in regions where a “self help eviction” of a short term stay guest is permitted (and ONLY where this is permitted) the host or innkeeper may remove the guest themselves, generally by locking them out of the space and packing up and removing their belongings.  These belongings must be held for them so they can come pick them up, but in some regions, the belongings may be sold to pay for any debt owed by the guest. Note that you cannot just pack their things up and set them outside on the porch or at the curb, you have to take care with their property and keep it in a secure place for them.

This article lists some of the reasons short stay guests are evicted and how the eviction is done.  Note that this is oriented to hoteliers or innkeepers, but keep in mind, as is often the case when reading laws about short term stay guests, these laws were written before Airbnb hosting rose, and hosts are very similar if not identical to innkeepers in ways that some believe make these laws applicable:

https://hotels.uslegal.com/removal-of-guests/

It’s generally best to involve the police and have the police remove the overstaying guest, however, bear in mind that because Airbnb hosting is relatively new, and the laws on the matter mention “hotels” but not private homes where short term rentals are done, as well as because in many areas tenants’ rights are powerful and police can be sued for evicting a legal tenant, you might  find that when you call the police, the police will refuse to help.  This is likely in the areas of the nation with the strongest tenant rights, such as coastal California.

police cartoon

Sorry but I wont’ do my job because I’m scared I might be sued.

 

In addition to locking out a short stay guest, because that person has no “tenant’s rights” or rights of possession to the property, the host can in some places where self-help evictions are permitted, use many other methods to remove the person, that would not be allowed to be used if the renter were a standard tenant, such as:  shutting off all utilities, removing the front door from the unit, removing all the furniture from the unit including the bed and all bedding, entering the unit while the guest is in there and starting to clean it and start to pack up guests’ belongings if they don’t pack up themselves, or, last but not least, my favorite, creative fun such as invite all your friends over to the unit, start having a  party in the unit and a slumber party sleepover.  This latter may be more of a fantasy suggestion than actually practical, but short term rental hosts often need a laugh.

However, again, please keep in mind, that such actions are ONLY legal where the host has the legal right to enter the premises and do to a self-help eviction, and not in cases/regions where these things are not allowed or are not the case.

Remember, in general, though not always, for transient, short-term rental occupants, in a “hotel-like” or innkeeper types situation,  the property belongs to you, the guest has no right to remain after checkout, and as indicated below by laws in some states, if they stay even 10 minutes past checkout they are trespassing and can be arrested by the police.  slumber party (2)

Keep in mind though if you decide to confront and evict the guest, or occupy their unit or pull all furniture out — please bear in mind the kinds of people you are dealing with and what they are capable of, and be prepared for this.  Particularly if you have a professional scammer/squatter, what you don’t want to do, is go in as an unprepared welterweight into a heavyweight boxing match.  You could be assaulted.  Don’t ever get into a physical altercation with anyone!   You could end up being arrested by the police if the guests are smart enough to tell the lies or “spin” the situation or produce the fake or doctored documents that would result in this.  So be very cautious about direct confrontations.

For instance, someone who is a short term guest who rented from you for 2 days, might refuse to leave and when you call police to have them removed, produce fake documents saying they’ve rented the unit for 6 months.  What will you do then?  The problem in many locales, is that this might then become a “civil matter” which means, you could have to file an eviction lawsuit and go through a whole long court process  to get the person out.  So it may behoove you to have documents showing the person is a short term guest.

Just like it’s important to have a good sense of people’s character when you screen guests to decide whether to accept them, it’s also important to be a good judge of character to manage a guests’ stay, and particularly when considering evicting a guest.  Those who are pro scammers in particular are likely to be tough-skinned, nasty, people capable of pouring a torrent of abuse and threats on anyone who confronts them.

As well, if you enter the property when the short stay guests are there, you should never break into the property, because this would allow them to potentially call police and allege that a crime such as a home invasion robbery or burglary is taking place.  Keep in mind as well, a short stay guest may misrepresent themselves and/or their rental, and claim they are a long term tenant, in order to try to curry favor from the police and exploit tenant’s rights (which do not apply to short stay guests) to their advantage.
And on that note, the general theme here, which I’ve continued to underscore in many of my articles, is that, unlike what Airbnb would like people to think when it tries to portray hosting as a simple and easy way to make money, the rental property business is not a business for amateurs.  If you don’t know what you are doing, don’t do it.  If you don’t know the law or have not consulted with an attorney, do not take rash action.

We see a lot of stories on the host groups of people getting a false sense of pride when they have nothing but a string of great guests, imagining that they now know everything there is to know about hosting.  But then the really bad guest comes and they have no idea what to do, and flail around wildly, and this could result in their hosting business suddenly sinking like a ton of bricks.

