Vacation rental horror stories

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Halloween is almost here and while most people are picking out costumes and stocking up on candy, property managers in the vacation rental industry are crossing their fingers and praying they don’t get hit by a Halloween party…or worse.

Unfortunately, nightmarish incidents aren’t restricted to Halloween. For property managers, they happen 365 days a year. As security experts in the vacation rental industry, we’ve heard every horror story imaginable. In the spirit of Halloween, we’d like to share a few of our scarier stories and explain how they could have been prevented.

Gunshots and mayhem

About a month before partnering with Autohost, one of our clients received a call in the middle of the night. It was the police asking about a property at the end of a cul-de-sac in a nearby residential neighborhood. They told the client it was an emergency and they needed to get there ASAP.

The client arrived on scene to find 50 police cars outside the home with neighbors peeking through window slats. An officer told the client that they were filing a police report after a 200-person party had broken out at the property, ending in broken windows, excessive noise, fistfights in neighbors yards and gunshots.

While the client’s property was, shockingly, in one piece, their reputation among neighbors was shattered.

Horror stories from vacation rentals underscore the need for a thorough guest screening questionnaire.

How it could have been prevented

Parties are the bane of property managers’ existence, and they tend to be more common around holidays and major events like Halloween. While they can be difficult to predict, there are red flags you can watch for in the guest’s booking details.

The first detail to check is where the guest is from. If the guest is local, there’s a much higher chance that they’re booking your property for a party. Next, compare the size of your property to the number of guests—do they match? If you have a couple booking a four bedroom house, something’s up.

To make sure you know exactly who will be entering your property, ask for a guest list that includes each guest’s name and contact information. And don’t be afraid to ask the guest about their purpose of stay. It’s within your rights to know the guest’s intentions at your property.

Finally, have the guest sign a legally-binding rental agreement acknowledging your house rules—including one about no parties. You can also ask the guest for a security deposit. This should help deter any bad behavior.

Horror stories can be used as case studies for why the ultimate tenant screening checklist is necessary.


Mistaken identity

Before partnering with Autohost, one of our clients used to manually screen guests themselves. This involved Googling the guest and combing through their social media accounts. Despite the extra precaution, a gang managed to slip past their security and take their property hostage.

The gang members used a stolen ID with no criminal record to book the property. For a week, the gang members used the property to traffick drugs and automatic weapons. Not only did this mean our client wasn’t getting paid for those extra nights but it was endangering building staff.

Finally, with the help of a police escort, our clients were able to change the locks on the unit’s door while the gang members were out.

How it could have been prevented

By using a valid government-issued ID with no criminal record or other red flags, the gang members made this reservation extremely difficult to catch. That’s why it’s important to analyze and compare all data points in the reservation. Even if the ID checks out, there could be other suspicious activity. For example, in fraudulent bookings, disposable phone numbers and prepaid credit cards are common. In the reservation discussed above, there was likely another sign of fraud or foul play that was overlooked.

Crime pays

One of our clients came to us because they were tired of dealing with chargebacks. A New Year’s Eve incident finally sent them over the edge. The client accepted a last-minute booking on New Year’s Eve. Since it was a holiday and last-minute, rates were higher than normal. Our client thought they’d be making some easy money. Everything seemed to check out with the guest. They arrived on time, didn’t cause problems, and left without any issues.

It wasn’t until a few days later that the bank hit our client with a chargeback. Turns out the credit card used to pay for the stay had been stolen. While our client did file a dispute, there was nothing they could do. They had to refund the revenue they’d earned from the booking and lost two nights they could have rented the property to someone else.

How it could have been prevented

If someone uses a stolen card to book your property, you won’t win that chargeback. That’s why you need to catch the stolen card before the guest gains access to your property. The best way to do this is to cross reference the credit card with other details from the booking. Does the card match the name on the guest’s ID and the name given in the booking? If it doesn’t, it may be a stolen card.

Only accept registered credit cards, never prepaid cards. These cards aren’t associated with anyone and can be used to mask the guest’s identity.

If you’re hit with a chargeback, it’s extremely difficult to recover lost revenue and impossible if the card was stolen or if you don’t have proper documentation to plead your case.

The best way to keep your money in the bank is to verify guests ahead of time and avoid chargebacks altogether.

Hosting doesn’t have to be scary. To de-risk your reservations and prevent incidents, you need to screen your guests. Stay safe and have a happy Halloween!


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