Staying on top of public health guidelines and state and local travel restrictions has become a necessity during the pandemic. Short-term rental property owners have had ample time to prepare for these changes by surviving a 2020 summer vacation season that felt more like the off-season. New challenges emerge, however, as COVID-19 surges and restrictions ebb and flow. There appears to be an end in sight, but we don’t know exactly when and, more importantly, where. Here’s how you should prepare to weather the ups and downs of the short-term and vacation rental market by keeping your short-term rentals in compliance.
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1. Stay on top of COVID restrictions being imposed by state and local governments.
Following state and local guidelines won’t completely erase your potential liability, but it is an important step. Courts often consider whether or not reasonable measures were taken to prevent harm when assessing property owner liability for injuries. Ignoring a guideline could leave you exposed to liability if you are sued. It’s important to research the state and local guidelines for your area, but here are some examples of restrictions and guidelines you might expect.
California – Statewide
- Only rent unoccupied units. Renting rooms or spaces within an occupied residence is not allowed until otherwise notified.
- If possible, offer self or remote check-in and check-out procedures and set check-in and check-out times.
- Allow for 24 to 72 hours between reservations for thorough cleaning and disinfecting.
Florida – Miami-Dade County
- Minimize shared touch surfaces, such as receipts and keys.
- Use contactless procedures for guest room services, pickups, and deliveries.
- Remove or limit paper amenities in guest rooms.
Massachusetts – Statewide
- Face coverings required for all workers and guests when inside hallways and common areas. Individuals with a medical condition or disability or exempted.
- Contactless payment methods are encouraged.
- Consider leaving units vacant for 24 hours for deep cleaning, disinfection, and clean air circulation.
2. Reconsider your cancellation policies.
Rental property owners can expect additional cancellations as conditions change in both their local area and their guests’ home area. In addition, guests may cancel because they have been personally impacted by COVID-19.
Any cancellation policy is a mix of customer service and contract law. If you’re too restrictive, you could lose repeat business or receive negative reviews. Your cancellation policy needs to be in writing to be enforceable. Further, local regulations or a platform you use as an intermediary may place limits on cancellation policies.
Consider adding the following to your cancellation policy:
- Amount of notice required.
- Method of contact.
- Refund or service charge policy.
- Medical or other documentation policy.
- Policies on government orders or current reopening phases.
If you do have a last-minute cancellation, consider whether a rental intermediary can help you fill it and at what rate. However, even with cancellations, you will likely come out better financially than if you were shut down completely.
3. Apply best practices for cleaning and sanitizing your short-term rentals using COVID guidelines.
You will want to do a deeper clean and sanitation of all surfaces than you may have done in the past. For example, you may want to use a disinfectant on a couch that you may have only vacuumed or spot cleaned in the past. Disinfecting is a key step in keeping your property free of germs and bacteria that could harm your guests. If you don’t use a cleaning company, you might want to consider using one now. Some states and counties have offered helpful information on cleaning standards, including how much time should be allowed between stays to accommodate a more thorough cleaning and disinfecting of units. Check your local government websites for guidance.
From a legal standpoint, you don’t want to make guarantees about your cleaning. If you tell a guest you eliminated COVID-19 and they get sick while staying with you, they might sue you based on that promise. However, you may want to communicate to your guests that you have updated your cleaning regimen to let them know that you are addressing the additional risks posed by COVID-19. Further, you might consider providing your guests with hand sanitizer, antibacterial soap, and other cleaning supplies for their use and benefit.
4. Work with your property manager and housekeeping personnel to ensure compliance with guidelines and regulations.
Your property manager and housekeeping workers can help you comply with COVID-19 guidelines and regulations. Since this is their full-time job, they have more time to research what you need to do and have quick access to things like enhanced cleaning tools and services. There are also third party health organizations that offer Covid-19 cleaning certification. You can look into this process to give your guests extra reassurance about your property. Exactly what they will do should be defined in your Property Manager Agreement, which may require updating if you signed it before the pandemic.
You should also understand that you as the property owner are generally legally liable for anything that happens. If your contract with your property manager doesn’t include them having an attorney review your COVID-19 compliance plans, you should consider hiring your own attorney. To learn more, visit the Rocket Lawyer COVID Legal Center or consult with a Rocket Lawyer On Call® attorney for fast and affordable legal advice.
This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.