Here are some resources I found online when searching for information on legal issues about evicting guests in different parts of the USA:

Evicting a guest in different states of the US:

https://www.cga.ct.gov/2000/rpt/2000-R-0859.htm

http://globalhosting.freeforums.net/thread/3641/evicting-guest-states-usa

https://travel.uslegal.com/hotel-liability/right-to-evict-persons-admitted-as-guests/

http://www.hotelnewsnow.com/Articles/23189/How-to-effectively-legally-remove-a-guest

Evicting a guest in California:

http://globalhosting.freeforums.net/thread/3633/evicting-guest-california

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20140725043916-11700131-airbnb-occupants-who-refused-to-leave-a-better-way-is-self-help-against-lodgers

As stated in that latter article:

Indeed, except as otherwise provided by statute, an owner who rents to a lodger need not resort to unlawful detainer procedures to evict a lodger. A lodger who breaches his or her contract with the proprietor is a trespasser and may be ousted without prior notice. [Roberts v. Casey (1939) 36 CA2d Supp. 767, 775, 93 P2d 654, 659]

Unlike landlords, owners may obtain possession by “self-help” (e.g., locking the premises) if able to do so without physical force. This is important — an owner can lock out a lodger at check out time as long as they do not use force to do so.

Not using force, means, I believe, not using physical force.  You cannot assault a guest and shove them out or physically pick them up and remove them.  You cannot threaten them with physical harm if they don’t leave.

This is an article by the California Lodging Association which is quite helpful:

ABCs Of Evicting Guests

California law:

http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?sectionNum=1865.&lawCode=CIV

https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?lawCode=CIV&sectionNum=1940

https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displayText.xhtml?lawCode=RTC&division=2.&title=&part=1.7.&chapter=1.&article=

https://www.losangelescriminallawyer.pro/amp/california-penal-code-section-537-a-pc-defrauding-an-innkeeper.html

In California, and several other states. a transient occupant/guest who refuses to leave at the end of their stay, is guilty of the crime of trespassing and can be arrested by police, see here:

https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?lawCode=PEN&sectionNum=602.

Read section s in that law, as follows, which defines a guest as a trespasser if they are:

(s) Refusing or failing to leave a hotel or motel, where he or she has obtained accommodations and has refused to pay for those accommodations, upon request of the proprietor or manager, and the occupancy is exempt, pursuant to subdivision (b) of Section 1940 of the Civil Code, from Chapter 2 (commencing with Section 1940) of Title 5 of Part 4 of Division 3 of the Civil Code. For purposes of this subdivision, occupancy at a hotel or motel for a continuous period of 30 days or less shall, in the absence of a written agreement to the contrary, or other written evidence of a periodic tenancy of indefinite duration, be exempt from Chapter 2 (commencing with Section 1940) of Title 5 of Part 4 of Division 3 of the Civil Code.

No trespassing tired of hiding bodiesAlso, make use of information shared on the Airbnb Community Center on the topic of Evicting a guest.  When I searched under that phrase, I found these posts among others:

https://community.withairbnb.com/t5/Hosting/Airbnb-evictions/m-p/689858

https://community.withairbnb.com/t5/Help/Evicting-an-overstaying-guest/m-p/962924

https://community.withairbnb.com/t5/Help/How-to-remove-a-problematic-guest-before-end-of-reservation/m-p/958774

https://community.withairbnb.com/t5/Help/When-guests-stay-after-their-Check-out-and-do-not-want-to-leave/m-p/689487

https://community.withairbnb.com/t5/Hosting/Does-Airbnb-help-with-tenants-who-won-t-leave/m-p/25325

All in all, an overstaying guest is a rare thing in the hosting world.  It is probably more common for hosts to have to evict guests for egregious behavior, such as having a loud illegal party with dozens of unpermitted visitors, or using illegal drugs.  Take great care though that if you need to evict someone whose reservation is still in place and has not ended, that you do so carefully, generally with help from Airbnb, so that the guest doesn’t complain to Airbnb alleging improper behavior by you.  For instance, one host, actually a Superhost, had her account deactivated by Airbnb after she kicked some “methhead” guests out of her listing.

https://community.withairbnb.com/t5/Hosting/Airbnb-perm-deactivated-my-sprhost-account-after-kicking-out/m-p/887447#M218682

This host said:

When I went to take photos, I saw hundreds of syringes, butane bottles and spoons, and being a woman that lives alone, it scared the hellout of me, I was scared for my safety, and did not feel safe at all, so I gathered their things which wasn’t a lot, and put it outside, cancelled the reservation and left them a message telling them that I didn’t feel comfortable hosting them anymore.  I only went into the bedroom because the airbnb host that I was talking to told me to take photos.  These guests were obviously abusing the Open Homes program, and they were freebasing pronbably meth in my home.  Once Airbnb permantly deactivates your account, you no longer can sign in or get support.  Its ridiculous.  I can’t beleive that I did something kind out of the bottom of my heart, and was treated this way by Airbnb.

