Wear and tear is an enigmatic term. It’s one of those ill defined legal terms that create tension because one person’s expected wear is another’s unexpected damage.  So how do you know?  We recently had a host pose this question as they plan to open their second short term rental to guests.  The question comes from a certain amount of disappointment with their first experience of renting to guests.  From simple issues, such as an unreported damaged beach umbrella to a Nest thermostat pulled out of a wall, the damage that happens to your home when you’re not there can weigh heavily on your mind.

According to Airbnb, “Ordinary Wear and Tear” (is) the deterioration in condition of property that occurs under normal use and conditions.”  This is clear as mud, which is unfortunate, because the message boards and Facebook groups are full of host horror stories of damage done to their property and claims denied, considered normal wear and tear.

Some concrete examples of wear and tear include:

  • Minor scuff marks on the walls from moving luggage in and out of hallways
  • Spilling wine on a carpet
  • Old furniture or appliances breaking
  • Make-up residue left on washcloths
  • Limescale around the walls of the shower
  • Tears in older rugs or curtains

And concrete examples of serious damage:

  • Nail polish spilled on a sofa
  • Holes punched in walls
  • Stolen tvs
  • Damaged landscaping due to a guest accidentally driving into it.

But the message boards and Facebook groups are full of horror stories of damage claims that hosts see as major damage and Airbnb denies the claim, like these:

  • A deep gouge in a glass stove top
  • A cracked toilet seat
  • Smoke and cigarette burn damage in a smoke-free unit

So, knowing that the wear/tear vs. security-deposit-eligible-damage debate is a tough one that most hosts just want to avoid, we have some suggestions for how to mitigate both the potential for damage and the emotional pain when it does inevitably happen.

Build financial reserves to lessen the blow

Being prepared both financially and emotionally for the cost of having guests in your home is important.  The hybrid nature of short term rentals being both a home and a business are tricky.  Having financial reserves to cover the cost to replace items that are worn or damaged can go a long way to curtailing the blow.  Rules of thumb vary. Some suggest maintaining  2%  of the value of the home for maintenance and repair, while others suggest setting aside 10% of the monthly income.  Regardless, having a rainy day fund will minimize the impact of having to clean a muddy carpet.

Inventory Strategically 

Similarly,  thoughtful stocking for your unit with linens and other items that wear out quickly can reduce the impact of wear and tear.  You’ll want multiple sets of linens to rotate through, this is helpful for turn over, but also increases the feel of longevity (so you’re not buying new sheets all the time).  If you find something that works, buy two or even three sets.  Also, be mindful about what you are stocking. If you have a glass top stove, cast iron skillets might not be a good choice for your kitchen. In general, don’t give your guest access to things that you would need to give very specific instructions to an average person in order for them to use to your liking. Try to make your unit dummy-proof!

Design wear and tear out 

Similarly, strategic design can really help minimize wear and tear.  Pick materials that are easy to dust and clean.  Think about how people will need to move through the space, especially with suitcases, and minimize clutter and obstruction that folks may bang into.  If you have a tight spot, say where the dishwasher door hits a cabinet, bring out your handy P-Touch label maker and leave guests a polite note to be careful when opening both doors. Also, make sure to use pads on chairs and other furniture legs to minimize floor scratches when guests inevitably move things around.

Build Stronger Relationships

Our last strategy around dealing with wear and tear actually has nothing to do with the stuff in your rental property. It’s all about the relationships you build with your guests, and that starts well before they arrive on premise.  The communications that you send when a guest is initially booking their stay will set the stage for how they feel about using your space. If you’re distant and only providing the bare minimum of information, the guests will not enter the space feeling like they know the human being whose home they are borrowing.

On the other hand, building a relationship with them from the beginning sets a completely different feeling. For example, a home I regularly rent on Vrbo in Carolina Beach, NC, has the feeling of visiting a family home, even though I’ve never actually met the owner. Immediately upon my very first booking, the host sent me a note welcoming me and offering some tips and pointers for enjoying my stay and opened a line of communication for me to feel comfortable asking any questions beforehand. A week before my stay, I received in the mail (SNAIL MAIL!) a card with a photo of the home and a handwritten note and a printed list of the house rules (that were not by any means excessive, but very clear).

When I arrived at the home, I instructed all the guests traveling with me that we were going to take really good care of this place, because the owner felt more like my Aunt than a stranger, and I didn’t want to disappoint her! I left that unit in better shape that I found it in – and isn’t that your hope for every guest staying in your STR? That kind of respect is earned, not a given.  So use your best relationship building skills and become every guest’s favorite Aunt. You’ll both enjoy their stay so much more.

We wish there was a magic button to push, that could 100% prevent wear and create clear cut lines between wear and tear and undeniable damage. But since that’s not the case, we highly encourage you to take these steps to making your life a little easier and more enjoyable as a host.