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Short-Term (Vacation) Rental Lease Agreement

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The short-term or vacation rental agreement is a lease that is made between a landlord and tenant that is generally between 1 to 30 days. The agreement is most common for higher-end properties to outline the exact terms and conditions of the rental period. The agreement must follow all applicable State laws and if the housing structure was built before 1978 it must be furnished along with the Lead-Based Paint Disclosure Form.

At a minimum, the following should be entered:

  • Start and End Dates;
  • Rent ($);
  • Property Address (full description)
  • Amenities (Wifi, kitchen appliances, Cable TV, etc.);
  • Maximum Number (#) of Guests; and
  • House Rules

Table of Contents

What is a Vacation Rental Agreement?

A vacation rental agreement is simply a contract between the property owner and the renter. It is similar to a lease agreement for an apartment, except for a vacation rental agreement only covers the short period of time your guests are renting your property.

A vacation rental agreement spells out the responsibilities of the owner and those of the guests. For example, the owner agrees to make sure the renters have a key to enter the premises. The renters agree not to do anything illegal on the property.

Once the responsibilities are listed, a good vacation rental agreement also lists the penalties for breaking any of the rules. It may give you the right to cancel a booking, or require the renter to pay your costs for repairing any damages that resulted from their violation of the terms of the agreement.

How to Rent a Vacation Home

Whether a landlord is seeking to lease a permanent or temporary residence, finding a tenant to occupy the premises on a short-term basis is the best way to get the maximum amount of rent on a per day basis. How to go about getting the right rental situation requires marketing the property, verifying the tenant, obtaining payment, and repossessing the home at the end of the term

Step 1 – Find Out the Local Laws

Due to certain communities taking a stand against allowing private residences being rented, there has been legislation proposed in many areas of the country that prohibit or tax this type of leasing. Be sure to check with a local real estate attorney or real estate agent before listing your property for rent.

Step 2 – Prepare the Property

In today’s rental market, tenants want to be provided with the same amenities and services as provided in a boutique hotel or bed and breakfast. This will involve providing:

  • Appliances (microwave, coffee maker, etc.);
  • Bed linens and pillows;
  • Cleaning service;
  • Internet (WiFi);
  • Cable;
  • Shampoo and Soap; and
  • Towels

The above-listed items do not have to be expensive and due to the negligence of most tenants the base or economy models should be made available.

Step 3 – Take High-Quality Photographs

A picture is worth a thousand words and may be the determining factor in a potential tenant selecting your property versus another. It is highly recommended to hire the services of a professional due to the potential amount of money at stake. Be sure to have the photos focus on the positive aspects of the rental, such as, views, landscapes, features, or any detail that could sway a potential renter.

Step 4 – Marketing the Property

There are two (2) ways to go about marketing the property:

  1. Market the property yourself; or
  2. Hire a licensed real estate agent. If an agent is hired, all that will be needed are the photos taken and a leasing listing agreement will be signed between the parties.

Step 5 – Post the Property Online

If the landlord decides to market the property themselves, the internet will be their best tool. It’s recommended to choose the website that best fits your needs.

Website Fees Upfront Costs Tenant Profiles Payment Types Best for
Airbnb 3% (*6% to 15% charged to the guest) $0 Yes At reservation shared rooms, rooms, and homes Seasonal rentals
VRBO + Homeaway 3% $499 No At reservation or check-in homes Year-round rentals
FlipKey (by TripAdvisor) 3% (*5% to 20% charged to the guest) $0 No At reservation or check-in Rooms and Homes Seasonal rentals
Craigslist 0% Free to $20 No Check-in shared rooms, rooms, and homes Long-term rentals
Booking.com 10% to 25% $0 No At reservation or check-in shared rooms, rooms, and homes Seasonal rentals

Step 6 – Verify Prospective Tenants

If the landlord is using Airbnb, they will be able to take advantage of the tenant profile feature. This will give the landlord access to reviews made by other property owners when they had hosted the guest. Otherwise, it will be up to the landlord to properly screen the tenants. Unfortunately, most individuals will not consent to a background or credit check through a Rental Application for a vacation, therefore, the landlord will have to access publicly available on the internet, using Google search, to find any information about the tenant.

Step 7 – Finalizing the Reservation

Once the reservation has been finalized, the landlord should make every attempt to collect the rent for the selected time period. If the landlord used a website that collected the payment on their behalf, they are in good hands as long as the funds were processed accordingly. Although, if the tenant has not made payment to secure their reservation, an online processor such as PayPal, Venmo, or Escrow.com should be used.

If the landlord chooses to accept cash or payment after check-in, they should be wary that due to eviction laws in most States, once the tenant has access to the premises it can take up to 90 days to remove them.

Security Deposit – It’s recommended if the landlord has any type of valuables in the residence that a security deposit is required, in addition to the rental payment. This will guarantee that if any personal belongings in the home are damaged or missing that the landlord will be, at least, partially reimbursed.

Step 8 – Check the Tenant Out of the Property

It’s important to properly check the tenant out of the property. This involves setting up a time and informing the repercussions, with late checkout penalties, if the tenant does not vacate.

Short-Term (Vacation) Rental Agreement


When to Use

Having a vacation rental agreement doesn’t do you any good unless you use it. Any time you are going to be renting out your property to someone else, both sides should sign an agreement. Even if the website you use to attract bookings has its own terms of service, you should still have guests sign your rental agreement.

You should use a vacation rental agreement regardless of how short the booking is. Even a one night stay can result in a lot of headaches and damages. You want to make sure you are protected. A vacation rental agreement should also be used even when renting your property to your friends. While this may seem awkward, it gives you the maximum legal protection and can help protect your friendship by spelling out what is not acceptable on your property.

The only time a vacation rental agreement is not appropriate is if you are renting to someone with the intention of them living there long-term. In that case, you will want a formal lease agreement.

How to Use

You want to have your renters sign the vacation rental agreement before they enter the property. The easiest thing to do is to email the agreement to the guest and have them sign it beforehand. Sites like Airbnb allow you to upload your own vacation rental agreement through their portal as part of the renting process.

You can also always meet your guests at the property and have them sign the agreement before handing over the keys. It is important that you do not surprise your guests with a vacation rental agreement. Let them know in advance that they will be required to sign the agreement. Most people will expect to have to sign something. You should also make sure both you and the renter have a signed copy of the agreement.

Creating a vacation rental agreement may not be glamorous, but is an essential part of protecting your interests when renting out your property.

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