It’s horrendous that any host would be deactivated for taking what seems like a reasonable approach to protecting her own home and safety, and for Airbnb to be more concerned about the “rights” of guests who are doing illegal drugs in a hosts’ home, than for that host, is a troubling situation. But this case underscores the importance of making plans about potential problem situations before they actually occur, so that, in the midst of a “crisis” situation you experience, you don’t end up doing something that can get you in trouble.

As a smart host, you do not ever want to be reflexively taking rash action in a panic mode.  As I’ve said dozens of times in various articles and on host community groups, it’s best not to get into this business at all if you have not thought things through and/or done the research to know what you are doing.  And knowing what you are doing means, among other things, planning what you’ll do if you end up with a bad situation like a guest you need to evict.  Plan for this now, when it’s not happening to you, so that if it ever does happen, your plan will snap into place, and you wont’ have to spend days or weeks doing research and making emergency phone calls when in the midst of a crisis.

Though Airbnb generally doesn’t provide any reason when they terminate a host (it should be illegal to not provide a reason, and in Europe with its GDPR rules, it likely is illegal), I suspect that what got this host in trouble was putting the guest’s belongings outside the house, in an insecure location.  When evicting someone, as you’ll note when reading any of the info about hotels evicting guests, you can confiscate their things but you must store their belongings securely for them to pick up later.  You can’t just throw their belongings away or put them outside where they could be stolen.

Further:  regarding getting the police to help you.  

Some people may not realize it, but police are not obligated to help us at all.  They have NO legal obligation to protect citizens.  Of course, police usually do respond when called, but though this may seem unjust or strange to you, they are not legally obligated to do so.  For more information about this see here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warren_v._District_of_Columbia

And

https://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/28/politics/justices-rule-police-do-not-have-a-constitutional-duty-to-protect.html

Many people dont’ realize this and tend to think of police as Big Daddy who will always be there to protect us.  But it’s precisely because police are not legally obligated to protect us, that many people have guns, because if the police take too long to arrive or dont’ come at all, it’s really up to you to protect yourself.

No Self Help Eviction allowed with Standard Tenants!! 

Finally, it must be underscored, that if you are dealing with a long term rental, and a standard tenant, you absolutely cannot do any form of “self-help eviction” as these are quite illegal in such instances.!!   In fact if you do try to do a “self-help eviction” on a renter with tenant’s rights because they have contracted for a long term stay, you could end up in a world of trouble, as indicated in this story about a California Airbnb host who was arrested by police and charged with several crimes after trying to break into a listing where there were people she’d apparently entered into a long term contract with.

http://www.ktvu.com/news/ktvu-local-news/mountain-view-landlord-tries-to-scare-tenants-away-with-staged-home-invasion

and

https://www.mountainview.gov/news/displaynews.asp?NewsID=1490&TargetID=9

Note that it doesn’t matter if there is a written contract for the long term rental — any intent to rent to someone for long term, and any agreement, even if only verbal, is sufficient to give them tenant’s rights, even if they have only stayed one stay and never paid you a dime.  It’s important, for that reason, to screen renters very carefully, and if you do take long term stays — which I generally do not recommend that short term rental hosts do — you never let someone set foot on the premises before they have paid the entire amount required to move in and gain possession.

The Host Community Groups: History and Problems. Bullying and Poor Moderation.

This blog article is intended to be partly a story about the history of the host community groups, and partly an analysis of some problems that many such groups face at the present time.

Though discussion groups for vacation rental property owners existed before Airbnb came around, the “host community group” really took off as the rise of Airbnb brought many thousands more into hosting.  The first such Airbnb host community groups existed on the Airbnb website itself.   This thread http://globalhosting.freeforums.net/thread/2760/history-original-airbnb-community-groups
describes some of the history of the original host community groups.

Here are some highlights as described there:

Did you know ….

That when Airbnb started the host community groups in November 2013, hosts could create any group they wanted?

That there ended up being 440 host community groups, ranging from the largest ones, like Anecdotes, with over 64,000 members at the time of closing, to host groups that only had a handful of people?Airbnb old community groups 1 (2)

That there were special interest groups, like groups for Vegan hosts, and Motorcyclist hosts? Or Writer and Artist Hosts, or Photographers? For those interested in bushwalking, hiking and trekking?

 

24fzok9

That there were regional groups for a huge number of world cities, in many languages —

That there was a Gay Friendly Hosts Community, and a “Bearnb” group?

A group for those offering long term stays?

A group for those interested in house swaps?

A group for modern art? For Yoga and Spirituality? For Nudists?

There was a group for the Airbnb Open, which continues onto the new Community Center.

From the start, Airbnb allowed any host to start a host group on virtually any subject.  This led to a proliferation of groups.  Some of the groups were larger and very active, some were small and had only 2 to 3 members.  Some were well moderated, others were not.  In fact, the phenomenon of poor or even non-existent moderation began early on, with some of the very first host community groups on Airbnb site!
Sometimes a host would start a group, and then drop out.  This could result in a group with virtually no moderation, and from nearly the very beginning, there were problems with abuse of the groups, not only businesses but also spammers scammers and phishing enterprises of all kinds, trying to exploit the “captive audience” and lure in unsuspecting hosts to their phishing sites or aggressively market their goods.  Those active in the early host groups, group leaders such as myself,  realized that in order to keep the groups clean of spam and ads, we had to quite regularly monitor the posts.  In groups such as Anecdotes  — which got its boost because the groups were initially arranged alphabetically, so as an “A” letter group it got more members really fast— it became a standing joke that due to almost nonexistent moderation, the group ended up being chock full of ads and garbage posts.  A great many hosts would join just to post an ad to their listing Anecdotes property ad 1 (2)

Anecdotes property ad 2 ph

or even just to say “hi” and then disappear. Anecdotes hi ph

The property listing ad posts never made much sense…if people want to stay someplace, they’re going to look for a place in the standard way…certainly they will not go to a host community group which has NO search function, and scroll down endlessly to look for ads, interspersed with normal posts, presented in a completely disorganized manner.

Feeling helpless in a virtually completely unmoderated group, some group members, out of frustration at seeing their group plastered with this crap, began to simply try to have fun with the inappropriate posts and ads, making jokes about them or those posting them.  See more about that here: http://globalhosting.freeforums.net/thread/2729/anecdotes-bogged-newbie-queries-hellos

Anecdotes property ad 3 ph

Anecdotes 4 ph

aNECDotes 5 ph

The joking got more frequent and eventually became a tradition of this particular group.

Anecdotes 6 ph
And
Anecdotes 7 ph

Though the property listing ads and other spam and ads were annoying, Airbnb itself was more concerned about another possibility that could occur in groups that were poorly moderated, or actually unmoderated.  And this was the possibility that hosts would post extremely inappropriate content there, which could reflect badly if existing on Airbnb’s own website.

There was in fact one incident that occurred on the group called “Hosting 911”, which changed the future of the host groups forever.  And this was when, in summer of 2015, a young host in Australia posted a thread on New Hosts Forum and Hosting 911 inquiring about “Boosting My ratings”.  When she didn’t like the advice she got, she became suicidal, and began posting threats on the Hosting 911 group, implying she was going to kill herself. Gii post Hosting 911 ph
Gii so much for advice 1

Gii saying she wants to die ph
Gii I quit everything ph

This incident resulted in Airbnb having to get in touch with its Airbnb affiliates in Australia, and contacting emergency services, and sending paramedics to this hosts’ home, who found that she had actually taken steps to commit suicide.  She was taken to a hospital and stabilized and her life was saved, but her Airbnb account was terminated thereafter.

Airbnb realized after this that it could unfortunately not afford the liability,  or public relations disaster, of host-led groups on its own website, which could have this kind of thing occur on them.

So Airbnb began planning to end the old host-led host community groups, and create a new “Community Center” on its site, which would be moderated not by hosts but by a Subcontractor or Vendor business.  Which is what you see today on the Airbnb site.  As they made this transition they worked with myself  and a few other of the original host leaders and regular participants on the old groups, soliciting our feedback for their design plans for the new Airbnb Community Center.  This group of about 20 of us were giving them a lot of feedback early on as they set up the Community Center that you see today…the first versions of it did not look as good! Our feedback helped them improve the site.
The old host groups closed in May 2016, and hosts in the various groups (though there were 440 groups, only about a dozen were very active) had to decide where to go from there.

Most of the original group leaders were not interested in participating on the new Community Center for hosts, for two reasons primarily.

First was that whereas the original host groups had been open only to hosts, and were not visible to the general public, Airbnb intended most of the new Community Center to be viewable by the general public, with the exception of the “Host Circle” and the Regional host groups.  This created the problem that anything any host posted could be linked not only to their profile and listing, but could be seen, and linked to those, potentially by anyone in the world, including that hosts’ guests or potential guests.  Most of those who had participated in the original host groups saw the value of this relative privacy and were concerned that if they posted about a concern with a guest, the guest they were posting about could see their post.
Secondly, hosts had valued the groups that had formed under their leadership and they had built up these groups with a lot of time and effort, and they wanted host leaders and moderators, not some third party contractor to be moderating the groups.

So, when the Airbnb Community Center took off, it really saw a whole different group of hosts populate it– only some of the regulars from the old groups stayed on.  The rest went to various offsite host groups.

Though there were some efforts to create non-social-media offsite groups (my forum at www.globalhostingforum.com being one of those, and www.airhostsforum.com being another), these were not as popular as the Facebook host groups.  For some reason, everyone loved Facebook, in spite of the fact that there were notorious privacy issues involved with using Facebook.  There were several other drawbacks to Facebook — such as that hosts were expected to use their real name,  and that the content on Facebook groups is not easily searchable, and that social media groups tend to be less supportive of thoughtful posts/explorations than snippy and sometimes dismissive one-liners.

As the host groups moved almost entirely to Facebook groups, we’ve seen a certain “social-media-ization” of the host groups.  In addition to the perennial problem of posting of ads and spam in groups, in many host groups (some more than others) we see regular bullying and dismissive posts, as well as poor moderation by the group leaders.

One of the most common forms of bullying, is hosts berating other hosts for having certain decisions/styles in their approach to hosting, or for being upset by things others insist must be viewed as “the cost of doing business.”  I referred to this in the introduction to another recent article, see here:
https://globalhostingblogs.com/2019/05/26/house-rules-thermostat-settings-duvets-and-keurig/

Here are a few examples of this phenomenon as mentioned there:

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.  House rules, perhaps most touchy of all….did you know that “Long rules…Bad host!”

For instance, here’s a comment that one host made towards another just this week: Blacklist reported comment May 31

Now I don’t know about you, but I expect polite and respectful adults to make some attempt to clean up if they pee or poop in their bed or in the tub or on the bathroom floor, and not to leave the explosion that occurred in the toilet for the next person to find.

In some groups, there is no room for disagreement.  Hosts are expected to take the “correct” approach to some hosting issue or topic or Airbnb policy, and there’s no tolerance for those who take a different view.  For instance, here’s a thread on Airhosts Forum where someone upset that Airbnb is hiding guest photos before booking, is basically told by more than one regular forum participant (including at least one of the groups’ moderators) that they must be an uptight,  precious princess or disgusting discriminatory racist if they don’t like this policy:

https://airhostsforum.com/t/protest-airbnbs-ridiculous-new-policy-preventing-hosts-from-choosing-their-guests/32019/8

Airhosts forum on hiding photos 4 (2)

Airhosts forum on hiding photos 3 (2)

Airhosts forum on hiding photos 2 (2)

Airhosts forum on hiding photos (2)

This is very bad moderation, to express that kind of contempt for a host with a very legitimate concern.  Reading the above posts, you’d have no idea that there are an enormous number of Airbnb hosts upset with Airbnb’s policy on hiding guest photos, and that it is actually possible to respect their concern, as Airbnb itself did with this meeting on the subject:

In the early days of the host community, there was more tolerance of hosts doing things their own way, and there was more support of hosts who were facing problems with guests.  As well, and I think this is relevant, there were more in-home hosts, true homesharing hosts, whose situation and expectations of guests is naturally different than the large real estate company “hosts” we see now, who run their listings more like a standard hotel, who are now more commonly participating in host groups.

In the old days, if a large real estate company “host”, which was in essence really a hotel, showed up on the Host Community Groups like New Hosts Forum , they would be shown the door.  We were clear these were groups for hosts, not hotels.  This situation has nearly reversed itself today.  I have observed that in many host groups, homesharing hosts are in the minority, and not only do large-scale offsite hosts sometimes show impatience to in home hosts, (eg, that we don’t just “get with the program” and run our homes just like hotels) but increasingly it seems that Airbnb has less interest in the concerns of homesharing hosts as well.

Also, there is an innate problem to social media like Facebook, which is that it encourages short and snippy, witty and perhaps dismissive comments, as opposed to thoughtful and complete self-expression.  I’ve been told more than once, in a host Facebook group, that my posts are too long, and hosts dont’ have time to read all this.  People like making snippety comments on Facebook, and I think group leaders need to realize, politeness may be passe in some groups.  Mean and rude comments that stir up heated arguments can actually be more interesting to some people.  I get the sense, observing how much activity there is on threads which get into nasty arguments, that people get intrigued and attracted by the drama and nastiness in these posts…somewhat like in the old days when in Roman arenas, slaves were required to fight to the death, or innocents were tossed to the lions. Thrown to lions

There is a certain bloodthirstiness in human nature, which seems to satisfy itself in seeing people attacked and ridiculed.  To some extent, we may all experience this at least in some small way.  Shows like “Judge Judy” or “Survivor” play to this part of our nature, the part that likes to see others insulted or ridiculed, as Judge Judy does, or see someone axed, as occurs on Survivor show.  Then too, this lasciviousness to see others ridiculed or held in contempt, fits in well with the new “righteousness culture”, what we might call a type of fundamentalism that can occur on either side of the political divide, where one side simply smugly congratulates itself on having all the correct answers, and views the other side as subhuman “deplorables” or racists or  snowflakes, or whatever the snappy dismissive term-du-jour happens to be.

So , this “righteousness culture” seems to have inserted itself into various host community groups, such that (as in the example above about the Airbnb hiding photos issue) no other viewpoint or way of doing business is acceptable.  One host I know calls the Airhosts forum the “Mean Girl group”, because of this nasty streak it has.  A few host Facebook groups have the reputation of being stomping grounds for nasties and bullies, and the group leaders of these seem oblivious to the problem.  I recently made the mistake of posting my new blog in one of these groups, and the first two comments on my post were dismissive, bullying responses to a thoughtful article. p Jennifer Allen and Jennifer Costa attack my blog post on AFH ph

In groups oriented to the discussion of problem guests, in spite of rules that ask that members respect the host posting about a problem issue, it’s common to see dismissive replies.  Hosts will reply that that wasn’t a real problem, you’re too much of a princess or you should not be in business if you can’t handle this.  Other hosts will object because they identify with the guest for one reason or another.  The guest happened to be black, so the host suggests the real intent of the post was something racist.  Or the host mentioned the guests’ nationality, in telling their story, and someone from that country is offended and takes it out on the host, assuming the host is implying everyone from this country behaves like this problem guest…even when they have said no such thing.  Or the guest is middle aged, and a middle aged host takes offense.  Or someone upset at a guest that caused serious problems for a host, is venting at the guest, poking fun at them in some way in order to try to bring relief through levity, and someone takes offense at the levity.  Or a host complains about a problem that some hosts insist is much too minor, and the host is attacked on that basis.  It goes on and on.

The result is, quite predictably, that some hosts no longer feel safe posting about nearly anything in the host groups, and some will come right out and say so.

One host recently posted in a Facebook host group, that she is quite reticent to post in the group because of the amount of the abuse in the group.  She stated that she has flagged or reported the “trolls”, but to no avail, the “piling on” still occurs.

Internet troll

Another group member contacted an administrator of a group and privately conveyed that he was not willing to post in the group, because “the group seems to have taken an ugly turn, to be honest.” He indicated that “even one of your admin/moderators belittled someone recently for posting.” He indicated that there were multiple ways he had seen group members be rude to those posting, including making fun of the host’s home!  He summarized that therefore he would not be posting.

In another host group, a host member was actually kicked out of the group for trying to warn other hosts about some young people apparently planning an illegal party at an Airbnb listing in that region.  Which is a growing problem, something that plenty of evidence for can be found on social media posts.  But this particular host group was marching in lockstep to the “righteousness culture” and had apparently collectively decided that all the warnings about young kids (who happened to often be young black kids) planning illegal parties at Airbnbs, were actually “fake” posts created by racists just to keep black people down.  So they would not take legitimate threats to their business seriously, and were content to scapegoat and reject someone who was sincerely trying to help them.  Such is the power of fundamentalist thinking and groupthink!

It’s not easy to moderate any kind of group, and host groups are no exception.

There is probably no such thing as a perfect moderator.  But I know some people, including a few long time members of the host community, who come close and to whom I could give a Gold Star award!  Some people have excellent mediation skills, but have a very hard time taking a firm approach to rulebreakers.  Some people have an easier time taking a firm approach to those breaking group rules and common courtesy violators, but do not have as many strengths in mediation and diplomacy.  To be an effective moderator, it helps a lot both to know oneself, and to know human nature.  It helps to be kind and have a good sense of humor, but it also helps to be able to say NO and draw boundaries.

Perhaps the greatest problems exist in groups where the group leaders are not even aware of or bothered by the problems that are causing serious concern to their group members.  If you are running a group and not even aware that people are avoiding your group because it’s gained a reputation as a hangout for bullies and nasties…this is a problem.  If you notice a heated argument in your group, and insults starting to fly back and forth, and as the moderator your response is to smile and go “Hee Hawww!” and grab for some popcorn and start to place bets on who will win….well you may have some room for growth.  Don’t convince yourself that your group is successful because it has a lot of members in it…as I described above in regards to the original host groups, one of the most dysfunctional groups, Anecdotes, was the largest host community group with over 64k members. However, the vast majority of those members didn’t regularly participate.
And in terms of who will win, well it’s likely to be the nastiest person with the thickest skin. The more sensitive ones are the ones who will lose out, because sensitive people avoid fights and unpleasantry, while the crude folks seem to thrive on just that.

To be an effective moderator, it will help if you can put yourself in the shoes of all kinds of group members, and try to see things through their eyes.  Wisdom is called for, ideally, but how much is wisdom valued at this time?

Moderating is not just about removing spam and ads from groups.  It is about mediating between members, and recognizing problematic dynamics…such as how it’s not really a good thing when the most popular posts in the group, the ones with the most activity, turn out to be the ones with the nastiest comments on them.Bullets fly from mouth

Some moderators will diligently remove nasty comments from the group, but are averse to removing the repeat perpetrators thereof.   This is not sufficient, as it teaches those who repeatedly behave rudely and engage in bullying (and some who use offensive putdowns which may be racist or sexist), that they can do so with impunity.  If the only consequence to their actions is that their posts end up deleted, then eh, so what. They still were able to get the satisfaction of having their rude or nasty comment read..  They are free to hate on others over and over and over again.

This situation is not dissimilar to the bad Airbnb guest which Airbnb refuses to do anything about.  Just as we would not want a bad Airbnb guest, who repeatedly causes problems for hosts, to be enabled to continue their malicious behavior, out of some misguided idea that they are valuable to the Airbnb community, so also, host group leaders ideally should not view those continually making nasty and rude comments as essential to the host community, and allow them to continue their nasty campaign, possibly until the group is ruined because no one has had the brass to put an end to this unacceptable repeat behavior.  The amount of damage that nasty comments and nasty group members can do to a group, should not be underestimated.  Keep in mind that this damage may not always be visible.  You will see some of the fights and heated arguments in the group, but what you may not see, until it’s too late, are all those who either decide not to participate, or who leave the group, because they are disturbed by the nasty behavior they have seen in the group.

Some suggestions for host group moderation: 

Just as you would for guests in your home, have a screening process for applicants to your group, and dont’ accept just anyone.  Vet your members.

Not only ask that group members treat each other courteously, but spell out specifically what is considered discourteous or unhelpful.  Making unconstructive criticisms.  Telling another host that they shouldn’t be hosting, because of something they said.   Having a common practice of seeming to wait in the wings, waiting to leap out and police others’ language, the terms people use, finding fault with attempts at gentle levity, accusing other members of being racist or discriminatory or having the wrong views on whatever political issue.  Repeatedly being contemptuous or dismissive.

Seek to cultivate real wisdom and a sense of the whole range of possible thought and views on any particular subject and/or in courteous disagreement.  This will help you find a comfortable balance between allowing a discussion to get too heated and argumentative on the one hand, and on the other hand, allowing threads or conversations to be frequently shut down by people who seem to want to bully others by claiming to be “offended.”  In this particular era, it needs to be recognized that it is quite possible to bully others by repeatedly claiming to be offended.

Being friendly and interactive in your group.  Being a model of good behavior in the group.  Praising members and their posts when you can.  Deleting inappropriate comments or posts as quickly as possible, and speaking to members privately when they repeatedly post inappropriate content.  Having a clear procedure you articulate to other moderators, about how to handle repeat problems with the same group members.

It may also help to be aware of how some group members behave on other groups.  On more than one occasion, I’ve seen people request to join a particular host group, and be declined, based on one or more moderators’ awareness of that individuals’ behavior on other host groups.  So just like guests who behave badly in someone’s home, may end up with a review on their profile that warns other hosts away from them, some host community group members may find that their reputation precedes them.  Reputation precedes you

We might say “good riddance” in both cases.

 

 

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

Tales of a Hermit Host

If you read about it in the news, being an Airbnb host seems like an extroverted undertaking — you do it because you want to meet people!!  Well,maybe you do it because you need the extra income…but you still want to meet people!!  Welcome them in, chat them up, even invite them to have dinner with you and your family or go out for drinks at the local pub and find a new friend.
So what if…you dont’ want to spend a lot of time with your guests? What if you actually….like to be alone?  I mean, what if you really like to be alone! Well maybe not entirely alone, as being alone with books is always a delicious experience.

 

And if they thought her aimless, if they thought her a bit mad, let them. It meant they left her alone. Marya was not aimless, anyway. She was thinking.”                                                                                     hermit with books

                                    Ryokan

                 “Too lazy to be ambitious,
I let the world take care of itself.
Ten days’ worth of rice in my bag;
a bundle of twigs by the fireplace.
Why chatter about delusion and enlightenment?
Listening to the night rain on my roof,
I sit comfortably, with both legs stretched out.”
Ryokan

 

I’ve always loved to be alone.  Problem is, I live in a time and place where housing is expensive.  If I were wealthy,  I would love to live in my house all alone.   Oh, I would relish having all that space! Ironically, I have a large house, but my private living quarters are not inordinately spacious, nor are they elaborate , and much of my own rooms’ decor and setup is downright simple.    All so that I can make room for others in my home…others who I want….but do I want them, or just tolerate them?

It’s a curious question, how one who is by nature very introverted and solitary,  a hermit, adapts to living with others.  What are my real feelings and thoughts about this situation?

Honestly, I don’t mind having others around, just as long as  they are not too close . I like hearing the sound of footsteps below, the sound of water running or dishes clanging on the other side of the house, or the murmur of a conversation going on somewhere on my property.  These are comforting sounds, reminding me that I am part of the human community, and I think my comfort with them, indicates I’m not a misanthrope.  I like knowing there are people in my house, and I like knowing that I don’t have to be there right beside them, forced into interaction, severed from my interior process and my imaginal journeys.  I can be part of the human community, but not imposed upon.  How beautiful and different this, from being stuck in a roomful of people or in a large crowd, with no escape in sight! That is a real nightmare for an introvert!

crowds yecch
not fun for the introvert

One way that I adapt is by defining very clearly, the nature of my house and the type of setting I am intentionally creating — which, if it cannot resemble a monastery, can at least resemble a retreat atmosphere, where spiritually oriented retreatants come to silently share the same space. They dont’ come to the retreat primarily to play card games and have dinner together, or chat over a bottle of wine.  THey dont’ come to retreat to watch TV and play video games. They don’t even come to go on vacation in that area and use the retreat setting just as a hotel room.   They come with an inner purpose, a purpose having to do with their inner life — or, failing that, at least they come with a project to do,that benefits from a quiet space that they can do it in.  You see, I’d love to have only spiritual retreatants at my house, but there aren’t enough of them.

retreatants in retreat hall
Spiritual practice in a quiet sanctuary
stillness in the forest
stillness in the forest

 

So I invite guests to a retreat setting, hoping to inspire them to want to be retreatants, but knowing that many of them are not interested in spiritual practice.  Still, I hope being in the peaceful setting that I offer, might rub off on them, to inspire them.

Another way I manage , as a hermit in a home with others, is to carefully and firmly carve out private space and private time, within my household. I need large blocks of time to be alone, to engage in creative pursuits.  Generally, the mornings are most productive for me to do meditation, spiritual study, creative writing and art.  I try not to emerge from my “hermitage” until about 10am. One of the difficulties in this respect in having others in my home, is that there are invariably chores to be done, that require me to go out — and often in the morning — such as feeding the backyard fowl, or taking out trash, watering the plants.  I find that when I go out of my private space, it can be stressful if I am in a creative mindframe or a trance state, and I have to interact with others about mundane matters.  For instance someone asking where they laundry machine is, or how they can get to a grocery store.  It’s even harder if I encounter a bubbly guest who is eager not only to chat, but wants to sit down and have a long conversation with me, just at the time when I most need to be alone.  This may be difficult to appreciate,  for someone who isn’t themselves an introvert, or who doesn’t know what it’s like to be in a creative state or a state of mind that is “miles away” from discussions about grocery stores or laundry.  Some who are not able to appreciate the stress here,  may be likely to snap,

“Well, if you find it to be so difficult to engage in chit-chat, why are you having others in your home, why not live as a recluse in a cottage deep in the the forest somewhere?”

Which is the kind of nasty comment I had to endure from many an apartment neighbor, during the years I was a tenant, living in apartment buildings.  If you think it’s hard to be a hermit in your own home in the city, try having to do it in an apartment building!  It’s enough to start a war, to have hermitage needs in a multiunit apartment building.   Oh yes, I’d love to live deep in a forest somewhere, but I haven’t yet figured out the finances.   Then too, I think we need spiritual nourishment in the city, and we need to have people living in urban places who are calling others to quietude.  Even if some may resent hearing that call.

So what actually happens when I have guests over to my home-cum-hermitage?

Mostly, things go surprisingly well.  I seek and obtain a lot of independent guests, who have things to do when they come to town, so they aren’t oriented to “hanging out” at my house.  I only do single occupancy, one person per room, which greatly helps minimize noise, as it cuts down on conversations.  One person in a room is generally far quieter than two.  I have quiet hours, after which point, I dont’ allow cellphone conversations in the house.  This too helps keep the atmosphere quiet.  I dont’ allow guests to have visitors over, and again, this helps clarify that my intention is  not to create an environment for socializing, but a nurturing setting for relaxation or inner work.2yxejxv

One difficulty that I’ve had in the past with being solitary and needing privacy, but having others in my home, was the tendency of longer term renters (roommates) to appropriate the common spaces as theirs.  I was alone in my private space so often, that I appeared not to “own” or possess the common areas, which were far more often occupied by my roommates.  I found this to be a very serious problem with roommates, much less so with short term guests, which is why I now prefer short term renters.  The problem that arises, when one is often hidden in one’s own home, is that the owner’s absence gives the renters a feeling of license to ignore the owner’s requests and rules of the domicile, and to do as they please.  THe result, for me, was quite often that I ended up being bullied in my own home.

 

not nice to be bullied in your own home                 bully image

 

So having guests over at my house, actually became a solution for this hermit.  It meant an end to bullying, as it meant that there was much less likelihood I would venture out into the kitchen, and discover that it had been taken over by a “gang”, a gang of “roomies”  who might say hello, but the tone in the “hello” was clearly one of  “Welcome into MY kitchen!”

It was a lovely thing indeed to get the last of these roommates out of my house for good, and declare that my house was no longer a “residence” for anyone but myself.  From this point forward, I was going to be the only permanent resident of my own home, and everyone else staying here would be a guest.  Once in a while I do get inquiries from guests who say that they would love to stay for either a week or a year, and I get a little worried about that.  It’s nice to have folks appreciate what I am offering, but no more roommates, please!!

 

retreat center cabin with chairsYou’re welcome to visit but not to stay….